Me, Worry?

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

If you have been looking ahead then you would know that today we are going to talk about one of the most common and even what we might think of as “acceptable” sins we may commit. By acceptable I don’t mean acceptable to God, but I mean we may involve ourselves in this particular sin with little thought or even little conviction. I am talking about worry. Worry is common. Unfortunately, worry is very common. And though we may worry with little thought, really, about the sinful nature of it, we don’t worry without it having major effect in our lives. Worry, or anxiety, deeply affects our lives. Whether it is an occasional bout with anxiety or whether it’s major unexpected circumstances, if it’s always present or just sometimes present, for many of us it is surprisingly common.

Worry is almost always circumstantially-based and future-focused. While in the middle of worry, having anxiety of an issue, the question we are asking is, “What will happen next?” So it is often our grappling with that answer and all the possible outcomes to that answer that leads us to a place where we react with a fearful, worrisome anxiety. Since it is a focus on future things, it heavily involves our minds and our imaginations. We imagine what could happen, and we can be super imaginative, we’re pretty good at that. I mean way out there in what we imagine may happen in the future. Or it could be very logical, the most probable outcome according to our experience or the experience of others. It is that next thing, the perception of that next thing that we believe we cannot handle. Some examples of worry…

John is a 42-year-old husband and father of three. John has worked for the same company since college and has provided well for his family. Last June, hard economic times hit his community and John was informed that his position with the company would be eliminated within three months. He has now been unemployed for several months and his savings are gone. John never thought of himself as a worrier, but is for the first time facing uncertain times with great fear. He tries to reason that he is only concerned and not worried, but he is finding it difficult to concentrate and even to do the most basic tasks around the house. His relationship with his wife has become strained and the only topic of conversation seems to be about the future and money. John has just begun to realize that worry is beginning to effect every area of his life.

Becky is a single mother of two, and recently after a routine physical she learned that a nagging pain in her left shoulder was more serious than expected. While test results are still pending, she fears and her doctor suspects that it’s cancer. Her mind goes immediately to her children. If she is diagnosed with cancer, how will her children make it? Even if she survives cancer, how can they as a family endure whatever treatments will be necessary? She cannot miss work and has no extra money for increased costs of medical care. Suddenly she finds herself in a panic. Sometimes, almost without warning, she begins to sweat, her breathing is labored, her chest hurts, and her vision is blurred. The first time it happened she went to the emergency room. She has since been diagnosed with “panic attack syndrome.” Now she is worried about worrying. The cycle seems vicious, and she wants desperately to find a solution that will break the cycle.

These are two fictional stories that you may or may not identify with. The truth is we each have our own stories of worry. No one is immune from the temptation to worry. Yours may not look like one of these, yet we all struggle at some level. Worry is so common that we may think of anxiety or worry and think, “It can’t be that serious really, because everyone does it.” Or even we think it would be odd not to worry. Who doesn’t worry?

We may think this way, and yet God clearly and explicitly says, “Don’t do it. Don’t worry. Do not be anxious about anything.” I don’t know about you, but if I really think deeply about this, it is troublesome to me, because I understand my own heart.

What is worry? Worry is to feel uneasy or anxious about something. It can be experienced over current circumstances or over what we may believe the future holds. However we define it, we all seem to know when it is present. It’s a time when all is not well for us, peace seems evasive, uneasiness sets in and a desire for relief is desperately sought.

When we worry over future things, we in a sense have become fortune tellers, predicting the future. We act, at least emotionally, as if we know the future, and that the future is bad. We act as if we can tell the future and the future is out of control as it relates to us, or it will certainly not be what we hope it will be. We believe that future circumstances will be bad circumstances, and the more we focus on what we believe these bad circumstances will bring for us, the more anxiety we then will feel. Worry often times gives birth to more worry, it can cycle that way and it often does. 

What is the source of worry? The Bible leaves no room for debate. The source of worry and anxiety is unbelief, it’s doubt, doubting the character and promises of God. The unbelief is spelled out for us by Jesus, which we’ll look at in a moment. When we fail to believe that God is for us, will take care of us, has our future in His hands, that He is with us right now and will be in the future, we cave in to worry or anxiety. Jesus says that the root of anxiety is inadequate faith in our Father’s future grace.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)

As unbelief gets the upper hand in our hearts, one of the effects will be anxiety. John Piper says the root cause of anxiety is a failure to trust all that God has promised to be for us in Jesus.

Why is worry such a problem, such a sinful offense to our Lord? Because we are saying, “God, you are not trustworthy, you don’t really have my good in mind. Either you are not willing or you are not able to take care of me. I can’t trust you with my future.” In other words, our worry is an attack on the very character and nature of God. Either we don’t understand who God really is and how He cares for us, or we don’t believe what He has said about His care for us. And if we don’t believe the truths of who He is – that He is sovereign, powerful, kind, loving, just, merciful, holy, compassionate – if we don’t believe those things about God then, well, we really ought to worry, because then things are random and out of control!

Paul helps us with worry and he does so in several ways. First notice what he says immediately before this command not to worry. See what he says? “The Lord is at hand.” What does that mean? It means the Lord is near. The Lord in all His glory, splendor, might, power, compassion, concern, love, and faithfulness, He is the One who is near. This is the true God who actually does know the future and holds it in His hand, not like us who can be so wrong about the future, He is always right. 

Last week, did everything go just as you planned, or how you thought it would go? I didn’t think so. And we cannot with any certainty declare what this next week will hold either, only that God will be in it and He will be near to His children, walking with us in it in His lovingkindness.

Who is at hand? Who is near? The Lord. Not just your spouse, who helps you with some things, or your parents, your best friend, but the Lord is near!

Do you remember how Jesus addresses anxiety in Matthew 6? Matthew 6 is a key passage when we think about worry. As we read through it we find things like, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious” in verse 25. Then Jesus reminds us of His Father’s care over all of His creatures as He provides food for them and reminds us in verse 26, “Are you not of more value than they?” Jesus adds that His Father concerns Himself with our span of life and covering of our bodies with an illustration of His abundant provision for other parts of His creation, then says in verse 30, “will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Jesus reveals that the Father knows all things, including what we need in life, nothing escapes His notice, nothing catches Him off-guard, and nothing is beyond His ability to provide; “and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (verse 32). When worry and fear are held at bay, Jesus reminds us that we will be free to live as God created us to live, that is to live our lives for His glory, for His kingdom! He says in verse 33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Worry is primarily over the future, so Jesus reminds us in verse 34 that God’s got the future: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow.”

Who is at hand? Who is near? The Lord. You can read through Matthew 6, and as you do, list out what sort of attributes the Lord God must have if He is able to fulfill all of His promises. I mean, who can claim that they will provide all our needs? No person even knows what all our needs will be, and certainly no person can provide our spiritual needs. Only God can claim to do this. Only one can act unobstructed in this world, who has the power to act as He wills no matter what else is going on. He must be One who possesses all power to make these promises, He must be all-wise to even understand what our needs are. You can go through the whole passage in Matthew 6 on worry and it’s incredible to see all that God is in this passage, who He really is, who this is that says He is near to us.

If we are living in anxiety, could it be that we might not understand who the Lord is who is near? Have we forgotten who the Lord really is? Have we failed to glory in the person of our Lord and instead chosen to focus on what we fear a future may hold apart from the Lord? I think part of the lesson is to remember God, remember who He is, and remember that He is near. The Lord is at hand, so do not be anxious about anything.

Paul then give us some specific things we can do, and each of these begins to help us peel back layers of unbelief that may reside in our hearts. Paul says, instead of worrying, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Prayer helps us to put some things into perspective. Prayer acknowledges, I mean true biblical prayer, acknowledges our need for God, our own neediness before Him and His ability to handle whatever the future holds. We’re praying to the One who can handle that.

When we pray, aren’t we saying, “I really don’t know what lies ahead, and even if I think I do, I am unable to handle it on my own. I need help. I need one who is able to help me. I need the Lord God and His power and might. I need one who loves me.” And so a transfer takes place. A transfer from, “I think I’ve got this,” to, “I can’t handle this, but you Lord, you can.” Pride is diminished and humility comes in. Simply put, this is saying, “God, I need you. I need you, You are the one I need. I’m laying my burdens before you and I know you can handle this for me.” So whatever it is that we may be tempted to be anxious about, we can take it to God.

Paul uses three terms to describe prayer. First he says “prayer,” which is from a word that often emphasizes intercessory prayer for others. Next he mentions “supplication,” which is an urgent request to meet a need that only God can meet. And he uses the word “requests,” which are very specific items of need. Each of these are forms of self-disclosure before God. We are just laying it all out before Him, praying for others in need, praying for things that only God Himself can handle, praying for specific things. And all of that with thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving gives the right perspective and right attitude when we pray. Paul gives us an example for this, he models it for us. His own prayers are given with a thankful spirit. Remember way back in 1:3-5 how Paul spoke of prayer?

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)

And he said all that while knowing the struggles they were facing and even the fighting within their church body, their lack of unity. But even in that he could look ahead with a thankful confidence as he goes on to say, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Yes, the church was struggling and dealing with hard things, yet Paul could be thankful for them and for God’s sure future grace in their lives.

We can be thankful always in our prayers, always. We may be struggling and yet we can say, “Thank you Lord that through this struggle you have drawn me to you in prayer. Thank you for your promise to carry me through. Thank you that you have said and I can be sure that you will work this out for my good. Thank you that you will use this circumstance to conform me more into the image of Christ. Thank you that you will be glorified in this. Thank you that you don’t give up on me when others might. Thank you that you have said my future is incredibly bright and sure in heaven.” We can always pray with thanksgiving as children of our Lord.

And what happens then as we remember the Lord and His nearness to us, as we put off anxiety and worry and choose instead to pray with thanksgiving? What then happens? Something incredible…

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

Wow that’s different than anxiety. Instead of anxiety that can really dog us and drag us down into misery and even fear, we are overcome with what? With peace, the peace of God. Instead of an uneasy, restless, troubled feeling concerning our circumstances that seem out of our control, instead of that we get real peace from God. A calmed assurance that with God I can be at peace.

We need to see the beauty of this. The peace of God here means the peace that God Himself has. Do you think God is at peace? This is the calm serenity that characterizes God’s very nature, and that grateful, trusting Christians are welcome to share.

Remember when Jesus talked about peace?

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

The world promises peace, like having a lot of money, or being successful, or healthy, or whatever, but it’s not lasting, it’s not real peace. It is passing, temporary peace. The peace of Christ is different, it’s the real thing. It is not even understandable. Why? Because the world says circumstances bring or deny peace. God’s peace rises above that. Peace in troubles is possible, peace when all is not going as we planned, peace when people around us are not doing things the way we want. God gives peace as we go to Him, as we acknowledge His presence, as we believe in Him as Lord, as we humbly bow to Him in prayer, as we glory in His nature as God. In short, peace comes as we are consumed with Him, focused on Him, glorying in Him!

Someone recently commenting on our passage summarized it well this way:

“I think the way not to be anxious is through prayer, petition and even thanksgiving for the circumstances and what you know God will do through them. Prayer seems to calm our hearts as we focus on God, who He is, what He can do and what He will do in our situations. Then peace comes. The kind of peace that doesn’t make any sense at all, but isn’t that how God does things? Your mind (those runaway thoughts) and your heart (those negative emotions that threaten to drown us) will be guarded because you are in Christ Jesus and He is your focus. What a beautiful promise!”

God has a solution to worry. The solution is God Himself in Christ. Know who He is and that He is near. Humbly go to Him in prayer with a thankful heart and experience His peace in incredible ways.

I love Psalm 131, a Psalm of David.

1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131)

When the Psalmist says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul,” I think the way he does that is by recognizing who God is, and that He is near.

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)