Anxiety is big business. The average bookshop has hundreds of ‘self-help’ titles addressing people’s worries: their weight, looks, personality, sex life, health, assertiveness—you name it. Here’s a quote from one of them. It’s called The Power of Inner Peace. In the introduction the author says,
‘When I claim my personal power then I can be at peace. When I am at peace I have the strength to claim my power. It is a circle. Now I know that deep in my centre is a place of stillness and peace. From this space I can easily access my higher guidance.’
Nope—I haven’t the faintest idea what that means either! Thank God the Christian remedy for anxiety is far more helpful and realistic. In Philippians 4.6-7 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.’
- Believe what it says. God really is telling us not to worry about anything. It’s addressed to a church under serious pressure—Christians in Philippi were expected to sacrifice to the Roman emperor on public occasions, calling him ‘Lord’ and ‘Saviour’. Refusal to comply could lead to them losing their livelihoods, if not their lives.
More than that, these words were written by someone under serious pressure. Paul is not being glib when he says ‘stop worrying about anything.’ He’s in chains while he writes these words, under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He doesn’t know if he will be acquitted or condemned. Read 2 Corinthians 11.23-27, where we get a fascinating series of snapshots of Paul’s life. Shipwrecked three times! A day and night floating on the open sea! He received the 39 lashes five times! One dose was often fatal, never mind five. So this is not some ivory tower theologian dispensing advice from the cool of the study. This is a man who knows what he’s talking about.
- Do what it says. Literally v6 says ‘stop being anxious about anything.’ The word means fretful, harassing care. It’s the kind of worry that grips the mind so you can’t think about anything else. It grows to fill your whole world. But it’s not enough just to be told to stop worrying, which is why Paul goes on to give a positive command: pray.
Paul piles up three different words for prayer, but they all have more or less the same idea behind them—petition. When you’re worried, tell God all about it: ‘in everything’. Get down to the specifics. Spell it out. God wants you to bring it all to him. Remember this is the God who knows the number of hairs on your head (Mt 10.30), whose thoughts about you are more than the number of grains of sand on the earth (Ps 139.18).
Remember too that there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing this. Two words are emphasised in the original language: ‘with thanksgiving’. Begin by reviewing all that God has already given you. That will put your worries in perspective and strengthen your faith in him to deal with your present and future concerns.
- Receive what it says. Verse 7 does not say that when we pray to God with thanksgiving all of our problems disappear so that there is nothing to worry us any more. Instead God does something even more miraculous. He gives us his own peace to guard our hearts and minds. He enables us to live at peace in the midst of anxious circumstances. ‘The peace of God’ is the peace God himself experiences! The Lord doesn’t suffer from stress-induced ulcers or tension headaches. He has no anxieties about the future because he is in control of the future. That’s the peace he gives to his burdened people when they pray with thanksgiving. You can be as free from worry as God himself!
His peace guards you. You know how it feels, don’t you? You’re lying awake at 3am and you start worrying about something, and before you know it you’re being besieged by an army of fears and worries. God’s peace guards you. And it guards you precisely where it’s most needed—at the most vulnerable places: our hearts and minds—our feelings, thoughts and imaginations. These are the things that run riot within us when we’re in the grip of worry, so that we can’t think straight or be reasonable. Our imaginations invent all kinds of worst-case scenarios that we’re convinced are going to happen to us! How we need the peace of God to ward off such thoughts.
Small wonder Paul says this peace ‘surpasses all understanding’. It just doesn’t make sense to be at peace in midst of difficult circumstances. Unbelievers look at you and scratch their heads in wonder: ‘How can they be so calm? It’s not natural.’ And they’re right—it’s supernatural. It’s God’s gift to all who are ‘in Christ Jesus’. It’s a precious spiritual blessing that Jesus lived and died and rose again to purchase for you.