The Leader and Emotion: Anxiety

What will happen to me tomorrow? Will I be able to pay the bills? Can I overcome the obstacles I am facing? What if I lose my job?

Every leader deals with questions like these about the future. These questions can easily lead to anxiety—a feeling of worry or nervousness about an imagined threat or future event.* In this issue, we’ll examine how David experienced the emotion of anxiety and what we can learn as servant leaders from his life.

16Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers? 17Unless the LORD had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. 18When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. 19When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. 20Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—a throne that brings on misery by its decrees? 21The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. 22But the LORD has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. 23He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the LORD our God will destroy them. (Psalm 94:16-23)

Anxiety should be recognized. David has many questions as he wrestles with God in this psalm. He questions whether there will be justice for those who oppose him. These questions troubled him to the extent that he felt that his “foot is slipping,” and could lead him to the “silence of death.” In the middle of his questions he recognizes that he has anxiety in his heart.

Anxiety is usually seen as a negative emotion, so it is more difficult for leaders to acknowledge. David might have paused to ask himself, “What am I feeling?” At least he recognized his emotion of anxiety.

Many leaders don’t stop to recognize what they are feeling and may not even be aware of the anxiety in their souls. But servant leaders learn to recognize anxiety and be honest about what they are feeling.

Anxiety should be revealed. David recognizes his anxiety and brings it to the surface. Because anxiety is not a healthy or positive emotion, many leaders try to ignore it, to pretend that it’s not there or to call it by another name! But David is honest enough to admit that he has a “great” amount of anxiety!

We can learn from David that anxiety thrives in secrecy but can be dealt with when it is revealed. Servant leaders learn to reveal their anxiety. They find a trusted friend or counselor with whom they can be completely honest. They are not afraid to say, “I’m filled with anxiety about….” Sometimes the honest confession is enough to break the grip of anxiety in the life of the leader.

Anxiety should be restrained. All leaders look towards the future and can be immobilized by anxiety and unanswered questions. But David’s response to his anxiety shows us that this emotion does not need to control our leadership. As he revealed his anxiety, he quickly came to a place of hope. God’s “consolation” brought him joy to replace the anxiety. In the final verses of this chapter, he acknowledges that God is his “fortress” and the One who will take care of his future.

David teaches us to focus on the One who controls the future, instead of the lies our enemy wants us to believe. Servant leaders learn to restrain their anxiety as they trust God for their future and then lead others with courage.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • What situations in my own life bring me the greatest temptation to be anxious? 
  • How aware am I that I feel anxious? Am I able to quickly recognize this emotion?
  • Are there fears that keep me from revealing to others that I am anxious about the future? What does this say about what is happening in my soul?
  • What is at the root of my anxiety? What lies am I believing about myself, this situation, or about God?
  • In what way does my anxiety represent a lack of trust in God?
  • Reflect on 1 Peter 5:7. What does this verse teach me about my anxiety?

*We have already examined how David responded to fear which relates to a known danger or event. Anxiety differs from fear as it focuses on a future imagined event.

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.