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Sermon Message

 

"God's Cure for Our Anxieties"

Philippians 4:6-7
Theme: God's prescribed cure for our anxieties is a reverent presentation of our requests to Him through prayer.

(Delivered Sunday, September 12, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version.)

I take it for granted that every person here this morning has a sense of 'concern' about something. For many, it may be a very small matter that concerns them; but then again, I already know that some people are here this morning who are deeply troubled over something that is weighs very heavily on their heart. For some, the severity of their anxiety robs them of their joy, their health and happiness, and even their sleep. Perhaps that someone is you.

If that's your circumstance, I want you to know how very glad I am that you're here today. I hope you never feel that, when you come to church on Sunday, you're obliged to leave your troubles at home. You have come today to the house of the God who loves you, and to worship the Lord Jesus Christ who died for you; and I believe that makes this the very best place to bring your troubles. The Bible says that we are to bring our troubles to Him; ". . . casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). The Bible doesn't teach us to leave our troubles behind when we come to God; but rather, to come to God and leave our troubles with Him - where they belong! And so, if you have come to church this morning with troubles weighing down on you, then you have come to the right place!

* * * * * * * * * *

I'd like to turn your attention this morning to one of the most encouraging and positive books of the New Testament: Paul's little letter to the Philippians. We can learn a great deal about how to deal with the anxieties and worries of life from reading this little letter. Paul wrote it while, himself, under some very trying circumstances - and yet it's a letter that is filled with joy and triumph.

I find encouragement every time I read Philippians; and yet, I can never forget that, when the author wrote it, he was sitting in a dark, dank prison cell for having preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. But nevertheless, he rejoiced because God was at work through his imprisonment; using it to bring about the furtherance of the spread of that very same gospel by emboldening other believers to preach it in his place (1:12-14). Some were seeking to bring affliction upon him during his imprisonment by preaching Christ out of envy and strife; yet he rejoiced that the gospel of Christ was, nevertheless, being spread - even by them (1:15-18). He was apparently under the threat of death for his preaching; yet he had confidence that, whether he was set free from prison or 'poured out' in death, he would in any case be 'delivered' and would see Christ magnified in his body (1:19-20). His imprisonment had even driven him into deep financial and material need; yet he rejoiced in his need, and expressed that he had learned how to be happy and content - whether in humble circumstances or in prosperous circumstances - doing all things through Christ who strengthened him (4:10-13). Paul is, in my opinion, one of the most encouraging and positive men in history; and he reveals much of this positive spirit in what he says in this particular letter.

And what's more, in this letter, he shares with us the secret of his overwhelming peace and confidence in such trying circumstances. In one of the richest, most encouraging, and most practical portions of his letter, he instructs his readers in these words:

Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus (4:6-7).

There's his secret! I have become convinced that his whole letter is just one, large personal illustration from Paul of how he experienced God's peace as described in these two verses. He wishes to share his secret with us. He even says, just a few sentences later, "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you" (v. 9).

I don't need to tell you how filled with anxiety people are today. Our whole world is filled, it seems, with expressions of worry and fear and apprehension. And I don't mean only in terms of national and global concerns - great as those concerns are. I mean that people are filled with horrible anxieties just with respect to their personal and individual concerns alone. People everywhere are seeking some kind of relief from the overwhelming sense of anxiety that plagues them at every turn. Looking over it all, it would be easy to conclude that "anxiety" is the normal way of life.

But anxiety is not the normal way of life that God intends for His people. Here, in these two verses, God gives us what must happen for us to - at the very core of our being - become relieved of anxiety; and to - like Paul - experience God's overwhelming peace in life during any and every circumstance.

* * * * * * * * * *

Let's begin by dealing with some key concepts that these two verses present to us with respect to anxiety. First of all, if you'll look at those two verses, you'll see that one of the misconceptions that it corrects is, perhaps, the most common one that people have about anxiety. Many people believe that "anxiety" is somehow caused by our circumstances. But that's not the case at all. It may be true to say that difficult circumstances might help 'provoke' us to anxiety; but it's definitely not true to say that anxiety is 'caused' by those circumstances.

Do you notice that Paul does not say that, if you do what he says, "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard you from the trying circumstances that cause anxiety"? There's no promise that God will solve our anxiety problem by guarding us from difficult circumstances; because the circumstances are not really the problem. Instead, Paul writes that "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds"; because that's where the problem really lies - in our hearts and minds. Circumstances are external matters; but anxiety is an experience that springs from our internal response to those circumstances. And the solution that God gives in the Bible to anxiety is a very realistic one that deals with the problem at its true source - within our own selves.

Jesus spoke to His disciples about the true source of anxiety. He told them, "Peace I leave with you" (John 14:27); and there, He's offering true relief from anxiety. But He says that His solution is not like the world's offer of peace; ". . . not as the world gives do I give to you." The peace that the people of this world seek to give is one that assumes that the circumstances are what causes the anxiety in us. And so, the people of this world seek to relieve anxiety by somehow controlling the circumstances, or - if they can't control them - by somehow desensitizing themselves to the negative impact those circumstances may have. In the world's solution, the inner man remains unchanged. But the peace that Jesus gives is one that He Himself defines in this way: "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (v. 27). Do you see it? He focuses the solution to anxiety on the inner man - that is, in the heart and mind - because that's where the cause of anxiety is really rooted, no matter what the external circumstances may be.

A second important concept this passage teaches us about anxiety is that its opposite condition - inner peace - is something that is found, not from within ourselves, but from outside ourselves; that is, it is an inner condition that does not originate from ourselves in any respect. The problem is certainly found in ourselves, but the solution is not.

Do you see how Paul very carefully defines peace in terms of its source? He says, "the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds . . ." Its not just "peace"; but "the peace of God". Grammarians refer to this as 'genitive of source' - that is, the peace which has God as its source of origin. It's not a peace I create or obtain for myself through my own efforts. Rather, it is a peace that comes from outside of myself and that God gives me as a gift of His grace. It's just as Jesus said; ". . . My peace I give to you . . ."

If my experience of "peace" was dependent upon something that I created within myself, then I would always be anxious about whether or not I was able to maintain the peace I created. I might be able to conjure up a temporal attitude of peace in most circumstances; but then, there might be a circumstance that will come along that my own self-made "peace" was insufficient to endure - and I'd always be a little worried about that! But God here promises a peace that is greater than all the circumstances that I could ever encounter, because it's a peace that finds its source outside of myself. It's the peace that Jesus Himself exhibited; because it's His own peace given to me. It's the peace God promises as a fruit of His indwelling Holy Spirit living in me (Gal. 5:22-23).

And finally, a third important concept about anxiety that this passage teaches us is that its opposite condition - peace - is obtained only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul makes this very clear when he says that "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus"; or, as he literally writes, "in Christ Jesus."

Jesus has essentially told us the same thing about peace as Paul is telling us here. He told His disciples much about the things that they would suffer because of their relationship with Him. But He then told them, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). And again, do you see it? He told them these things that 'in Him' they may have peace. God's gracious gift of this peace is not found in any other way but "through Christ Jesus". It cannot be experienced by anyone except those who are united to Jesus Christ by a personal relationship with Him through faith.

This motivates me to stop at this point and ask; Do you have that relationship? Ultimately, a prevailing condition of anxiety has its root in ourselves because we are fallen in Adam. In other words, the reason we do not experience the peace in our hearts we where meant to enjoy is because sin has broken the relational peace with God that we were designed to experience. But God sent His Son to come into this world to be born into the human family and to take our sins on Himself and die in our place. Jesus dealt with the sin that separates us from God by dying in our place on the cross. And when we put our faith in what He did for us, and accept His payment for sin as our own, then the sin problem is removed and peace with God is possible. Peace with God leads to peace in trying circumstances. Paul elsewhere wrote,

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:1-5).

We can have confident hope in tribulation, ultimately, only because we first have peace with God. And peace with God can only be had through a relationship by faith with Jesus Christ. So the place to begin, in solving the problem of anxiety in our lives, is by placing our trust in what Jesus has done on the cross for us and by entering into a personal relationship with Him through faith.

So to sum up; this passage corrects many areas of misunderstanding we might have about anxiety. It teaches us that it's a problem that has its roots, not in our circumstances, but in ourselves. But its opposite condition - peace - is something that is not found in ourselves, but outside ourselves; being given to us as a gift of God's grace. And this gracious gift of peace is found only "through Christ Jesus" - that is, as a result of being united to Him by faith.

* * * * * * * * * *

And I hope you appreciate what this means, dear brother and sister in Christ. This all means that, no matter what the circumstances, you are able to experience the overwhelming peace of Jesus Christ. The peace the Jesus promised, and that Paul himself experienced, can characterize you as well.

Now; let's look at this passage in a little more detail; and see what it is that the Bible teaches us must happen for us to experience this peace in our daily life.

First, you notice that Paul tells us . . .

1. WHAT WE ARE TO STOP DOING (v. 6a):

He says, "Be anxious for nothing." The old King James translation says, "Be careful for nothing" - not, of course, meaning that we shouldn't care about anything, or that we should be passive and indifferent to the troubles of life. Rather, it means that we are not to be unduly concerned about those troubles, or spend an undue amount of careful thought about them. The Greek word that's here translated "anxious" (merimna§) is a word that doesn't always mean something negative. Paul uses the same Greek word in a completely positive way in Philippians 2:20; where he writes to the Philippian believers about sending Timothy to them, and tells them, "For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state." But here, Paul clearly means it as a negative thing.

We all have things that we "care" for. But how do we know that it has become "anxiety"? I suggest that one sure way we can know is when our "care" is characterized by a loss of peace. That loss of peace comes from thinking that (1) it's up to us to retain control of things that are going on around us, and that (2) things are clearly out of our control. I can "care" about things that God has under His control; but I'm not anxious about them, because I know that He's in control. But the moment I think that it's all up to me, then I feel out of control . . . and "anxious".

And we're to "be anxious for nothing." In fact, in the original language, Paul emphasizes the "nothing" by placing it first in the sentence. He literally says, "For nothing be anxious." There is to be no area of our lives, and no circumstance we could encounter, in which we are to be anxious. There's no need to be, because our heavenly Father is in control. The moment we begin to feel anxious, we are to stop!

Isn't it great that the fact of God's sovereign control over all things gives us the unconditional permission to stop being anxious? Jesus has given us a similar command to that of Paul's. In fact, our Lord's command to us uses the very same Greek word as Paul uses. And Jesus based His command on the gracious, faithful provision of our heavenly Father. He said,

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:25-34).

* * * * * * * * * *

So first, Paul tells us what we are to stop doing. We are to stop being anxious. "Be anxious for nothing". But the Holy Spirit, who inspired these words from Paul, knows us well; and He doesn't call us to stop doing something without giving us something to do in its place. The secret to experiencing God's peace doesn't come from doing nothing, but from doing something else instead. And so, Paul now tells us . . .

2. WHAT WE ARE TO DO INSTEAD (v. 6b):

You noticed that Paul's prohibition was all-inclusive, didn't you? He said that we are to be anxious "for nothing". But now, he gives us an equally all-inclusive command when he says, ". . . but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God . . ."

If you look carefully, you'll notice that there's a "what", a "who", and a "how" in Paul's instruction. First, what we are to do is to make our requests known. And second, who we are to make them known to is God Himself. Both of those things are very important, aren't they? After all, it doesn't make any difference if we make our requests known to someone who can't do anything about them. I've done that many times; and so have you. It's a waste of time. But it makes all the difference in the world when we make our request known to someone who is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving. That's when things start to happen; because He can do something about them!

Now, it's not that we make our requests known to God because He wouldn't have known about them if we hadn't told Him. What this is teaching us is that we are to be specific when we bring our requests to God. Jesus said,

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, now how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:9-13).

But notice also that there's a "how" given to us in the instruction from Paul. He says, first of all, that we're to make our requests known to him "by prayer and supplication". The word "prayer" is a general word. It speaks of the sense of reverence and worship with which we are to come and approach God with our requests. When we come to Him with our requests, we're not to come running up to Him in a panic, forgetting who it is that we're talking to. Rather, we're to come remembering all that is true of Him, and how wonderfully powerful and sovereign He is. We're to come remembering that all the universe is under His sovereign control; and that He is loving and caring of us. How much more characterized by peace we would be if we simply did that first! And then, we're to make our request by "supplication" - which is a more specific word used to describe the specific details of our request. What a difference it is when we bring our specific requests to God in the context of worship!

And there's one more thing that is to characterize how we're to do this. We're to make sure that our request is given "with thanksgiving". Thanksgiving communicates a spirit of glad-hearted submission to the will of God. It communicates that we trust Him; and accept that He will do what is good and right in our circumstance. When you think about it, you cannot be anxious before God about anything, and yet be thankful to Him for that same thing at the same time. One attitude expels the other. As Paul has told us elsewhere, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

* * * * * * * * * *

So what are we to stop doing? We are to "be anxious for nothing". What are we do to instead? ". . . In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God". And finally, notice . . .

3. WHAT HAPPENS AS A RESULT (v. 7):

". . . And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." The "heart" speaks of our inner man - the seat of our personality. And the "mind" here speaks of the thought-life and of our reasoning powers. Those are the places in us in which anxiety runs riot. Our inner being goes into a turmoil, and we become all agitated inside. And our thoughts run away with us; so that we fret about what we imagine might happen in the future, or worry about things we have no knowledge of in the present, or trouble ourselves over things we recall that happened in the past. And here, we're told that the peace of God, as it were, stands guard over the ramparts of our hearts and minds.

And notice that it's a peace that "surpasses all understanding". It's a peace from God that so overwhelms us, in the midst of even the most trying of circumstances, that it doesn't seem rational from a human perspective. It's a peace beyond human conception.

The great preacher Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones told a story1 he once read about a man who used to be the General of the Salvation Army. He and his wife had a young daughter that they loved very much. They were also very proud of her, because she was an outstanding Christian who felt led to devote her life to foreign missions. Though it was a hard thing for them to do, these proud parents released their beloved daughter to serve Christ in the far East.

One day, they received word that their daughter had been struck ill. Unable to get to her, they of course began to pray for her. But somehow, they didn't feel led by God to pray specifically for her recovery. They prayed for her; but their specific prayer was something like this: "Thou canst heal her if thou wilt". They didn't feel the freedom in the Holy Spirit to take the matter any further in prayer than that; but to only pray, "Thou canst if thou wilt." They prayed that way for their daughter for six weeks.

Then one morning, they received the news that their beloved daughter - far away in an Eastern land - had died. And that very morning - after all that time of praying - the man said to his wife, "You know, I am aware of a strange and curious calm within." And his wife replied, "I feel exactly the same. This must be the peace of God." Of course, they couldn't have had a peace like that from themselves in such a situation! In fact, they felt so much peace and calm at hearing such tragic news that it amazed them. Clearly, God had blessed them with His promise: ". . . And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

That story leads me to remind you of one very important aspect of all this. God does not make the promise to us in this passage that, if through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, we faithfully make our requests known to God, we will always receive what we asked. God's ways are higher than ours; and He does not always answer our prayers in the way that we - in our frail understanding - might wish. But what we do have is the promise that, whatever He does in answer to our prayers, He will always do what is right and good for us; and He will give us His own overwhelming peace in the midst of it.

* * * * * * * * * *

So; did you come to church this morning with a burden of care? Are you worried and anxious about something? If so, then I'm truly glad that you came today. I have a word from God for you; and I'm thrilled to pass it on. It is this: "Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus" (4:6-7).

But we must faithfully do our part. We shouldn't expect that overwhelming peace from God to characterize us as a result of praying for our concerns just once. In fact, both of the main commands of this passage are given in the present tense of the verb - which indicates an ongoing, repeated practice or habit of life. You could translate it this way: "Make it your practice to be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication,with thanksgiving, let it be your regular habit of life to make your requests known to God . . ." If we do this, soon we will find that God's own peace prevails over our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.


1D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Peace (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), pp. 176-177.

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