Below is the manuscript from my sermon last Sunday.
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:5-9
December 2005. I was 23 years old and if I knew what the following year would hold for me I would have probably come undone. At the time, however; my life was coming together perfectly. A velvet box sat on my dresser with a ring inside, a plane ticket to Florida was on my desk and within a few short weeks I would be getting engaged. My life was coming together how I had planned it.
At that time I had an internship with a police department that was hiring a several full time police officers. It was an agency close to home, paid well and seemed like a perfect fit for me. I was one of the highest ranking candidates on their list and knew that a job offer would come shortly.
A week before I was to leave for Florida and propose to Johanna friend and current police officer in the department came into our office, closed the door and sat down next to me. What he said in the next two minutes sunk my heart and sent my head spinning. He had gotten word that I was probably getting passed over for the current opening. The day after I proposed he called me and confirmed that my name had been removed from the eligibility list.
There have been only a few times in my life where I could physically feel the hurt in my heart. The pain was real. I had just asked a woman to be my wife and I was working a part-time job delivering papers, chasing dogs and scooping up dead squirrels from the road. My soul was in a tailspin…
I am seven years removed from that date and now I would not go back and change it if I could. Those circumstances churned within me some of the greatest feelings of anxiety I had ever felt. I remember waking up one morning thinking it was a dream and then having the awful awareness set in that it was indeed reality. I was a person who wanted to have a white-knuckle grip on my circumstances and God had just ripped my fingers off of it.
I sought to find some solid ground as everything seemed to be spinning. What am I going to do? No one will hire me. How am I going to be able to provide for my future wife? Why is this happening God? These questions swirled in my mind.
I did not find answers to them but I found some solid ground to rest my quivering heart. I devoured the book of Psalms over the next few weeks. I would read chapter after chapter and for the first time in my life, I read out of a desperate heart. I pleaded with God to help me and to bring peace to my troubled soul. I was afraid and I was trying to put my trust in God.
That was the beginning of a tough year. I began working for the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office on May 31 of that year. Two initial two months of training left me mentally exhausted at the end of each shift. I lost ten pounds. Johanna and I caught rare glimpses of each other the summer leading up to our wedding. We moved to an area where we knew no one. The year 2006 was an anxiety filled year for me, and I am sure any one of you could come and share a similar story. I’m certain we have all had times in our lives of increased anxiety because of heavy, difficult affairs that have hit us.
And then, along came Philippians 4:6-7. I memorized it and since then it has been the most often quoted passage in my mind. I recited this and prayed it back to God possibly hundreds of times an immovable, steadfast promise for me. I want to try and drill down deep on this passage over the next few minutes and show you the glories that are here. I want to share with you the rock solid grandeur that our Father has given to us in his Word.
What do we mean by anxiety? I think the clearest picture we have in Scripture of anxiety is found in Luke 10:38-41. Jesus has come to house of Martha and is welcomed into her home. These few verses draw a distinction between what was going on in Martha’s heart and what was going in Mary’s heart; Martha’s sister.
Verse 39 describes Mary as sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching. She had “chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Martha is described as being “being distracted with much serving (verse 40).” She was anxious and troubled about all the things that needed to be done (verse 41). Do you see the differences drawn here? Mary sat and listened while Martha was distracted and busy. Anxiety is the absence of rest in God that results in feelings of uneasiness or turmoil.
When we live in anxiety we are choosing to live in our own worry and fear. I identify with Martha much more easily than I can with Mary. I am easily distracted with the concerns of this life and miss the good portion that God is holding out to me. I battle anxiety when my furnace goes out on Friday night in February. I battle anxiety when I look at my checking account balance. I battle anxiety when I when I make a mistake at work. As his children we have a good portion available to us. It is refuge. It is strength. It is peace. And it is from our Father.
Context. So, I have given the reason for preaching on this passage and the definition of anxiety. I want to explain one more thing before we dive into the heart of it and find out what Paul has for us in these two verses. Let’s paint a picture here of the setting in which Paul writes this command about anxiety I hope it will be as helpful for you as it has been for me.
Paul most likely wrote this letter while he was in prison in Rome. This meant that he was nearing the end of his life and quite aware of a sentence of execution that was hanging over his head. He knew the end was possibly looming for him. With this weight of anxiety also came the stigma of being put in prison. The Philippians could have easily abandoned the support of Paul because of the humiliation that a prison sentence brought.
Yet the book of Philippians is filled with hopeful encouragement. Out of this hope Paul proclaimed, “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (1:19-20).”
Grace Church, even in the midst of a confusing time and on the verge of a painful death Paul could still rejoice. His courage to face this came from a resounding, unshakeable joy in God. Where does this come from? How do we get it? Lets try to find out together! Let’s look at 7 truths from this passage and see how they can help us to battle anxiety and become God-centered, future-oriented Christians.
1. God’s coming and presence is sure (v. 5) This is the setup to verse six. Before we dig down into verse six we would be remiss to pass over the last half of verse five. The reason is for the semicolon which links the end of verse 5 with the beginning of verse 6. The purpose of a semicolon is to link two closely related thoughts or ideas.
The purpose of the semicolon here is to link the phrase “The Lord is at hand” to the first part of verse six. This is how Paul writes. He writes in logical thoughts that flow from one point to the next. He uses words like “for”, “therefore”, “now” and “so”. These are small words that have massive meaning. These words show how verses are interrelated and when we start digging into how they are related we will find gold.
This phrase sets the context for us to understand why Paul is giving the command to not be anxious about anything. The idea of the Lord being at hand can have two meanings.
The first is that he is coming back. There is a day coming in which Jesus will come back in power. Paul just finished writing about this in chapter 3 verse 20. He identifies Christians as citizens of another world. Yes, we are citizens of the United States. We have the right to speak freely. You have the right to vote if you are 18. You have a right that keeps me, a deputy sheriff, from coming into your house and searching through your belongings without a piece of paper signed by a judge showing that I have probable cause. You have a right to a speedy trial and a right to a trial by jury and a right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
Yet, this citizenship is temporal and secondary. We are primarily and eternally citizens of heaven. Right now this citizenship is anchored in the hope of our Savior returning. The scope of his return is epic and the power of his return is blockbuster.
II Thessalonians 1 and Revelation 20 offer up vivid pictures of what this will look like. He will be revealed from heaven with a host of angels that are flaming with fire. He will be riding a white horse. His eyes will be like fire and on his head will be crowns. He will have a name written on him that no one has known and his clothes will be dipped in the blood of his foes. He will have written on his leg and on his clothes the name “King of kings and Lord of Lords.” From his mouth a sharp sword will come and it will conquer the nations of the world. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. The angels will deal out wrath to those who did not obey the Gospel of Jesus and our King will bring the long awaited judgement on his enemies and Satan.
Is that not a mind-blowing picture? All this is waiting in the storehouses of heaven to be revealed on earth when God says for it to be. The Lord is at hand at let us tremble underneath the awesomeness of that reality.
The second meaning of this phrase is not as visible yet just as profound. It is for us today, in this moment and for everyday that we live until we die or until Jesus comes again. It is Psalm 34:18- “The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Are you crushed this morning? Do you have a heart that is cracking underneath the anxieties of life that seem to pile on top of each other? The Lord is at hand for you. He is near and he cares for you. Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.
God is for us. Look at Paul’s language throughout Philippians:
- 1:6- And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
- 2:19- “I hope in the Lord Jesus…”
- 3:1- “Rejoice in the Lord…”
- 3:12- “Christ Jesus has made me his own…”
- 4:13- “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
- 4:19- “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches and glory.”
That is the second meaning of this phrase. We have a God. He is our Abba Father. He is our Daddy. He loves us and cares for us and makes all the promises of his Word true for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus bore the wrath of God for our sins so that we can cry out Abba Father, and he has promised to bring to completion the good work he has began in you at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). The Lord is at hand. That is really good news.
I don’t think Paul, or Jesus, expected us to strive towards never feeling anxious again. Two chapters prior to this Paul told the Philippians that he was sending Epaphroditus to them. Epaphroditus had been sick and had almost died as a result of the sickness. This man was described by Paul as a solider and fellow worker who ministered to Paul in his needs. Look at what Paul said in chapter 2 verse 28: “I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.” Less anxious. Paul had anxiety because the Philippians were worried about their brother.
When writing II Corinthians Paul acknowledges his anxiety for all the churches (II Cor. 11:28). “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” Paul faced daily anxieties that were coming at him in a full frontal attack. He had started many churches that were dealing with many problems. Read through I Corinthians and you will get a taste for the the rampant sin that was pervading the church. This anxiety was real for Paul.
Jesus was the only person who lived that never had anxious feelings to the point of sinning. Yet, he had agony over what he was to experience on the cross. Luke 22 shows Jesus asking God to remove the cup he knew he had to drink. He prayed with an earnestness that produced sweating to the point that it was no longer minerals in his body he was sweating but his very own blood.
This command is not an expectation to never have an anxiety but a prescription to help us when we do fight anxiety. It is a battle that must be fought and for some it must be fought more frequently than others. I am so prone to anxiety in my life that this verse has been the headquarters for my fight against it. I come back again and again and again for more ammunition to do battle against it. These verses have been the cache, or the stockpile, from which I have had a thousand dog fights with anxiety. It is a bottomless supply and will never, ever run out because the promise is from God who never, ever has a need. He is the supplier for the campaign we are to wage against anxiety.
We have only to be silent, Grace Church. We have only to rest in God and his work for us which was accomplished at the cross through Jesus Christ. I have a book that I read my son called The Jesus Storybook. There is a sentence that is used throughout the book to describe the love that God has for his children. We are told that “God loves us with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love”.
This is the God that we have faith in. This is the God we rest in. We do not need to strive and work and do better to overcome anxiety. We need to rest. We need the disposition of Psalm 46:10- “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Faith in God for our anxiety is a relinquishing of our attempts to control a situation and an acknowledgement in God’s sovereignty to work it for our good and his glory. It is like a child that rests in the the nurturing care of his mother.
We need to make sure we get this right. We don’t battle anxiety in our own strength. It is resting in faith for God to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus for whatever situation we are in (Phil. 4:19). God gives us the kingdom of heaven by being poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). Being poor in spirit is an acknowledgment of our dependance on God.
This is the way by which we fight and overcome anxiety. If you try to fight anxiety without prayer you might as well try to drive a vehicle without gas. Or shoot a gun without bullets. Or make coffee without beans. It just won’t happen.
A life of prayer flows from an awareness of our dependency. And we are a people who have nothing to offer a holy God in our own strength.
As a cop I interact with people from all different kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds. Calls come in from the upper class to the lower class, from people living in 5,000 square foot dwellings to cracker box, trash-filled dumps. The former will have one or two people living in it while the latter will be packed with a boyfriend and girlfriend and 4 kids. People dial 911 who seem to have their life completely together as do those whose life is an utter wreck. Men and women and children who are rich and poor, happy and depressed, healthy and sick.
There are people who have dedicated their entire lives to achieving the American dream and others who are living for the next paycheck or the next hit from a needle or meth pipe. There are 15 year- olds getting drunk on Vodka while there parents have no idea where they are and others who are getting abused by a step father who has a heavy hand. I’ve removed a 3 year old from a dope house who had eyes that looked right through me, and lost my last thread of patience with a child who has been given everything he ever wanted.
What I see in all of these situations is a swath of broken lives- myself included. We are looking for satisfaction from the dollar to the dope and can’t find it. We all are broken, sinful, human wrecks who need an overpowering, astonishing, heart-infiltrating Savior to rescue us from a life of anxiety.
A life of prayer flows from an awareness of our dependency on God. If you are here today and think your life is going well and you have no sense of a need for Jesus- you should be concerned.
Jesus knew of his need for his Father when he said in John 5:19 that he could do nothing of his own accord without the Father. He repeats this again in verse 30 when he says that he can do nothing on his own apart from his Father.
My 2 year old son and 7 month old daughter are completely dependent on their parents for everything in life. Jack thinks he is old enough to deal with life on his own but we remind him often he is not the boss. They need their parents to care for them and feed them and clean them and protect them. The same is true for the Christian. We need the constant provision of our Heavenly Father to care and love and feed us. This should be the state of the heart of a Christian. Effective prayer is desperate prayer. “God I need you. I am utterly incapable of dealing with this anxiety I am feeling. Please, satisfy my heart in you right now.” That is a prayer to be prayed a thousand times over and thousand times after that.
So, we see that we are to come before God with prayer and supplication (petition, our requests, needs, wants). Let us not allow our mind to dwell in the anxiety and feed upon its traps.
Prayer is how God chooses to give us peace. Christian, we do not lean on our own abilities to give security to our troubled souls. We do not lean on the market value of our house, the most recent pay increase, the value of our 401k or the newness of our car. We do not lean on money, people, status, health, or advancement as our security. All these things can be ripped out in a moment.
What is unshakeable is our sovereign God who holds the world in the palm of his hand. He holds the world in the palm of his hand. That is comforting when I open the door on December 11, 1995 to find our garage on fire. It is comforting when our family watches our house burn in a matter of 60 minutes. What seemed so permanent ascended as ash into the cold night sky. What do you do in a moment like that when a truck load of anxiety is dumped over you? “God, you are enough. You are the same yesterday, today and forevermore. You will be here tomorrow when we come back to pick up the pieces of life. You will be here when we rebuild the house. You will be here through whatever comes our way.”
4. Our prayers should be made with thanksgiving (v. 6) This is that attitude with which we pray. How do we move from an attitude of thanksgiving; of gratitude, when our minds are filled with anxiety. How did this happen for Paul? Understanding how this thanksgiving happens has been the most exciting thing I have discovered in my study of this passage.
Paul is always looking to the future when he runs up against trials and suffering and anxiety. He has a God-centered, future-oriented vision. Lets look at these passages:
- 1:6- “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” We were on a collision course with hell. God pulled us out, rescued us from our destruction and put our feet on a firm path. That path, now though filled with hair pin turns and steep precipices is guaranteed to bring us into the presence of King Jesus! Paul is pointing the Philippians to a spectacular event that will happen.
1:20- “As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” It is not about us. It is about Jesus. Jesus came into history and split the way we looked at the calendar- BC and AD. He birth was prophesied about. His messianic coming was longingly anticipated. And he came. Our lives need to be all about him and not about us.5. God’s peace is stronger than our anxiety. (v. 7) Here it is. “Peace is the the restful state of our soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God, and content with its earthly lot, whatever that may be.” We see three things about the peace of God:
B. The promise of peace is given to us as a guarantee for our troubled souls. God will do this for us. Don’t doubt the promise of God to fill your heart and mind with peace. Paul says it will guard our hearts and our minds. The mind and the heart are linked in this guarantee. Just as we are to love the Lord with all our heart and mind, so will the peace of God come upon our heart and mind. John Piper writes in his book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God:
“God has given us minds so that, by thinking with the Spirit’s help, we can know the truth and beauty and worth of God through Jesus and treasure him above all things and spend our lives expressing this in as many ways as our minds can pursue.”
God has not given us a mind to be filled with knowledge so that we may impress others with our intellect. He gave us a mind to glorify God. And when God is glorified in us most is when we are satisfied in him most. And when you are satisfied in God you will have peace. Oh, troubles may rise and anxiety may begin to churn but that is when we must fix our mind on God to think rightly so that we may treasure him above our anxiety in our heart. We will see in the next point how to do that more specifically.
C. The peace is rooted in Christ Jesus. If there was no cross there would be peace. We just finished a three week series on the gospel and this is why we need to be reminded of it. Jesus did not only purchase our peace for when we spend eternity with him in the new heavens and new earth. He purchased the peace that we need for the minute we walk out these doors this afternoon. That is what Romans 5 is all about. He lavished us with his love through the cross for the right here and how and for all eternity. What an amazing God we have!
This is gospel played out in our everyday life. Jesus despised the shame and bore our sin on the cross so that we may have life in Him. Our sin is against a set part, fearful and awesome God. The result of that sin is supposed to eternal death in hell and separation from God. But thanks be to God that because of Jesus effectual work on the cross he has brought restoration between us and God.
If you want to drink deeply from the riches of God’s grace, camp out on Ephesians 1 and 2. To give you a taste listen to Ephesians 2:4-5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved-”. That sentence ends with a hyphen. There is much more to be read and I encourage you to read chapters 1 and 2 this afternoon and feast on the mercy of God. Listen to these verses which talk about God exerting his grace and mercy for his people.
- I Samuel 23:14- “And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness…And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.”
- Psalm 73:26- “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
- Acts 7:42- “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him.”
- I Corinthians 3:6- “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
These four passages are a few grains of sand off the beachhead of God’s promises. There is far more to find. Think on the magnitude of this little phrase, but God. The commands for us to obey are never given without the supply to obey them. What God requires of us he freely gives us through Jesus Christ. It is like hooking your heart up to a diesel engine that is able to carry thousands upon thousands of pounds of freight.
God could have used many different types of avenues to communicate his nature to us. It didn’t have to be the Bible. It could have been memorized by a few men who would pass it on to a few others. It could have been dreams that God would give us while we slept. It could have been a destination we had to travel to so that we could access his Word.
He didn’t do it that way. He gave us a book that was written over the expanse of hundreds of years by shepards, tax collectors, doctors, prophets and kings. Therefore we must be people of the book. We need to dig down deep into the depths of the riches of his grace which await us in its pages. Each morning that we wake up, God’s Word should be what we open. Job considered it more important that his daily food.
Reading biographies of Christians has been so helpful to me. I can’t underestimate it. Last summer I read Eric Metaxas’ book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. The man faced suffering and trials throughout his whole adult life as Hitler rose in power in Germany. Listen to what he writes:
“One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman, a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness i mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. I n so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world- watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian. How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God’s sufferings through a life of this king?”
Conclusion: The Lord’s return is certain. His presence is always with us. We do not need to be anxious. Rather we fight our anxiety with prayer, in thanksgiving by being God-centered, future-oriented people. And we can have this through having our mind and heart dug down deep in the Word of God.