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Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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.”

I remember back in school study feverishly for a math test. After nights of studying and despite having at least a slight bit of confidence that I knew the material and was thus read for the exam, nevertheless, that wave of test anxiety seemed more often than not to come crashing down on me. As a result, my brain seemed to empty itself of all that I had crammed into it.

Who hasn’t had a case of the anxieties at some point in their life? I would submit we all fall prey to this pernicious enemy more than we realize. We may try to frame our anxiety as nothing more than being excited or nervous, but the reality is we are still all knotted up inside about something in the future, something seemingly beyond our control or ability to fully know the outcome of what will transpire.

Is being anxious about something always wrong given that Philippians 4:6 clearly calls believers not to be anxious about anything? Furthermore, how do we differentiate between excitement and anxiety? How do we tackle the urge to live in fear of the future or things we feel are out of our control? The answer to these questions I believe can be found in the Apostle Paul’s salient words to us in Philippians 4:4-7. In these four verses, we can find the answers to dealing with anxiety, fear, and worry.

Ed Welch, in his excellent book Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest explains that the topic of fear is mentioned over three hundred times in Scripture with God repeatedly commanding His people “Do not fear.” Anxiety is nothing new for the human race. The people of Israel quite often had much to fear. Think about what it must have been like to have been set free from bondage in Egypt only to be taken to an entirely new land. Notice how quickly the Israelites forgot about the miraculous things God had done for them in delivering them from the hands of the Egyptians. God had turned a river into blood, placed the land under complete darkness, and had split the waters for the people to cross through just to name a few of the miracles He performed on their behalf. Why then were they anxious? It was the fear of the unknown, the proclivity of humanity to forget the God they serve is the almighty Creator of the universe, the sovereign God who knows what He is doing. Just like the Israelites, when trouble comes our way or we encounter something difficult in life, we forget that God is always faithful to His people. There is nothing we will face in life that surprises God or is out of His sovereign control.

In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul begins by commanding us to rejoice in the Lord always. He follows that command with “again I say rejoice” just in case we missed the initial exhortation. Now rejoicing is not just limited to putting on a smiley face in an attempt to ward off anxiety. Neither is it some mask we put on to try and convince ourselves that if we think we can do it, we will. The Greek word used for rejoicing is chairō, a verb that connotes the idea of rejoicing exceedingly, a pervasive attitude of celebration and utter joy.

Paul wastes no time in explaining why we can rejoice – “The Lord is near.” Some translations say “The Lord is at hand” which I think better captures the reality of God’s faithfulness. He is always there, even when we feel as if we are going at it all alone and nobody, let alone God, is concerned with what we are dealing with in life. This nearness is a positional term declaring that God is right there by our side every minute of every single day. There is not ever a time when God is preoccupied with something else and is not concerned with what we are dealing with in our lives.

Additionally, and perhaps, more importantly, the Lord’s nearness carries with it an eschatological element, namely the reality that one day Christ will return to fix this mess of a world in which we live. Homer Kent rightly comments “His (Paul’s) reference is to the Parousia (not just Christ’s continuing presence with believers). This seems clear from the context of the letter, where 3:20, 21 focused attention on the glorious prospect in view for believers at Christ’s return…The statement is a reminder that at his arrival the Judge will settle all differences and will bring the consummation that will make most of our human differences seem trifling.”[2] Thus Paul is reminding believers to set our minds not on the issues of the moment, but on the reality that redemption and restoration draw nigh.

Based on that eternal mindset, we can set worry, anxiety, and fear aside, knowing that God is both near and that Christ will indeed return. When the temptation to worry or to be anxious calls our name and it most certainly will, we can deal with those urges by going to God in prayer. In I Peter 5:7 we are commanded to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” This casting of anxiety on him is accomplished through prayer.

John Calvin once said this about the practice of prayer:

“The necessity and utility of this exercise of prayer no words can sufficiently express. Assuredly it is not without cause our heavenly Father declares that our only safety is in calling upon his name, since by it we invoke the presence of his providence to watch over our interests, of his power to sustain us when weak and almost fainting, of his goodness to receive us into favour, though miserably loaded with sin; in fine, call upon him to manifest himself to us in all his perfections.”[3]

When we rejoice in the Lord always, acknowledging that He is always walking right beside us, and when we cast all our anxieties to Him in prayer and thanksgiving, the result is God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. What a wonderful promise! God’s peace is beyond our understanding meaning “God’s peace accomplishes far more than any human forethought or plan might devise.”[4] We can take comfort that when we hit the proverbial brick wall or when there comes a time in our life when all seems lost; God is firmly in control of the situation. When we come to Him in prayer, His peace will rain down on our lives, dispersing the muck and mire of anxiety, fear, and worry replacing it with hope and faith in the goodness and faithfulness of God.

Let us look to the Author and Finisher of our faith, the sovereign God who is completely in control of every fabric of the universe, a God who cares for our every need. If you are suffering from anxiety today, cast that anxiety and worry at the feet of Almighty God for He cares for you. Find rest in the promises He has provided in His word and set your eyes not on the worries of the moment, but on the reality that one day He will come again and the problems of this world will be no more.

References:

[1] Edward Welch, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2008), 59.
[2] Homer A. Kent, Jr. “Commentary on Philippians” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol.11: Ephesians through Philemon. Edited by Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 151.
[3] http://www.prayermeetings.org/files/P_Of_Prayer_John_Calvin.pdf
[4] Kent, 152.