Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a nervous preacher. If you ask most preachers, they’ll confess something of a love hate relationship with the pulpit. We love how powerfully God uses the preaching of His Word but we’re also aware of the weight of the task before us. I heard a preacher once say, “There are two kinds of peace that God provides. Firstly, the peace that surpasses all understanding. And secondly, the peace of having a week off from preaching.” I still smile when I think of that quote.
All of us have things that make us anxious … the Bible isn’t quiet about what we should do when anxiety hits.
All of us have things that make us anxious in some way. For some of us it’s oral presentations at university or going on first dates or making a wedding speech. We all have something. Well, the Bible isn’t quiet about what we should do when anxiety hits. Paul says:
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 4:6-7)
The promise here is that if we pray and hand over our anxieties to the Lord then He will replace these anxieties with peace. It really is an incredible promise. However, I’ve experienced a problem with the promise, in that I haven’t always had this prayer answered. Or at least answered in the way I thought.
I’ve been anxious. I’ve prayed. I’ve still been anxious. So, what’s going on?
Well, the key to understanding this passage is to reflect on its two parts.
Part 1 – The Command not to Be Anxious
So, we know that anxiety can take on a variety of forms, some of which aren’t sinful and some of which are. Let me explain. In Genesis 3:1-7, sin entered the world and now this world is not as it should be. This world is broken and so are our bodies. We’re flawed physically and physiologically.
For example, I tend to suffer from what I call “seasonal depression.” I experience something of a depressive episode, and I can’t get over it until I just, well, get over it. It’s not triggered by anything. Perhaps it’s to do with my biological mother smoking marijuana through the whole pregnancy or perhaps it isn’t. We just don’t know. We all suffer from bodies that are not perfect and this can include a genetic disposition towards anxiety disorders which will be part of our story until Christ comes again. Let’s be clear, it is not sinful to suffer from an anxiety disorder. That kind of anxiety is not what Paul has in mind here.
So, what kind of anxiety is Paul condemning and thereby calling sinful? Paul is condemning the kind of anxiety that we bring upon ourselves by excluding God from our troubles. The call is to resist trying to overcome our trials on our own, which is so often impossible, but instead reach out to the One who is able to do more than we can imagine.
We can either choose to “vent” to our significant other or we can pray. We can either bottle up our rage or we can pray. We can punch out a pithy but hurtful social media post or we can pray. We all have free-will and we can all use this free-will to push God away from our troubles or we can pray. The promise that Paul gives us is that we cannot have both. Prayer is the key to peace, and nothing else is.
Part 2 – The Promise of a Certain Kind of Peace
God promises a peace that will guard hearts and minds. This promise is reserved to those who call upon the name of the Lord with thanksgiving. The promise is that God will free us from the kind of anxiety that leads to an exposed heart and mind. Prayer and the promise of peace function like a rib cage protecting the vital organs so that they can keep on doing what they’ve been purposed to do.
Picture Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke 22:44 tells us that Jesus was in profound anguish, praying deeply, and His sweat became like drops of blood. We know that Jesus didn’t sin, we know that Jesus was praying, but we also know that He remained in deep anguish. So, what’s going on here?
Well, this verse on its own doesn’t provide much hope, but the following verses do. After Jesus finished praying, the Bible says that he rose and pressed on in the purpose that God had set aside for Him to do. His anxiety did not consume Him. The lies of the Enemy didn’t take root. He didn’t reject the Father. Jesus pressed on in obedience.
The kind of peace God promises to His believers is more than an emotional freedom, though sometimes it will be. It’s actually a protection from the enemy being able to lay claim to your heart and mind and drag you away from godly obedience. The devil, the liar, wants to deceive you into walking away from all that God has for you, while the Holy Spirit wants the opposite. God wants you to remember that He is in control, His plan is perfect, He has a holy calling for your life, and this is true even when we can’t see this reality with our own eyes.
The Bible promises that “in this life you will have trouble.” But it also promises that peace is possible because Jesus has “overcome the world!” (John 16:33). We do well to remember that the kind of peace God promises isn’t a freedom from anxiety so that we can build our own kingdom. God’s peace comes so that we can hold fast to His word, worship Christ, and press on in mission!
Next time you are anxious, you do well to pray. And even if the nerves remain, thank the Lord that His promise is sure. The Spirit of God is protecting you from the enemy and leading you forward in all that God has set aside for you.
First published at https://carlpahlrobinson.wordpress.com