Christian Life: Anxiety and Worry
We’ve been going over the book of Philippians for the last month or so. Tonight we’re on the last chapter, and it’s a chapter that deals with something a lot of us suffer from?worry or anxiety. But before we get into it, I’m going to say something that might surprise some of you who know your Bibles here tonight: If you’re not anxious, then you have an evil and self-centered heart. If you don’t worry, then you have an evil and self-centered heart. Having said that, we can look at our passage tonightÿ.ÿ.ÿ. You can see from v. 6 that we’re not supposed to be anxious, according to this verse. “Thou shalt not be anxious,” is basically what it’s saying here. But what might surprise you is that Paul uses the same word to describe Timothy earlier in ch.ÿ2:20ÿ.ÿ.ÿ. So here “concern” or it may be better to translate, “intense concern,” is a quality. What we need to do is explore the differences between the types of worry that are bad and the type that is good.
I want to look first at the type of concern or anxiety that is good. Because it’s going to teach us a lot by contrast. To look back at the Phil. 2 passage, you will see that this concern is directed towards others. In fact, Paul states that this type of concern ought to be the norm in the church, if you’ll look at 1ÿCor.ÿ12:25ÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Here is the ideal in the church, we should be concerned and burdened for one another. Paul takes this idea and elaborates on it in 2ÿCor.ÿ11:28-29ÿ.ÿ.ÿ. See the imagery here of “intense concern” and being burndened by it. And it’s a hardship. He lists it right along with being beaten and tortured, thrown in jailÿ.ÿ.ÿ. I bring this up because so many people want freedom from the bad feelings or pressures that anxiety can bring. We want a carefree, good-feelings existence. And that desire is as self-centered and wrong as the self-obsessed type of anxiety mentioned in Phil.ÿ4:6. The fact is, experiencing pressure and intense concern over others is good. It is God’s will for us. Now, let’s go back to Phil. 4 and consider what it is saying about harmful anxiety.
Present your requestsÿ.ÿ.ÿ.
Again we see the command to not be anxious. And the key is what he says to do about it. We’re to “present our requests to God.” There’s a certain type of anxiety that God wants to free you from. And that’s anxiety that relates to your concerns, your requests, your needs. Those are the ones that God wants to take care of. And he wants other people to take care of them. And he wants you to take care of other people’s. Here is where I want to understand why God addresses the issue of anxiety so much. Anxiety is destructive, not because it gives us ulcers, psoriasis, hair loss or sleep loss. Anxiety is destructive because it represents an intense self-centerdness that destroys love in our lives. God created us for love. When our life is full of selfishness, then of course there are many side-effects. But the core problem is that we are self-centered, self-absorbed people. You see this in passage after passage where the Bible addresses anxiety. Example: For example, there’s the famous passage in Matt. 6 where Jesus says, “Do not be anxiousÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” But if follows on the heals of “Therefore.” Therefore what? The preceeding context is about not laying up treasure for yourself. Anxiety is about self-centerdness. It’s where we pour energies and thoughts and fantasies into how we can take care of ourselves. The irony here is if you look at all the “cure” for worry, they all have to do with further self-centeredness. Example: take more time for yourself. Example: learn how to tune people outÿ.ÿ.ÿ. The truth is, most of these cures just create a greater self-focus and worries of a different kind. Now I”m worried about being worried. Not I’m worried about ordering my world and controling my world. The great mystery of God’s ways, the lifestyle of love God has for us, is to understand that you are not responsible for yourself. Instead, God is responsible for you. And he wants you to take responsibility for others. We’ll talk about that notion in a bit. But first let’s understand how anxiety chokes out love.
Things we’re anxious about
I worry about these at times, especially in relation to my business. Example: The way it works is that when I’m anxious, I’ll sit down to pray and immediately into my mind springs a thousand items; to-do lists, things I”ve forgotten, plans, calculations, etc. So I might be sitting there trying to pray, about one of you, “God, help ? withÿ.ÿ.ÿ.
What others think of me
Some people care little about deadlines or finances, but they’re obsessed with what others think of them, how they appear. Example: So you can be talking to someone and get the distinct impression that they’re nervous. And as a result they’re not real. They’re stilted and fakey. And you know how it is if you’ve suffered from this. You’re so concerned about yourself?so worried about yourself?that you can’t even bring yourself to have a real conversation with someone and you wind up looking like a fool (just like you feared). It’s frustrating.
It’s the same thing with fears and anxieties about dangers. Love is risky. Jesus got himself killed because he loved. Helping people often means doing things where you can fail or be embarassed or do something threatening to your security. So our anxieties prevent us from having a bold, aggressive love.
So, the bad kind of anxiety stifles love in our lives. The bad kind of anxiety comes when we let our self-centerdness run rampant, unchecked in our thought life and emotions. And as a result it strangles our love.
Now let’s talk about God’s ways, experiencing freedom from this self-centered anxiety.
God wants to take care of me
The first solution is to realize that God is the one who wants to take care of me. In other words, I am not responsible for myself. God wants to take responsibility for me. That is why Paul says to present all your requests to God. It’s not because it will be good to voice them to someone. It’s because he’s actually responsible. Prayer is acknowleding it, thankfully. Matt. 6:30-33 What does it mean when it says, “These things will be given to you?” You know what I think it means? I think it means these things will be given to you. Which really stretches the imagination. How can these things be “given to me?” Don’t you have to work? Don’t you have to be responsible? Here’s the answer: My responsibility is not to take care of myself and meet my needs. My responsibility is to be obedient to God. And part of what God commands is that we labor so we have enough to meet our needs and the needs of others as well. But if, in my obedience to God, I’ve run out of money or resources, he’ll get them to me. Example: I remember a situation in Chicago where I was in a bind because I had thousands of dollars in capital tied up with a job that wasn’t going to be finished till spring. All we wanted to be able to do was come home for Christmas. But we were realizing we couldn’tÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Part of obedience to God is to work and meet your physical needs that way. But if in the course of following him you’re not making ends meet, you would be amazed how many other resources God has.
Worry about others
Secondly, part of the answer to self-centered worry is to actually excercise the right kind of anxiety/concern/worry: concern for others. My job is not to worry about me, but it is my job to worry about you. Now of course, there is the danger of becoming overly-responsible. Because each person is ultimately in the hands of God. But part of God’s provision for others is you. His ideal is to create a community where people worry about each other (or you can use the word “concern” if you want). see 1 Cor. 12:25 But you should try this some time. It’s really fascinating. Try worrying about someone else. Like I mentioned before, it can be real exposing. You sit down to think about someone else and all it does is remind you of your own needsÿ.ÿ.ÿ. But there is a tremendous freedom that comes when you get to a point where most of your worries are about other people. Example: I remember I kept a diaryÿ.ÿ.ÿ.