“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.” (Philippians 4:5–7 ESV)
If you have been a Christian very long then you have undoubtedly read this verse, memorized this verse, had this verse quoted to you or clung desperately to it in the midst of difficult seasons in your life. How many times have you said (out loud or to yourself), I have prayed about it, but I am still just as nervous about this situation as I was before – maybe even more so! Maybe the Apostle is not giving us a “secret formula” or “silver bullet” for beating anxiety. So what hope is there in becoming less anxious if this verse does not seem to help? We need to dig a little deeper to understand what surrounds this verse so that we can better apply it in the context of the broader letter and apply it in our lives.
You know you aren’t supposed to be anxious (Jesus said it in Matthew 6:25-33, 10:19; Luke 10:41, 12:11, 12:22, 12:25) and Paul says it here in Philippians. So how do we begin to beat anxiety? To word translated “anxious” literally means “troubled with cares” or “to seek to promotes one’s interest” (Thayer’s Greek-English of the New Testament). Beating anxiety is not as a easy as praying a prayer, as if it were a magic incantation. What the Apostle is laying out for us in this passage is a transference of affections.
First and foremost, beating anxiety and fear is built upon the gospel truth that God is faithful, good and able (3:20-21) to do what He has promised. The Apostle starts this passage by looking back at this reality by writing, “The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5). Remember, Jesus is coming soon, rest in that promise. When we are anxious, it is a sign that we are struggling to believe that God is good, that He is really in control of all things or that He will be faithful to do that which He has promised to do. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ admonishment not to worry in Matthew 6:25-34. Why should we not worry? Not merely because it is unprofitable (worry won’t add a single hour to your life). No, the primary reason that Jesus is telling us not to worry is because God is in absolute control of everything! The birds and lilies know it, and so should we. Fear, anxiety & worry begins to loose its grip on our souls as we grow in our belief that God is in absolute control and that He is working good for those who love Him.
This happens by prayer – not just short prayers, but a deep wrestling in the soul with the Creator of the cosmos. A wrestling that will ultimately deliver us from our own self centeredness. There is a transference of affections from us and our wants to the One who is faithful. All of this connects to a trust in God that yields rejoicing. The root is a trust in the good and sovereign nature of God – believing this is the work that we must do. The byproduct is a truly supernatural peace that transcends our own ability to understand it, reminiscent to Jesus promising rest for the weary soul in Matthew 11:28-29. This transference of trust and reliance is especially true in the midst of severe difficulty (Paul writes this from prison) and Romans 8 boldly proclaims: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v18), “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (v28), “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v31). Wrestle in prayer to believe that God is good, that He is sovereign and that He is faithful; the more that we believe this gospel truth, the less anxious we become.