We all know the signs: heat heads up the neck; sweat trickles down the back. Mind races; thoughts huddle around imagined hypotheticals. . . all the possibilities ending poorly. Agitation and distress engulf until pacing the floor seems the only viable option.
For each of us, the tension triggers differ: perhaps an argument with a spouse, the woes of a financial shortfall, the confusion of a directionless future, the decisions of a wayward child, the stress of caring for a dying loved one, the unknown of a potentially serious diagnosis, the demands of a calendar too full. . .
Whatever the source of worry — even if it is worthy of great strain indeed — our responses to difficult circumstances speak volumes about our faith-lives.
And then there's "do not be anxious about anything" (Philippians 4:6).
But sometimes our very real problems — all puffed up and perplexing — overwhelm our optimism, hinder our ability to hope, and amplify our tendency toward anxiety.
How should we respond, then, when hope flies? when belief falters? when faith fades?
A man of action, Paul gives us very specific tactics — all of them practical in chapter four of his little letter to the Philippians -- for pursuing peace in the midst of perplexing problems:
- Rejoice. Especially in the face of turmoil we must choose joy. This does not mean expressing forced happiness for cancer or pain or joblessness. Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, gladden yourselves in Him]; again I say, Rejoice!” (AMP). It is in the Lord that we should be delighted and glad. There is so much to celebrate when it comes to God! Express who He is and what He means to you: He is Savior and Friend and Counselor and Guide; He is Father and Creator and Light and Truth.
- Be others-centered. When under great duress, what comes naturally is zeroing in on the self; we want the world to know we are uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden. It makes sense, then, that Paul says we should do the opposite. Instead of focusing on ourselves we should be "unselfish and considerate in all [we] do” (Philippians 4:5 NLT). The most powerful testimonies for Jesus are those where His suffering people centered not on their own pain but on bringing hope to others.
- Remember God’s nearness. Also in Philippians 4:5, Paul reminds us that “the Lord is near." Sometimes, when we’re experiencing great angst, God feels far away. We would do well to remember — despite how we might feel — that God is closest to us during tough times.
- Pray. Obvious, right? But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to friends or family first, before going to God. Also, prayer can affect everything!! You had an argument? Pray for reconciliation, improved relationship, healing words, love-filled responses, wisdom, discernment, forgiveness. Bring every aspect of your situation into His Light.
- Thank God. Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts is a fantastic resource for learning how to live a thankful life. After reading her book, I can literally find hundreds of reasons for which to express gratitude to God at any. given. moment. She encourages readers to write down gifts each day — an amazing discipline! At the very least, may we speak our gratitude out loud to God as we pray!
- Expect peace and protection. Scripture doesn’t say that God’s peace might come; it says that God’s peace will come (see 4:7). In fact, when God's peace comes, it will blow. our. minds. Because it “transcends all understanding". Not only that, but it “will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Believe it, friends! EXPECT it!
- Revise thinking. When I am anxious, my thoughts tend to focus on worst-case scenarios, woe-is-me settings and pity-party plot lines. Paul challenges us to ponder instead “whatever is noble… right… pure… lovely… adorable… excellent… praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8).
So friends, when anxiety comes -- and it will come -- remember that to stop being anxious, you can actively pursue peace using Paul's strategies!