Overcoming Anxiety

Part 5: What does it mean to be alive spiritually?

Keys to overcoming Anxiety

 AeroplaneI remember on one of my journey’s to Latvia, when we were living in Southampton at the time, and I got on this train in the morning at Southampton, and I got to Gatwick Airport, where I was going to fly to Riga, and when I got to Gatwick, I was absolutely, totally exhausted.  I got on the plane and before the plane took off, I fell fast asleep.  Eventually, I woke up and the man who was sitting next to me, whom I had never met in my life, said to me, “I want to let you know that you are a tremendous encouragement to me”.  I was bemused as to how I could be an encouragement to this man who I didn’t know and had never met before.  He told me “I came on this plane, absolutely an emotional wreck.  I’d never flown in a plane before.  I’d taken tablets; I was scared stiff and got on the plane shaking.  I came in and sat down, saw you sitting there fast asleep and thought well if he’s not worried about it, why should I be?”  He said, “That really helped to calm me down.”

We’ve flown a lot over the years, and sometimes with my family.  When you land, you’ve got to get off the plane and go and get another flight, get all your bags etc.  As soon as the lights go on, you stand up with everybody else like a herd of sheep, only to realise there’s a bus outside and the bus can’t go until everybody’s on the bus.  Then you get back to the airport and run through customs and rush on to the baggage collection, and find the bags haven’t ’come yet.  My wife and I would sit with our children, wait till everybody got off the plane, then we’d go.  Sometimes we found out that if you are last on the bus, you’re the first to get off the other end.  It’s amazing how you can learn to handle stress in a practical way.

We are going to be looking at some practical ways to handle anxiety.  It doesn’t say in Philippians chapter 4 anything about walking with the Spirit but there are some practical applications here, about what it means to trust God in our circumstances.  What Paul wants to do with these believers now is to try and help them in day by day practical ways.  By way of illustration, let’s look at Philippians 4: 2-3 which introduces us to the subject. ‘I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord’

 What was happening here?  We’ve got two ladies who were having a problem agreeing with each other.  There was friction here.  In verse three he says “I ask you loyal yolk-fellow to help these women who have contended at my side” Now these men, these yolk-fellow, we don’t know who they are, but the word ‘help’ means “take it in hand”, “do something about it” “sit down with these two ladies and sort out the situation” because it can be sorted out.  So the anxiety issue that Paul is talking about could be to do with anxiety in the church or with individuals.

 Then, he continues “along with Clement and the rest of my fellows, whose names are in the book of life.  Rejoice in the Lord always!”  How often?  Always.  “Let your gentleness be evident to all because the Lord is near”.  There are these two ladies with their issue or me with my issue, or you with your issue.  Paul says “The Lord is near”.  Now a lot of bible commentators and preachers see this as meaning two different things.  “The Lord is near” in this phrase could mean the Lord’s return is near.  On the other hand, in the context of what this passage is talking about, I’m not sure that is strictly what it means, but rather in the circumstances and in your anxiety realise that the Lord is here with you.  Think of Hagar in the Old Testament, she was in a situation she had no control over.  She was in the desert, she was about to die and the angel comes to help her.  She named that place ‘the Lord who sees me’.  It doesn’t matter what situation we are finding ourselves in, there is a Lord who sees us.  So, I’d like to suggest that this phrase means that right where you are today, in this particular situation, the Lord is right here.  He is with you and He can help you.

That’s why he says in verse six,  “do not be anxious about anything” which is the key to what we are looking at.

 I like reading Warren Wiersbe’s commentaries.  In his the outline on the book of Philippians he says that for the key to overcoming anxiety is:

Right praying – Right Thinking – Right Living (actions)

 How do we pray in anxiety situations?  What do we think? What’s in our minds when we are going through these situations and what do we do about it?  I’ve constantly gone back to Philippians in my own life to see that there are some real practical goals here to help me.

 In verse six “Do not be anxious about anything” or in the King James version “Be anxious for nothing”.  Many years ago, I read that and it didn’t help me.  Does it help you if you’re worried about something and I quote this verse at you?  So what does it mean?  It has the idea that when an anxious situation comes up in your life, let me give you some keys how to handle it.  The word “anxious” has two ideas.  Firstly, that of being pulled in different directions.  Paul says that there are times in our lives, where natural situations come up and they pull us in different directions.  Another word which is perhaps closer to the word “anxiety” means to be strangled.  A situation comes up and you begin to feel strangled by it.  One of the best ways to explain this is in Luke 10 where Jesus is with Mary and Martha.  Mary is sitting listening to Jesus and there is Martha who was oh so busy.  Martha was upset with Mary for not helping her.  She was upset with Jesus for not telling Mary to help her.  Jesus says to her “Martha, Martha, you are troubled about many things.  There’s something strangling you. Yes, we need to have the dinner on the table but it’s strangling you, Martha.”  Then he says – Mary has chosen the best part.

 There are times we need to sit down and listen and times when we need to be busy.  If you look at the rest of Martha’s life, you never see her being strangled again.  It looks like she might have learned something that day.  So, how do we overcome anxiety?

Paul suggests three ways to overcome anxiety in this passage.

  1. Right prayingRight Praying – in everything, in every type of anxiety situation, by prayer, by petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Now there are 4 different Greek words here.  The first one is “by prayer” and this is linked with the area of adoration.  Linked with the area of praise.  In Acts 4 v24 when Peter and John come out of prison, and go back to the house they had come from and they sat there and recount with everybody in the room, the greatness and the mightiness and the majesty of God. They started off with praise.  They didn’t go back in and say “oh we’ve just had a really terrible time in prison”.  They started with prayer and praise and that is the word that Paul uses here.  So when we find ourselves in a certain set of circumstances, let’s come to God with prayer.  Prayer with a worship attitude.  Another example is in Nehemiah 1 – Nehemiah was in captivity, so his friends come and Nehemiah starts asking questions about the situation in Jerusalem.  He gets his answer.  What does he do?  When he gets on his own, he stops and begins to praise the Lord.  After this, he spends time praising the Lord and getting his focus back on the Lord, then he begins to talk to the Lord about the problems.  I find that tremendously encouraging.  What happens when we find ourselves in an anxiety situation?  It depends on your focus.  Paul says; let your first area of focus be praise and adoration.  Spend time, praying and thanking the Lord, thinking about who he is.

Next comes this word “petition”. It has the idea of earnestly sharing what you have to say.  We bring specific needs to the Lord.  These are our circumstances, our problem.  I love 2 Kings 19 v14-20, where Hezekiah had received a letter from Sennacherib, saying that he was going to come and destroy Jerusalem.  Hezekiah takes this letter and goes into the temple and spreads it before the Lord and reads it.  He takes it straight to the Lord, this specific problem that he had.  I find this really helpful. The word “petition” is the same word that is used in James 5 where it talks about Elijah who petitioned the Lord that it wouldn’t rain.  He made a specific prayer request.  God answered his prayer.  So, in times of anxiety, there is prayer, and then there is petition.  It’s interesting that it then says – “with thanksgiving”.  How do we function when we get anxious?  Do we praise and worship, do we specifically petition WITH thanksgiving?  That is quite a challenge!  But, we can thank Him that He is in control.  What it is to have a thankful attitude in the midst of difficult circumstances.  We can have a heart of eager appreciation and thanksgiving for who He is and what He’s done.

 Then he says – bring your requests.  Don’t start with your list but begin with prayer.  When we’re anxious we can do all kinds of different things, see people, talk on the phone, try and work it out ourselves.  We need to stop and go back to Philippians and work these thoughts through.  The situations don’t always go away, but the peace and the confidence in finding the Lord’s help is there.  “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds” The word “guard” here is the word “garrison”.  The peace of God will protect you; it will protect your mind from going astray.  The Lord will be all around you, helping you and supporting you.

 Colossians says it slightly differently. “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts”.  I think these two go together.  As we bring our requests to the Lord, He will guard our hearts, He will protect us.  He will also rule.  The word has the implication of a referee in a football match.  Let the referee blow the whistle and everything stops.  Let the peace of God which no-one can understand, can’t fathom, protect you and look after you.  The Spirit of God will blow the whistle and show us that we are getting anxious.  We can apply these principles.  When will the peace of God guard us?  The answer is, when we come to the Lord like this.

  1. Right thinkingNext we overcome anxiety by right thinking.  What you think affects what you will do.  Paul says that wrong thinking leads to wrong actions.  What is your thought life like?  Think of an anxiety situation you have faced or are facing, Paul urges us to look at our thought life.  We need to say – is this true or imaginary?  The Word of God will help us with the truth.  A young man gets a spot on his face and immediately thinks its cancer and he starts to work out his funeral arrangements.  Is it true?  He may have to get it checked out.  We may go into areas of anxiety but is it true?  How does God want me to think?  Is it noble, is it honourable?  Is it worthy of thinking about?  Is it a valuable thing to think about and if yes, we perhaps need to spend time thinking about it.  Is it right?  Does this fit into God’s character?  Is it free from evil, free from defilement?  Is my heart pure? Is my mind pure?  When it comes to my own walk with the Lord, with my thoughts about other people, are they lovely?  Are my thoughts attractive and beautiful?  Will they produce peace in my life?  Are my thoughts admirable?  Is what I’m thinking going to be respectful?

Sometime ago I was talking to someone who was feeling really anxious and I encouraged them to write these 8 words down.  When you are going through the anxious situation, read these through.  Then write down – what does God want me to think?  The passage says if anything is admirable or praiseworthy, think on these things.  Think on things that are valuable.  It has the idea again of “chewing the cud”, meditating on these things, reflecting on the value of what God is saying.  Are you anxious?  What’s your prayer life like?  What’s my thought life like?  Does God like what I’m thinking?  Where’s my focus? Is it on me or on Him?

  1. Lastly, it’s to do with our actions – right living.  Look at what Paul says in v9 “Whatever you’ve learned, whatever you received, whatever you’ve heard or seen in me, put it into practice”.  Now, the Philippians had learned some things when Paul was with them.  They had received lots of things from Paul, by his words, by his mouth, they had seen his life, seen his character.  Paul says -Follow me as I follow Christ.   All the things they had learned he urges them to put into practice.  Make this part of your life. Then he says “the God of Peace will be with you”.  When?  As we apply some of these things.  It’s not going to happen overnight.  It takes time.  Paul says that this could have a dramatic effect on the way that we live our lives.

Paul also talks in verse ten and afterwards about contentment.  I heard of a man who was flying a plane and he was flying over a lake.  He said to his co-pilot “I used to be fishing in a boat on that lake, always wishing that I could be up here.  Now I’m up here, flying in the plane, I wish that I could be back down there fishing”.   He just wasn’t content.  Paul talks twice in these verses about being content.  In verse 11, “I am not saying this because I am in need for I have learned to be content” Isn’t that interesting?  We can learn contentment.  Verse 12 “I know what it is to be in need and to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”.  So what does the word ‘contentment’ mean? The basic word contentment has the idea of finding my sufficiency in Christ alone but it also means to be internally secure.  It doesn’t matter what happens in my life or where I’m going or what I’m doing, inwardly I’m secure with my relationship with God.  Let’s see how Paul unpacks this.

 First of all in verse ten,   “I greatly rejoice in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.  Indeed, you have been concerned but had no opportunity to show it.”  The people here had shared things with Paul and he was writing to say thank you for the financial gift he had received and states they hadn’t had the chance to share with him before but now they had the opportunity.  In verse 11, he states that contentment is not only learned but learned over a period of time and as we go through different circumstances.  As different situations come into our lives, it’s an opportunity to learn from our experiences, to be content.  In verse 12 the word ‘need’ there means, to have nothing.  There were times when Paul had nothing.  There have been times in our mission where missionaries have suffered lack.  One family lived for 10 days on tomatoes!  In those situations of lack, it was an opportunity for Paul to find himself internally secure.  He also knew what it was to have plenty, to be full!  Paul is giving a personal testimony.  Through his different circumstances, he had learned to be secure in Christ.  He had been initiated into the secret.  He goes on “whether well fed or hungry”.  The word “Well-fed” means to be fat like a fat cow.  He also knew what it was to be hungry.  So whether he was living in plenty or want, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength”.  That’s the key to contentment.  My focus is on Him.  Whether I am full or empty, He’s the one who can strengthen me.  Isn’t that wonderful to realise that, as believers? That our lives don’t consist of the abundance of the things we have or don’t have?  Our security is in Him.

 So as we come to the end of these thoughts, what a privilege to know the risen Lord in our daily lives.  To know that in us is a well, and out from us can flow rivers of living water.  That we can come to the Lord and rest.  What a privilege to know the Lord and walk with Him day by day, knowing that filling of the Holy Spirit in our day by day lives.  What we do for the Lord comes from our relationship with Him.  Lets continue to serve Him with His strength.  Lets serve the Lord as Paul did serving with His energy which so powerfully works in us.

 Let me finish with how Paul finishes his second letter to the Thessalonians, in 2 Thess 3:16.  Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with you all.

 If you would like to contact me by email please feel free to do so.

Colin Lamb.  Sheep.lamb@btinternet.com