When the trials of life unexpectedly come knocking at your door, the last thing you may be thinking about is joy. Yet, the Bible repeatedly calls us to have joy in life’s most turbulent times (James 1:2-3). How in the world is this possible? Is it really realistic that a Christian can still smile, pray, rejoice, and serve when the weight of the world is squeezing the last drops of joy from their heart?
The Apostle Paul wrote to a little church in Philippi who had plenty of reasons to worry. Like many Christians today, the Philippian Christians were going through trials but couldn’t afford to fall apart because so much was on the line. Paul planted this church in the midst of beatings, demonic opposition, threats, imprisonment, false teachers, and imposters. These Christians were generous givers, sound in doctrine, loved immensely by leaders, but not immune to problems either. Sometimes they had unity issues (Philippians 4:2-3), they grumbled and complained (Philippians 2:14), suffered for their faith (Philippians 1:29), and Paul even wept over the false teachers trying to pluck the ignorant from their ranks (Philippians 3:18). If anyone had a legitimate reason for anxiety and worry, it was Paul and the Philippian church.
Here’s how they found stability in the midst of unstable times…and how you will too.
REJOICING THE RIGHT WAY
When Paul gives the antidote for anxiety he doesn’t say that you need a vacation, or to find a friend and vent – he says to “rejoice” (Philippians 4:4a). He is literally saying to practice this calm, happy, level headed rejoicing all the time! Why? Because a Christian’s joy is not determined by their circumstances. Emotions can be felt, but the mind can be immune. Like feeling the emotion of anger towards someone, while not thinking thoughts of murder.
Now before you think this “rejoicing” is merely suppressing evil thoughts, rest assured that this is the kind of rejoicing that has divine intervention written all over it. It is rejoicing “in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4b).
When you rejoice in the Lord you can be in the midst of pain and still find comfort knowing that Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), the sympathetic High Priest who has been where you’ve been (Hebrews 4:14-16), the coming King who will wipe every tear and abolish all evil (Revelation 19:16), and He is your loving Lord who cares deeply for you (Romans 8:38-39).
The Bible doesn’t dismiss the pain and emotion of trials, but our rejoicing is real and is possible because it is in Christ the Lord. The spiritually stable Christian rejoices, knowing Christ is in complete control.
ENDURING THE RIGHT WAY
Against all reason, Paul says that the antidote for anxiety includes being able to let go and let God. Sometimes it’s the hardest to forgive when we are in the middle of the fight, and being content is the farthest from our minds when we are in the crux of chaos! But Paul writes, “Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). That word “forbearance” is a loaded Greek term that commentators like William Hendriksen rightly translate numerous ways including: big-heartedness, geniality, sweet reasonableness, generosity, considerateness, gentleness, leniency, and charity toward other’s faults.
When we contrast these words with the world’s way of dealing with anxiety and trouble, we see how different a Christian is called to be. The world deals with tough times by declaring, “I deserve justice. I deserve my health. I deserve a good marriage. I deserve a family. I can’t afford to just let go and let God.” God’s word is clear that the Christian is to be forbearing; even enduring evil and injustice, and remaining stable through the storm of life. The Christian finds their motivation to endure the right way by remembering that Christ is near the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18), and He is returning soon (Revelation 22:12). Big-hearted forbearance is knowing that temporary pain will never compare to the joy we have in Christ.
“In a word, a contented Christian being sweetly captivated under the authority of the Word, desires to be wholly at God’s disposal and is willing to live in that sphere and climate where God has set him.” – Thomas Watson
PRAYING THE RIGHT WAY
Recent studies have proven that 85% of what we worry about doesn’t happen, and the average person can spend up to 6.5 years of their life in some state of worry. Want to cut down on some wasted time? Paul says don’t be anxious (Philippians 4:6a), but pray – and pray the right way! Praying the right way has some key elements to it that are sure to lead to peace.
First, we are to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6a). Spiritually stable Christians put away the comfort food, recreation, complaining, and distraction in order to turn to prayer. No Christian does this to perfection but as we grow in maturity, habitual prayer becomes the deep rudder that guides us through stormy seas. We eventually learn that the best thing to do when anxiety strikes is to go straight to our knees knowing that God cares for our anxieties and has asked us to turn them over to Him (1 Peter 5:7).
Second, we are to pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 6b). Spiritually stable Christians are thankful in prayer because their joy isn’t wrapped up in whether God gives them their request. How often do we as believers say, “thank you God”, in our prayers compared to the demands we make of Him? Ultimately, we pray ungrateful prayers because we have forgotten that our sovereign God is in control. His purposes turn out for good (Romans 8:28), all His ways are pure (Deuteronomy 32:4), and He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him (Psalm 18:30). Praying the right way will include an attitude of gratitude.
For the believer, praying the right way about everything leads to peace about everything (Philippians 4:7). Even when we don’t receive the answer we were hoping for from the Lord, peace is always available to us. Think about the examples from the Bible that illustrate the power of prayer and blessing of peace no matter what the outcome.
When Hannah was barren, she prayed – and still gave Samuel back to the Lord after receiving what she asked (1 Samuel 1-2). When David committed adultery, he prayed – yet still lost a son though God acknowledged his repentant heart (Psalm 51:17). When Esther needed strength, she prayed (Esther 4:16). When Jonah was swallowed, he prayed (Jonah 2:1). As Jesus was sweating blood, He continued to pray (Luke 22:44). When Stephen was being stoned, he prayed (Acts 7:59). When Paul was tormented by a thorn in the flesh, he prayed (2 Corinthians 12:7). Not all received an immediate escape from their temporary trial but all received divine peace!
No matter the outcome of our prayers, we will always receive peace when we pray the way God’s word instructs.
THINKING THE RIGHT WAY
Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute…let your mind dwell on these things.”
The mind is where the battle against anxiety truly takes place. For a Christian, the mind is a key element to spiritual stability. No wonder Paul described spiritual warfare as taking thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), and commanded that spiritual transformation include the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:1-2). You can’t rejoice right, endure right, or pray right unless you get your thinking right. This is priceless instruction from Paul since it is human nature to make decisions based on how we feel and our feelings often dictate our thinking. Regardless of feelings, we must focus our minds on what the Bible says is best:
First, we need to dwell on whatever is true. If Satan is the father of lies and accuser of the brethren, is it a stretch to assume that peace will come to a Christian whose mind is locked on truth?
Second, we dwell on whatever is honorable. This word in the Greek is, Semna, and is also used to describe the dignified nature of church offices in 1 Timothy 3:8. Our minds ought to be filled with respectful, dignified, serious thinking.
Thirdly, whatever is right means that God’s righteous standard must set the bar of our thinking. How can we expect to have peace when we meditate on unrighteousness? God is just, and our thinking ought to be as such.
Fourth, we must dwell on whatever is pure. Morality in your mind matters to God and peace is undoubtedly contingent on right relationship with Christ. Therefore, impurity must be confessed (1 John 1:9), and His grace joyfully received (John 1:16). When we dwell on thoughts filled with filth, lust, malice, and greed it will rob us of mental purity and peace.
Fifth, we must dwell on whatever is lovely. Meaning pleasing, and agreeable, the word prosphiles also appears in the LXX to describe the beauty of Queen Esther. Is your mind set on things that are attractive to God? Is pleasing, agreeable, or even beautiful words that you would use to describe your thoughts? If not, you’re likely fueling the fires of anxiety.
Sixth, we need to dwell on whatever is of good repute. This is the opposite of a mind that is constantly in the gutter. When things goes south in your life, is your mind not far behind? Constant complaining, negativity, a loss of perspective, and fear are all the anti-thesis of good repute. Don’t let your peace get washed away by a mind that’s stuck in the gutter.
Finally, Paul summarizes the right way of thinking with a conditional clause: “if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”
If you’re a believer, there is always something excellent and worthy of praise to rejoice over. Christ has won victory and promised you eternity. No matter what you’re going through, when you protect your mind according to God’s word, you will receive His unstoppable peace.
In Him, we most assuredly have the antidote for anxiety.
The preceding post is based on the sermon, “Antidote for Anxiety” (Philippians 4:4-9) recorded live at Mission Bible Church on 7.9.17.