Last week, I posted a blog Is Anxiety a Sin? Today, I want to talk a little bit about how we address what appears on the surface to be a command from scripture about not being anxious. Phil 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).
Maybe you’ve watched that Bob Newhart video on YouTube where the therapist basically tells the lady to “just stop it.” While the video is meant for entertainment purposes, that’s unfortunately how some Christians treat this verse. You’re in the church and you’re anxious, let me hit you on the head with Phil 4:6, tell you to pray about it, and stop worrying. Just stop it.
People who struggle with anxiety would probably respond, “I’d love to, but it’s not that easy!” The main thing my study of scripture over the years has taught me is that if you really want to understand a verse, you have to look at the context of the verses around it as well as how that verse fits in with all of scripture. So, maybe we can glean some of how not to be anxious from the surrounding verses:
Phil’s 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Pay close attention to things that are repeated in the Bible. Emphasis is important. Rejoice means, “feel or show great joy or delight” (dictionary.com). Can you praise God and be anxious at the same time? I was on a plane one time in some really rough turbulence. I was literally white knuckling the arm rest. I was definitely praying for safety, but I also decided to see what music I had on my phone that I could use to calm me down. I only had a few songs on there, but one of them was “You Hold It All” by Travis Ryan. It’s like “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” version for adults. I probably played that song at least three times before the plane touched down. I was declaring that God was holding it all, including the plane. By the grace of God, I survived!
The darkest times in my life, I have started my day with a praise song. Those days where I didn’t think I could get out of bed and face another day of pain were the very days that I had to hear somebody singing about the goodness of God. I couldn’t sing it myself, but I let those words wash over me. They allowed me to put my feet on the floor and keep going. I’m so thankful. Next time you are anxious, try praise.
You don’t need music though to rejoice in the Lord. When you think about the character of God, His sacrificial love for you, sovereignty, goodness, grace, mercy, forgiveness, healing, and freedom just to name a few, does that get you excited at all? Does it bring you peace to think about? Take a moment and think about just one of those attributes of God and praise Him for that. Did that affect how you feel?
Verse 5 states, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” Reasonableness involves “sound judgement” (dictionary.com). That’s the very thing I don’t have when I’m anxious. I have completely unreasonable thoughts, things that are a very low probability of happening, but I’m somehow convinced they will. I have this with heights big time. I promise to write about this on the blog, but I have actually visualized myself falling from all kinds of heights. I do not care for heights whatsoever, and if it’s possible to inherit this, my dad doesn’t care for them either.
One day, I was at the courthouse in Murfreesboro and they have these full length windows on the upper floors of the building. I’m over there thinking, I better not stand too close to those windows because if I fell out, I’d fall six floors and die. I fully understand that I am not going to randomly fall out of an unopened window, but this is what anxious brain tells me. I realize this thought process is completely unreasonable as it’s happening, so I have to consciously bring myself back to the voice of reason. Carrie, people don’t randomly fall out of buildings. You can look out the window without falling out. People do that every day. I’m still nervous about these things, but I can bring it back into perspective.
The second part of that verse says, “The Lord is at hand.” God is right here. He’s nearby. Have you ever seen a child who was anxious because they couldn’t find their parents? They may have had something obstructing their view, but then mom or dad comes over to say, “I’m right here. It’s OK.” When I would take my former foster children places where there was a big crowd, I would tell them, “You need to be where I can reach out and touch you.” If they were that close, I knew I could intervene if someone tried to do anything to them. God is close to you. He’s at hand.
I hope you can see how Phil 4:4-5 provides some practical steps for how to deal with anxiety, and we haven’t even gotten to verse 6 yet! Stay tuned for the next blog post, which will break down verses 6-8.