Read Philippians 4:4-7
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to not think about something, especially something you’re worried about? I well remember a few years ago when I was speaking at church on the subject of anxiety. The Bible passage said ‘do not be anxious about anything…’ and my message, it followed, was on ‘freedom from anxiety’. Well, I was a mess. I was so nervous about it that I couldn’t prepare for the sermon. Anxious thoughts about ‘how not to be anxious’ flew round and round my head. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t pray, couldn’t escape thinking about it. The irony wasn’t lost on me ‘physician heal thy self’ was all I could hear spinning back and forth around my brain, it was horrible.
Where worry is concerned our thought life can behave badly can’t it? We don’t try to obsess about missing that flight or not completing that essay in time, it just happens. And of course worry is a very reasonable virus, it uses all the right logic and explanations. Anxiety convinces us that it’s not only permitted to consume our thought life, but that it’s entirely appropriate and commendable that it does so!
Paul’s answer to anxiety, as he explains it in the above Bible reading, isn’t to use reason and persuasive argument. He doesn’t try to out argue anxiety, he knows that’s a lost battle. Reasoning against anxiety isn’t a fair fight since we’re emotionally compromised from the start. Anxiety, you see, has a head start on us and anxiety has access to the arsenal of our emotional life making it a very powerful foe indeed. If it was only a question of explaining politely to worry why it is that we’re not going to go where it wants us to go then I’m sure many a worry would be stopped dead in its tracks. But it doesn’t work like that does it?
‘Goodness did you hear yourself just then?’ Anxiety says ‘you made a complete fool of yourself. Is it any wonder why NO ONE wants to be your friend?! I’m amazed you have any friends at all, or do you? I can’t see those supposed friends of yours hanging around too long after they find out exactly what you’re like. Can you see that happening?’
After that comes the hot flushes and clammy palms, followed by the loss of all colour from our face, an ice cold forehead and then that all too familiar knot in the stomach – the permanent resident in the body of serial worrier. Sound familiar?
So what’s the answer to anxiety? Sadly for us there isn’t a pill to fix it. It isn’t a case of praying a particular prayer (perhaps five times a day), or singing a particular song. Anxiety is tiger that needs taming rather than a puppy that needs training. Puppies aren’t too ferocious, they can be quite cute and (after much effort) they can be house trained. We’re bigger and stronger and more powerful than puppies and so in the end, they will obey us. Not so with a tiger. Tiger’s are ferocious and strong and move at a lightning quick pace. They will run rings around us and destroy us if we’re not careful. Taming a tiger isn’t just a matter of persistence, it requires courage, strength and nerves of steel (I speak from experience of course).
Getting our thought life in order involves more energy and effort than puppy training (and even that can be pretty full on). Getting our thought life in order requires determination and courage, and supernatural power.
Just prior to the above Bible passage Paul explains that he’s ‘learned the secret of being content whatever his circumstances’ something I’m sure many of us would like to know.
In our Bible reading three big clues are offered, three things that will aid us in our fight against anxiety: Rejoicing, asking and thanking.
Celebrating what God has done in the past and asking (petitioning) God to help us in the present. Mixed with a helpful amount of thankfulness, creates quite a powerful concoction. It enables us to stand our ground against anxiety and positions us to receive peace from God in the midst of worry.
Celebrate, ask, thank.
It isn’t easy (tigers don’t give up without a fight), but it is possible. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can be free from life crippling worry.
Read Philippians 4:8-9:
The first step toward enjoying your status as a forgiven, loved, adopted and empowered child of God is to start taking seriously what you think about. Do your thoughts past the Philippians 4 test?
Myself: What’s true is that I’m a Christian, I’m loved by God, I’ve been adopted into his family…
Difficult circumstances: What’s true is that my Father promises to be with me throughout every difficulty I face. What’s worshipful is that he’s always got me through things in the past, he’s worthy of my worship
Others: What’s commendable is that I’m grateful for my wife, for how she loves me and cares for me. I’m thankful I’ve got friends who, despite knowing the worst bits about me, have stuck by me and pray for me…
I might also list: my future, my job, my kids, my self image, my past, my money… Adding to this list daily will force your mind to think about and dwell on true and good things as opposed to the destructive and anxiety laden things we often think about.