God wants you to have peace in your heart and mind. You will need to defend that peace. It will be a fight. It will take work. The devil, the world, your life and your old sinful nature will try to steal and diminish your sense of awareness, calmness and the ability of being present for God and others. When the Bible talks about defending your peace and managing your anxiety it is spiritual warfare on a very personal level. This is no small thing. This is not something to take lightly. If you are not able to manage your anxieties, worries, or fears then it becomes extremely difficult to focus on what God is saying to you and how to love and bless others. When your anxieties are managing you, it becomes all about you, but when you are able to manage your anxieties, it becomes all about God and about others.
Some people struggle with perpetual anxiety. Perpetual anxiety is a state of constant worry and overreaction.[i] This anxiety occurs repeatedly. It seems endless and uninterrupted. It causes anxiety about the same thing over and over again. You worry about your finances every time you spend money, even when you are being responsible you still stress out over it again and again. Perpetual anxiety can also be about different things that pop up back-to-back. You stress out about your rash, you worry about something the children said, you become over concerned about something you heard on the news, etc. You become concerned about to many things too often. Perpetual anxiety is similar to the Whac-A-Mole game. Where you hit the plastic moles that keep popping up with a padded mallet. But unlike Whac-A-Mole, there is no end to the anxious thoughts that pop up. They feel a bump under their skin and think they have cancer. They hear about another war and think, World War 3 or they hear about an evil ruler and think the Anti-Christ. They see their teenage son or daughter dressed inappropriately and think they will end up in prison. The clutter in the home stresses them out and must be put away immediately. Perpetual anxiety is the mental alarm system that never quite turns off.
However, limited anxiety is helpful. We need to be aware of danger and respond appropriately. What you don’t need is to live in a state of high alert or driven by anxiety while neglecting more important things. God wants you to be aware, calm, and present in order to hear from Him and to minister to others. To do this, you will need to manage your anxieties.
In this series of messages, I want to address a significant passage of Scripture on experiencing peace and dealing with anxiety. In it we find several things you must focus on if you are going to protect your peace. They all overlap, but we are going to examine each one individually.
Typically, I preach from the NLT but in this series, I will be using the NASB. Over the next few weeks, we are going to dive deep into the following six verses. Let’s take a look at Philippians 4:4-9.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all people. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things. As for the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9, NASB)
I want you to notice that Paul mentions the peace of God in verse 7 and then the God of peace in verse 9. This is about experiencing God’s peace and not letting your anxieties control your life or damage your life.
Before we unpack these incredible statements, I want to focus your attention on what Paul said near the end of verse 9. He wrote, practice these things and as a result you will experience God’s peace. Two questions: what does he mean by practice and what are these things he is referring to? Once you understand those two questions you will have some weapons and tools to manage and defend yourself against anxiety and be able to develop some Biblical skills to experience the kind of peace God wants you to have. If we don’t practice these things, that Paul mentions, then knowing these things will not make any difference. We must activate them in our lives in a very practical way.
What things are we to practice?
When God’s Word says practice these things, what things is God talking about? He mentions seven specific things. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not. They overlap, feed off each other, and relate to each other. As you improve in one area, it impacts the others as well. What are they?
- Number one, the practice of joy. In verse 4 we are told, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! This is learning how to apply the attitude and power of joy in unhappy situations.
- Number two, the practice of gentleness. In verse 5 we are told, Let your gentle spirit be known to all people. Gentleness keeps you calm and has the ability to calm others down as well as keeping the impact of stress and anxiety to a minimum.
- Number three, the practice of awareness. At the end of verse 5 we are told, The Lord is near. When you are aware of how big and awesome your Lord is it makes what you are anxious about not so overwhelming. This is developing the skill of being aware of God’s presence and the Lord’s return.
- Number four, the practice of calmness. Verse 6 says, Do not be anxious about anything…. When you are anxious you feel like you are distracted or being pulled apart in different directions, but if you grow in the skill of remaining calm you can focus and do what God would have you do and be the person you need to be for others. God wants to teach you how to be aware, calm, and present.
- Number five, the practice of prayer. Verse 7 says, … in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Learning to talk to God about what you are nervous, upset, and worried about is crucial to managing your anxiety. This is not generic prayer, but specific prayer about what you ae anxious about.
- Number six, the practice of thoughtfulness. Verse 8 says, Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Thoughtfulness is being absorbed in thought. Your mind thinks about and is absorbed by other things than what is causing anxiety. Thoughtfulness is learning how to think and take captive every thought. When you think the right things, you place yourself in a position to believe the right things, feel the right things, and do the right things. The mind God gave you is an incredible weapon against anxiety.
- Number seven, the practice of following. Verse 9 says, As for the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. If you want to learn how to manage anxiety learn from those who do it well. Find examples of godly people who apply these seven practices of peace.
Over the next several weeks we are going to unpack each one of these practices. Next time we are going to answer the question: “What does it mean to practice these things?” The word practice means much more than simply do it.
[i] Four main traits that perpetuate anxiety have been identified are perfectionism, the excessive need for approval, the tendency to ignore physical and psychological signs of stress, and an excessive need for control.