Perhaps you’ve wrestled with the beast of Catastrophe Thinking. It seizes on you in vulnerable moments and taunts you with possibilities of the worst case scenario. A vaguely worded text like “Can we talk later?” becomes a nightmare house filled with the phantoms of possible conflicts, arguments, and disasters. A fledgling idea is murdered before it can even leave the nest because the bogeyman of the mind raises up all the things that could go wrong. Worst of all, the invisible inner critic turns his gaze upon every past interaction and whispers in your ear “what did they mean by that?” He leads you to make connections in your mind. Little by little, Catastrophe Thinking weaves a web of your own personal conspiracy theory, leading you to believe that the universe conspires against you.
Ever been there? Even just a little?
For the Christian, praying the Psalms can help. For instance, let’s look at Psalm 70. Like many psalms, this is a desperate cry to God for help.
The Psalms re-orient the focus of our attention from our fear to One who helps us in our distress.
“Hasten, O God, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me” (Ps 70:1, NIV)
The very act of crying out to God is a giant “STOP” sign that halts our out of control thinking. It pauses us for a moment so that our minds can stop feeding the catastrophe thinking beast.
That pause makes all the difference. The pause is an opportunity for me to remember that I’m not alone in the struggle. No matter what my feelings are at the moment, I am reminded that God is with me. For the moment, I am safe. I am with Him. I have the renewed opportunity to put my trust in him.
The Psalms give us the opportunity to entrust our anxieties to the One who loves us completely
“May those who seek my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me ‘aha! aha!” turn back because of their shame” (Ps 70:2-3, NIV)
If i’ve been carrying catastrophe thinking like a big heavy bag slung over my back, I can rest and dump that bag out before God. I don’t have to be ashamed of my thoughts and my fears. I don’t have to worry about being thought weak or neurotic or judged. God receives all my complaints. I don’t have to hold anything back. I think this is what Peter is talking about when he writes: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7)
When I practice this dumping of anxiety before the Lord, I find that different things happen, depending on the situation. Many times, I will reconsider the anxieties – I will become aware of the catastrophic thinking and take a step back from it. I’ll be able to say to myself “that thing I’m afraid of is only one possibility among many possible outcomes. There are other outcomes that are more likely.” I’ll be able to say to myself “those people probably aren’t even thinking about me at all – everyone is focused on living their own lives.” Often, I’ll be able to see that my anxieties are illusions: the “one who seeks my life” is really the voice of the inner critic. When the Lord leads me to these kinds of insights, I discover the need to further re-orient my mind and re-frame my thinking.
The Psalms remind us of the goodness of the One who loves His people.
“But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, ‘Let God be exalted!’” (Ps 70:4, NIV)
When we turn our attention to God, we also remember that God is more than a neutral comforting presence. God calls his people beloved. Jesus says that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Abundant life is about spiritual fullness and enrichment, joy and gladness. We move from thinking that the universe is conspiring against us to believing that God has plans for us and works things to our good.
Even if our present circumstances are not all that we want or desire, we learn to trust that God is working in them and through them. He uses these circumstances to shape us into better people. The challenges we face become our best opportunities for growth.
The Psalms challenge us to persist in calling out to God
“Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay.”
Psalm 70 is essentially the same as Psalm 40:13-17. This reminds us that in this lifetime we never fully arrive. We are on a journey, and we need to keep calling out to God all along the way. We go through times and seasons of life that may drive us back to desperation and anxiety. The Catastrophe Thinking beast doesn’t necessarily die – it just becomes weaker as we know how to turn to God in prayer. The lessons we learn from the Psalms are not simple checklists; they’re lifelong habits to help us grow closer to God and enjoy relationship with Him.
But to persist, we have to start first. How about taking some time today to sit down with a psalm and use the words to voice your prayers to God. You’ll be amazed at what happens then.
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