Spiritual Essentials for a Joy-Full Life ~ #17 “Right Choices #2 – Choose Prayer Over Anxiety” – Philippians 4:6-7

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Right Choices, Choose Prayer Over Anxiety

Philippians 4:6-7

Well if you would, please take out your Bibles now and turn in them in the New Testament to the book of Philippians, chapter 4. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair in front of you. You can turn in that Bible in the back portion to page 156, and you would find yourself at Philippians, chapter 4.

I want to tell you a little bit of a story about a guy who was a jogger. He learned over time that he enjoyed jogging at night. He also knew jogging at night was dangerous if you were on the street, so he would often jog through this large cemetery. It had rolling hills and everything. One night, he was jogging through the cemetery, and he stumbles and he falls into a freshly dug grave he hadn’t seen was there. Of course, he is in this grave, and it has these steep walls. He is suddenly trying to find his way out. He soon resigns himself to the fact he can’t get out. He thinks, I’m going to have to wait here till morning and daylight until someone comes by.

However, a few minutes later, there is another jogger coming through the same cemetery. Lo and behold [surprise], he goes into the same open grave that had been dug there. The second guy spends some time… He realizes he is boxed in, and he tries to figure out a way to get out. Finally, he realizes, I’m not going to be successful doing this. Just about that time, the second jogger feels a hand on his shoulder from behind and these words come out, “It’s no use. You can’t get out.” Boom! The second guy is all the way out…this massive leap up and out of the grave.

Well you know, do you ever feel in your life like you have been boxed in, and it is troubles and difficulties in life that have boxed you in? You’d like to get out from them, but you realize, I can’t. Maybe you feel that way today. Maybe you have felt that way some time in the last month. But if you remember what it feels like to be boxed in like that, I just want to ask you…Do you remember the anxiety and the worry that starts rising in your gut like a flood? Can you feel that?

You know, sometimes we feel like… Well you know, when your worries and concerns and anxieties they pile up all around you. Do you ever feel this way…Hey, I have so many troubles right now that if anything bad in addition happens today, it will be two weeks before I can even begin to worry about it. Have you ever had that experience? I had a week like that very recently. Literally, that was my thought…If one more bad thing happens, it’s going to be two weeks before I have time to even process this and begin to worry about it.

Anxiety is a big issue from difficulty and adversity in our culture. Do you know there is more than a billion dollars spent in our culture every year dealing with anxiety issues? It’s money spent on drugs and alcohol because people are trying to deal with anxiety they feel. Maybe they’re spending money on a visit to a psychological facility because of their anxiety. Maybe they just go to a fitness center because of the great anxiety they feel. There is a lot of escapism that goes on in our culture. People want to be distracted from the anxiety they feel and the worry they’re experiencing. Some people become addicted to things like TV and movies and video games because they’re just trying to escape for a little while the anxiety they feel.

Now I want to put everything on freeze frame [temporary stop] for a moment, and I want to ask you this question…What are the top two worries and concerns you have right now? I want you to really think about that. What do you feel anxiety over right now? Top two things. I want you to even write them down if you can. What are the top two worries and concerns you have right now? Maybe worries over health issues. It may be concerns over relationship issues. It may be money issues. Maybe political issues. What are the top two worries and concerns you have this morning?

As you think about those, I want to ask you another question…What choices has God directed we should take when it comes to dealing with the issues of anxiety in our lives? We’re involved in a study of the book of Philippians, and we’re in chapter 4. We said the theme of chapter 4 is…maintaining right choices is vital in our spiritual lives. The choices you make (and I make) will make you. The choices you make will make you. We said we’re going to look at some quotes over these few weeks about the issue of choices.

Last time we looked at this quote from Joanne Rowling. “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” So true. Then here is another quote. “Today there are always two choices…two paths to take. One is easy, but its only reward is that it’s easy.” You know, when we have to face adversity and difficulty in our lives, the easiest thing we can do about that is to worry. The easiest thing we can do is to fret, to start wringing our hands [nervous fidgeting due to worry] over that. That’s the natural thing. No one had to teach us that. We just naturally learn the easy response to adversity and difficulty.

The title I’ve given to the message today is Choose Prayer Over Anxiety. It focuses on chapter 4, verses 6 and 7. What I want to do is I’m going to read these verses. I’m actually going to tack on the very end of verse 5. I invite you to follow along in your Bible as I read these verses. “The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul lays out for us a different way to handle things…a different choice we are to make when we face adversity and difficulty. It involves choosing prayer over anxiety. Now there are a lot of sayings out there about prayer that relate to worry and concern and anxiety. Here is one…”Life is fragile; handle with prayer.” Perhaps you’ve heard that one. Here is another one. “God (this is a more modern rendition) answers knee-mail.” Here is another one. This is really up-to-date. “Get online with Jesus. Upload your worries; download His peace.”

Well in many ways, that’s a pretty good summary of these verses. Yet it’s taking a light-hearted approach to it. The truth is this about these verses, men and women…this is some deeply profound counsel we’re going to get from God. I mean, deeply profound. You know, you’ll notice it says at the end of verse 5 there, “The Lord is near.” We looked at these verses that precede verses 6 and 7 last time. We said when it talks about the Lord is near, we felt like the reference was to His return…He could return shortly. It becomes a motivation (His near return) to resolve conflicts and squabbles.

But I also believe this is one of those rare times we find in the Bible where there is likely a double-reference to a phrase. When you’re talking about conflict, it’s important to realize His return could be soon. Therefore, we should resolve a squabble. On the other hand, I think also…as it leads into verses 6 and 7 when he says the Lord is near…he is not just talking about His return, but I think he is talking about His presence. In the best of times and in the worst of times, He is there with us. He is near. It could be the spring; it could be the summer; it could be the fall; it could be the winter.

By the way, we’re all in one of those seasons of life. Some of us are in the spring season of life. Some of us are in the summer season…some in the fall…some in the winter season. Every season of life, He is near. We need to be reminded of that. The Quakers used to put it this way…”The Lord is at your elbow.” The Lord is near.

Because of His presence and His nearness, verse 6, he says, “Be anxious for nothing.” The New Living Translation says, “Don’t worry.” Don’t be troubled. Don’t be fretful. In other words, stop wringing your hands. Stop tossing and turning. Stop pacing the floor. Now I want to remind you, when Paul says that, “Be anxious for nothing. Don’t worry.” he is not in the tropics somewhere sipping lemonade and singing the 1988 Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He is not doing that. We all know he is in a situation that is very, very, very dire. So what we have here is real-life, practical help.

Look again at verse 6. He says, “Be anxious for nothing.” The New Living Translation…”Don’t worry about anything.” Is it a big thing? Don’t be anxious about it. Is it a small thing? Don’t worry about it.

Keep your finger in Philippians 4 and turn with me to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, because Jesus talked to His disciples along the lines of this issue of worry and anxiety. He understands we can be that way. I want you to see how repeatedly He is bringing this out to the disciples in Matthew 6. Notice in verse 25 He says, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” He says, “Don’t worry. Be anxious for nothing.”

Verse 31, “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?'” Verse 34, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Now as Jesus is saying these things in Matthew 6 to the disciples, the backdrop of all of that is that of the Heavenly Father. Jesus is in essence saying, “The Heavenly Father is large and in charge, and the Heavenly Father cares. Because He is large and in charge and because He cares…don’t worry.”

Now I want to ask you a couple of questions here, and I want you to be completely honest alright? Does anyone here wish they could worry more? Anyone wish you could worry more? I’m not seeing any hands up because we don’t want to have to worry more and be filled with anxiety more. Now we’re going to be honest, right? Here comes another question. How many people wish they could be in control of their life? How many people…come on now…are going to be honest? My hand is up here.

The truth of the matter is, I think most of us wish we could be in control. I’m very much like that. You know what really that is? That’s really arrogance on our part. I mean, think about it. I know I have those feelings. I wish I could control circumstances. But the idea…and this is the arrogant part of that…if I could just control things, I think, well nothing adverse would happen. That’s not true. I’m just trying to point out this, that part of worry, men and women, is we’re frustrated, we’re not in control. See that’s part of the anxiety. I’m not in control, and I don’t like it.

So, here is part of what God is asking us when things happen in our lives and difficulty and adversity is there. Part of what He is asking us is, “Will you trust Me to be in control? Will you trust Me?” Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing.” Don’t worry about anything. Why does Paul and the Holy Spirit and God Himself say to you and me, “Don’t worry”? Ever think about that? Why does He say that? Why is His counsel in that direction? Well, I want to give you a couple of reasons why I believe.

1. It accomplishes nothing. It gets us nowhere. Remember how the Lord said in Matthew, chapter 6, verse 27, “Who can add a single hour to their life because you worried about something?” It accomplishes nothing at all. I like Vance Havner. He said this, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” That’s so totally true. Don’t worry about anything. Be anxious for nothing. The first reason why is it accomplishes nothing, but here is another reason why God gives us that counsel. That is…

2. It drains your joy. In English, the word worry comes from a Middle English word worlen. The word worlen is a word that meant to strangle. Now I want you to think about an older English sense of worry because you could say at one time in the English language, “I’m going to worry that person.” Then the word meant to assail, to attack, to harass, to afflict trouble on somebody. So if I said to him, “I’m going to worry you” that’s really what I meant. That’s the older English sense of the word.

When we worry, what happens is it sort of strangles our lives. We experience distress. We are troubled. It will drain your joy. You worry enough and you have enough anxiety, it will steal your health. It will submarine your sense of well-being. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety”…listen to this…”in a man’s heart weighs it down.” How true that is. I remember thinking in the last week or so when I had a lot of this stuff, anxiety, that was sort of piling on me, and you know, that’s exactly what happened to me. My heart was weighed down by it all.

So, what is the preferred alternative? Well, what does he say? “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The New Living Translation says it simply this way. “Pray about everything.” Don’t worry about anything; pray about everything. What we have here is what’s called the replacement principle. See this is what’s missing from the little song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” There is nothing replacing anything in that song.

But here when it says, “Don’t worry about anything; pray about everything.” there is a replacement factor at work. See, here is what happens. Worry looks around us at everything that’s happening. Prayer looks to Him. That’s the difference. Prayer should be our first priority, not our last resort. Notice again back in verse 6. He says, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything…” How many things fit into that? Everything does. You see, nothing is too big for God’s greatness, and nothing is too small for God’s tender care. That’s why the Lord Jesus says in Matthew, chapter 10, “Hey! No bird falls from the sky without the Heavenly Father knowing about it.” Then here is the punch line. He says, “You are more valuable than many sparrows to the Heavenly Father.”

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything… By the way, you have several terms here for prayer. I like Wiersbe’s little outline of this part of the verse. He sees in this verse adoration, supplication, and appreciation. It’s an easy way to remember it. Adoration…the word prayer. Supplication…the word supplication. Then the idea of requests. Then appreciation…that’s the idea of thanksgiving. There are those three dimensions. When we pray about everything, it’s those three elements are involved.

Let’s look at them. Verse 6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer…” It’s a word that is related to the word worship. I think the idea is that when we have this anxiety and this worry, we need to worship a little bit. We need to have some adoration of God. We need to acknowledge He is bigger than our problems. Now we know that intellectually. “Uh, is God bigger than your problems?” “Well yeah, but…” But emotionally we’re not experiencing it when we’re worrying and we’re filled with anxiety. Sometimes the most desperate need we have is to remember God is bigger than our problems.

Martin Lloyd-Jones once wrote this. He said, “Prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul. Man is at his greatest and highest when upon his knees he comes face to face with God.” See, sometimes that’s what the problem is. We’re face to face with all of the circumstances, and we’re not face to face with God. I like this quote too. It says, “Prayer is not about getting what we wish for. It’s a whole process of connecting with a personal God who cares about our wants and needs, but also has His own exciting plans for us.” We pray. Part of that is adoration where we say to God, “You’re far bigger than what I’m facing. You care, and You have a plan in even allowing these things in my life.”

So you have adoration as part of the element of prayer. Then you have supplication. Notice it says, “…and supplication…” The New Living Translation puts it this way. “Tell God what you need.” I think the NIV says, “Petition Him.” Then it goes on to say at the end of the verse, “Let your requests be made known to God.” Make specific requests. Get straight to the point with Him about the issue. I want to encourage you some time to look through the book of Psalms, and I want you to look for this as you go through the Psalms. Look for the specific requests that are there. Very specific requests in the Psalms. That’s the way we are to be with God.

There should be adoration; there should be supplication. By the way, I just want to remind you of this. We all need to be reminded of this. When we want to make requests be made known to God, if we’re entertaining sin in our lives, it can block those requests. You can just jot down the passages, but Psalms 66:18 says, “When we’re entertaining sin in our lives, the Lord will not listen.” In Isaiah 59:1 and 2, when we’re entertaining sin, he says, “Your sins when they’re there will cause the Lord not to hear.” So, we need to remember we can have the adoration of God in our prayer, and we can have the supplication in our prayer and make the request known. But if we’re entertaining sin in our lives, it’s going to roadblock those requests. That’s why confession of sin is so important.

The third element as we pray is the element of appreciation. You’ll notice he says there, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.” See how mingled in with all of this and sprinkled in with all of this is to be appreciation where we express appreciation to God for His goodness and for His mercy. Where there is gratitude for who He is and for what He has done and for what He is doing.

Back in January, I got an e-mail from a Wildwooder. Part of that e-mail said this, “I came across a devotional reading (they were explaining to me in the e-mail) with these following words. ‘The heart of Jesus is (here are some of the things that are at the heart of Jesus)…when you bring Me prayer requests, lay out your concerns before Me. Speak to Me candidly. Pour out your heart. Then, thank Me for the answers that I have set into motion long before you can discern results. When your requests come to mind again, continue to thank Me for the answers that are on the way. Thankful prayers keep your focus on My presence and My promises.'” That’s good stuff.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” See, the idea seems to be as we face difficultly and adversity in our lives, it’s like God wants to say to us, “Hello! I am King of the universe. Today and every day I’ll be handling your problems.” We need to remember that. I need to be reminded of that.

On my credenza, I have several different little notes taped up there. One of them says this, “Heavenly Father, You are in charge of everything that is going to happen to me today whether it be good or bad, positive or negative. May I be thankful from my heart for everything that happens to me today, Amen.” Pretty good little prayer to have.

But you’ll notice as we do what it says in verse 6, there is an effect that comes into our lives in verse 7. “Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” You see, when we cast our cares to Him, the anxiety begins to drain from our lives. The peace of God comes…that inner tranquility.

It’s not the absence of difficulty or conflict or adversity. It’s a settled confidence that begins to flow into our hearts. We are not in control, but we begin to trust in Someone who is in control. We don’t know the future, but we begin to trust in Someone who does know the future. We have, when we pray in this way, a developing confidence in a God who is in control. I like to call it relaxing in His sovereignty. God is in complete control. God cares. God has a plan so we can relax in His sovereignty. You notice what happens, this peace of God comes which surpasses, he says in verse 7, all comprehension. It transcends our understanding. It goes beyond what our mind can understand. How does this work?

Then he says, “He will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Very picturesque language here. I mean, remember he is in Philippi. Philippi was one of those cities that had a Roman garrison station there. Not every city did. But Philippi did, and you can imagine the comfort that came to the people of Philippi knowing there is an army outpost here. There was a guard there. He picks up, I think, on that concept, and he says when we pray in this way, the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. His peace will be a sentry that will be on 24-hour duty.

Now you have to have a guard because the very fact you need a guard tells you there is a problem potentially. It’s necessary to have a guard because threats exist. There is a threat that comes from the worry and anxiety we can turn to. What he is really saying is when we pray in this way, Captain Peace will guard our hearts from wrong feelings. Captain Peace will guard our minds from wrong thinking.

See, making the right choices are vital in living the Christian life. Today He says, “Choose prayer over anxiety.” Joseph Scriven wrote the classic song…

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged—

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful,

Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness;

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Choose prayer over anxiety.

Now, how can we apply what we’ve just looked at? I have three words that would signify some life response we could have to these verses. They are the word reflect, the word pray, and the word turn. Now again this is where the rubber meets the road [where reality meets life], so I hope you write this stuff down and don’t just let it go in one ear and out the other.

The first life response we can have is to reflect. You know, even as we’re experiencing adversity and difficulty, it’s always good to reflect. Is there some sin I need to confess? Is there sin that needs to be repented from in my life? To repent means to change your mind so it leads to a change of action. That’s a good thing to do.

Here is another thing we can do when we’re reflecting. To ask ourselves the question when we feel all of that anxiety, precisely what am I anxious and worried about? Actually write it down. That’s exactly what I had to do recently. I was feeling all this anxiety, and it was actually weighing my heart down. I had to stop and reflect for a moment because I wasn’t even alert to… I said, What is it exactly am I this anxious about? So I wrote it down. There were three main things and two lesser things. I wasn’t in contact, clearly in my mind with what they were. Okay, now I have them clear…I have three main things and two lesser things. That’s what’s causing me all this anxiety. So, the first thing we do is reflect.

The second thing we do is to pray. We take the list to Him. So I had three main things, and I had two lesser things. I find when I really want to concentrate in prayer, I have to get out and walk. We now have this half-mile path all the way around the church. So man, I’m out of the building. I got my list of five things, and I’m praying about those five things. I’m letting Him know my requests. I’m saying, “These things are creating anxiety for me, and I want to cast all that anxiety on You because You care for me.” That’s the process I went through. That’s the process we need to go through. Reflect…pray.

The third life response I want you to consider, for some of us who are here, is the response of turn. What I mean by that is that some of us need to realize the beginning of peace…experiencing it in our lives…goes back to establishing a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of us have never experienced His peace because we don’t have a relationship yet with the living God. I want you to realize that’s where it starts. That’s where it started with me, and that’s where it will start with you where we turn to Him and realize Christ died for you.

To be able to say to Him, “You know what? I’m tired of running my own life, Lord. This isn’t working well.” Where you confess the biggest problem I have in my life is I’ve been trying to live my life my own way. You choose to surrender to the Hound of Heaven who has been chasing after you for quite awhile. You say, “I want to believe and trust in Christ. I want to establish a relationship with Him so I can begin to know His peace in my life.”

Let’s pray together. Father, we thank You so much for the living Book and for such incredible truth we need to hear. I pray, Father, we would understand not only what it says but how to respond to it. For those of us who know You that we would reflect when we face anxiety and then we would pray.

Father, for any who are here or hear my voice who don’t know You, may they realize that to experience the peace of God that is beyond comprehension is such a wonderful thing, but it all starts by being introduced to the King of Peace Himself, Jesus Christ. May they choose to do that very thing. To stop running their own life, to stop going their own way, and to turn to the Person of Christ and say, “I want to believe in who You are and what You’ve done. By believing and trusting in You, I want to establish a relationship.” It’s the greatest step anyone can take. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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