Large corporations downsize or merge, causing employees to worry about their jobs. New York City and Washington, D. C. residents live on the radar screen of radical terrorists who might strike at any moment. Economic indicators such as delinquent payments on credit card bills and increasing mortgage foreclosures suggest that an increasing number of Americans struggle to survive.
It should be no wonder that many people today live their life filled with anxiety.
Not all anxiety is bad. When you are faced with taking an important exam, for instance, you may feel anxiety, which in turn can motivate you to study harder to make sure you do well. This kind of anxiety can be good. But it is when anxiety springs out of control, causing intense fear and worry so that it interferes with your ability to function properly that it’s bad. It is that kind of anxiety that I am talking about and that the culture in which we live can breed.
The question is, given the current trend of our times, is it even possible for a person to live a life characterized by inner peace? Or must we accept excessive anxiety as a way of life?
For Christians, it is definitely possible to live above anxiety. This we know because the Bible commands us to do so: “Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil. 4:6a, NIV).
Note the word “anything” in that verse. As I write this article, there is serious conflict going on between Israel and Lebanon, and between the insurgents and the allied forces in Iraq. And what about those souls who live in Communist countries but have chosen to become Christians, knowing such a decision can be life threatening? God is saying to His people everywhere to be not anxious about life.
I am not saying that living above anxiety is easy. I am saying it is possible. And I am saying we are commanded to live thusly.
This commandment is not a call to deny reality. Christians have needs and desperate situations just as unbelievers do, and God commands His people to pray to Him about them. Instead of being driven by anxiety, however, He says that “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (v. 6b). Think about the last time you found yourself in what you regarded as a desperate situation. How did you respond? Was it in anxiety, or by prayer with thanksgiving?
Here is what happens when we obey God and choose the latter: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v.7). This is a powerful promise from God. He is saying here that when we learn to make our requests by prayer with thanksgiving, He will in turn impart to us a mysterious peace that protects our heart and mind from anxiety! This divinely imparted peace the human mind cannot comprehend. Words can’t describe it.
God often uses desperate situations to bring us to the point of trusting Him. During my last pastorate, for instance, our small congregation decided to buy its first building. The members gave enough money to pay the bills, but the budget was always tight. Sometimes in the summer when most of the church members vacationed, or they busily shopped for their kids returning to school in the fall, we really felt the financial pinch.
As the pastor I still had to make sure we faithfully paid our bills on time. I can remember when it seemed as though half of our small congregation had gone on vacation at the same time or was absent for other reasons. This, of course, was reflected in the financial report for the week. But in critical times God showed Himself strong by blessing us with a large number of visitors who seemed to come from out of nowhere and who blessed us financially just when we needed it.
One month our church’s financial picture looked gloomy, and I didn’t know what we were going to do. For some reason, however, I did not become alarmed about it. After worship service on the Sunday coming up to when bills had to be written, I learned that one church member put in a check for $1200! For my small congregation this was awesome. God’s faithfulness blew my mind that Sunday. After awhile I began to get the picture. This had nothing to do with a shortage of money, but it was God’s way of teaching me to rise above anxiety and trust His faithfulness.
During His Sermon on the Mount Jesus commanded the multitude, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matt. 6:25, NIV). To make His point, He told them to look at the birds of the air, how “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns” but God feeds them daily (v. 26); also, “how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin,” but God faithfully clothes them with beauty (v. 28).
My hometown, Savannah, GA, has a large tourist industry. Among other things, the city is known for its beautiful squares in the downtown area. The flowers blooming in the spring in these squares is a gorgeous site. Tourists near and far flock to the city during this season to capture nature’s beauty on camera. Local art school students follow suit with paintings. Jesus reminds us that it is God who has clothed these flowers with such splendor, and He will likewise clothe us.
We might think Jesus oversimplifies things by using a bird or a plant as a basis for commanding us to not worry about life. But, my friend, that’s exactly the point. To overcome the anxieties of life we must stop complicating our theology about God’s faithfulness. If He feeds the birds of the air, “Are you not much more valuable than they?” (v. 26b). And if He clothes the plants with beauty, which is here today and gone tomorrow, “will he not much more clothe you”? (v. 30 b.) These truths we can extrapolate to apply to any other area of our life that drives us to anxiety.
Have you ever observed the simple faith of a little child? So innocent. So pure. So enduring. This is key. The first step to overcoming anxiety is, ironically, we must grow up and become as a child in our faith. You see, it is only through childlike faith that we can quit worrying ourselves sick trying to figure out if, when, or how God will come through for us. And only then can you “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” And only then “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Wonderful! Just absolutely wonderful! I am a worrywart, having descended from a long line of worrywarts. I don't know why I bother to try to support this inheritance. God has never let me down. He has always shown me that all my worrying leads nowhere except into the land of wasted time and missed opportunities, a sad place to be. Every time it starts to rear its ugly head, He steps in and reminds me that it is fruitless.