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When You're Anxious (Philippians 4:6, 7)

April 23, 2017 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: The Essentials: One Mission

Topic: Anxiety/Worry Passage: Philippians 4:6–4:7

 

When You're Anxious

Philippians 4:6, 7

(One Mission: Through Many Tribulations)

April 23rd, 2017

 

I. A Familiar Feeling

Which of us has not felt this way?

Inner turmoil over what might happen. The tossing and turning of your soul. Dread in light of the possibility, the potential for harm, for embarrassment, for loss. From feeling uneasy to feeling undone. A disconcerting concern that can, in some cases, distract us, and in other cases, paralyze us. An unhealthy mental replay, not just once, but over and over. A vain attempt to gain control over what we know is beyond our control.

Which of us has not felt this way?

We're talking about anxiety, and all of us have felt its dizzying influence. We look for help in it, but find none. One writer said to be anxious is “to carry the burden of the future oneself” (Caird) But as Jesus said in Matthew 6:27, “...which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” It can lead to you leaving your house late, or in some cases, not leaving your house...at all.

Today's psychologists see anxiety as the underlying issue for the most common form of 'mental illness'. What are labeled “anxiety disorders” affect over 18% of the U.S. population. That's over 58 million people in our country.

All of us know what it feels like to be anxious, to worry to an unhealthy degree. And all of us know the price we pay, and others pay, because of anxiety.

But this morning, God wants to encourage us. He wants to speak to you about when you're anxious. Is this a new problem? Not at all. God's word has spoken to the issue of anxiety for thousands of years. So please turn in your Bibles to Philippians 4.

 

II. The Passage: “Do Not Be Anxious” (4:6, 7)

This morning our focus is on our One Mission. But wait; what does anxiety have to do with the mission to which God has called us? Well, we know as 'sent ones' for Christ, we will face trials, opposition, challenges. I think if you're honest, you know that anxiety is one of our most common responses to these kinds of challenges. This is why it is so important that we allow, as we talked about last week, our minds to be renewed when it comes to the topics of anxiety and God's One Mission.

Let's look together at Philippians 4, specifically the verses we heard earlier, verses 6 and 7. This is what Paul writes to the followers of Jesus in the Greek city of Philippi...

...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.

I'm guessing many of you know these verses. I'm guessing many of you, many of us, have found comfort in these words. But let's take that passage apart and determine why these words should be a source of comfort. In part, understanding what these verses are saying involves being clear about what they are not saying. So let me give you three clarifications I see here. Diving into the first half of verse 6, I think it's important to see that this is...

 

1. A Word of Comfort, Not a Warning of Condemnation (v. 6a)

When Paul says “do not be anxious about anything”, his words are not a pointing finger. They are a hand on the shoulder. Paul's goal, God's goal, is to reassure, not to reprimand. As I said, this is a word of comfort, not a warning of condemnation.

I say that because warnings don't sober the anxious heart. They simply add to the crushing weight of anxiety. Remember, we can struggle with anxiety for all sorts of reasons. For some, it's the result of a misunderstanding. But for others, it is the result of severe trauma. What is needed in all cases is comfort and encouragement, not Christian quick-fixes like “Hey, you just need to trust God more”.

Well someone might ask, “Isn't anxiety or worry a lack of faith?” The answer is “sometimes”. Did you know that Paul uses the exact same word in 2:20 to recommend Timothy to the Philippians? Paul tells them Timothy is “genuinely concerned” for their welfare. So this word is and is not like our word anxiety. Therefore, we could translate 4:6 as “Do not be concerned about anything.” Lacks the same clinical overtones, doesn't it.

But what we're talking about is 'unhealthy concern'. In some cases, such concern does come from weakened faith. For some, a genuine encouragement with God's word is all it takes to bolster faith.

But for others, trauma has left an impediment to faith. Does that make faith impossible or unnecessary? Not at all. It simply means faith needs to be directed at the roots of the anxiety. If someone has been abused, for example, feelings of safety and/or self-loathing can be an impediment to trusting God. How do you help someone who says “I believe in God and that He is loving, but deep down, I don't know how God could really love someone like me?”

Yes, we always want to encourage faith. But we also want to direct faith into those especially dry channels, so that the whole field of a life can know living water and God's harvest.

Are we, is Paul, being soft on anxiety? Absolutely not! Don't miss the full impact of Paul's words: do NOT be anxious in ANYTHING. Paul says, “Don't accept anxiety as an unchangeable reality in any area of your life. Don't tolerate it. Don't rationalize it as a necessary evil or an idiosyncrasy. It is an alarm bell that something is wrong.”

In God's word, “Do not be anxious” is comparable to “Do not fear”. They are words of comfort, not condemnation. Can anxiety lead to sin? Yes, just like fear can lead to sin.

Can anxiety and fear be sinful? Yes, when we have understanding, yet fail to do anything to topple the idols or lies that can stand behind anxiety and fear.

So how do you topple these idols or lies? How do we respond to God's words of reassurance, of encouragement, of exhortation? How do we address anxiety? Well, we see this is as...

 

2. A Call to Familiar Prayers, Not 'Foxhole' Prayers (v. 6b)

Remember the wording of verse 6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Paul wants to help shape in his readers an instinctive response to the shadow of or the grip of anxiety. So he calls them to pray. But notice that word “everything”. Why is that word critical? Because, when taken together, Paul is saying we are to be anxious in no-thing, but praying in all things.

What does that mean? It means that when Paul talks about prayer and supplication, he is not talking about what some call 'foxhole prayers'. Do you know what those are? Those are isolated prayers in the heat of the moment. Those are the “Help, God! I'm in trouble and I need you to fix it now. If you do, I promise I will name my first born child Paul or John (or Ringo...just seeing if you're awake).”

Yes, desperate times may be exactly what God uses to wake us up, to make us aware of our desperate need for Him...but our need for Him as God, not as a genie in a bottle.

Instead, Paul wants them to grow in a life of familiar prayers, that is, a life of everyday communion with God, in every area. Let me point out that the word “prayer” here is the generic word for addressing God. “Supplication” is more specific. It means petitioning God. It means bringing our requests to God.

So when it comes to fighting anxiety, Paul is telling us that the best defense is a good offense. Don't wait for anxiety to strike. Ask God to help you look to Him, in a spirit of prayer, in all things, all throughout your day.

And the fact that Paul has what we might call a 'holistic outlook' is evident from the qualifier he adds in verse 6. We are to pray, we are to plead “with thanksgiving”. The lifestyle to which God is calling each of us is grounded in a vision of God as the One who will give because He has already given; as the One who hears because He has already heard; as the One who wants to help because He has helped before Listen to this...

The right response to anxiety is a life that petitions AND praises God in the face of our needs.

In commenting on this verse and the phrase, “with thanksgiving”, Matthew Henry wrote, “We must not only seek supplies of good, but own receipts of mercy.” Don't you love that?

But you may ask, “Can you be more specific? What should I give thanks for when I feel anxiety closing in?” I think that question leads to a final clarification in verse 7. We discover there that this is...

 

3. A Promise of Peace, Not a Pass or Parachute (v. 7)

Look again at verse 7. Paul tells us this about responding to anxiety with prayer and thanksgiving: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Okay so what clarification do we find here? God's word to us here is a word about “peace”. To be clear, He does not promise us a hall pass or a parachute, that is, a way to escape from those situations that can inspire or tempt us to anxiety. Instead, in the face of those kinds of circumstances and relationships and experiences God calls us to prayer and thanksgiving.

Now, we just talked about being more specific in terms of giving thanks to God in the face of anxiety. Where should we look for specifics? How about the context? Just listen to these verses, verses we find throughout this same letter...

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (1:6)

...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (2:12b-13)

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, [21] who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (3:20-21)

And Paul will go on to say...And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (4:19)

Would you say those are good reasons to give thanks? Wow! But do you see how verse 6 connects to verse 7 in light of these amazing truths? When our hearts and minds are steeped in these spiritual realities, guess what? It should not only cause us to give thanks, but also, these should serve as the inspirations for our prayers...especially in the face of anxiety.

And this is precisely how our hearts and minds are guarded in Christ. Some examples:

When anxiety starts to rise up in light of bad news from the doctor, say, “Father, I thank you that you will transform this lowly body one day. Please help me trust you with it until then,”

When anxiety starts to rise up in light of mounting financial pressures, say, “Father, I thank you that you will supply every need of mine. Please help me to trust in your perfect provision.”

When anxiety starts to rise up in light of moral failure and spiritual dryness, say, “Father, I thank you that you will complete your work in me. Help me to walk in obedience this day.”

And when anxiety starts to rise up in light of a daunting spiritual task or the pressures of kingdom ministry, say, “Father, I thank you that you are in me, both to will and work for your good pleasure. Please help me to trust in your incomparable power to accomplish what I never could on my own.”

And when you offer up prayers like that, in faith, you will know “the peace of God”. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

But we also read this is peace, “which surpasses all understanding”. What does that mean? John Calvin writes...

It is on good ground that he calls it the peace of God, in as much as it does not depend on the present aspect of things, and does not bend itself to the various shiftings of the world, but is founded on the firm and immutable word of God. It is on good grounds, also, that he speaks of it as surpassing all understanding or perception, for nothing is more foreign to the human mind, then in the depths of despair to exercise, nevertheless, a feeling of hope, in the depth of poverty to see opulence, and in the depths of weakness to keep from giving way, and, in [when all is] fine, to promise ourselves that nothing will be wanting to us when we are left destitute of all things, and all this in the grace of God alone... (John Calvin)

And did you notice how all those amazing and comforting realities are rooted in the gospel? We draw from the riches of Christ. We will be made like Christ, on the day of Christ. And it is these things spiritual realities that guard [our] hearts and minds...in Christ Jesus.

 

III. The “At Hand” Factor (v. 5b)

And in the end, that focus is where we need to focus in terms of the context. Did you happen to hear or see that small phrase at the end of Philippians 4:5? Instead of concluding verse 5, I believe even more, that phrase introduces verse 6. What is that small phrase? “The Lord is at hand [or near]” Paul is talking about Jesus there.

The word of comfort, the call to prayer, the promise of peace we find our main text, these right responses to anxiety, I believe all of them flow from that phrase. But what does it mean that “the Lord is at hand [or near]”?

Well, in the NT, this word is used in connection with Jesus in a couple different ways. In many instances, it has to do with His return. In James 5:7-8, we find a call for patience, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand [or near].” But in another letter, Paul wrote: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:13)

That nearness of us to God and God to his people is rooted in the OT. The psalmist wrote: The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) And in connection with the One Mission we heard about earlier, after giving the 'great commission', Jesus reassured His disciples with these words: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

When our youngest was even younger, he got separated from us in public places on a couple of occasions. To this day, certain circumstances make him feel very anxious because of that trauma he experienced. One time, I was late to pick him up from school. But I called the school office and talked to him on the phone as I was driving over. Do you know what reassured Him? Knowing I was near. Knowing that I was coming.

Brothers and sisters, whatever makes you anxious, whatever anxiety you are battling this morning, please know this, “The Lord is near”. And when you believe that, everything intensifies: the word of comfort, the call to prayer, the promise of peace. We don't have to be anxious; but when we are, God's word and Christ's presence will show us the way.