Paul’s counsel to the anxious (Phil 4:5-9)
In Philippians 4:5-9 we find these words,
The Lord is at hand;
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 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.
9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me– practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:5-9 ESV)
Paul tells the Philippians that the Lord is at hand. I take it that the Lord’s nearness must be preeminent in one’s thinking. Paul says He is at hand. In light of this reality, one should not be anxious about anything. Instead of being anxious Paul instructs one to take every concern to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. When one is struggling with anxiety the first step is take the concern to God in prayer. It is not to worry more and do everything in one’s own strength to ensure the desired outcome. The fist step is to take one’s request to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. The result? The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard one’s heart and mind in Christ Jesus. When anxious, one must fight the anxiety with prayer knowing God has said His peace will be supplied and that it will guard one’s heart and mind.
One does not, however, stop with prayer. One must continue to fight anxiety by contemplating what is true, what is honorable, what is just, what is pure, what is lovely, what is commendable, what is excellent, what is worthy of praise. So, one must pray, and one must also set his mind on what is good. One must focus on what is true and not just what he is feeling in the moment. One must think on what is pure and what is lovely. Is there anything in one’s present circumstances that is worthy of praise? Paul says, think on that. When one is prone to be anxious his tendency is to play out a scenario over and over and over in his head. Paul says do not do that. First, take the matter to God in prayer. Second, think on helpful things.
Paul then says that one should practice the things that have been learned and received and heard and seen in him. One should get busy doing what God has commanded. Paul points to the things he has passed on to his audience through teaching with words and actions. Note that Paul says to do the very thing that most people do not want to do. He says get busy doing the things you know you should be doing. He says do the next right thing.
It is fascinating to read what Paul says in these verses. His instructions fly in the face of modern psychology. Paul does not say that the path forward is commiseration with one in his anxiety. He does not say that the path forward is avoidance of circumstances or people who are the occasion of one’s anxiety. Paul says the way forward is prayer, contemplating good things, and doing the next right thing.
Paul says that “the God of peace will be with you.” You see, there is no peace in commiseration. There is no peace in avoidance. There is no peace in one’s own wisdom or one’s own efforts. Peace is found in the presence of God and that is found in obedience to all that He has commanded.
When anxiety begins to take hold remember these words of Paul:
- Contemplate good things
- Do the next right thing
Then the God of peace will be with you.
By His Grace Alone,