by Tim Witmer
“What? Me Worry?” Those of us who are old enough remember Alfred E. Neumann’s mindless approach to worry. Similarly, Bobby McFerrin’s smash hit “Don’t Worry Be Happy” resonated with millions of people who just hoped that it could be that easy. It isn’t. All of us wrestle with anxiety. After all, there are lots of things to worry about: money, health, family, career—you can fill in the rest.
One of the more popular approaches to addressing worry these days is the suggestion to set aside a thirty-minute period of time to do your worrying. Have you ever tried this? It doesn’t work. Trying to confine worry to a time slot is about as doable as herding cats.
The good news is that the Scriptures give us clear direction when the burdens of life press in upon us. Paul was a man who had a lot to worry about. There were all those struggling new churches, his concern for those who had not yet heard the gospel, not to mention his own health and safety. But it was while he was under confinement in Rome that he wrote some of the most memorable words on worry and anxiety, words that God has used to encourage His people ever since. These remarkable words are found in Philippians 4:6–8. In these verses we are given two antidotes to anxiety that we will explore below.
Instead of Worrying, Pray
In vv. 6-7, Paul writes:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
These are amazing words. We are told not to worry about anything but to pray about everything.
There are several different words for “prayer” in v. 6. The first is a general word for prayer but the second two words refer to specific prayer requests. We worry specifically, so we need to pray specifically. Worried about that unexpected bill? Pray specifically for the Lord’s provision. Worried about that diagnosis? Pray specifically for wisdom for the way forward.
Remarkably, we are promised that when we pray, the Lord will give us peace instead of anxiety. It is a kind of peace that defies the circumstances that we face. God’s peace is not the absence of conflict but a settled security grounded in our relationship with Him. Paul writes that the resultant peace will safeguard our hearts and minds. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones described it this way:
What will happen is that this peace of God will walk round the ramparts and towers of our life. We are inside, and the activities of the heart and mind are producing those stresses and anxieties and strains from the outside. But the peace of God will keep them all out and we ourselves inside will be at perfect peace.
Don’t forget to pray. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He gives us another antidote to anxiety.
Think about What You Think About
There is good reason that v. 8 follows vv. 6–7. In vv. 6–7, we are told that prayer is the place to begin. In v. 8, we are told what to think about instead of worrying. To be honest with you, I don’t know anyone who can pray all the time. Paul gives us some important principles to think about instead of worrying.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (v. 8)
Essentially, we are being challenged to think about what we think about. Each of these words represents a brand-new vista to replace the worry weeds that can crowd into the landscape of our minds. Just take the first phrase, “whatever is true.” This is the foundation for all the rest. We are blessed to have the truth of God’s Word, which includes all His wonderful promises. Worried about finances? The truth is that “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19). Worried that you won’t have the strength to carry on? The truth is that “I can do all things through Him that strengthens me” (4:13). If you are feeling lonely, isolated, or neglected, the truth is that “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Instead of worrying, spend some time plumbing the depths of this new way of thinking.
You will notice that these antidotes to anxiety take into account your vertical relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Remember to look up to the One who hears you when you cry out to Him and who has given you His amazing promises to reflect and meditate on in the midst of the storms of life.
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