Students get anxious when final exams arise. Salesmen get anxious when monthly sales quotas fall short. Authors get anxious when the manuscript deadline draws near. Contractors get anxious when rain delays put them behind schedule. Parents get anxious when their children flirt with unhealthy life choices. Everyone experiences the pressure which leads to worry. It’s part of life.
A lot of times, we juggle our own anxiety along with the anxieties of those closest to us.
Perhaps your daughter is stressing about not having a date to prom while you are worrying about the next round of layoffs at the company. Maybe your girlfriend is having tons of problems with her impossible roommate while you are waiting for someone to pay what they owe you so you can make this month’s rent.
Life is filled with an endless flow of opportunities for worry. And into such a worry-filled world, we find in Philippians 4, Paul saying some amazing things: “Be anxious for nothing.”
What! Really? No way! There’s so much to be anxious about! Are we to pretend these anxieties don’t exist?
As it turns out, Paul offers a remedy much better than pretending. He instructs us to “let our requests be made known to God” (4:6). Paul follows a biblical pattern for obedience. Like much of the Bible, Paul follows his “Do not” with a better “Do this instead.” The negative introduces, but the positive action is supposed to rule the day.
So Paul says in Philippians 4, “Do not be anxious for anything” (negative); instead let your requests be made known to God (positive). He seems to say that telling God what we need in order to [Do Not Be Anxious] will somehow remedy all our worrisome woes.
Does life really work this way?
I can imagine a conversation with someone in my congregation who is fighting anxiety. My saying something like “Tell God about it” or “Pray” or “Go to God with this” usually doesn’t help at all. The immediate reply to me often goes like this: “O, I have been praying about this.” [And God has not responded.]
No one openly admits that their real concern is that they have been asking God, and God has not helped! In fact, in conversations about anxiety, people aren’t really asking, “how do I get rid of anxiety?” What they really want to know is, “Why has God not fixed this yet?” The answer to that question, according to Paul, is something worse than we imagine.
Anxiety about our circumstances is not an indication that we have forgotten God; it’s a declaration that God is insufficient to meet our needs. Worrying and fretting are statements that God’s timing is all wrong. Anxiety is a call for God’s inaction to be overturned.
Paul’s positive command to let your requests be made known to God is not our opportunity to supply God with the information he was missing. Rather, this command is an opportunity for us to reverse course, to put the matter back in God’s hands where the outcome will be more secure.
Look at the text more closely. Paul says,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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. –Philippians 4:4-7.
First, Paul reminds us that the Lord is near. Then he commands us to let our requests be made known to God. Notice the attention Paul gives to describing HOW we are to let our requests be made known.
- Aware of God’s nearness.
- Without anxiety.
- In everything (all life circumstances all the time).
- By prayer and by supplication.
- With thanksgiving.
Paul gives us quite a description of the method and demeanor which ought to shape our prayers. Perhaps the last part is the most difficult: with thanksgiving! How can people give thanks for the very things which are stressing them out?
Paul says give thanks to God for the people in your life. Give thanks to God for the opportunity He is giving you to be a faithful witness. Give thanks to God for the way He is reminding us of our own weaknesses and of our great need for a great savior and lord! Give thanks for the school, thanks for the job, thanks for the children, thanks for the spouse, thanks for the income—thanks for the God who is near and has never left nor forsaken His children (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).
Here’s the craziest part of all… Paul is writing this letter from prison! Paul was thrown into prison when he founded the church at Philippi. And Paul was in prison again when he wrote this letter to these saints. Trying to spread the gospel, he kept getting thrown into dungeons with his feet and hands shackled to the floor. Did he have reason for being anxious about his future? Yes!
But he likely followed his own advice and let his requests be known to God in all of life by prayer with thanksgiving. And Paul found what you and I will find: the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guards hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (4:7).
How great is this encouragement!
The peace of God—beyond all our thoughts—will guard our hearts and minds. What does Paul mean that our hearts and minds will be guarded? He means just like the Philippian jailer once stood outside his cell and guarded Paul, his prisoner, so now the Almighty sovereign of heaven and earth stands guard to keep the minds and hearts of his people locked in his house of safety chained to his promise of peace for their souls.
To be “free” of God’s standing guard to keep us in his peace, all we need to do is demand our right to start worrying again about tomorrow.