You Can Live in Peace: God’s Answer to Anxiety

Philippians 4:6-7

What are you worried about today?
If you’re like most people, whatever you’re worried about probably has something to do with the Coronavirus. A recent survey revealed that 90% of respondents reported increased worry, frustration, boredom or anxiety as a result of the ongoing pandemic. People reported feeling stress from isolation during the quarantine, worries about their health, fear about their employment, and uncertainty about what would happen to their loved ones. Another survey said that 70% of people worry about having enough money to pay their bills. Parents of school-age children worry about when or if the schools will reopen.
No one knows what to expect
I can’t blame anyone for feeling uncertain and even a bit uneasy about the next few months. No one knows what to expect.
A few years ago an organization called Benenden Health commissioned a survey to discover the most common sources of worry. Here are the Top Ten Worries (counting down from #10 to #1) according to their survey:
10. Diet
9. Job security
8. Rent/mortgage payment
7. Credit card debt
6. Low energy level
5. Overdrafts and loans
4. Overall fitness
3. Lack of savings/financial future
2. Growing old
1. Overweight
Here are three observations about that list:
1. These items fall into two categories: health and finances.
2. These are universal human concerns.
3.  These are issues that will be with us as long as we live.
We worry about health and finances
You’re going to have to die in order to stop being concerned about your money and your health. Now take all those common worries and then add the Coronavirus on top of that.
No wonder we have trouble sleeping.
No wonder we feel under so much pressure.
No wonder we find it hard to concentrate.
Have you ever wondered how much time you spend worrying? It’s probably more than you think. The same survey asked people how much time they spend worrying. Here’s what they found out.
Each week, we spend 14 hours worrying.
That equals 744 hours of worry each year.
Which turns into over 45,000 hours of worry over a lifetime.
That equals 1885 days in a lifetime spent doing nothing but worrying.
Which means that we spend 5 years of life captured by worry.
For most people, it’s not just one thing but many things wrapped up together. It’s a job, school, money, work, health, bills to pay, your husband, your wife, your ex-husband, your ex-wife, the in-laws, the kids, and on and on it goes. Any one thing we could handle or even two things, but when you get three or four together, your knees start to buckle.

Strangled by Worry

To worry is to “give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.” The word comes from the Old English wyrgan, which means to strangle or to seize by the throat.
A friend told me about going through a crisis regarding his newborn grandchild with serious medical issues. He spoke of being on a roller coaster of emotions as the doctors first gave bad news, then good news, then news that was somewhat confusing. He added this telling phrase: “I’ve found that it squeezes my mind quite a bit while trying to do other things.”
Worry squeezes the mind
Let me give you a simple definition. Worry is excessive concern over the affairs of life. The key obviously is the word “excessive.” Worry happens when you are so concerned about the problems of life that you can’t think of anything else. It is an all-consuming feeling of uncertainty and fear.
Worry is a sin for two reasons: First, it displaces God in your life. When you worry, you are living as though God did not exist. You are living as though you alone can solve your problems. Second, it distracts you from the things that really matter in life. As long as you are worrying, you can’t do anything else. You are strangled by worry.
You can worry or you can pray
This is the seventh message in the series called Big Promises: God Says You are, You have, You can, You will. So far we have looked at six big promises:
You are Forgiven: God’s Answer to Guilt
You are Never Alone: God’s Answer to Fear
You Have a Way Out: God’s Answer to Temptation
You Have a Great Future: God’s Answer to Failure
You Can Learn to Forgive: God’s Answer to Resentment
You Can Move Mountains: God’s Answer to Impossibility
Now we come to Message # 7: You Can Live in Peace: God’s Answer to Anxiety.
I just said worry is a sin, but it’s really a form of idolatry, because when you worry, the thing you are worried about has replaced God on the throne of the universe. As soon as I say that, people want to argue:
“You don’t know what I’m going through.”
“How can I be cheerful when my marriage is falling apart?”
“If you lived with my husband (or my wife), you wouldn’t be so happy either.”
“My kids drive me nuts.”
“I’ve got Covid-19. How can I rejoice?”
“People have mistreated me, and I’m going to get even.”
“If I had more money, I’d be happy.”
“If I had more money, I’d be happy”
Worry and prayer are opposites—like water and fire. You can worry or you can pray, but you can’t do both at the same time.
In order to focus our thoughts, let’s concentrate on a very familiar passage of Scripture: Philippians 4:6-7. It contains a prohibition, a precept, and a promise.

A Prohibition

“Do not be anxious about anything” (v. 6a).
The King James Version says, “Be anxious for nothing.” Don’t worry about anything. And we immediately want to say, “Are you kidding!”
Where was Paul when he wrote those words? He was in a Roman jail, chained to Roman guards around the clock. But when he writes this letter, he has no complaints. Or we could say, he had plenty to complain about, but he said nothing about it. His future was a dark mystery. He didn’t know when or if he would get out of jail. He was at the mercy of Nero, a bloodthirsty dictator. But he never mentions that fact.
In light of the very real problems of life plus the ongoing pandemic plus the unrest we sense all around us, how are we supposed to be “anxious for nothing”? If 90% of us are worried about the Coronavirus, how do we get into the elusive 10%?
Are you kidding?
The key lies in the word “nothing.” It is an utterly exclusive word. You are to worry about nothing because you pray about everything.
Worry is rat poison to the Christian life. It weakens our faith, encourages our fears, destroys our joy, and increases our doubt. It accomplishes nothing useful for the spiritual life. Worry makes us think we can predict the future when only God knows what will happen tomorrow. It distracts us from our legitimate duties, wrecks our testimony, and leaves us exhausted and depressed.
Worst of all, worry is a contagious virus that quickly spreads to others. It puts a question mark where God has put a period. It’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but won’t get you anywhere. I ran across this bit of practical philosophy: “Worms eat you when you’re dead. Worries eat you while you’re alive!”

A Precept

“But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (v. 6b).
Paul gives us four specific instructions for how to deal with our worries:

1. Prayer

When you pray, you come face to face with the God of the universe. This speaks to the attitude of the heart. Prayer begins with your desire, not with your words. Prayer is to the spiritual life what breathing is to the body. Romans 8:26 reminds us that when we can’t pray, or when all we can do is groan under the burdens of life, the Holy Spirit comes and prays for us. That tells us where we must begin. The slightest whisper on earth is shouted in the courts of heaven. If all we do is cry out, “O God, O Jesus,” that’s enough. The Holy Spirit fills in everything else.
Worry is a contagious virus

2. Petition

What’s a petition? It’s a list you make when you are in desperate circumstances. It’s a document you sign when changes need to be made. In this verse, it means begging God for what you need. It helps me to think of prayer this way: “If Jesus were standing here, what would you ask him for?” Or I imagine the Lord saying to me, “Ray, what do you want me to do for you?” That’s the question Jesus asked blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:51. God bless that blind man because he knew what he wanted: “Rabbi, I want to see.” The Lord loves it when we come to him with a specific request.
If you need a miracle, ask for one. There’s no extra charge for large requests.

3. Thanksgiving

Here is an important antidote to worry: Pray with thanksgiving. Why is this so important? Worry and gratitude cannot coexist. Worry will drive out your gratitude, or gratitude will drive out your worry.
How can we increase our gratitude?
Quote a promise.
Listen to Christian music.
Remember God’s goodness.
Hang out with grateful people.
Don't hang out with grumpy people!
There are plenty of grumpy people in the world. We have to deal with them, but we don’t have to spend all day with them. Find the grateful folks and hang out with them.
An ungrateful heart is a cold heart, but thanksgiving melts the icebergs. Ingratitude destroys the joy of the Lord, but thanksgiving brings it back.

4. Requests

This broad word covers the waterfront of life. It includes both our daily prayers and our urgent cries for help. We make our requests known when we pray in church and when we pray during our Quiet Time. But the term “requests” also covers those “arrow prayers” that we shoot up during the day when all we can do is quickly say, “Help, Lord!”
The Lord invites us to pray about everything. There is no detail too small for the Lord because he reads the fine print of life. If it touches you, it touches him. What we consider trivial is not trivial to him.
God reads the fine print
The other day I was listening to some music while I rode my bike. The song Jesus on the Mainline came on, and the lyrics stayed with me:
Jesus is on the mainline
Tell him what you want
Then came the refrain:
Call him up,
Call him up,
Tell him what you want
Then this verse:
If you’re sick, and you want to get well
Tell him what you want.
If you’re feeling down and out.
Tell him what you want.
The Apostle Paul would heartily approve of those lyrics. Don’t wait for things to get better. Take your little cares to him before they become big ones. Call him up and tell him what you want!

A Promise

Philippians 4:7 offers us a wonderful promise to claim: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When you take your burdens to the Lord, he replaces your worries with something much greater: peace that passes all human understanding.
Tell him what you want!
The word “guard” is a military term that was used for a soldier standing at the gate. When we follow God’s plan, God sends his peace to stand sentry at the door of our heart. We can’t define this peace, but we know what it is. When peace guards your heart, you stay calm when the whole world goes nuts around you. When peace stands sentry, you can have joy even when your heart is breaking. God’s peace delivers you from bitterness, despair, anger, dishonesty, greed, and pessimism.
It transcends understanding because it comes down from heaven to every believing heart. You can have God’s peace any time you need it. There is no “secret” you must discover and no code you must break. God’s peace can be yours if you will lay hold of Jesus by faith.
Here’s the Big Promise for today: You can have the peace of God.
Are you worried about your kids or your grandkids? God offers you his peace.
Are you anxious about that test result from the doctor? You can have peace while you wait.
Are you concerned about the Coronavirus? God’s peace will guard your heart.
God issues the same invitation to all of us.
“Take your worries . . .
Take your cares . . .
Take your burdens . . .
Take your anxieties . . .
And give them to me.”
Take your burdens to the Lord!
Why should we lug that heavy weight around when he will carry it for us?
Charles Tindley wrote these words:
“If the world from you withhold of its silver and its gold,
And you have to get along with meager fare,
Just remember, in His Word, how He feeds the little bird—
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there."
"Leave it there, leave it there,
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there;
If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out—
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there."
After I preached on this topic, a woman commented to me that she doesn’t have any problem casting her burdens on the Lord. Her problem is that she keeps pulling her burdens back, like a fisherman who throws the line into the water and then reels it back in again. Many of us can identify with that.

Can You Handle Hard Times?

No one knows what tomorrow will bring. We’ve all learned in the last few months that our plans and God’s plans aren’t always the same. But we need not give way to fear because our future is in the Lord’s hands. We will be alright no matter what happens. As I was wrapping up this message, this headline popped up on the Drudge Report: “CDC Director sees Most Difficult Fall and Winter.” That refers to the spread of the Coronavirus, but it could equally apply to the ongoing political turmoil, the unrest in our streets, or the discord in many homes. We seem to be passing through a “most difficult” period of history with no end in sight.
Hard times reveal what we believe
In times like these, we discover what we believe. Anyone can trust the Lord when life is good, no one is sick, we have money in the bank, our church is happy and healthy, and our kids and grandkids are all doing well. But it’s a bigger challenge to rejoice, give thanks, and walk by faith when the schools are closed, our boss says, “We’re going to have to let you go,” we argue constantly about politics, our church can’t meet, and we test positive for Covid-19.
To borrow a phrase from Thomas Paine, these are the times that try men’s souls. I wish I could say that things will get better in three months. That might be true, I hope it is, but only the Lord knows for sure. So the question becomes, will we trust the Lord or will we give in to worry? Your answer goes a long way to determine your impact on your family, your friends, and your neighbors. The world wants to know if what we believe is real.
Can you handle hard times?
Will you still trust Jesus in uncertain days?
You'll be sorry you worried at all tomorrow morning!
Will you walk in worry, or will God’s peace guard your heart?
We have a great future because we have a great God. As the old chorus says,
Cheer up, ye saints of God.
There’s nothing to worry about.
Nothing to make you feel afraid,
Nothing to make you doubt.
Remember, Jesus never fails,
So why not trust him and shout,
You’ll be sorry you worried at all tomorrow morning!
Lord, we do not pray for a lighter load, but we do ask for stronger shoulders.
Deliver us from worry that strangles us,
          From care that consumes us, and
          From anxiety that overwhelms us.
Help us to cast our cares on you, and then leave them there.   
Give us happy hearts because we know
          You will carry our burdens
          So we don’t have to.
 Amen.

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