"The Way to be Anxious about Nothing is to be Prayerful about Everything"2
There are two experiential realities in which a Christian might live: anxiety or peace / worry or rest / consternation or contentment. Paul contrasts these two in Philippians 4:4-7 and tells us that the way to move from one into the other is by prayer. Continue reading . . .
There are two experiential realities in which a Christian might live: anxiety or peace / worry or rest / consternation or contentment. Paul contrasts these two in Philippians 4:4-7 and tells us that the way to move from one into the other is by prayer.
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. 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” (Philippians 4:4-7).
Clearly Paul is drawing on the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:25-34). The word translated “anxious” is the same as what we find in Philippians 2:20 where it had the positive and even virtuous sense of being sincerely concerned for the welfare of another person. So what is the difference between sinful anxiety and sincere, spiritual concern for someone else or for some circumstance in life?
Here in Philippians 4:6, unlike 2:20, Paul is speaking of godless concern for things over which we have no control, and even for things over which we do have control but should still entrust to the Lord. This sort of gnawing, corrosive worry is a form of unconscious blasphemy.
Paul is not speaking of imaginary or phantom anxieties. He is not making light of the troubles you face. He is simply convinced that God is able and willing to help.
But Paul does not simplistically command us to stop worrying without offering an alternative cure. The cure Paul suggests, however, is not what many have come to expect:
It is not inaction or passivity.
It is not apathy.
Paul does not tell us to ignore or deny the problem.
It is not withdrawal. In moments of anxiety the easiest thing to do is to retreat into a corner of safety and complain and grow bitter.
Paul says the alternative to anxiety or worry is the pouring out of one’s heart to God in prayer. Release from anxiety comes through laying yourself bare before God. As D. A. Carson has said, “The way to be anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything” (Basics for Believers, 112).
But how does this work? What is it about anxiety and prayer that put them in conflict with one another? More specifically, what is it about prayer that makes it an effective antidote to anxiety? Here are several elements to the answer.
Anxiety is rooted in self, while prayer is rooted in God.
Anxiety is the fruit of a narrow, constricted view of life. The only thing one can see is the problems or perplexities surrounding us. Prayer is the fruit of a broad and expansive view of life in which God is so big that everything else, even our worst problems and worries, shrink into insignificance.
Anxiety is horizontal in focus. Prayer, on the other hand, is vertical in focus. That is to say, when you worry you are consumed with looking to the left and to the right, forward and backward. When you pray, you can’t help but look up.
Anxiety never raises your eyes above your problems, your situation and circumstances. Prayer raises your eyes above and beyond yourself to God and his power.
Anxiety looks to self to solve problems. Prayer looks to God to endure problems.
When you are anxious, your circumstances and problems control you; they have sovereignty over you; you invest in them a power and authority to shape your life. When you are prayerful your circumstances shrink and are devoid of any such power to shape your life.
Anxiety is a concern over circumstances you can’t control Prayer is confidence in the God who controls your circumstances.
Anxiety is an expression of fear. Prayer is an expression of faith.
That, quite simply, is why the antidote to anxiety is prayer.