Have you ever experienced anxiety? If you have you are not alone. It is the most common mental disorder affecting an estimated 18% of people in the US. That only includes those who have been diagnosed; most of us experience seasons of anxiety and it is not a fun place to be. This may be one of those seasons where many more of us are experiencing anxiety as we grapple with the realities of a worldwide pandemic.
So, how do we deal with this anxiety? Is it possible to experience freedom from the grip of anxiety and continual anxious thoughts? The good news is we do not have to settle or feel destined for an anxiety-filled life. When Jesus announced the good news of the Kingdom of God, he was calling us to a better way to live, a life inside the kingdom of God. NOW. Not just when we get to heaven, but NOW. So let’s take a look at anxiety and what the Kingdom of God has to say about it and how we can gain freedom from it. We will look at Philippians 4:4-9 to help us look what God wants us to know about anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
I love to look at definitions. Here is what Webster’s dictionary says about anxiety:
a 1: apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill
2: an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked:
- by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate),
- by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and
- by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it
b: mentally distressing concern or interest (pace of a child’s progress)
c: a strong desire sometimes mixed with doubt, fear, or uneasiness
If you look at the meaning of the Greek word used for anxiety in Strong’s Concordance, it says:
to be troubled with cares, take thought, to be careful
It is interesting to look at the first part of verse 6 of Philippians 4 to see how different translations describe the word:
do not be anxious about anything (ESV)
Be careful for nothing. (KJV)
Don’t fret or worry. (MSG)
As I look at this, it really describes what I feel like when I am anxious. I am uneasy, nervous. There sometimes is an overwhelming sense of fear or dread. My body sometimes tells me I am anxious as my pulse quickens and my chest tightens. Sometimes I fret or ruminate about an issue or problem which only adds to the anxiety.
We are all experiencing at the moment anxiety which is linked to an “impending or anticipated ill.” In the midst of all of this, Jesus tells us things like: “do not worry about your life…who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life” (Matt 6:25-27). I don’t know about you, but I find Jesus statement easy to follow when I am not experiencing anxiety! But His words take on a whole new meaning when I am in the middle of a stressful life moment like we are currently experiencing. Did He really mean not to worry in a time as this?
The Antidote for Anxiety
When you are experiencing anxiety, what do you need? Peace! Summarizing Webster’s Dictionary, peace is a state of tranquility or quiet. It is to be free from the constant drumming of negative thoughts in our minds. It is having peace and harmony in personal relationships. Even thinking the word peace makes me feel a little less anxious.
Paul defines peace in Phil 4:7
I think Paul nailed the definition, don’t you? I love The Message translation by how it says peace is when Christ displaces worry at the center of our lives. When we are anxious, worry is at the center of our life. It tends to be the thing we put our focus and attention on and many times the circumstances of life reinforce this cycle of worry. When we are anxious, we want and need a peace that surpasses all understanding. A peace that is so overwhelming and complete, we cannot fully explain or grasp it. But Paul tells us, it is available to us. The question becomes, how do we tap into that kind of peace?
Knowing the Peace of God
We recently discussed this topic in our Community Group (AKA Sunday School). Steven Jones, our Teaching Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church who wrote the lesson plan, offered three ways we can receive the peace of God from Philippians 4. All of these require us to make a choice to move Christ to the center of our lives and not anxiety..
1. Rejoice (v4-5)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (ESV)
Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! (MSG)
I don’t know about you but when I am anxious, I have lost perspective on who is really in control. When I am worried about something and seeking to control my fears by my own strength, then anxiety lives on. By rejoicing in the Lord, we move from fear to awe and reverence of our God who is all powerful and all knowing. He knows everything about us and we can trust in His loving care. We can rejoice when we dwell on who God is. Rejoicing becomes a mindset. This verse stresses to do it always and reemphasizes this by stating again to rejoice! How do we do this?
- Any time you find yourself begin to worry, let that be a cue to rejoice.
- Wonder at Gods’ creation
- Focus on the attributes of God: He is good, He is sovereign, He is close, He is personal..
- Before you get out of bed, take a moment to rejoice in the new day. I use a portion of a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer to begin each day:
Do you ever notice that what God tells us to do is usually the exact opposite of what comes naturally? When I am anxious, I ruminate. Ruminate is the tendency to keep thinking about the worrying thoughts over and over. This just comes naturally! God says, rejoice. Wait, What? I got to thinking about rejoicing. It’s hard to rejoice in something you don’t believe in or have no interest in. For example, if you told me I should rejoice that the Washington Nationals won the World Series last year, I would tell you to get lost! Being from Houston, I had no connection to that celebration. I do remember rejoicing when the Astros won in 2017 or when my childhood basketball team the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship in 2016. It was natural to rejoice because I have an affinity with those teams. If rejoicing in the Lord is a struggle for me, I need to spend some time getting reacquainted with Him and remember who He is and what He has done for me. When I do this, rejoicing becomes more natural. When I rejoice in the Lord, my anxiety fades. So the first way to defeat anxiety is to rejoice, not ruminate!
2. Refocus (v8)
When we are anxious, we lose our focus. We focus on our pain and circumstances because that is what is getting our attention and we are trying to do something about it. Paul gives us another idea:
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (MSG)
It is easy to focus on the negative. Some call these thoughts ANTS(automatic negative thoughts). If we see a fire ant mound, we refocus our steps to avoid the pain of encountering those little painful devils! The same with our thoughts. When we sense them going negative, we need to refocus our minds and put them on things that are true, lovely, noble, and uplifting.
3. Replicate (v9)
If we want to experience peace in anxious times, it is helpful to learn from others who have had success in walking with Jesus in the Kingdom and have experienced His peace through trying circumstances. Paul puts it this way:
Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (MSG)
The Christian life was never meant to be lived like a lone ranger. We grow as we connect with others. If anxiety is a struggle, pray about who you might ask to be part of your life that you can learn from. Also, pray about how God may use you to help another as they are struggling with anxiety.
Respond in Prayer
“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.”
As we think about rejoicing, refocusing, and replicating, there is one additional way that this passage gives us to move from anxiety to peace. That is a response of prayer. Being anxious is not a sin. Trying to manage our anxiety on our own is because we are choosing to follow our own path and not what God has shown us to do. How much different might our anxiety be if we spent time in prayer and turned over our anxious thoughts to Him.
A good place to start is to spend some time in solitude and silence, giving your soul a little time to settle.
Settle your soul…Look at the pictures of the jar below. Imagine your soul like the water in this jar. So often we just live life stirred up all of the time. Sometimes we are more comfortable being stirred up than giving ourselves the space to be quiet and letting our souls settle. This can be hard because we are not used to being quiet and when we do, it can be hard work because God may bring some things to the surface that He wants you to let go of. Notice as the pictures progress, the water gets more clear.
Solitude before God can have a similar affect. As you do this, God may give you greater clarity on what is behind your anxious thoughts and feelings. As you hear from God, make a list of those things that have been troubling you.
After you have made the list, then imagine Jesus being with you as you turn them over in prayer. Before each item on your list, simply say “Lord Jesus, help me with…”. Pause between each one and then continue until you have finished the list.
As you begin to make a regular habit of rejoicing, refocusing, replicating, and responding (in prayer), you will begin to experience that peace that surpasses all understanding. The coronavirus has caused society to slow down as so many of our daily activities have been postponed or cancelled as we heed the experts warnings for “social distancing”. Take advantage of this moment of quiet and let God’s voice of love and compassion bring you lasting peace.