Pray. Don’t panic. That’s about the size of it. But when you put it like that it sounds so naïve. And crass.
There’s no shortage of things to worry about in modern life. Was it always thus? I’m not entirely sure if we’ll ever be able to establish whether we have fewer anxieties than our ancestors did. We don’t have wild animals and high rates of infant mortality to contend with. But then again they weren’t having to tutor their kids to secure a place at the local grammar school. Swings and roundabouts. I suspect it’s a fun but fundamentally fruitless exercise trying to compare the worry quotient of different eras. What is clear, however, is that ‘back in the day’ church members felt that they had plenty of reasons to be anxious. And they were right.
Of course, the complex issues of anxiety and worry are unlikely to be solved in a 700 word blog post. I know that. But the fact that in Philippians 4 the Apostle Paul dealt with it in 40 has emboldened me to try!
This is what he wrote,
‘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’.
Look briefly at Paul’s 40 words. They include a command, an instruction and a promise.
The command is ‘do not be anxious about anything’. That’s quite something. Let me put it another way, there is nothing in this world about which we ought to be overly concerned. That’s not me saying that. That’s the scriptures. It’s a comprehensive claim. But we can’t deny that Paul said it. He did not think that Christians ought to remain in a settled condition of anxiety. And so he commands us to deal with it. But presumably he was confident that there’s a way of encountering anxiety and overcoming it. Look at what he writes next.
The instruction is ‘present your requests to God’. The problem is anxiety, the solution is prayer. It’s not quite that simple. But that’s the gist of it. What Paul wrote is this, ‘but in everything, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God’. In each and every situation where we’re tempted to respond to life’s circumstances with worry, Paul says that we’re to pray. On this verse, Don Carson says ‘I have yet to meet a chronic worrier who enjoys an excellent prayer life’. Ouch! But he’s right, isn’t he? For those of us for whom worry is a frequent and unwelcome companion, it’s worth asking whether we’ve actually prayed about the issues that plague us. Have I actually outlined before the Lord what it is that unsettles me? Have I actually asked for His specific help for the issues that throw me off my equilibrium? It may well be that we need others to help us with that. I may need my husband to pray with me every day. I may need an older woman, a trusted friend or my small group leader to spend an evening a week praying through the issues until I’m able to do it for myself. It’s probably overly simplistic to say that if we’re still worrying then we’ve not prayed enough yet. But there’s something in that, isn’t there? After all, Paul does not seem to anticipate that anyone would remain in the condition of anxiety for any length of time after they prayed. Look what he writes next.
The promise is that ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’. God’s peace is beyond explanation because it transcends understanding. It just is. But it’s for real. And it’s for every one of us that prays. The Lord never promises to remove us from the circumstances in which we face our problems, but He does promise to give us the resources we need to cope. In particular God’s peace protects us so that we feel stable enough to withstand whatever life throws at us.
Probably a few more words than 700. Certainly more than Paul’s 40. And because it’s such a delicate issue there’s probably more that needs to be said. But that’s the essence of it, isn’t it? Is the vibe of the thing. And it’s a place to make a start. When you’re doing your head in with worry, get on your knees in prayer. Because the Lord promises that He’ll protect us.