Summary: Paul gives us the antitode to worry, and he calls us to think right, pray right, and live right, as we live lives victorious for Christ.
Advancing through Anxiety
Today we wrap up our four-Sunday walk through Philippians. I hope you have found it as relevant as I have. We’ve looked at keeping a heavenly perspective while living fully this life. We’ve sought to become a servant like Jesus. We’ve been challenged with forgetting the past (pretty easy for some of us!), and leaning toward our future heavenly home, while living every present moment in Christ and for Christ. And today we’ll look at replacing anxiety with God’s peace.
We are an anxious nation. Scientific American magazine reports that 1 in 6 Americans take a psychiatric drug [https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/1-in-6-americans-takes-a-psychiatric-drug/]. Anxiety meds are second only to depression meds. I believe meds used carefully are a gift from God. But what if sometimes we turn too quickly to the pill bottle and too slowly to the Lord? It was Mark Twain who quipped, “I’ve suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened.” Or maybe you identify with the person who said, “I don’t have a nervous system. I am a nervous system!” From today’s scripture, I want to suggest three ways to advance through our anxiety. First, we need to ...
1. Think right.
Paul says in verse 4 to rejoice. And to make sure we don’t miss it, he says it twice: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians is all about joy; Paul uses the word some 16 times! When he says here to rejoice “always,” that suggests joy is more than an emotion, for you cannot command an emotion. You cannot force someone to be happy; they either are or they aren’t. But Paul tells us to rejoice always. Joy, then, must be a decision. Someone said, “Happiness comes from happenings, but joy comes from Jesus.”
Actually, joy is an act of faith. It supposes that, regardless of how things look, God is still on the throne, God loves me, God is for me, and even though God may not deliver me, God will see me through. That’s why James could write, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). He knew God can use trials for good, to build our character. And that’s why Daniel’s three friends could defy King Nebuchadnezzar with confident joy, stating, “Our God can deliver us from the fiery furnace. But even if he does not, we will not serve your gods” (see Daniel 3:17-18).
Thinking right begins with choosing joy. The Philippians knew Paul lived this out. When he first visited their city, he had cast out a demon and inadvertently thwarted a money-making scheme, so the disgruntled businessmen had him falsely charged, beaten, and thrown into prison, along with his buddy Silas. You can read the story in Acts chapter 16. Sitting in their jail cell at night, they could have had a royal pity party. Instead, they opted for a worship service! Wounded and behind bars, they sang hymns! And God sent an earthquake that mysteriously unlocked every cell door without hurting anyone. That same night the jailer and his family were all saved, and the next day Paul and Silas were released. Why? Because they chose joy, despite their circumstances. They chose to think right.
Paul gives us examples of what to think about in verse 8. He says to train our mind toward the positive, to focus on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable; to think about things that are excellent or praiseworthy. You are what you think. While every sin begins first with a thought, so does every act of obedience. Various people have been attributed with writing the poem:
Sow a thought, reap a word.
Sow a word, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
And sow a character, reap a destiny.
It all begins with a thought. What if, before you went to bed, instead of watching the news, you read a short devotion out of this booklet, “Our Daily Bread”? Or what if you started out the morning praying, “Good morning, Lord!” instead of “Good Lord, it’s morning!” You are training your mind to think more positively.
We need to think right, and secondly we need to ...
2. Pray right.
Verses 6 and 7 are two of my favorite Bible verses. The New Living Translation sums them up nicely with, “Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything!”
We're all good at worrying, but sometimes we feel ill-prepared to pray. Yet, if you know how to worry, you know how to pray. Worrying is talking to yourself about things outside your control. Praying is talking to God about things outside your control. Oswald Chambers wrote, “All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.” When the anxiety level starts rising, talk to God about it.