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4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
See if any of this applies to you: You always seem to have more to do than you can possibly do. At your job, you are the first to arrive and the last to leave. You are always in a hurry. You feel guilty about doing anything other than work, but when you are at work you spend a lot of time fantasizing about "getting away from it all." Any unforeseen problems that arise during your day seem like major setbacks or disasters. You find that you have trouble making a decision about anything. Large or small, major minor, any decision is just tough to do. You seem to rely more and more on the legal drugs of our society: cigarettes and/or alcohol. You find yourself saying, I have just got to have a cigarette to calm my nerves. You may even go further into an increased use of tranquilizers and "uppers." You find that your thoughts trail off while speaking or writing. You do not finish sentences because it seems like too much trouble or it just takes too much time. You start to forget appointments, deadlines, dates. You become distrustful of other people saying that you have to do everything yourself.
If several of these points apply to you, then you may have too much stress in your life. Like many Americans, you are afflicted with anxiety.
Anxiety has been defined as an "inner feeling of apprehension, uneasiness, concern, or worry that is accompanied by heightened physical symptoms." You perspire, shake, your blood pressure rises, you may even break out in hives.
Stress and worry can cause ulcers, skin rashes, shortness of breath, loss of sleep, and loss of appetite. Studies show that people who are too busy with too much to accomplish, and too little time actually wear their bodies out at an earlier age.
Worry paralyzes us mentally. We cannot think, focus, react well, recall basic and important details. Some students who know the material, for example, forget everything under the stress of taking a test.
Fear of failure puts incredible stress on everyone. That kind of worry can prevent us from fully participating in life. We do not even try, but Hockey star Wayne Gretzky reminds us, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."
We need a prescription for anxiety and stress. We need a prescription for worry-free living. We might begin with Psalm 94:19, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (NRSV). When the burdens of life seem too much to bear, God consoles and comforts and supports us. Again we are told in IPT5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” We can trust God to take care of our problems, because he loves us.
Then we come to Philippians 4:6-7, ”Do not worry 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.”
These two verses have three attitudes and a conclusion. The three attitudes are: Anxious in nothing, Prayerful in everything, Thankful in anything. The Conclusion: Peace forever. The three attitudes are founded on faith in God. When we live by faith those three attitudes can guide our lives and the "peace of God" settles quietly over our minds and hearts.
Let’s think briefly about those three attitudes.
First, anxious in nothing.
Never worry. As we think about this piece of advice, we need to remember that Paul's letter to the Philippians was written from a prison cell. Paul’s greatest desire, to continue traveling and preaching the gospel in new and distant places, was apparently a lost cause. He was old and ill in jail. The Philippian church itself was not exactly experiencing the best of times. In 1:28, Paul mentioned the "opponents" the faithful encountered every day. Elsewhere, we read of tension and conflict in the church.
Things were not going all that well for Paul, nor for the church, yet Paul counsels the Philippians "Do not worry about anything."
Worry is based on lack of trust in God. Frances Willard, the great temperance leader, once remarked with her usual forthrightness that "anxiety is atheistical!" To be constantly anxious suggests that we do not quite trust ourselves, and more importantly, we do not quite trust God. What does your 16-year-old say when he comes in 30 seconds before his curfew is up and finds you "waiting up" for him: He says, "What's wrong, don't you trust me?" Well, truth be told, we do not.
What makes us anxious is the feeling that we do not have control over the situations we are facing. Whether it be our teenager's social life, or our spouse's health, or our own career, when we feel out of control, stress mounts. And no matter how many extra precautions we try to take, deep down inside we know that things get easily and quickly beyond our control. Kids grow up; illness attacks without warning; companies "down-scale" and lay workers off. As Presbyterians say, "Predestination happens."
But if we let our anxieties about these uncontrollable factors in our lives rule us, we make ourselves incapable of becoming agents of God's grace in this world. How can we "rejoice" and witness the "joy of the Lord" to others if we are anxiety-ridden ourselves? If we cannot trust God, then who can we trust? Here is the bottom line: you can be anxious in nothing because God is God. You can rejoice because the Lord is near. You can turn your worries over to God because God loves you and cares for you.
The second attitude is be prayerful in everything.
A classic Dennis the Menace cartoon depicts an irate Margaret haughtily proclaiming to Dennis as he walks by, "I am not speaking to you, Dennis Mitchell!" The next frame shows Dennis, his eyes rolled heavenward, breathing a heartfelt, "Thank you, Lord." Obviously, Dennis had been in prayer and his prayer was answered.
When confronted with an unexpected situation or an unforeseen problem, is your first response to turn towards God in prayer? The reason we can be anxious in nothing and rejoice in the Lord is that God is powerfully present for us in prayer. Paul recognizes that many of our prayers are what we might call prayers of supplication or request. There are other kinds of prayer. Sometimes, when we are feeling spiritually strong and centered, our souls turn toward God in prayer, seeking nothing more than his presence in our lives; but many times we approach God on our bellies. We are beat down by life. We come to God as supplicants, needing help. We have specific needs for which we beg God’s intercession.
Sometimes our requests must seem childish and simple to God, like the two little boys who in early September were thinking of snow. They hopefully donned their mittens, coats and hats, brought out their sled and hiked up to the top of a hill. Then they looked up to heaven and said, "We're ready, God. Let it snow!" That is faith. We need that same faith when we face more serious problems—when I my business is bankrupt, when my loved one has cancer, when I fail at school, or when my children do something that they should not have done.
God wants our prayers, supplications, requests. God wants to be vitally present in our lives. God wants us to be prayerful in everything.
Prayer is the cure for anxiety. Notice that Paul does not say that if you are anxious you should take some medication, go on a talk show, or join a support group. He says pray. Prayer is the cure for anxiety because it takes us into the presence of the great physician. There is no problem too big or too small for God to fix.
A father watched out the kitchen window as his seven year old daugher played in the backyard sand box. He watched her moving several large rocks out of the sandbox. One big rock was giving the little girl a great deal of trouble. He watched her move the rock to the edge of the sandbox, but each time it looked like she would be able to move the rock over the side, the rock would fall back into the sandbox. The last time it fell, it pinched one of her fingers. The father walked out to his tearful daughter and asked her what was the matter. She told him all about the heavy rock in the sandbox. The father asked, "Why didn’t you use all the strength you had?" The girl replied, "I did, dad. I did." The father responded, "No, you didn’t ask me." And with that the father got in the sandbox and helped the daughter roll the rock over the side.
God’s Word tells us not to be anxious, but to come to him for every need knowing that God is our strength and with his help we can remove the rocks from the sandbox of our life.
The song says:
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.
(“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Scriven)
The third attitude was: Thankful in anything.
After Noah built the ark, it began to rain. It rained for 40 days. On the 39th day, do you think that Noah went up on the deck of the ark and said, “Thank you, God” for the fresh rain falling on his face? I doubt it. Being thankful in anything does not mean being thankful for anything. I am not thankful for the Asian Tsunami or for the mudslide that buried that city in California, or for the train wreck that released Chlorine and killed nine people in Graniteville, SC. I am not thankful for bad things that happen. But I am thankful in all things that God is always with us. The guiding, guarding hand of God is constantly present to us. Through Jesus Christ, we are adopted into the family of God. We can never be abandoned children. We always remain in the love of God no matter what happens.
That is the reason we can be thankful in anything. Our thankfulness is not a matter of "surface smiles." It is a confidence that whatever comes our way, our life is erected on a foundation of power. Our life is built on the presence of the living God.
Then, there is the conclusion, peace forever.
For those able to rejoice in the Lord and go to the Lord in prayer with thanksgiving, Paul promises a special gift: the "peace of God." The peace of God is not simply the absence of war or conflict or trouble. It is instead a condition of our whole being. The peace of God stems from our whole experience of salvation. The peace of God is possible because Jesus Christ made salvation possible for us. The peace of God is a gift from God through Christ.
The ways of God are beyond the comprehension of human beings. Thus, the actual "peace of God" is something we can experience but cannot explain. Paul maintains that part of the gift of this peace, however, is that it will "guard" or "keep safe" both the heart and the mind of the believer who is "in Christ Jesus."
It is "in Christ," Paul insists, that we will finally experience this miraculous "peace." In Christ, our shattered lives are put together again and we are enabled to live worry free.
Isaiah 26:3 “Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace-- in peace because they trust in you.” Those who trust in God and keep on trusting in God have a steadfast mind and a peaceful soul. How could it not be so? It is the Lord of power that we trust. It is the lord of love in whom we find our rest. Having rested and trusted in that Lord we have found the answer to all the stress and strain of life.
We perhaps cannot change the events that are causing us to worry. We cannot prevent problems from arising in our lives. We cannot foresee every difficulty. We cannot control every situation.
But we can decide whether we are going to worry about every difficulty. We can decide whether we are going to let problems stress us out. Worry is a habit. Habits are deliberately acquired. That is, we decide what habits we are going to practice. Now often we decide without much consideration. We sort of go along and allow habits to develop. But still habits are something we allow to happen and, therefore, they are something we can change. If stress and worry are your habits you need a change.
You need to practice the three attitudes the Apostle Paul recommends. This Sabbath morning let the peace of God which passes all understanding make your life a joy. Learn about worry-free living. Be anxious in nothing; prayerful in everything; thankful in anything, and you will have the peace of God. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 03/21/05