Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Living an Anxiety-Free Life in an Anxiety-Filled World pt. 1

Sunday night at church, Bill Shannon spoke from Philippians 4:4-9 in a sermon entitled, "Living an Anxiety-Free Life in an Anxiety-Filled World." When I first saw that this was to be the subject (and passage) we would be studying, my prideful heart thought, "Well, I might learn a little, but I've already gone through this passage in my own time and I think understand it fairly well." Prideful little me was definitely proved wrong.
Mr. Shannon (Pastor Shannon?) brought up four (count 'em, four!) ways that Paul showed the Philippians how to live an anxiety free life. I knew one of them (to pray!) coming into it, but the other three I hadn't grasped as even relating to the subject of anxiety!
Here's the passage:
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."
According to Mr. Shannon, the first step in handling anxiety is engaging in the right kind of praise. The verse says to "rejoice in the Lord always." Continually and habitually practicing the right kind of praise, no matter what the circumstances, leads to the unmitigated joy of the believer--one's circumstances shouldn't dictate one's joy. I have always wondered why Paul went from talking about rejoicing to talking about praying about one's anxieties--it's because the two are inextricably connected! If we are sincerely rejoicing in the Lord's provisions and graces lavished upon us, then there is no reason to be worried. Worry, in fact, shows a lack of trust in the absolute sovereignty of an entirely wise God! I am always heart-broken when I see my own doubt in light of this truth--why on earth I would choose to believe my own deceptive heart above the absolute veracity of God is beyond me! Faith is a grace I seek daily.
Next, the second step in handling anxiety is engaging in the right kind of prayer. Mr. Shannon pointed out an interesting but important distinction when it comes to dealing with our futures--it's alright to plan for the future, but it's not okay to be distracted by the future. Unfortunately, as humans, we have the tendency to be too legalistic and to think, "Well, if thinking about the future could potentially give way to worrying about the future, I mustn't think of it at all!" There's a fine line to be walked between trusting in God for your future and being responsible for your future. I recently read a blog that discussed the importance of exercise in the Christian's life. While God has our days numbered, He uses human means to extend (or shorten) the days of our lives as He sees fit. One of these means is, in fact, exercise. In the same way, God uses the wisdom and responsibility He gives His children to direct them in making godly decisions about their futures. While it is still entirely in God's hands, we are not absolved from responsibility to live our lives according to the wisdom presented in the Bible. 
One thing that Mr. Shannon also mentioned about prayer that stuck out to me was that anxiety is the mark of the person without hope--and as Christians, we know we definitely have hope! He even went so far as to say that if a person is without hope, we can "extrapolate that maybe they are without God." That statement sent a chill through the room. It's absolutely true though. Obviously, many true Christians (myself included!) struggle with worry, but, honestly, what have we to worry about? CJ Mahaney, in one of his books, talks about the single person worrying about whether or not God has it in His plans for that person to marry. Mahaney's encouragement to believers is, "Your greatest need is not a spouse. Your greatest need is to be delivered from the wrath of God--and that has already been accomplished for you through the death and resurrection of Christ. So why doubt that God will provide a much, much lesser need? Trust His sovereignty, trust His wisdom, trust His love." In light of this, we are called to cast our cares upon the Lord in prayer, with thanksgiving, and what a wonderfully rich gift that is! May we always remember to use it!

1 comment:

Paul said...

Hey Ray! Am I the first to leave a comment on your blog? Anyway, you're off to a great start.