Text: Philippians 4:6-7 — … do not be anxious 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.
Introduction: Philippians is a letter written to Christians who lacked unity. They were troubled by all kinds of things (not the least of which was persecution for their faith in Christ). And as often happens when people are hard-pressed, they can occasionally turn against one another (See Philippians 4:2 for the example of Euodia and Syntche). This left many of them in a battle with worry where they could find little reason to be joyful. That’s why the main theme of Paul’s letter deals with the unity of the body (Philippians 1:27 – Let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel). People who stick together tend to deal with stress much better than those who face it alone. Now we before we come down too hard on the members of the church in Philippi, most of us would have to admit that stress and anxiety are a way of life for us as well, though perhaps for different reasons. According to a 2015 study by the American Psychological Association called Stress in America, there are many causes of anxiety for us and our neighbors, one of which is the rise of perceived discrimination. People of all races are dealing with it at higher levels than a generation ago, with women reporting slightly more incidents of discrimination than men. When it comes to the more common stresses of life (money, work, relationships, housing costs and family responsibilities) younger people tend to worry more about them than those who are older. What are some of the results of this reported increase in stress? Today a greater percentage of adults report chronic illnesses than in prior years with two out of three claiming to have been diagnosed with at least one long-term physical ailment resulting from it. Thirty-two percent report they are suffering from high blood pressure and nearly six out of ten are overweight and obese. Getting an adequate amount of good sleep is also on the decline with just thirty-three percent reporting that they sleep well. If these numbers are even close to being accurate, there is a very strong correlation between one’s emotional and physical well-being and a person’s ability to handle stress and anxiety well. So how do the people who were surveyed deal with their stress? The most common ways are by listening to music, exercising or walking, surfing the internet, watching television or movies, reading and spending time with the family. None of these solutions are necessarily bad. In fact, some can be pretty beneficial, though surfing the internet and watching TV and movies certainly require some spiritual discernment. I do believe, however, that there is a better way to deal with anxiety. It is provided for us in the passage I read to you a few moments ago. It should come as no surprise to most of us that God’s stress management tool is PRAYER!
This morning, in our 4th message on the Lordship of Christ, I want to look at how the believer’s submission to our Lord’s rule and reign can give us victory over the many worries of life. I invite you to join me as we unpack two verses that can really help us understand the source of worry, what God would have us do to combat it and what we can expect when we follow His Word on the matter. Let’s begin with what I call “the birthplace of worry.”
The Birthplace of Worry (Philippians 4:6a – …do not be anxious about anything). The phrase “do not be anxious” means to “take no thought.” This is how the King James Version translates the same word in Matthew 6:25 – Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink. Now this is important to us because it is God’s way of telling Christians that worry isn’t the RESULT of our circumstances, but our RESPONSE to our circumstances! Yes — It turns out that worry is birthed in our minds! Now some of us might want to contest this notion because it seems like worry has an external cause, when our circumstances change and we recognize the potential for our lives to take a turn for the worse. But this isn’t true! Think about it. If it was … then Jesus would have been a slave to anxiety and worry since He often faced very trying conditions. But even in the midst of the most difficult ones, He had peace. Not only would this be true, but the Word would be found to be at fault here in Philippians because it’s commanding us to do something that is beyond our ability (i.e. to be anxious for nothing), even for those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. If you look back to the preceding verse in Philippians chapter four you’ll discover the reason why we do not need to fret about anything. THE LORD IS AT HAND. Whenever the Bible mentions the nearness of God in relation to His people it is meant to encourage us to faith and holiness. Note the words that are spoken to Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, as he is fleeing his homeland and the very real threat of retribution from an angry brother (Esau) … “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go – Genesis 28:15.” As the nation of Israel was preparing to cross the Jordan and take the Promised Land, God said something similar through Moses so that they would not be anxious … “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you — Deuteronomy 31:6.” In the New Testament, just a short time before Christ ascended to His father. Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission, which certainly seemed like a formidable task, well beyond their abilities. That’s why He told them, “and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age – Matthew 28:20.” Later, the writer of Hebrews exhorts Christians to be free from the love of money (worrying about having enough of it) by quoting the same promise from Deuteronomy 31 in Hebrews 13:5 – I will never leave you nor forsake you. Application: It’s very clear that God doesn’t intend for His children to be fearful and distraught about the future. This means that every believer has a choice to make when the time comes to face these challenges. Either we can give in to these worries born in our minds or we can trust God and rise above them, knowing that He is a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). Illustration: Some of us, it seems, like to worry. It gives us something to do when life presents a challenge. In fact, some people must believe that worry can positively impact their futures. That’s why they do it so much. I think of the husband who asked his wife, “Why are you always worrying when it doesn’t do any good?” She quickly piped back, “Oh really! You think it does no good? Then please explain to me why ninety percent of the things I worry about never happen.”
TODAY, AS CHRISTIANS, WE KNOW THAT GOD IS ALWAYS WITH US. THAT’S A GOOD REASON FOR NOT WORRYING. WHY SHOULD WE BE ANXIOUS WHEN THE ALL-POWERFUL, ALL-KNOWING, ALWAYS GOOD GOD OF THE UNIVERSE IS THERE TO TAKE CARE OF US? So, the choice is ours. We can take no thought for the things that worry most people and trust the Lord, or we can do what the majority usually does … worry and fret until we’re physical sick and have no joy. Either way, it all starts in our minds.
The Answer to Worry (Philippians 4:6b – but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God). It is precisely because God is near that we can take advantage of His closeness and talk to Him whenever we want. This is what God tells us to do when we’re dealing with things that trouble our souls. And how do we know if we ought to be in prayer about something? The answer is simple … if it’s big enough to worry about … it’s big enough to pray about. We are free to come to the Lord with all the details and circumstances of life. Nothing is too insignificant to bring to Him. If you’re concerned about an exam … pray. If you tend to worry about your children … pray. If you’re anxious that you will not being able to support your family … pray. If someone you know and love is battling illness … pray.
Paul goes on to add another factor into our prayer lives in order to keep any anxiety at bay. We’re to pray with thanksgiving. This is a way of communicating to God that we trust Him to redeem any situation so that it turns out for His glory and our good. Thanksgiving is God’s way of removing fear and anxiety from our trials! This is what it accomplished for the armies of Israel when they came under the attack of the Moabites and Ammonites. Though they were outnumbered, under the leadership of their King, Jehoshaphat, and in obedience to the Lord, they boldly marched out to battle with singers leading the way. What song did they sing? “Give thanks to the Lord for His loving-kindness endures forever,” God honored their faith and created confusion among their enemies until they attacked one another (2 Chronicles 20). Application: Prayer with thanksgiving is a powerful tool that God provides for Christians. That’s why believers are urged to let our requests be made known to God. This is not to say that He doesn’t know what we want or need even before we ask. Of course, He does. But sometimes God wants us to demonstrate our faith and dependence by the very action of making the request with an attitude of thanksgiving. The implication, in this case, is that if we don’t ask in this way, we won’t receive it. (Review: The birthplace of worry – the mind; the answer to worry – pray with thanksgiving)
Our Protection from Worry (Philippians 4:7 – And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus). Here in verse seven, we discover that peace is the by-product of the life of faith and trust that results in a believer bringing every request to God. Peace and anxiety do not go together. You can’t have both at the same time. Either you are at peace about something, or you’re worried about it. And the kind of peace that God is talking about here is not that which comes because our problems all go away, but that which totally transcends our circumstances and transforms our minds. It’s the peace of God that is ours often in spite of the continuance of life’s difficulties. This is why Paul says it surpasses all understanding. It makes no human sense but is perfectly rational to all in the kingdom of heaven. This peace, we’re told, stands guard over our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Since Paul and his fellow Hebrews viewed the heart as the center of one’s being, out of which flows all of life, he clearly saw that it needed to be protected. It’s that important! Here he informs us that God’s peace (that is ours in Christ Jesus) will protect us like the secret service protects the President from any potential threat. Illustration: Have you ever thought about how much emotional energy we waste when we’re consumed by worry and refuse to pray and give it over to the Lord? According to the Bureau of Standards, “A dense fog covering seven city blocks, to a depth of 100 feet, is composed of something less than one glass of water.” So, if all the fog covering seven city blocks, 100 feet deep, were collected and held in a single drinking glass, it would not even fill it. Did you know that most of the matters that people tend to be anxious about are a lot like that dense fog? When reduced to their true size and impact, they don’t amount to much at all. Yet still, we battle anxiety with our judgments obscured by the fog of worry. Here’s an authoritative estimate of what most people worry about: (1) Things that never happen: 40 percent. That is, 40 percent of the things you worry about will never occur anyway; (2) Things over and past that can’t be changed by all the worry in the world: 30 percent; (3) Needless worries about our health: 12 percent; (4) Petty, miscellaneous worries: 10 percent; (5) Real, legitimate worries: 8 percent. Now let’s be clear: God directs those who want peace to pray about all of it with thanksgiving, but if you feel the need to worry, at least focus on legitimate concerns. The rest (92%) have no substance at all, they only amount to a lot of fog.
Applications: Assuming that you’re in prayer about your anxieties, what else can you do? I would recommend these three things:
· Get some clarity. Ask yourself, “What am I really worried about?” Until you accurately identify it, whatever the object of your anxiety is will continue to exert control over you. Naming it is the first step to finding victory over it. By the way, if your thoughtful in this process, you may discover that the actual source of your worry is something other than what you originally thought. For example, I used to worry about having necessary and difficult conversations with others. Over time I came to understand that what I was most anxious about wasn’t the conversation itself, but the rejection I might feel from that same person once we’d completed our talk.
· Get some direction. What action does God want me to take? Prayer is two-way communication with God. We talk to Him about matters of the heart, and He tells us what we should do about them. Sometimes it’s nothing, except to rest in Him, but not always. The Lord may direct us to some course of action. When you’ve prayed about something enough to be confident of God’s leading … then step out in faith and do it in obedience to His will. Here’s an example of what I mean. When I first attended seminary, I had been out of school for ten years. I was worried about not being up to all the work required to get a Masters of Divinity degree. After the first day of classes, I had syllabus shock. I calculated that I would have to read three hours a day before I began any of my studies just to meet the class requirements. I was praying about this and questioning if the Lord really wanted me back in school when I sensed He was directing me to talk to one of my professors. I rushed over to his office. Though it was late in the afternoon, he was still there. I poured out my worries to him and said something like, “I hate to think that because I can’t get all this work completed, that I will not get to be a pastor someday.” He didn’t show me a lot of sympathy, but he did tell me what I needed to hear. He said, “Mr. Bauman. If you work hard and do your best, I’m sure the Lord will equip you to complete the workload and earn your degree. Don’t give in to your insecurities.” I’m not sure I would have made it, had God not spoke to me through this man. And I thank God that He led me to talk with him.
· Get some support. Who else can I talk to for help? Worry and anxiety are often overcome with spiritual encouragement from others. Every Christian needs a few close friends to lean on during life’s harsh moments … people that will pray with you and come alongside in whatever way is helpful. Make sure you have this kind of support in place. (By the way, I made it through seminary because my friends encouraged me to persevere.) And most of all … don’t forget that the Lord is at hand. You can talk to Him at any moment. CAST ALL YOUR ANXIETY UPON HIM BECAUSE HE CARES FOR YOU (1 Peter 5:7).
Conclusion: In October of 2010 an eighty-five-year-old Catholic nun got stuck inside a broken elevator. During a power outage the elevator she was in stopped between floors. She wasn’t found until after spending four nights and three days in the dark. Her cell phone was of no use—there was no signal available. All she had was a water bottle, some celery sticks, and some cough drops. Those nourished her for more than seventy-two hours. But she had something else. She had the presence of God. A reporter for Time magazine wrote of the woman, “At first she said to herself, “This can’t happen!” But then she decided to turn her elevator into a personal prayer retreat. ‘It was either panic or pray,’ she later told an interviewer… After a short while she started viewing the experience as a ‘gift.’ ‘I believe that God’s presence was my strength and my joy—really,’ she said. ‘I felt God’s presence almost immediately. I felt like he provided the opportunity for a closer relationship.” Do you hear what she is saying? Four nights and three days in a dark elevator would be for many the most stressful time of their lives, but for a sister in Christ it became a glorious experience as she enjoyed the presence of God through prayer. That’s the best way to eliminate stress and anxiety. Exercise can be helpful, so can eating right, getting enough rest and a host of other good habits as well. But when a Christians finds himself in the dark places of life, the best remedy for overcoming that kind of stress is the realization that God is with you and that you can speak to Him at any time. When you know that, it doesn’t matter what else may be going wrong. As long as the Lord is by your side, you can face anything. So, when you’re encountering the tough stresses that sooner or later come to all of us … find that secret place of quiet retreat and pour your heart out to the God who loves and cares for you. That’s the true place of peace.