“Do not be anxious about anything.” The familiar words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians present something of a paradox — we love them adorned on artsy frames, on the one hand, and find them seemingly impossible to put into practice, on the other.
If we’re honest, we may secretly believe that we get a pass from obeying this particular command. We tell ourselves that it simply can’t mean anything. Not when we suffer trials that are altogether devastating. Surely God knows our human frame. He knows we can’t control the anxious thoughts that bombard us — nor the shortness of breath, the heart racing, or the restless nights that can accompany those thoughts.
“As we pray, lingering in God’s presence, everything else has to bow.”
Alternatively, we tell ourselves that “do not be anxious about anything” is for the spiritually mature saint, a verse to aspire to. And since we’re not there yet, we can dismiss this direct command for a while. Moreover, we’re careful not to burden others with it. If a fellow believer is battling anxious thoughts, we think it insensitive to bring this verse to bear on the situation. Better to show sympathy than to risk sounding trite.
But God has not given us an impossible standard or one to be attained only by spiritual growth. He’s telling us what’s possible by his Spirit. He knows the crippling effects of anxiety, and he’s telling us we needn’t submit to its tyranny. He’s blessing us with divine direction as to how to receive supernatural help.
Call to Prayer
Anxiety consumes. It commands the breadth of our thoughts, and fills them with dread. Unfurling its scroll of worst-case scenarios, it extinguishes hope and pummels our faith. A favorite tool of the enemy, it’s effective in silencing God’s voice and trumpeting our fears.
When we’re hit with the cares of this world, it’s hard to avoid those anxious thoughts. Our God knows. “Do not be anxious about anything” doesn’t mean we will never feel anxious. The verse is telling us what to do with it — give it to God. It reads in its entirety:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
We can be anxious for nothing because in everything — each and every trying situation — we are involving the God of the universe. Rather than bear the load ourselves and allow it to cripple us, we take it immediately to God, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Prayer Redirects Us to God
Prayer redirects our attention from the all-consuming problem to our all-powerful God. Before our thoughts can rehearse every hopeless scenario that could attend the problem, we intentionally set our minds on things above. We’re reminded that we have hope and help. We’re reminded that even this hardship is subject to the sovereignty of God, and that he remains in control.
“God knows the crippling effects of anxiety, and he’s telling us we needn’t submit to its tyranny.”
And we pray against anxiety with thanksgiving because we know that God is good. Our perspective transforms when we cast the current dilemma in the light of who God is and all that he has done. We can never thank God enough for sending his Son, for the gift of eternal life, and for blessing us with every spiritual blessing.
As we pray, lingering in God’s presence, everything else has to bow. Prayer silences our anxious thoughts, and positions us to hear from God, including reminders of precious promises such as this: He is faithful.
Call to War
“Do not be anxious about anything” is also a call to spiritual warfare. It’s telling us to stay poised to reject every uprising of temptation. When a hardship hits and our minds begin to spin out of control, a battle is being waged. Galatians 5:17 is instructive:
The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Our flesh wants to be in control. It bears the burden of the hardship and works to figure out how to handle it. And when it determines that the hardship is beyond its capabilities — when we can’t see a satisfactory solution — anxiety sets in. This posture is at odds with the Spirit who implores us as believers to trust God — to walk by faith and not by sight.
This was the central issue when Moses, at God’s direction, sent twelve men to spy out the land God had promised. Ten of them couldn’t shake their anxiety over the giants that currently resided in the land. It didn’t matter that they’d already seen God’s faithfulness in fighting for them against a mighty enemy, Egypt. It didn’t matter that they’d seen God do miracles, most notably the parting of the Red Sea. In their minds, they could never defeat this fearsome enemy. Thus, they lost hope, saying, “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33).
“Prayer redirects our attention from the all-consuming problem to our all-powerful God.”
Only two of the spies — Joshua and Caleb — understood that the true battle was in their souls. They didn’t need to fear the giants; they needed to remember that “the Lord is with us” (Numbers 14:9). Joshua and Caleb implored the people to trust God and go forth, knowing that with him they would overcome. These two men could be anxious for nothing because they believed God and walked by faith.
Promise of Protection
That Philippians 4:6 verse which tells us, “do not be anxious about anything,” but in everything to pray with thanksgiving, is followed by this:
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7)
This is such a powerful promise. Such grace. When we look to the Lord in the midst of anxiety, his peace will guard our hearts and minds. In other words, his peace will stand at the gates, refusing to allow anxious thoughts to enter.
But, you may say, I’ve prayed, and those thoughts keep coming. Keep praying. In Christ, our lifestyle is prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We stay ever clinging to our Savior, mindful that apart from him we can do nothing. We can’t fight the battle without him. But with him, no matter what anxious thoughts may come, his peace is our most powerful protection. In Christ, we are promised a never-ending supply of grace.