Philippians 4: 6 – 7
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”.
These verses smack me over the head every time I read them. I’ve admitted before that I tend to be an anxious person. When I was a young mom, I went through a period of time after the birth of my daughters where I was very anxious and experienced panic attacks. Perhaps that was tied to some kind of postpartum depression – it was too long ago to know if hormones had anything to do with it or not. But the reality is that I worry way too much. From my own experience dealing with anxiety, and from some of the phrases in these verses, I think there is a way to deal with worry.
“Don’t worry about anything” is a reminder that there are no exceptions to this worry thing. So, you can’t think – don’t worry about small things, but it’s OK to worry about big things – that is not what this verse says. In Philippians 2, we looked at setting goals in our personal spiritual lives. If you are a worrier, I think trying to cut down on worrying is a legitimate goal. It requires you to be very intentional about identifying the worry or the signs of worrying and to make an effort to deal with it. In this Coronavirus time, I suspect that worrying has become a major pastime for many of us. There are so many things up in the air that we can’t control – our ability to meet with people, our income, our health, etc. We need to remember that God is very willing to help us with this. The Holy Spirit lives within us; God isn’t leaving us alone in this venture.
“Pray about everything” is a first step in the process. We tend to pray when things start becoming overwhelming, when we feel like we’re in a scary place. But think about praying over little things. When you get up in the morning, ask God to show you something He wants you to do today, some person He wants you to encourage. When you are starting to lose your temper with your stubborn 2 year old, pray for patience. My husband was one of the calmest people I know (I think that’s why God brought him into my life), and I can remember so vividly one time many years ago when I was having a fit about something or another, and he very kindly – and I don’t think he meant it as any reprimand or comment on my behaviour at the time – said, “Audrey, pray about it. I pray all the time even to find my car keys in the morning”. He was not a morning person at all, so I get it that he needed to pray about finding his car keys. But what struck me at the time was his statement about praying about little things all the time. Since then, I’ve come to realize that when I get used to talking with God about all sorts of things during my day, it calms me down. You try it. Start intentionally talking to God about little things throughout your day.
“Tell God what you need” is another good piece of advice from God’s Word. Sometimes I think we should sort out what we need from what we want. But whatever … telling God what we need puts what is bothering us right out in the open. I think that’s why I like praying out loud. I can’t get fuzzy when I actually say the words. It clarifies to me what I’m asking for. Sometimes prayer is actually asking God to show us what we need. Admit what is bothering us, and then ask God what we need to move forward on that situation. These conversations with God about what we need is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to us and for us to once again admit that God is in control and reinforce our dependence on Him. Both spiritually and psychologically, this is a good way of dealing with worry.
“Thank Him for all He has done”. I love the fact that the Bible agrees with psychology in how to deal with life. Or maybe I should say, psychologists have discovered that the Bible had it right all along. When we take our focus off our problems and refocus on the good things God has given us, that definitely cuts down the anxiety. This is something over the years that I have learned to do when I feel overwhelmed. In fact, I’ve learned to follow the three steps in the order the verses state them: 1. turn to God with the problem no matter how small, 2. tell God what I think I need and/or ask God what I need, and 3. then start thinking about and thanking God for all the wonderful things He has given me in the past. Remembering how God has helped us in the past calms us down in the present.
“ Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” All I can say is that statement is true. I know I’m a bit of a control freak. I like things organized and planned out well. I like to have all the bases covered, and the outcomes as secure as they can be. Being spontaneous is fun, but it’s not my first choice for life by any means. Those qualities are actually good ones, especially if you are a leader in any way – like being a teacher. However, those same qualities can be the cause for anxiety, because when things seem to be getting out of control, panic sets in. So because of my own panic tendencies, I can say that God’s peace can arrive in ways we don’t understand or even expect.
I hope my story will encourage you that there is peace available. Over the years of being a teacher, being a mom, and dealing with my husband’s serious health issues, I have experienced times of peace that were divine moments in my life – times when I should have fallen apart but instead I was calm and aware of God’s presence with me. Looking back now, I’m glad I experienced that panic and anxiety as a young mom (I sure didn’t at the time), but that’s when I started my lifetime goal of learning to depend on God. That time was the first time in my life where I couldn’t figure out some way to fix things myself, and I’m glad I had to learn early in life that I wasn’t in control. That was when I started to apply these verses in Philippians personally. Now, years later, when things start to go crazy, and I turn those events over to God with thanks for all He has done for me in the past, I feel a sense of peace and a relaxation of tension in my body almost at once. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to ask for it again in another hour or so, but I now realize that God does bring peace.
“His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”. I believe that the last phrase “as you live in Christ Jesus” is the key to God’s peace. Intentionally living each and every day asking God to guide you, and doing your best with His help to live in a way that honours Him, puts you on a learning path that leads to peace. God will guard your heart and mind, but you have to cooperate with Him in this process. You may in a moment of desperation plead with God to give you peace, and He will. But to experience peace on a daily basis, you need to “live in Christ Jesus” or live putting Him as a priority in your life.
I am the first to confess that I haven’t always lived up to those expectations myself. Especially when life seems to be going along just fine, it’s so easy to just float along with my personal relationship with God on the back burner. I go to church and try to be a good person as a matter of course, but down deep I know that I’m taking charge, not turning to God on everyday matters. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why God has allowed several crisis situations to remind me that I’m not in control – you know the way you do with your children when they are acting silly? You do something to bring them back to reality. I can say that God has brought a peace to my life that
I don’t understand but that I treasure immensely, and my prayer is that you will experience that as well as you face life.