The Anxiety Challenge
Philippians 4:4-7 - Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.
We live in anxious times, fearful times. People are worried about the transitions and traumas. Our politics reflects the reality that is ours today where the masses aren't moved by their hopes and aspirations but rather their anxieties and fears. Yet in many ways, the context of Philippians matches well with our present world conditions.
What's so amazing about Philippians is that Paul wrote this most joyful of New Testament letters while sitting in a prison, shackled to a soldier. Philippians is the New Testament equivalent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's letter from a Birmingham jail for it views reality from the blues perspective described by Dr Cornel West in his book, Democracy Matters. West writes the blues "expresses righteous indignation with a smile and deep inner pain without bitterness or revenge." pg 19 At its essential core, the blues is the commitment "to stare painful truths in the face and persevere without cynicism or pessimism." pg 21
In the midst of deep darkness and depression, Paul demands that the church worships with joy. That teaches me something about biblical joy. You see, biblical joy isn't naïve: it is more character than cosmetic for it demands of us more than our circumstances can sustain.
The command to be joyful seems impossible - nobody can do it or we don't see how we could do it - and even if it were possible, is it even practical - even if we could rejoice in our darkness, we question what difference rejoicing would make. That's what separates biblical joy from the worldly variety. Yeah, to fulfill the command we need the commander to strengthen us through our hour of trial.
1. ANXIETY IS NEVER THE PROPER RESPONSE TO ANY PROBLEM OR SITUATION.
The Scriptures say, be anxious for nothing. What this tells me is that anxiety is never the proper response to any problem or situation. Emotions have power and probably the best depiction of this truth was made in an animated movie, Inside Out.
Inside Out is a 2015 American 3D computer-animated comedy-drama adventure film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The film was directed by Pete Docter and co- directed by Ronnie del Carmen, with a screenplay by Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley from a story by Docter and del Carmen.
The film is set in the mind of a young girl named Riley Andersen (Kaitlyn Dias), where five personified emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling)—try to lead her through life as her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) move from Minnesota to San Francisco and she has to adjust to her new surroundings.
[From wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Inside_Out_(2015_film)]
Emotions have power. There is a time for joy and a time for sadness. Anger, fear, and disgust all have their proper place. Each emotion has its proper place and purpose when it is used to energize us to action, prepare us for adjustments, or to avoid hurtful situations. Scripture even prescribes that there are appropriate time for anger and appropriate persons to fear.
But Paul wants us to know that or anxiety is cannibalistic - it will eat you from the inside out. Paul probably echos the wisdom of Plato, who it is who said,
Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety. Plato
Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its
strength. Charles Spurgeon
There is no useful purpose for anxiety for anxiety is simply fear that's way past its expiration date. Anxiety is rancid fear. We are talking about anxiety - that fearful look into the future that causes our minds to ruminate about amorphous problems we lack the skills and resources to cope with and so that leaves us feeling crippled covered in a wet blanket of hopelessness, helplessness, and powerlessness. Anxiety is toxic and there is no way to properly process it once it is stored in you. Anxiety is the antithesis of faith and furthermore it lacks any of the redeeming qualities of the other emotions: the connection of joy; the empathy of sadness; the fire of anger; the wisdom of fear; or the protection of disgust.
We know that each emotion serves a purpose but we have plainly demonstrated that anxiety is the cancer of emotions which Paul teaches is never the proper response to any problem or situation.
2. WHATEVER THE CIRCUMSTANCE, DIRECT YOUR CONCERNS TO GOD.
Make your requests known to God. That's the second command that Philippians gives us. When faced with an uncertain future, when you feel as if you don't have the skills or the support to make it through a crisis, what do you do? What should you do? Paul commands us let God know your requests. In other words, don't just worry; tell God what you want.
It sounds simple enough but this command is meant to arrest our anxiety and redirect or thoughts toward God, re-orienting us from the dark, unknown, and foreboding future towards a God who is present and who cares.
I know you are here. He is here, hallelujah. Even in your prison, God is present. That's why Paul and Silas could have a midnight praise session because even in the prison, God is present. My anxiety makes him feel absent, but God is still here.
He doesn't want us to pray flat, formal, feelingless prayers. Some people come into his presence in Paris but they ask for nothing. Why? Or they talk only about their problems. When you come to God in prayer, don't just rehearse your problems to God - call him with your requests. Do you know what you want? What do you plan to achieve? What are you aiming to accomplish? Stop with the passionless prayers. Stop praying at people or at the ceiling and start praying to God. Figure out what's in your heart. What brings you joy? What's your greatest fear? What disgusts you? What fires up your anger? What breaks your heart? Figure that out, bring that to the Lord in prayer. Whatever you have to do, don’t come to the building, and leave without a blessing.
3. GOD’S PEACE IS THE PERFECT ANTIDOTE FOR ANXIETY.
Every command comes with a promise. The promise here is God's peace will guard your heart and mind. When you're looking for peace, check the source. Make sure it's from God. What the world gives, the world can take away. But God's peace comes packaged with his presence.
Wherever his presence goes , peace goes with it. His presence and peace are a packaged deal. The truth of the matter is, worldly peace mimics the same principle. That's why if your peace is based on money, companionship, status, or security it fluctuates because all these things are fluid by nature. Only God is eternally present. Peace comes from knowing God is right there in the midst of it all.
The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has
disappeared in the anxiety of doubt. Paul Tillich
That he not only walks with you, but he weeps with you. He is an ear to hear of the tears of the brokenhearted. Is a shoulder to lean on for the weak, and arms that uphold the weary. When others run away, he stays in the fires with us.
Just because of his presence, we gain new perspective in our pain. And in a bluesy kind of way, we stare at dismay and see the Divine Presence still there. We gaze into trouble and heartache and noticed that goodness and mercy still follows us, and that love could never, would never abandon us.we are confronted by our bodies racked with pain and yet that doesn't blind us to Great Physician with Gilead's balm. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear and dread fall away for even then and even there, we are comforted by his presence.
God gives peace to allay our anxieties. It's the type of peace that is as nebulous as our anxiety. The old folks say it best when they sang, “All that I know, I got something within me. That hopes in the rain, that banishes pain, that I can't explain, but I thank God I've got something within me. It's the peace that passes all understanding.”
And this peace will protect your courage and your conviction through any crisis. It's too hard to verbalize it. It's too potent to neutralize it. It's too ingrained to exorcise it. It's too prominent to minimize it. It's too difficult to conceptualize it. It's too heavy to weigh it. It's too tough to ever break it. It's too personal to ever copy it. It's too enjoyable to ever get bored of it. It's too broad to measure it. It's too much to calculate it. It's too priceless to evaluate it. It's too permanent to ever lose it. It's too important to ever forget it.