An Anxious People
We are an anxious people. As I reflect on my small ministry at Sonrise it is consumed with conversations dealing with the anxieties people have over various circumstances in their lives. I think if Jesus were in many of our churches we would hear him say the words he told Martha on a regular basis, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. . .(Luke 10:41)”
In fact I am an anxious person by nature–I do not handle stressful situations very well. For example, it was Easter Sunday and I had decided to arrive early, before anyone had arrived so I could edit a few things on the church computer for the service later that day. My plan was to slip in, get what I needed done, and be back home before any of my kids had woken up. However, in just a few minutes I had managed to make everything that was supposed to be displayed on the screen at the front of the auditorium disappear. What button had I hit!? And how do I get everything back where it was!?
For the next hour and a half, in my pajamas, I stressed, wined, complained, kicked, and screamed as I frustratingly tried to fix the problem. But I only seemed to make things worse. My wife called me wondering where I was because now all of the kids were jumping on her bed wanting breakfast—what a morning! And the sad reality was, all of this was concerning me on the greatest day of the year—resurrection day! When I arrived a few hours later, with my family (and a not so happy wife!) I noticed everything was back on the screen just like normal. “How did you fix the screen!” I asked the sound guy. His reply—“the projector chord to the back of the computer was not plugged in.”
If the results of a simple google search is any evidence of how our culture handles anxiety than I’m not alone. Anxiety is most definitely an issue we all can relate to in one way or another. I’m sure if I were to write a book titled “the guaranteed cure for anxiety” It would sell millions!
Well, no need to hunt down any such book because there is a text of scripture I believe has that very answer. It’s found in two simple verses:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).”
In this text I see a bridge that leads us from the troubles of anxiety to the protection of peace.
The Troubles of Anxiety
On the one side of this bridge is Paul’s negative command in verse 6–“Do not be anxious.”
I think it goes without saying that anxiety is inevitable because anxiety is the result of both unavoidable and avoidable circumstances. It should be said from the start that anxiety resulting from our various circumstances is going to creep up. The issue I think in Paul’s command to “not be anxious” has to do with our continual consuming and fretting over our circumstances; that we allow anxiety to overtake us, and we have no intention to resolve it. It’s interesting to notice that this command to “not be anxious” is in the present tense. This suggests a continual state of anxiety–“Don’t continue in a state of anxiety…”
Now Paul had every reason to be anxious:
- He was in prison (And yet “Joy” is mentioned around 12 times in this small letter!)
- He is being afflicted by his own Christian brothers as they preach out of selfish ambition ( Philippians 1:15-20)
- He has some who are becoming enemies of the cross which has brought him to tears (Philippians 3:18)
And the Philippian Christians whom Paul was writing to had every reason to be anxious as well:
- There was external persecution being placed on the church (For example Philippians 1:27-29)
- There were Internal struggles happening within the church (For example Philippians 4:2. Could you imagine this being read out loud in church!)
And yet, while all this is in the background Paul commands the church: “do not be anxious!.”And as it is for the Philippians it is for us who follow Christ as well! So what is the cure to anxiety, what is it that will take our fears and worries away? Verse 7 points us to the other side of the bridge.
The Protection of Peace
Paul says that on the other side of the bridge we discover the “Peace of God.” I take this to mean the very peace that resides in the nature of God himself. It’s similar to how Jesus himself described it in the Gospel of John.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27).”
This Peace Paul says, “surpasses all understanding.” I take this to mean it is a peace that is incomprehensible; that when we face these anxieties because of our struggled circumstances we can’t explain the peace we have. We experientially know it’s there. It’s a “you know it when you see it” type of peace.
And then Paul says this peace that surpasses all understanding will “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” What does Paul mean by peace guarding us? What does peace guard us from? I think he means the peace we receive will guard our hearts against anxiety. It will keep us from going back over to the other side of the bridge again. This is why I say it is the “peace of protection.”
So, if anxiety is on one side of the bridge and peace is on the other what is the bridge between the two? How do I get from anxiety to this incomprehensible peace that guards me from anxiety? That answer is tucked away in verse 6
And here’s what we discover:
PRAYER IS THE BRIDGE THAT LEADS US FROM THE TROUBLES OF ANXIETY TO THE PROTECTION OF PEACE.
Paul says “do not be anxious but pray! –not don’t worry be happy, but don’t worry be prayerful! When anxiety arrives in our lives we need the peace of God, and to get to the peace of God we must go to our knees and take our anxieties to our gracious father!
And notice how he defines prayer, he uses four terms that point to four different aspects of prayer
- Prayer— a general term that simply means to speak to God.
- Supplication—emphasis on a sense of need.
- Requests—to beg or plead with a sense of urgency.
- Thanksgiving—this is important! when we pray with thanksgiving we are in essence saying “God I believe that you are a good father who desires to take care of your children!” Anxiety says “God I don’t think you are a good father and I don’t believe you will take care of your children.”
Prayer then is the bridge that leads us from the troubles of anxiety to the protection of peace. You want peace from anxiety? Pray.
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!