Philippians 4:4-9 From Anxiety to Peace

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

From Anxiety to Peace

The rejoicing, reasonable, peaceful Philippians should be a witness to each other and to those around.  Why do they need reminding?  At the heart of every person is a little anxiety.  Anxiety is a fear rooted in the future.  Who will I be?  What will happen to me?  What will I become?  Sometimes, rather than pressing questions, anxiety can be rooted in perceived certainties that have not yet happened:  “Because I have committed this crime, I will go to prison,”  or “Because I didn’t say the right thing, I will be rejected.”  These things may become true, but they are not true in the present.  Jesus, in Matthew 6, tells us not to worry about the future because the future will bring enough worries.  For example, you will die.  It might be painful.  You can waste the whole of your present life, even bring on the end more quickly, by worrying about what will be the time and the manner of your death.  Or you can live in the present and think deeply about death whilst at the same time leaving death in the hands of God.

When I am anxious what should I do?  Pray.  What kind of prayer?  Repetitive or Constant.  What kind of attitude?  Thanksgiving.  To pray in times of hardship is to open yourself up to the possibility that someone is on your side.  As Dr. Lehmann calls it, to have ‘attunement.’  One of the first things that happens when we are anxious is that we drop relational connections with others.  People cease to be allies in the pursuit of God but they become objects who are either obstacles or a means for us to reach our objectives.  We must attune ourselves with God.  Ask him for the faith to seek him as our ally, even when our emotions tell us that we are unsafe or unloved.  When we see God as our ally we bring him our concerns and leave them at the cross – repeatedly.  The anxiety often does not vanish in an instant.  It takes time to bring different aspect of them and ask yourself whether you are prepared to release it to God.  Often, if you check your feelings, you will find that the anxiety shifts to a feeling of loss or remorse.  Sometimes the feelings move to anger or pride.  In each case the feelings should be identified and brought to God.  Men in particular find this hard.  They feel the feelings in their body but are not aware of them.  You can see their body tense as it is racked with emotion, but they have few skills to locate the feeling and name it.  It is difficult to release something of which you are ignorant.  We men can help each other by asking whether we feel our bodies as tense, whether our back hurts, or looking for other physical signs of stress and anxiety.  Whilst repeatedly releasing the anxious thoughts and worries to God and identifying the fears related to them, we must thank God.

Dr. Wilhoit writes about research that has been done which shows that gratitude develops a sense of well-being in those who struggle with anxiety and depression.  It is good to remember the provision of God and the faithfulness of God.  When we see his purposes in other areas which don’t trigger us, we can give the areas that do push our buttons to God more easily.

If this becomes a habit, not a quick fix, peace will break out.  This is the calm assurance that things are as they should be.  The rest of a soul that moves through a difficult life with confidence that God is sufficient.  The focus moves off of the limitations of the self and onto the sufficiency of God.  The goals I set move away from my daily task list and become a constant seeking of the next step that God would have me take in order to grow personally and help others do the same.

In this peaceful state rejoicing and calmness of thought are possible.  A calm, rational person is the person marked by the ‘gentleness’ in this passage.  They have a joy that excites them.  They are in love with God and the perfect love they have casts out all fear.  The Lord is near.  This means that he is coming soon and refers to Jesus.  Although we have his presence in a very real sense through the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has not returned.  However, it is imminent.  It can happen at any point.  That motivates us, but it also reminds us that he longs for us and wishes to be with us.

As your mind clears, what do you let feed it?  What we think about changes us.  we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  The list that Paul gives are not only to be found on the shelves of a Christian book shop.  The list Paul gives is an attitude toward seeing the world as a whole.  The world is created by God and his Spirit still moves among Christians and pagans alike.  God is behind the noble acts of the characters in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  God prompts the preschool child to offer his lunch to the child who forgot theirs.  God makes beautiful the smile of a spouse as she looks up into your eyes.  God works in the squalor of Calcutta and the depravity of Howard Street, Chicago.  If our eyes are open to the Christian witness of devout people in the worst areas of the world, we will find peace.  We will know that God is alive and through his own he changes the world into the world it was created to be.

Prayer

My diagnosis of anxiety and depression opened a door to a deeper experience of you.  However, it was just the start.  I have a life now of accepting my own broken peace and bringing these fears to you.  I am grateful for the times, like now, when you peace floods mys soul like a river and I have the calm assurance that ‘The Lord is near.’

Questions

  1. How might Euodia and Sytyche experience anxiety?
  2. How could a divided church like Philippi become rational and peaceful?
  3. What was the responsibility of the individuals in Philippi upon hearing these words?
  4. When do you become anxious?
  5. How do you process your emotions and find the God of Peace?
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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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