Summary: God gives thankful prayer as a means for the Holy Spirit to dispel anxiety.
Philippians 4 offers great hope and powerful remedies for those who would have their hearts and minds guarded from threats of anxiety and despair.
[ Read Philippians 4.4-9. ]
Philippians 4.6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything….”
Jesus said the same in Matthew 6: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6.25-34).
The Lord would not have repeated the command, nor the Apostle teach the same, if this were not a heart sickness many of us knows personally and intimately.
What I find especially helpful, however, is to remember that the faith which overcomes sin is active. There are six keys to victory over anxiety in this passage, six commands to obey.
1. Rejoice (Philippians 4.4)
Let’s consider an example. Is there any reason to rejoice if you lose your job?
• We can rejoice that we will find how dependable God is.
• We can rejoice that hardships bring your closer to family and friends.
• We can rejoice that trials lead us to pray more and find more intimacy with God.
• We can rejoice that God is sovereign over our jobs and loves me whether I have a job or not.
• We can rejoice at the empathy we learn for others who are out of work.
Forcing myself to find causes and to delight in the good is a key means for crucifying the flesh with its sinful desires.
2. Lean (Philippians 4.5)
When we are full of anxiety, there appears to be no god in the universe with any oomph, as if it is just you and your problems. But that is unreasonable; God is near at hand.
When my kids were much younger and became frightened, they clung tightly to me. They wanted a friend and father close during the storm. Lean on the Lord at hand.
3. Pray with Thanksgiving (Philippians 4.6)
On Monday I posted Sunday’s sermon on a web site. I noticed they were selling Thanksgiving videos to be shown in the church. I was curious, so I looked at one. The first scene was a man coughing and in pain who said, “Thank you, Lord, for sickness and disease.” Then a woman is pulled over by a policeman and she says, “Thank you for speeding tickets.” Then a woman watches a thief run away with her purse and she says, “Thank you, God, for stolen handbags.” I wondered, is that what it means to be thankful in all circumstances?
I think maybe what God wants is not so much thankfulness at the particular problems, but for us to recognize that we still have much to be thankful for, even as we pray about the problems we face.
Last year I told you about the time Matthew Henry (pastor in the early 1700s) was robbed. The next day he wrote in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, because I was never robbed before. Second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life. Third, because although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”
I think that is what God means when he says, “Pray with thanksgiving.” Plead urgently, with supplication, for help from your troubles. But rather than allowing problems to consume your thoughts and prayers, let the very troubles you face also lead you to thankfulness for your many blessings.