Life is filled with all kinds of reasons to be afraid and anxious. War. Disease. Politics. Poverty. Death. Failure. Rejection. Clowns.
Some fears are specific and reasonable. Others are generic and unfounded.
We don’t have to read the bible very long to notice fear cropping up. Repeatedly the characters in the Old and New Testaments are commanded not to fear. When the phrase “Do not fear” so often appears, we get the idea that God doesn’t want us to be afraid.
But in the context of our world filled with so much anxiety and fear, does the bible give anything more than simply a command not to fear?
Yes, it very much does!
Although scripture doesn’t often provide step-by-step instructions in the form of a “How-To” guide, this is one case where it does. And it’s one of my favorites.
It’s right there in the letter Paul wrote to the Philippians – a veritable recipe for beating anxiety!
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Let’s break it down into three easy steps: the Command, the Action, and the Promise.
The Command: Do Not Be Anxious
If this command was a stand-alone, then I would be out of the game before even getting started. Because I can’t just manufacture peace and calm on my own! Thankfully, Paul gave the command but he didn’t just leave it there. He gave a “what” (do not be anxious) and then he gave the “how” that follows.
The Action: Present Your Requests to God
If you’re thinking that presenting requests to God is like presenting a wish list to Santa at Christmas, then you’re a bit off track. We first need a relationship with God in order to earn the right to start a conversation with him. And that comes through Jesus.
Once we believe in Jesus as the one who saves us, God becomes our Father. And our relationship with him happens through prayer. Prayer is simply a conversation with God.
Often our prayers are one-way–we ask him for stuff. But prayer ideally goes both ways. One synonym for prayer is “devotion”. Take time during prayer to declare your devotion to God and praise him just because he is.
Here’s where the asking part comes in. Petitioning is asking God for something. In this case, ask God to meet a specific need that is causing anxiety. Ask him to help you trust him to provide. Ask him to remind you that he loves us and will not leave you alone. Ask him to take your anxiety away.
It’s absolutely okay to ask God for help. He knows that we need him and he is happy to hear us connect with that.
When someone asks you for something and you give it to them, how does it make you feel if they don’t thank you? Remember, God also likes to be thanked for the good things that he give, generally and specifically. If you’re not feeling like there’s much to be thankful for, look around and find something. Life. Breath. Sunshine. Rain. Grass. Your job. A carrot. Whatever. Be thankful.
When we take a posture of gratefulness, we avoid repeatedly coming to God as spoiled children. He doesn’t mind that we are needy. But he does mind if we are ungrateful.
The Promise: Peace
Once you’ve walked through praying, asking and thinking, it’s time for peace.
Even if the world around you doesn’t make sense and your friends tell you that you should be panicking, you have this promise:
The Peace of God
which Transcends All Understanding
will Guard your Heart and your Mind
in Christ Jesus.
This means that your family might not get it or your financial advisor might be telling you the ends just won’t meet. But if you’ve walked with God in prayer, petition and thanksgiving then you’ll receive his peace.
At first, you might experience peace for just a moment until you need to take a deep breath and start the whole process over again. Sort of like the “Lather. Rinse Repeat” instructions listed on your shampoo. But it will get easier and become more natural. The action of taking everything to Jesus is critical in order to receive peace.
Anxious thoughts popping up? Pray with petition and thanksgiving. Peace doesn’t last very long? Pray again.
Pray. Receive Peace. Repeat.
It’s really rather simple. Because with as many times as the Bible is confusing, Paul gave clear instructions on where to find peace.
Pray. Receive Peace. Repeat.
Not sure if you believe it? Try it out. Maintain a continual dialogue with God that includes prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. See what happens.