There are seasons when I find myself more anxious than usual. Sometimes they come from one big in-my-face burden. Other times, it feels like I am surrounded by multiple, smaller burdens. Either way, uncertainty rules the day. Bad outcomes seem more possible, if not inevitable, and I experience powerlessness in fresh new ways. I feel fear, some sense of sadness. Life looms darker than normal. It feels like I can’t control anything. I hate those seasons, don’t you?
I don’t think any of us choose to be anxious. There is no pleasure in it. It makes us preoccupied. It robs us of joy and distracts from more important things. And it sure doesn’t draw us closer to God!
Instead, we do strange things to try to escape it. Alcohol is the first thing I think of, although I am sure there are other, more healthy ways to cope. 😊 Even though we may not want to, we can’t help turning to all other earthly means of comfort when we get anxious. At least it feels that way!
In Philippians 4:7-8, Paul says, “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything 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.”
The first phrase is a prohibition. Don’t do this, don’t be anxious! I don’t know about you, but I don’t personally experience anxiety as a choice. So how do I stop it? How do I not do it?
Have you seen the old Bob Newhart clip where he plays a counselor whose answer to every problem is “Stop it! Just stop it!” He must tell his client that 15 times. It’s almost funny: at first glance in this passage, it feels like God is telling us to “just stop it!” And I want to tell him, “Darn it, I’m trying! I am not in control of my heart that way!”
But Paul doesn’t leave us solely with that prohibition. He gives us another imperative: “present your requests to God”.
Now that I can control. Tell God what I want and how I feel? That is definitely in my power. But funny thing, I don’t always think to do it. In fact, my first response to anxiety is sit in my anxiety. I don’t experience a sense of choice over the situation. Instead, my anxiety looms, hanging over everything. All my uncertainty and fears play over and over on an endless loop. My anxiety isn’t rational; I feel it more than I think it.
But Paul invites us to do something that we can do, that I can do. Bring all of it to Him. By prayer – talk with Him, to Him about what is going on. By petition – ask Him for what I want. Make requests. With thanksgiving – whoa! What does that mean? What should I be thankful for in the midst of my anxiety?
I can’t thank Him for something that He hasn’t done. What can I thank Him for? What do you think of?
Maybe I can thank Him just because He wants to know, that He invites me to bring those cares to Him. I Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Peter invites us to dump those concerns and fears on Jesus; just back up the whole truck and dump them on Him. “Bring it on”, says Jesus. “Dump that stuff on Me.” So I am not in this alone. Now that is something to be thankful for. I am not in it alone. Jesus is in this with me.
And then Paul tells us what will happen—what can happen—when we come to Him in prayer, making our requests in an attitude of thanksgiving. He gives us peace; not our peace but His, a peace that goes beyond what makes sense to us. And that peace will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.
That combination feels important to me. I sure want that peace in my heart, but sometimes I need it even more in my mind. I can get stuck in a doom loop where I play out worst outcomes, so I need that peace in my head as well as my heart.
And I really need Christ to put it there and keep it there.
And that’s when I need to most remember that He wants me to dump my truckload of anxieties on Him because He really does care for me, and you. He really does!
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.
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