Whenever things in our world seem uncertain, disappointing, daunting, impossible, and frustrating ... what do we do? How many of us over-think, over-eat, over-spend, over-drink, or over-sleep? How many of us under-eat, under-sleep, under-pray, or under-function? Do we constantly compare our lives to those images we see on social media? Do we watch news channels that consistently fill us with negative stories full of fear? Do we isolate ourselves, not only from those outside our houses, but those inside as well?
Anxiety has a tendency to take us on a downward, emotional spiral that wrecks our thoughts, relationships, productivity, and our souls. It's a dangerous path to take, but one most of us take far too often.
The apostle Paul gives us a different path to take — another choice, another option. He says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:4-8)
First, Paul says we should rejoice. It is a choice to take pleasure in God always. It is a choice to choose God over our difficult circumstances. Paul was actually in prison when he gave this advice. It is also a choice to take pleasure in an unchanging God instead of the fleeting pleasures of money, food, alcohol, sports, sex, etc.
Second, Paul says we should pray about whatever is making us anxious. Prayer will help because it gives us an opportunity to "cast our cares" on God. It's a chance to ask God to take control and act on our behalf. It's a chance to ask for help. We are not supposed to deal with all our stresses and difficulties on our own. It's also a recognition of humility. We realize that we are powerless to deal with some problems. Our only hope is to give them to someone who is powerful enough to handle and solve them. Prayer is also a chance to shift our focus from our problems to what we are thankful for. It's a chance to walk down memory lane to see all the ways that God has blessed us in the past. It's a way to open our eyes and see what God is currently doing in our lives. It's a chance to take the focus off our ourselves and our worlds and onto God and His world.
Third, Paul says we should focus on the positive. We need to feed our minds with beauty and good. Our souls need the nourishment of positivity. There's a principle taught in marriage counseling that says it takes five positive interactions to make up for one negative behavior. We need A LOT of positive thoughts to overcome our worries. And this isn't just the power of positive thinking. That will never work long term because it is self-help. It doesn't work because self-help leaves it up to us to determine what is true, just, pure, lovely, etc. Our subjective perspective might ultimately leave us unsatisfied and create more anxiety. Paul's desire is for us to focus on what God considers to be true, excellent, worthy of praise, etc. He alone can satisfy us.
This prescription for reducing anxiety comes with a promise. If we follow these directions, God will grant us peace and then guard our hearts and minds so they won't have to become overwhelmed again. It's a peace that settles and grounds us. It's a peace that empowers us to be content whatever our circumstances. It's a peace that gives our lives balance. It's a peace that starts inside us and provides a calming impact on the others around us. It's a peace only God can give.
Jeremy Walden is the pastor of Mosaic Family Church, a nondenominational church in Auburn, and teaches Family Communication at Auburn University. Find Mosaic Family Church online at www.mosaicfamilychurch.org or follow the church on Facebook or Instagram to keep up with sermon series and events.