Good evening! I want to begin with a question: what is currently making you worry? What’s on your mind that makes you anxious? I’m not thinking about those trivial things like worrying about the weather or if you’ll miss the bus in the morning or stressing over whether you’ve remembered to record the latest episode of Line of Duty, although of course even trivial things can affect us from time to time. No, I’m thinking more of the things that steal our sleep and rob us of our joy. The things that hold our thoughts for far too long – especially at night. The things that make us irritable, do funny things to our chests and heart rates. The things that fill our minds and make it difficult to concentrate on anything else. What is it for you?
It won’t come as much of a surprise to know that, according to an IPSOS poll from back in October, the world’s No. 1 worry right now is, yes, you’ve guessed it, Covid. And Covid is feeding into much of our personal worries too. If you google “Top worries for…” you get lists of different worries for all sorts of people. My own internet browsing came up with lists for immigrants, parents, housebuilders, small business owners, even church ministers.
Want to know what the top 5 concerns are for church leaders? I’ll tell you:
5. Wisdom and direction in dealing with the uncertainty of Covid
4. Personal exhaustion – where workloads have increased dramatically over the last year
3. Safety/well-being of the flock – how are the church doing?
2. Provision of pastoral care from a distance – socially distanced hugs just don’t work do they?!
And the number one concern for leaders right now – with so many competing views, how do we…
1. Maintaining unity
Now that’s from the good old USofA but I can tell you those worries ring true for this church leader, but what is it for you? It might be something to do with work or your studies, money, your health or the health of a loved one, what others think of you, the past or the future. If it’s none of those than chances are it’s relational, either a breakdown of a relationship, a fear of where one is going or not going. Yes, there are many, many different things that cause us to worry. And what’s interesting is that while no-one has exactly the same worry – all worries have the same effect.
What is that effect? I love how Corrie Ten Boom sums it up. (If you haven’t heard of her, Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch lady sent to a German Concentration Camp for helping Jewish people hide from the Nazis during WW2). She wrote this:
Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows. It empties today of its strength!
Wise words from a Christian lady who went through an awful lot. And God in his word has much to say about this topic too. Jesus addressed it directly. And tonight we’re looking at what the apostle Paul has to say about it in these few verses from Philippians. Here’s what he says in Philippians 4.6-7:
do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.
Who, in their right mind, doesn’t want that? Let’s pray for it now:
Lord Jesus, whatever our worries tonight, please would you give us your peace. We come to you thankful for this brief opportunity to listen to you through you word. Help us to hear, help us to change as we think through these verses. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
So, how does the world deal with worry? What sort of advice does it give? Well, in my internet searching I came across an article entitled The Top 5 Things People Worry About and How to Solve Them. Great, I thought, let’s see what they’ve got to say. So first up is work, if you’ve got worries at work then ‘projectenergise’ (whoever they are) recommend us one of the things you can do is leave! That’s right run away from your worries! Next, money. I kid you not, one of their suggestions to solve worrying about money is ‘try to earn more’. Cracking. Next, health, if the advice for money was funny, this is desperate. And I quote:
there really only is one thing that we can do to make sure that we stay healthy – make better choices.
Oh great, if only I’d made better choices I wouldn’t have caught Covid, or I feel like this because I made a bad choice? This great back hole that I’ve sunk into – it’s my fault, or if I’d made a different decision I wouldn’t now be beginning to suffer with early Alzheimer’s. Really? Who puts this stuff out there? Next, if you’ve got worries about what other people think about you their advice is don’t listen. If it were just that simple. And finally, if you’re not angry enough, stressed out or more worried by what you’ve just read, their advice if you’re worrying about the past - just live for today, it’s all you’ve got. Desperate. Absolutely desperate. And frankly, some so called Christian advice isn’t much better either. Some websites told me I should be living in the victory. Some articles condemned me for the failure of worrying, but it’s a gross oversimplification to deduce that all worry is sinful. And I want to respond “Yes Paul says ‘Do not be anxious about anything’, but have you also clocked what he wrote elsewhere?” Same book, Philippians 2.28 says:
I am the more eager to send him [Epaphroditus], therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
I.e. I’m anxious about this, something is worrying me! Or check out 2 Corinthians 11.28 where Paul, after a long list of all the things that he has suffered writes:
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Paul worried. Paul was anxious. And it is too simple to say that all the worry in our lives shouldn’t be there. It is too simple to say that all the anxiety in our lives is sinful. Some concern is warranted. We should be concerned about what part we’ll play in society. What part we’ll play in the Kingdom.
We should be concerned about the provision and protection of those we know and love. Some concern for our jobs and day to day routine is important or we wouldn’t do anything. I worry about so much. I worried about this sermon. I worry about every sermon! Will I be faithful, have I done enough work with the text? Have I sought the Lord in prayer enough? Will I be clear? Will my application land with you? All good stuff to be concerned with. But friends I have to confess it doesn’t stop there. Because I worry what you will think of me. I worry that I will disappoint some of you. And when I do, I cross a line, because I become over-concerned with something that I shouldn’t be.
I think this is a hugely helpful concept to get clear in our minds. One commentator puts it like this ‘Worry is an over-concern for something other than the Kingdom of God’. And, as such, in these verses, Paul is commanding us not to be over-concerned. Read it like that if you will, it’s a bit of a liberty with the text, but roll with it:
do not be [over concerned] anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.
So, forget what you can read on the internet. Forget trite cultural soundbites ‘don’t worry, be happy’. Forget all that! This is God’s word. This is the Creator’s advice to us on how not to be over-concerned. There are just two words I would like us to remember that flow from these verses: 1. Prayer, 2. Perspective. This is what God is saying will help us with worry, anxiety, overconcern. Firstly then:
Pauls simply says pray about everything. Stay in touch with God. Stay connected. The problem with over-concern is that it is based on the sinful premise that we are in control and building our own kingdoms our own way. But if we turn those concerns into prayers, then what we are actually saying is that we’re not in control and we are properly connected with God. Now yes, this takes a mental discipline but it’s a discipline that the Lord loves to gives, so step one is ask the Lord to change your hearts desire and help you pray!
Two very simple suggestions – prayer is not rocket science:
a. Use the Lord’s prayer
Pray it through line by line, but use each phrase as a springboard to your own specific requests. So for example, after praying ‘give us this day our daily bread’ you could pray “Father please provide what I need, not necessarily what I want. Lord you know that I’m concerned about making ends meet at the end of the month, please help me to work things out according to your priorities with what you have generously given to me.” Another suggestion:
b. Write a list!
Of your top worries. Doesn’t matter how long it is! In fact, the longer the better – because if you are a big worrier then you’re only a step away from being a great pray-er! So go old school - write them down on a piece of paper and put it in your bible. Go hi-tech – put them on your phone. I use the PrayerMate App which is superb by the way. And then turn them into prayer: ‘Lord I confess I am overly concerned about…what people think of me…how this situation will play out…if I’ll get that promotion…if I’m going to get Covid…please help me not to be!’
So, Paul says pray about everything! Secondly Paul encourages us to keep the right:
And the right perspective is God’s perspective. And we can get and keep that perspective by firstly, being thankful in prayer.
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
This is a reminder that anxiety and worry tend to focus on what we don’t have or on what we’d like to have, be that material, relational or health related. But Paul says that regardless of our circumstances there is always much that we can give thanks for – both for what we have spiritually in Jesus, and also what we have physically in the situation that the Lord has placed us. And that is very much a question of perspective. Which is why we need to pray for each other that we would trust God. He is the one in control. He is the one working all things out according to his purposes for the good of those who love him.
But when we worry, it’s as if our focus has fixed, and is locked onto the human perspective. And when we focus on the human perspective, answers are very hard to come by. The circumstances of life are hard to make sense of. The need to live as long as possible and be as happy as possible trumps everything. And anything that distracts from that goal (to live long and be happy) causes us to worry. And Paul says that if we pray about everything:
the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
But be very careful here. This is not a promise that we will be trouble free. This is not a promise of peaceful circumstances around us. This is not even a promise of happiness. But it is a promise of internal peace as God blesses us by allowing us to see things from his perspective – not our own! So the Christian who has recovered from Covid 19 may well say “thank you God for healing me.” That’s a right response. It shows the beginning of the right perspective. It is what Paul would call prayer with thanksgiving. But a Christian who is dying from Covid, slowly and painfully, fighting to draw breath, may still calmly say in their heart “Everything is all right. The Lord doesn’t make mistakes. I have his peace in my heart.” That is the true perspective that comes with the peace that passes all understanding”!
And if I could break it down to three bullet points, I think it would be these. The right perspective is all about knowing; 1. God is in control, not me!
2. God is good and can be trusted. 3. God can be trusted even when, especially when, we hit trouble. And the problem with worry, with overconcern, is that inverts those things. The more I worry the more I’m saying. I don’t believe you’re in control God. The more I worry the more I’m saying I can’t trust you God, I’m not sure you’re good, and the more I worry the more unstable I feel when I hit trouble. And it doesn’t take much. Imagine you step out of your home into a dense fog. It’s so thick you can barely see the other side of the street. You look to the right, then to the left, and it’s just as bad. You are surrounded.
How much water do you think it would take to create that much fog? Only about this much – apparently the volume of water in a small glass like this is enough to provide a low-level dense blanket of fog about the size of a football pitch! Not much in there is there? Only about 60 billion tiny droplets. But when these minute particles settle down over a street or countryside they can block out all vision. A cup full of worry can do the same in our lives! The fog descends and we lose all perspective. So if you are in the fog of worry right now. Remember those two Ps that come from these verses:
• Prayer and Perspective.
Take all your anxiety to the Lord in prayer, knowing that he is in control, he is good, and he can be trusted whatever your circumstance. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen! It may be that you are worrying about something and would like some help with that. If you’d like to speak with someone, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your Small Group leader or a member of pastoral staff. If you are worried about a particular hurt or habit you may like to check out Celebrate Recovery which meets on a Monday night. Maybe you’d just like to read something by yourself and if so can I recommend this book by Timothy Lane. It’s called Living Without Worry and it’s an excellent short book examining how anxiety can be replaced with God’s peace. A few of us chaps read this last year and I think it comes highly recommended by each one of us!