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The Off Color series provides valuable insight to help us master our emotions and not allow emotions to master us. Pastor Philip calls believers to engage their emotions properly and to enjoy God’s goodness in all circumstances of life.
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Well, let’s stand in honor of God’s Word, Philippians 4:4–9. I was getting a little anxious that I hadn’t finished my message on anxiety, so I decided to come back and wrap it up today. Philippians 4:4–9, a message we have called “Don’t Be Scared.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
So reads God’s Word. You may be seated as we expound it by the help of the Holy Spirit.
It’s been said that worry is an old man with bended head carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are lead. Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere. Worry is the misuse of a God-given imagination. Worry is putting question marks where God has put periods. Worry is the interest we pay on tomorrow’s troubles. Worry is a form of atheism because it assumes that God’s not watching over us. Worry is faith in the negative. Worry is an emotional spasm that occurs when the mind catches hold of something and will not let it go.
Worry is all of that and more, and it is that which troubles the heart of many.
In fact, 18% of the adult population in the United States struggle with worry and anxiety disorders. That’s 40 million people aged 18 and older. On top of that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 38% of girls and 26% of boys aged 13 to 17 suffer from some mental or anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is rampant and far outpacing depression as the most common health concern of undergraduates. The number of Google searches relative to anxiety has doubled in the last five years, according to Google Trends.
So, with that in mind, I want us to turn once again to Philippians 4:4–9. Here we find a God-given prescription for anxiety.
If you remember, back in chapter 1:27–28, Paul says this: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.”
This letter was written to help Christians stand their ground in a culture that was increasingly terrifying to them. Nero was on the verge of a wave of persecution that would indeed martyr many a Christian, and those in Philippi could sense a change in the wind. An anxiety and fear and trepidation began to grip their hearts. So Paul writes to them, and he says in verse 6, “Be anxious for nothing.” I want you to stand firm. I don’t want you to be terrified. I want you to be trusting. I want you to be tranquil.
In fact, having spoken about Google Trends, did you know that Amazon tells us that this passage is the most highlighted passage in the Bible in terms of e-books? People have found release and relief from anxiety here in this part of God’s Word. So let’s mine it. Let’s expound it. Let’s draw from it truths that will help us indeed be still and know that He is God.
I like what Max Lucado says in his book Anxious for Nothing: “The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but the prison of anxiety is optional.” That’s a good little statement. The presence of anxiety is unavoidable. We’re all going to wrestle with it, but the prison of anxiety is optional.
Now, we started to look at these verses, and we covered two thoughts. We’re told here to rejoice (vs. 4), and we’re told to rest (vs. 5). I want to pick up where we left off. Here’s a third thing we need to do as we look at this prescription for anxiety. Number three: We’re to recognize. Recognize that the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is near. Look at verse 5: “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” Paul wants him to think about that, that Jesus’ return is pending. To borrow the words of James 5:9, “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!”
Now, there are some who look at that verse and take it in a spatial sense: the Lord’s presence is near. That’s a possible interpretation, and it’s a wonderful truth, isn’t it? In fact, some have translated it or paraphrased it, “The Lord is at your elbow.” That’s a wonderful thing to take into a new week—that the Lord is at your elbow, that His presence is nearby, that you are surrounded by His goodness and His mercy. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart.” Isn’t that a wonderful truth? If you’ve got a broken heart, that’s a magnet for the grace and the love and the mercy of God. The Lord is near to the broken-hearted. Psalm 145:18 tells us, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him.”
When we were leaving to come to the United States and jump the pond in 1994, it was a big move. It was rather frightening. In many respects, it would’ve been easy for us to become anxious about what we were doing. We were leaving security for insecurity. We were leaving what we knew and had for what we didn’t know and what possibly could be.
At our farewell service, Ollie Judd —a wonderful Englishman who was part of the Irish Baptist community in Ireland (and at this stage, he was the president of the Baptist Union)—spoke at our farewell. He read several verses from Psalm 139 about the fact that you can’t escape God’s presence. It’s behind you, beside you, and before you. And here’s what he said to June and me and our little family of three girls: “God is behind you using your yesterdays. God is before you planning your tomorrows. And God is beside you enriching your todays.” We tucked that away, and it helped us make the big move.
But I don’t think that’s how we want to see this text. I don’t think we want to see it in spatial terms—that the Lord’s presence is near. I think we want to see it in terms of time—that the Lord’s coming is near, that the judge is at the door.
What do we read in Romans 13:11: “Our salvation”—that is, the final aspect of our salvation, glorification—“is nearer than when we first believed.” That’s true. In 1 Peter 4:7, we’re told that the Lord is at hand, that His coming is near. If you read Philippians, you’re going to find that the thought of Jesus’ return saturates this book. In 1:6, we read that Paul is “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Look at verse 10 of the same chapter: “And this I pray . . . that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ . . .”
When you get into chapter 2, Paul holds out this moment at the end of history, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. The exaltation at the right hand of God that Jesus enjoys now will become manifest among the nations in the millennial kingdom. It doesn’t stop there. In chapter 3, we’re told to forget “those things which are behind,” reach “forward to those things which are ahead,” and “press toward . . . the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body . . .” Look at 4:1: “Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.” That’s the joy and crown that Paul will receive when Jesus returns.
And here we are, verse 5. I think this is the theme: The Lord’s coming is at hand. That’s the point. Now, you might ask yourself, “Well, what would that have to do with anxiety? How would that engender the peace of God that passes all understanding? How would that allow the peace of God to guard us?” Well, I think it’s quite simple. In promoting peace and inner calm, Paul fixes their hope on the coming of the Prince of Peace who will take them to a place of undisturbed rest and relief.
In John 14:1–3, when His disciples were anxious at the news that Jesus was leaving, what do we read? “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; . . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself.” Don’t be troubled. Dial the anxiety back, guys. I’m going to come and receive you and take you to a place of undisturbed rest and relief.
You see, the Christian, my friend, can get an upper hand on worry because they know that the Lord’s coming is at hand. The future is not to be feared, which is often at the heart of anxiety. It’s a foreboding about what might happen tomorrow. But you and I don’t need to fear the future. The future is our friend. The future promises relief, release. At any moment, you and I could be ushered from this vale of tears to the hills of glory. That should dial back your anxiety. That should bring the peace and the calm. Trouble, threats, and tears are temporary. Heaven is forever. And Jesus is coming soon.
The Second Coming reminds us the best is yet to come. See, worry wants us thinking the worst is yet to happen, while the second coming of Jesus reminds us that at any moment, the best could come. We could be with Christ, where there are pleasures forevermore. The Christian can chill out knowing they will soon check out. As they anticipate heaven, nothing seems big in the light of eternity.
Isn’t that Paul’s thinking when he writes in Romans 8:17–18, “. . . and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Similar thinking, isn’t it, over in 2 Corinthians 4:16–18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” That’s something you and I need to camp on.
As John Piper says about those verses and the theme of those kind of verses, “Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful.” He goes on to say, “Every millisecond of your pain—from fallen nature or fallen man—every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory that you will get because of that.”
You need to bring that thinking to bear upon your anxiety and your momentary affliction, upon the troubles and the threats and the tears that are part of this experience. You need to connect the hope of the Second Coming to the moment you’re in—the moment that troubles you and causes you to be anxious. It is but a moment. Endure it; triumph over it, because it is working in you a particular glory.
You’ve heard me tell this story that Spurgeon tells about the fact that, often while traveling in Europe, he would be obliged to stay in a hotel that may not have been that comfortable. The room may have been cramped, the furniture may have been sparse, the food cold. But when he found himself in an accommodation like that, rather than become anxious or grumble, he would say to himself, “Oh, never mind. We’re off in the morning. It’s only for a night.” That’s a good perspective. And he goes on to say this: “So, as we are soon to be gone, and the time of our departure is at hand, let us not be ruffling our tempers about trifles, nor raise evil spirits around us by cavilling and finding fault. Take things as you find them, for we shall soon be up and away.”
I think that’s where Paul’s at. “The Lord is at hand.” He’s coming back for his church momentarily, soon, imminently. We’ll be up and away. Stop the trifling. Stop the anxiety. Chill out because you’re going to check out—maybe sooner than you realize. Can’t you endure? Can’t you fight one more day? We are to rejoice. We are to rest. We are to recognize. Fourthly, we’re to request.
Back to Philippians 4, this prescription for anxiety. Look at verse 6: “Be anxious for nothing, but . . .” That’s an emphatic contrast. Rather than be anxious, here’s what you need to be doing. Stop doing this, and, by contrast, start doing this. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God . . . will guard your hearts . . .”
That’s the next thing we’re to do. We’re not to panic; we’re to pray. We’re not to worry; we’re to worship. Instead of ringing our hands in frustration, we are to bend our knees in faith. Here’s a wonderful invitation. Whatever it is that burdens you, burden the Lord with it. Because for Him it is no burden. Because He upholds all things by the word of His power.
Don’t you love verses like Psalm 55:22? “Cast your burden on the Lord . . .” I don’t know what it is you’re worried about. I don’t know what burdens you. I don’t know what scares you or upsets you, but cast that burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.
What about 1 Peter 5:7? Peter says to cast your care, your anxiety, your worries on Him, “for He cares for you.” Lord, don’t you care? Well, of course He does. Unbelief will tell you otherwise. Your mood might try and tell you otherwise. But the truth of God’s Word and the cross held high tells you God cares. Cast your care on Him. He cares. He’s demonstrated His love toward us; while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He’s given us the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have got a book full of promises. We have got heaven to look forward to.
By the way, this idea of “casting” is so important; it’s a great verb. It means “to throw something upon something else.” Interestingly, it’s the same word used in Luke 19:35 when the disciples cast their clothes on the back of a donkey. They saddled that animal of burden with their clothes. They cast their clothes on that donkey. And we are being invited to saddle God with our sorrows.
I love what Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, said: “Pray, and let God worry.” Not that He will worry, but I like the thought. “Pray, and let God worry.” Cast your care on Him. That’s a definite throwing of something upon something else.
For me, when I think of that word, I think of about 3:30 every Friday afternoon for about four years of my life when I was in high school. I got home, and I took my school bag and cast it into the cupboard. And I never looked at it until Monday morning. There were soccer games to play. There were things to do. There were parties to go to. I cast that bag into the corner—definitely not to pick it up. That’s what’s going on in these texts. Just take your burdens and roll them in God’s direction.
You want an example of it? 1 Samuel, the story of Hannah. She’s burdened by her lack of having a child. She hurts for her husband. She hurts for herself even more. So she goes to God’s house and burdens God with her burden. Verse 10 of 1 Samuel 1: “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish. Then she made a vow and said, ‘O Lord . . . if You . . . will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life . . .’”
There’s a lot of emotion here. So much so that, when Eli sees her praying, he mistakes her for being intoxicated. When he challenges her, she makes it clear that she’s not a wicked woman, but it’s out of an abundance of complaint and grief that she’s praying. There’s a lot of emotion.
And here’s what Eli says. Verses 17 and 18: “Then Eli answered and said, ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.’ And she said, ‘Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.’ So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” She cast her burden on the Lord. She cast her care on the Lord. She turned over the responsibility to God and left it there.
You see, worry comes when we turn from God, shift the burdens of life onto ourselves, and assume at least an attitude and an action that we are alone responsible for our problems and their solving. That’s our problem. We shift the burden to ourselves. We take all that care, and we feel all that weight. The Bible tells us, “No, burden God with what burdens you. He’s all powerful, all wise, all loving.” That’s the beauty of the gospel, and God renders that service for free. He invites us to come to a throne of grace, a place where you receive unmerited favor, where He will give you what you need for your time of trouble.
He invites you to get your eyes on God—for whom nothing is too difficult—and off your own difficulties. Courage is fear that has said its prayers. To quote Luther again, “Pray, and let God worry.” Listen to D. A. Carson: “I have yet to meet a chronic worrier who enjoys an excellent prayer life.” That’s challenging and convicting.
Let me just say something about this call to prayer. I’m not going to develop this deeply, but it’s worth noticing. There is a vocabulary here that’s used to show us the richness of the prayer experience. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer”—that’s word number one—“and supplication”—that’s word number two—“with thanksgiving”—word number three, but we’re going to keep that for later—“let your requests”—word number four—“be made known to God.”
Prayer is to be sought, prayer is to be spirited, and prayer is to be specific. Let me just unpack that quickly. This first word “prayer” is a general word that carries the idea of reverencing God, adoring God. It speaks of a strong desire directed toward Him. In fact, at the heart of it is just an asking. It’s going to God with something about something. And we are invited to do that. We are to ask, we are to knock, and we are to seek.
The second word speaks about urgency, emotion, depth of feeling, importunity—where you kind of supplicate, you appeal, you plead your case. It’s those parables of importune prayer that Jesus talks about, right? With the widow and the unjust judge, her case wasn’t being heard. Justice wasn’t being served, but she kept bugging him and bullying him until the unjust judge gave her what she asked.
Now, the point of the parable isn’t that God’s like that unjust judge. You got to wake Him up; you got to elbow Him in the ribs and get Him to pay attention to your need. That’s not the point. Prayer is not the overcoming of God’s reluctance. Prayer is the laying hold of God’s willingness. And the point of that is, if this woman can do that to an unjust judge, what about your heavenly Father who’s predisposed to taking good care of His children? How much more should you plead, supplicate, and ask?
Prayer is sought. Prayer is spirited. And, finally, prayer is specific. That’s the word “request.” You don’t just pray. You actually request something particular. You get into the weeds of your problem. You detail it. You speak intimately to God about it. The smallest part of it to the greatest part of it. You do not need to be embarrassed as you go and make a request to your heavenly Father.
In fact, in Luke 23:24, it’s used of the Jews who make a request regarding Jesus before Pilate. In his book, which I’ve quoted earlier, Anxious for Nothing, Max Lucado gives three reasons why specificity in prayer is helpful, especially in regards to anxiety. Number one, he says this: “A specific prayer is a serious prayer.”
See, you’re getting a little bit more serious and real when you get specific. It’s one thing to say to a friend of yours, “You know what? I might come over some night this week.” That’s different from saying, “You know what? I think I’m going to come over Friday night around about 7:00, somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00. I’m dealing with an issue at work. I’d love your advice.” Now you’ve gotten specific. Now we’ve gotten serious. Now you’re really beginning to address the issue.
Number two: “Specific prayer is an opportunity for us to see God at work.” See, when you get specific and get down into the weeds of your problem, it allows you to measure more accurately God’s providence and answer to your prayers.
Here’s an example. You know the story of Abraham’s servant going to Mesopotamia to find a bride for Isaac. He eventually finds Rebecca. In Genesis 24:12–14, you’ll read, “O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water.” Notice his request that follows. “Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one you have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.”
And that’s exactly what happens. When the young women come out to gather water, Abraham’s servant asks one of them, Rebecca, “Could I have a drink?” She gives him a drink out of the jug and says, “You know what, let me water your camels while I’m at it.” Specific, with a specific answer that’s measurable and faith-building.
Thirdly, he says, “Specific prayer creates a lighter load.” What does he mean by that? He says this: “Many of our anxieties are threatening because they are ill defined and vague. If we can distill the challenge into a phrase, we bring it down to size. It is one thing to pray, ‘Lord, please bless my meeting tomorrow.’ It is another thing to pray, ‘Lord, I have a conference with my supervisor at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. She intimidates me. Would you please grant me a spirit of peace so I can sleep well tonight? Grant me wisdom so I can enter the meeting prepared. And would you soften her heart toward me and give her a generous spirit? Help us have a gracious conversation in which both of us benefit and your name is honored.’ There. You have reduced the problem into a prayer-sized challenge.”
I think that’s helpful. Prayer is sought. Prayer is spirited. Prayer is specific. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it, to burden God with what burdens you, because it’s not a burden to Him. He upholds all things by the word of His power. Why don’t you try that?
I don’t know if it’s a fictitious story, but there’s a story told about a man who was a worry wart by nature, usually tied up in knots of anxiety. One day a friend of his saw him skipping down the street, carefree, whistling to his heart’s content. The friend says, “Well, what’s the change that’s come over you?” The man says, “Well, you know, I’m usually worrying about this, that, and the other thing, but just this week I saw an advertisement in the paper that there are professional worriers that will worry for you if you pay them a certain amount.” He says, “So, I answered the ad, and it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” The friend says, “That’s amazing. I bet you that’s not cheap.” The guy says, “It’s $1,000 a week.” The friend says, “That’s a lot of money, money that you don’t have. How are you going to pay him?” The man replies, “I don’t know, but that’s his worry.” Right? The story’s probably not true, but the thought of it’s wonderful. Imagine paying someone to worry for you.
My friend, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, our sins have been paid for in the blood of Jesus Christ. Christ has purchased our relationship with God that invites us to come and unburden our burdens to our Father.
“Pray, and let God worry,” says Martin Luther. Paul agrees. Here’s another thought. We’re not just to rejoice, and we’re not just to rest, and we’re not just to recognize, and we’re not just to request. We’re to recount.
Remember I said I’d leave the word “thanksgiving” for later? Well, it’s now later, and here we are. I wanted to separate it because when you pray with thanksgiving—recounting and counting your many blessings and naming them one by one—I think you’ll be surprised at what the Lord has done. And, in that surprise, you’ll find a wonderful fortifying of your faith as you look back and retrace the footsteps in the sand. Now, many times there were two sets, and other times there was only one set—because God carried you, and God took care of you, and God brought you through that which you thought would take your life or threaten His goodness.
It’s so important in the war on worry that we spend gobs of time thanking, reflecting, giving gratitude to God. Be anxious for nothing. Pray with thanksgiving, and peace results. In fact, this whole book, in many ways, is a receipt of thanks. The occasion for Paul writing this letter was the fact that Epaphroditus had come to him on behalf of the Philippians and had ministered to him in his needs during his first imprisonment in Rome. He writes in verse 10 to thank them for their care that had flourished once again.
Surely the remembrance of past mercies fortifies the soul against present worries. Let me give you an example of this. I preached a message on fear a couple of years ago—you can find it on our media page on the website—from Psalm 27. It’s interesting; David speaks with confidence and fearlessness. Verse 1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Verse 3: “[I]n this I will be confident.”
Now, where does this confidence come from? Where does his boldness and brashness and belief come from? Well, look at verse 2: “When the wicked came against me . . .” It’s past tense; he’s recounting, revisiting a past experience when his life was under threat, his neck was in the noose. “When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell.” Isn’t that interesting? God turned the tables.
You’ll often find throughout the Psalms that, as the wicked lay a trap for the righteous, it’s the unrighteous who fall into their own wicked trap. And David’s saying, “Okay, there was a time when my enemies stumbled.” Look at verse 3: “Though . . .” Now he’s imagining a new situation. “Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear . . .” David, why won’t it fear? Because I’ve been here before. Been there, done this. Seen God at work. So now here’s my confidence. His past mercies allow me to face my present circumstances with unbinding hope.
That’s what gratitude does. That’s what reflecting does. I’m going to quote him one more time. Max Lucado, Anxious for Nothing: “Gratitude is a mindful awareness of the benefits of life. It is the greatest of virtues. Studies have linked the emotion with a variety of positive effects. Grateful people tend to be more empathetic and forgiving of others. People who keep a gratitude journal are more likely to have a positive outlook on life. Grateful individuals demonstrate less envy, materialism, and self-centeredness. Gratitude improves self-esteem and enhances relationships, quality of sleep, and longevity. If it came in pill form, gratitude would be deemed the miracle cure. It’s no wonder, then, that God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude. Gratitude leads us off the riverbank of If Only and escorts us into the fertile valley of Already.”
When worry wants to drag you into the valley of “if only,” “maybe,” “I wonder,” let gratitude take you to the fertile fields of “already.” God has already shown me His grace and His mercy, His faithfulness. See, that’s one of the secrets to beating anxiety: meditating on past occasions of God’s faithfulness.
Can I give you one other example? Psalm 37 was very precious to me during my time in the police in Northern Ireland, with the terrorism and injustice that surrounded that culture. It says in Psalm 37:1–3, “Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.” Don’t fret. Don’t be worried. Don’t be anxious. “For they shall soon be cut down like the grass. . . . Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.”
There’s the antidote. Starve your worries by feeding on the faithfulness of God. Some of you have decades to go back over—mountains of God’s goodness and mercy to climb until you get to the summit and a better view of life and where you’re at, where it’s not so dark.
Listen to what Lamentations 3:21 says: “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.” Listen to Psalm 77:11–12: “I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds.” Do you do that? Do you decorate your home in a way that there’s memories to God’s mercy? Do you keep a diary, a journal, a scrapbook that allows you to remember His wonders from of old, to meditate on all His works, to muse on all His deeds?
One of the Puritans—I think it might have been Thomas Watson—has this wonderful analogy for when you and I lose our way and get into the fog of anxiety and fear and trepidation. He said this: “A bloodhound that has lost the scent of its prey sniffs backward until it picks it up again. So, when you become fearful, when you begin to lose hope and doubt that you will see the salvation of the Lord, think backwards until you pick up the scent of your faith when you lost your way.” That’s a good little word. It’s a great old analogy. Be a spiritual bloodhound and sniff your way back. Pick up the scent, the sweet scent of God’s grace in your life, and then the chase is back on.
Here’s another thought. Reflect. Verse 8: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true . . . noble . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . of a good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” We’re to reflect. We’re not only to count our blessings; we’re to center our minds.
Now, those of us who are struggling right now with anxiety, we know this: It’s a battle for the mind. Remember what we said about anxiety in our first study? Anxiety is a disordering and a dividing of our thoughts, where we become double-minded, which leads to instability in our lives. “Martha, Martha, you are . . . troubled about many things. But one thing is needed . . .” (Luke 10:41–42). Worry disorders and divides our thoughts and pulls us in all kinds of directions. That’s why an orderly mind is so, so important in the battle with worry. The fight against worry begins from the neck up.
Listen to the psalmist; I think we can all identify with his honesty. Psalm 139:23 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
God has not given us a spirit of fear. God doesn’t want us anxious. God has given us power and love and what else? A sound mind. Wow. As the Spirit of God comes into our lives, it enlightens our darkened minds to the truths of God’s Word, to the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ, to that which is supernatural, not natural. As He renews our mind—gives us a Christian mind, gives us a sound mind in Christ, gives us the mind of Christ—we are better equipped to deal with our worries.
Corrie ten Boom said, “Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.” That’s true. You know what your problem is when it comes to anxiety? Stinking thinking. All right, that’s just flat out: stinking thinking lies at the heart of your anxiety. You have allowed your mind to go places forbidden by God, places that seem beyond the reach of His love and His sovereignty and His control— where you have shifted the burden to yourself, where the outcome depends on you. And it’s creating anxiety, inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear. Stinking thinking.
That’s why you’ve got to work hard. And it is work, by the way. It’s grace-prompted work, but you’ve got to work at bringing every thought into captivity to Christ. When that thought wants to escape somewhere to imprison you in worry, you’ve got to bring it back into captivity. You’ve got to stop it in its tracks. When your mind becomes a collection point of negative, deceptive, unbelieving thoughts, you suddenly become a victim of knowing anxiety. That’s why I love Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed [or fixed] on You, because he trusts in You.”
It’s the words of the hymn: “Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest. Finding as He promised, perfect peace and rest.” Stayed on Jehovah—focused on Him, what He can do, what He has promised. The battleground for worry is the mind. We’ve got to replace the negative with the positive, the false with the true, the ugly with the lovely.
That’s what Paul’s advocating here in Philippians 4:8–9, isn’t he? Listen to these words: The direction of one’s mind has a great effect on the disposition of one’s heart. Look, you don’t need to go to seminary to know this. You don’t even need a medical degree to discover this. Whatever you think about shapes your life and molds your character.
Matthew Henry, the Puritan, said, “The man is as the mind is.” I don’t want to simplify life down to that one statement, but the man is as the mind is. The Bible would agree with that, right? Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” What we camp on, think on, fixate on sets a mood, creates a disposition. The direction of one’s mind has a great effect on the disposition of one’s heart. You and I know that Proverbs 4:23 says to “guard your heart.” Now, the word “heart” there in the Hebrew carries the idea of the mind, the heart. “Guard your heart, for out of it flows the issues of life.”
Isn’t it interesting that in the whole context of spiritual warfare—where the enemy wants to send fiery darts and cause us anxiety, upset us, make us uneasy—we’re told to put on the helmet of salvation. We’re told to guard our minds with gospel truth. Learn what justification’s about. Learn about the indwelling presence and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Learn the great and mighty promises of the gospel. We’re redeemed. We’re forgiven. We’re adopted. We’re elect. We’re kept by the power of God. We must think like that and constantly fight for that thought. And it is a fight. For some of us, our minds are so wired that that’s harder to concentrate on than for others, but you must fight. You must bring your thoughts into captivity to Jesus Christ because you need to put on the helmet of salvation. Let me illustrate this and wrap this up.
Some years ago, one of the men in our church worked the air traffic control tower at LAX. Since I worked in aviation, I’ve always had a fascination about it, so he invited me to spend a couple of hours up in the tower there in LAX. It was a wonderful afternoon. In fact, my daughter, Laura, was flying in from the UK, and we tracked her British Airways flight all across Arizona into California and onto one of the runways at LAX. The whole afternoon was spent. It was amazing. As busy as that place is, there was no worry or anxiety up there. Everybody knew their job. It was done in order, and it was just a fascination to watch.
But you know what? You and I need to be the air traffic controllers of our mental airport. All kinds of thoughts are whirling around us. They want to land in here, and we’ve got to decide whether we want them to land. And some that we have allowed to land, we need to tell them to take off. We need to be the air traffic controller of our mental space, of our mental airport, and only let land what’s holy and helpful and just and virtuous and right and praiseworthy.
All right, here is our closing thought: Respond. Did you notice in verse 9, the call to action? “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me . . .” What? “. . . these do . . .” Do. I don’t want you thinking about thinking about. I want you to do. I’m an example of the exposition. You’ve seen it in me. I’ve lived it; I’m living it right now. I’m imprisoned, but I’ve learned contentment, and I’m enjoying God’s peace. I’m living it, and you need to live it. I need to see you do it. I want to see you rejoice, rest, recognize, recount, and reflect.
But here’s a thought. It’s more of an implication than an explication of the text. This call to specific action is a reminder that one of the best ways to overcome anxiety is to simply stay active. Don’t be passive. Don’t brood. Don’t linger in a state of self-pity. Plan, work, tackle the problem, get up, and get out. Keep eating the elephant one bite at a time. Because anxiety feeds on disorder. Anxiety feeds on passivity. Anxiety feeds on a lack of planning and action. Attack the day. Attend your responsibilities of loving God, your church, your family, your friends.
I like what Lou Priolo says in his book on fear: “Start fulfilling those responsibilities that have been neglected because you’ve been so preoccupied with fear. By God’s grace, you can begin to obey the first and second commandments, no matter how you feel. Don’t let the monster you created in the laboratory of your own mind keep you from loving God and your neighbor. Commit yourself to fulfilling your God-given responsibilities, whether or not you have another episode with fear.”
That takes bravery, my friend, and God will give you the grace to be brave. The day you want to throw the blanket over your head and check out, you can’t. You shouldn’t. You mustn’t. You’ve got to fight. You can’t be passive. You can’t throw a pity party. That doesn’t solve a thing. Go tackle the thing you fear. Go deal with and do the thing you don’t want to do. I think feelings will follow. Grace will be given. Anxiety will be reduced.
I was kind of reading ahead for the week on depression. One of the books I’ve been reading is a book by Ray Comfort called The Final Curtain. I was over at the Living Waters headquarters with E.Z. and Mark and Ray recently. They just let me ransack their books, and this is one I lifted. This is a book that Ray wrote about Hollywood stars that have been given to anxiety and depression and thoughts of suicide.
One of the guys I was reading about was Bruce Springsteen, The Boss. I may not share his politics, but he’s a darn good singer. His music has been a blessing to many. Here’s what he said about his own struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. He’d gone to therapy and taken antidepressants, but the best therapy was touring.
When he was on tour or on stage, his thoughts were occupied by the things he had to, which took him away from those other thoughts. I’ll let him speak for himself: “You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There’s no room for them. There’s one voice, the voice you’re speaking in.” The moment you’re living in. The thing you’re doing. I think that’s an example of what I’m talking about. Staying active, pursuing disciplines of grace. Whether you like it or not, start doing your responsibilities. God will be kind, and God will be gracious.
Father, we thank you for our time in the Word. We thank you for this prescription for anxiety written in the indelible ink of Scripture. We thank you that time hasn’t faded it. It’s still a powerful remedy. So, help us, oh God, to rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ—the same yesterday, today, forever. Help us to rest, be at ease in the sovereignty of God, that God will prove Himself just. Help us to live every moment for that moment when Jesus will come back, the struggle will be over, the darkness will lift, and we’ll sing on the hills of glory. Help us, oh God, to turn our panic into prayer and our worry into worship. Help us to have the nose of a bloodhound and sniff out past mercies lest we give up the chase. Help us to find our way back in gratitude. Oh, God, help us to control the mental traffic of our minds. Help us to do. Not to be passive, but to be active. For grace, by grace, we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.