Last week we began looking at what Paul said about dealing with worry in Philippians 4. We went back in the context to verse 4 and said that the first step in focusing upon God, or redirecting our desires back to God. That is what Paul meant when he said, “rejoice in the Lord always.”
Let me remind you that if anyone had cause to worry it was Paul. He was imprisoned. He was opposed. He was concerned about what was going on in the churches, particularly at Philippi. In 2 Corinthians 11, as Paul was arguing against the so-called “super apostles” who seemed to have what we today would call the “prosperity gospel,” Paul contends that all his sufferings (and the list there is long) was superseded by one thing:
28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Paul admits to being anxious about “all the churches.” We can’t avoid becoming anxious about someone or something, but we can refocus upon God and rejoice in Him; then, as Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7
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.
So the second secret for worry-free living is to learn a new strategy.
Paul’s command in verse 6 is “do not be anxious about anything…” or, because it is in the present tense, it is likely Paul is stressing, “stop being anxious about anything.” You’ve been anxious, but learn a new strategy in dealing with your anxieties.
Kent Hughes reminds us…
Indeed, as residents of Philippi they had more things to worry about than we do — poverty, hunger, ostracism, interlopers, agents provocateurs , heretics, and a very Roman “city hall.”
We may not have as many causes to worry, but we still do. Paul says, “If you’ve started to worry…” it is time to change your strategy.
The Greek word here is merimnao, which has the idea of something that is divided, and therefore falling apart. It describes a mind that is distracted and divided, pulling in different directions. Martin Lloyd-Jones called it “stewing without doing.”
The Anglo-Saxon word from which we get our word “worry” means “to choke,” to put a stranglehold on our thinking. In other words, it consumes us.
Thoughts of worry are not the problem, because through prayer we can return to trust, but continual worry consumes us.
Some people claim that they cannot learn to meditate on Scripture. Or that it is too much work. But in reality, worry is just negative meditation—it is going over and over the same information (whether real or not), looking at it from every angle.
Phil Moser has a helpful diagram with three concentric circles. The middle (and smallest) one is the circle of control and includes the elements over which you are able to exercise control and have been given responsibility. Notice that it is the smallest circle because there is really very little in this life that you and I can actually control.
For instance, I can’t control the traffic on my way to work, but I can control my response to that traffic. I can’t control the world’s economy, but I can control my spending and be fiscally responsible. I can’t control the outcome of my children’s choices, but I am able to control the instruction and discipline I give to them while they are under my authority. God has intentionally made my circle of responsibility the smallest. His Word gives precepts and commands so that I would know what my responsibilities are and obey him accordingly. As I walk in the Spirit, and not in the flesh, I am able to do everything that is within this circle (Gal. 5:16, Phil. 4:13).
The next circle is the circle of concern.
The middle circle contains the areas that touch my life, but over which I exercise limited control. A friend or a family member who is living a dangerous life style would fall into this category. Hopefully, through the years, my compassion and loyalty have won me the opportunity to speak to him about my concerns. Certainly, I have influence as a friend. Still, I have to remember, I do not ultimately control his choices or the outcome of those choices. He alone is responsible. He, too, has a circle of control.
Then there is the circle he labels “consumed.”
Again, Phil Moser explains…
Being concerned is only one step away from being consumed. I go to sleep thinking about the situation and wake up with it on my mind. It distracts me from the important conversations around me. It interrupts my relationship with God, and it intrudes upon my relationships with others. This is the circle of worry. I can’t seem to get my mind off the matter at hand. When I am in this circle, it feels like I should be able to come up with a solution if I only worry for a little longer. That is anxiety’s lie. Without realizing it, I have drifted from being concerned to being consumed.
The three circles clarify an inherent danger when we move from the inner circle to the outer. The outer circle does not touch the inner. Which means, when I am worrying about a matter, I cannot fulfill my God-given responsibilities. My time and energies are wasted in the consumed circle and I have nothing left to spend on the areas that I am responsible for. This is why unchecked anxiety often leads to other sins. We’ve depleted the resources that God had given us to fulfill our responsibilities today because we were worrying about tomorrow. Jesus made this case in his Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mat. 6:34).
I’m glad for that teaching, because it shows that I can be concerned for someone, I just have to be careful not to manipulate, but rather to pray and trust God to work.
Jesus gave many important lessons about worry and anxiety in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34. He caps it off with this statement in v. 34…
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Three times Jesus forbade worry: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious [worry] about your life” (v. 25) — “So do not be anxious [worry]” (v. 31) — “Therefore do not be anxious [worry] about tomorrow” (v. 34). And Paul cuts to the chase, “Stop worrying about anything!”
Good concern energizes us to pray and help where we can; but bad worry empties us of the strength we need to fulfill our responsibilities today.
Paul is saying to the Philippians, “You have to learn a new strategy in dealing with your concerns and not get consumed by worries.”
Now, worry is a frame of mind and trying to control it is like trying to keep a dozen beachballs under water—they just keep popping up. Or, it’s like saying to someone: “Don’t think about the white elephant.”
There is really only one way to defeat anxiety and worry…and that is prayer. Since worry is negative meditation, replace worry with prayer—voicing your requests to God.
Prayer reshapes the direction of our thinking, helping us overcome our anxieties and replacing that with a belief that God is in control and working for our good.
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
The best way to have no worries is to pray about everything. Let God know everything.
You see, worry focuses on our problems; praying focuses our minds on God’s promises. Praying allows us to rejoice in God and the good He has done, is doing and will do in our behalf.
Ok, so get out your to-do list and make two columns. Now, under the “things to worry about” column, put the word “NOTHING.” But under “things to pray about” column put “EVERYTHING.”
That’s the concept Paul is saying: “Be anxious in nothing, in everything pray.”
Someone has said, “Why worry when you can pray?”
The problem is that the attitude of many is, “Why pray when you can worry?”
Paul uses several words for prayer in this verse. The first one he uses is proseuche, which is the most general word for prayer, a word that simply reflect the idea of asking, which is later picked up by the words “your request.”
It is the simplest word Paul could choose, but it points out that our prayers need to be real, not just pointless banterings or mindless wanderings, but coming to God just like we would any other benefactor and asking what we want as if He were right in front of us.
McGee quoted Fenelon, a mystic who lived in the Middle Ages, who encouraged praying as follows:
“Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself as to others.”
Someone has put this into a memo form:
Memo: To Do Today
To: A Christian
Today, I will be handling all your problems. Please remember that I do not need your help. If the devil happens to deliver a situation that you cannot handle, DO NOT attempt to resolve it. Just kindly place it in the SFJTD (something for Jesus to do) box. It will be addressed in my time, not yours.
Once the matter is placed into the box DO NOT hold on to it or remove it. Holding on or removal will only delay the resolution to your problem. If it is a situation that you think you are capable of handling, please consult me in prayer before you do anything to be sure that it is the proper way of handling it.
Because I do not sleep nor do I slumber, there is no need for you to loose any sleep. Rest, my child. If you need to contact me, I’m only a prayer away.
That’s all we need to do. Instead of worrying about things, even if they are crashing around us, we need to put them in God’s hands.
While the Greek word proseuche is a general word that can mean all of the ways that we communicate with God, “supplication” (deesis) directly asks God to do something.
The word supplication implies a dependent spirit. It shows that we realize that we need God’s help. It implies humility on our prayer, realizing that we are “poor and needy” (Psalm 86:1).
Helen Roseveare, a missionary to the Belgian Congo for many years, tells this story of the amazing ability for God to hear our prayers and answer them.
One night, in Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all that we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying, two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive. We had no incubator. We had no electricity to run an incubator, and no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts.
A student-midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly, in distress, to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. “…and it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk; so, in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over a burst water bottle. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. All right,” I said, “Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.”
The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with many of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chilled. I also told them about the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died.
During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt consciousness of our African children. “Please, God,” she prayed, “send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby’ll be dead; so, please send it this afternoon.” While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, ” …And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?” As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, “Amen?” I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything: The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!
Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time that I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel! I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone; so, I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.
From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then, there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children began to look a little bored. Next, came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas – – that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend. As I put my hand in again, I felt the…could it really be? I grasped it, and pulled it out. Yes, “A brand-new rubber, hot water bottle!” I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could.
Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!” Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone: She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, “Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?”
That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday School class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. One of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child — five months earlier in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it “That afternoon!”
God knows what we need. He just wants us to ask so that we will realize what an amazing God He is!
Then Paul adds “thanksgiving” which leads us to conclude that, as there are many forms of prayer, there is a need for us to pray a lot.