Replace Anxiety with the Peace of God
Here is the video from my sermon on Philippians 4:6-9 at Lynton Missionary Church in Lynwood, CA, on June 17, 2012.
Unfortunately, the recorder gave out about thirty minutes into the message, but don't be anxious: you can get the lost fifteen minutes from the manuscript below.
There is another time when he stumbled in his faith. Before Saul died in battle and David took the throne, you remember that Saul had a demonic obsession with David. David wisely fled for his life, but during his hiding he crossed the border into Gath. Perhaps you’ve heard of a certain giant who was from that city.
Unfortunately for David, he was recognized as the slayer of Goliath. They approached and began to mock, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” Trouble. In 1 Samuel 21:12, the text says, “And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath.”
David thought fast. As they grabbed him, he pretended to have some kind of mental break. Here was the next king of Israel, the progenitor of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He acted crazy. He broke away from them and began to draw on the city gates. He let his spittle run into beard, which was the ancient equivalent of wetting oneself in public. Of course, the king of Gath would not execute such a man, and David was sent on his way. Success?
That night, alone in some cave, David began to ponder his performance that day. When David was facing Goliath of Gath in 1 Samuel 17, he was all, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” But when it came to facing the king of Gath, David let his fear get the better of him. He was human, beloved, and he knew he needed to confess his lack of faith. Psalm 56 is that confession. God delivered David despite David’s lack of trust in Him that day, but he says “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” He recognized the disconnect between his fear and behavior that day and the trust he should have placed in the Lord.
Today is Father’s Day, and we recognize that men face a lot in this world to fear. Of course, there are not only fathers in here, and anxiety is a condition common to all of our hearts. So, this message is for everyone. We are going to be in the book of Philippians today to look for a word that will help us deal with the worries of this life. We are going to see four commands that will help us replace anxiety with the peace of God. We cannot have the peace of God in our lives unless we believe correctly, pray correctly, think correctly, and practice correctly.
First, note that we can replace anxiety with the peace of God when we believe correctly (vv. 5b–6a).
We hear this phrase “the Lord is near,” but what does it mean—near in time or near in space? Both could be seen in the verse. But we will see that Paul has the second meaning in mind with this passage.
The Lord Jesus was near the believers in Philippi during their times of need, and they were a poor people. They worried about the basics like food, shelter, and clothing. Some of us fear eviction and foreclosure from time to time, but on the whole, Americans rarely fear starving to death the next day. Jesus’ words were especially meaningful to the Philippian parents:
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Mt 6:28–33)
The Philippians needed to remember that anxiety is ultimately a lack of trust in God’s abilities and plans. No Christian dares to say, God cannot get me a new job or God cannot take care of my children’s out-of-control behavior, but we act like that sometimes. We need to remember that the Lord is near us in times of distress, and remain faithful to seeking Him in all that we do. We need to believe correctly—the Lord is at hand.
Look at verse six, where we see our first command. We could translate this as, “stop being anxious.” That sounds simplistic. How can we just stop worrying about tomorrow? But that is what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount—“O you of little faith… do not be anxious.” Anxiety is a faith issue, and we will stop experiencing God’s peace if we decide to dwell on it.
The entire book of Philippians challenges us to think with the mind of Christ. Our fears, frets, worries, and anxiety in general runs contrariwise to thinking in this way. We’ll talk more about the way we think in a few minutes, though. The question for now is whether you believe it is wrong to live your life in fear.
Understand that our fears always turn us inward. What will happen to me if I continue down this path? What will others think about me if this truth comes out? Can I continue to take care of my possessions, my life, if these events come to pass? Fear itself is not always a sin because God wants to keep His children from physical and spiritual harm, but the person consumed by fears and anxiety is not focused upward.
John sets the love of God in opposition to fear (1 John 4:17–18). Maybe you’ve seen the plague or bumper sticker that says, “The fear of God is the one fear that removes all others.” When we are enthralled with the love and grace that God pours out to us, it is impossible to worry. This is true when we try to obey God—the more we seek to give ourselves to His work and to others, the less we are seeking to protect ourselves and our interests, or the less anxiety we can have.
Now, perhaps your recognize that you have great sin in your heart, and that is the cause of your anxiety. Note that John specifically notes that one cause of fear is punishment, and the remedy for that is understanding and believing the love of Christ. It comes back to believing correctly, doesn’t it?
Paul appears anxious in Romans 7 as he describes the struggles of the Christian life—he hates the inconsistency of his walk and asks in verse 24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Where does he go for peace... do you remember? Verse 25: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The first verse of the next chapter reads, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Are you in Christ? Then go to Him with this sin, and stop being anxious. By the way, are you NOT in Christ? Then go to Him with this sin, and stop being anxious. Find life in Him by losing your life to Him.
There is a terrible cycle that some of us engage in: we worry, so we lose sleep. However, losing even a single night’s sleep creates the same conditions in your body as intoxication. You can’t think as clearly, and the things of God seem darker and far from you. Peace seems like a long-forgotten dream. Yet, the righteous of Psalm 3:5–6 says, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” Taking care of your body seems to be an important part of the command to stop worrying—as does trust in your King.
Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” More on that later. You have correct belief when you seek to stop anxiety in your life. Now, that is only part of the equation. If we don’t replace anxiety with something, that will only leave room for more anxiety. So,
Second, we can replace anxiety with the peace of God when we pray correctly (vv. 6–7).
Prayer is a natural response for many people when times of trouble arise. As a side note to this, the real test of your prayer life is when things are going well—is prayer only an umbrella for times of rain? Even so, it is good that you make your requests known to God, because that is our second command. We are not only to stop being anxious, we are to present our needs before our Heavenly Father.
There are two kinds of prayers we make. There are the normal grocery-list prayers: please save Uncle Bill, please heal Aunt Sue. Please be glorified in this service today. And there is nothing wrong with that kind of prayer in itself.
The second kind of pray mentioned here—the supplication. This is on-your-knees with tears kind of prayer. It is a plea given with urgency. For instance, this word is used in Luke 1:13, where Zechariah had been eagerly petitioning the Lord for a child. Again, this kind of prayer is natural and good.
The question of praying correctly centers around one more ingredient: thankfulness. The word translated “thanksgiving” here means, “to express gratitude for benefits or blessings.” This sparks the kind of prayer that starts “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”
Prayer and supplication is tempered by thanksgiving. Our requests should include our gratitude for the graciousness of the Lord. This is vital considering our inclination to forget what God has done for us in the past when new temptations and circumstances arise.
Thankfulness arises in our hearts when we remember what God has done in the past. Before they entered the Promised Land, “You shall not be afraid, but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt” (Dt 7:18).
For some, that will be a great act of faith. Maybe you haven’t seen God’s clear leading in life. Perhaps you think God could do things better in your situation than He has. Whatever the cause, you’re not thankful.
Listen to what words Peter adds to teach us about our prayers: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pe 5:6–7). Jacob’s prayers were self-serving—you take care of me and I’ll take care of you. He encountered God one night and grabbed on for a blessing, thinking this was his chance, and he was humbled. It was then that he got a new name—Israel—and then became thankful for “my God” instead of “the God of my fathers.”
Some don’t want to involve God because they think they have something too small for His concern. This is pride, my friends—you have something you believe you can handle without His help. I can take care of this… no need to bother the Big Guy. Humble yourselves and let your requests be known unto God.
Some have no problem involving God, but feel they need to badger the goodness out of Him. He’s the heavenly vending machine, and those chips sometimes get stuck. They ignore the fact that they would not know Him, that they would have any hope, unless He allowed it. They forget that He gives them the breath for their demanding prayers.
You fathers out there know the difference between a request from your kids—even an urgent, repetitious plea—and a demand. Don’t be tempted to sound like an ingrate in your prayers, even if it is a desperate circumstance. There’s nothing wrong with pleading with God, but if you find your prayers lacking thanksgiving, you better humble yourselves before your Heavenly Father. We are commanded to stop being anxious as well as to let our requests be made known unto God with humble thanksgiving.
The result of proper prayer is a promise of peace according to verse 7. Paul refers calls it “the peace of God.” In a couple of verses, we’ll read about “the God of peace.” Elsewhere, he refers to the “the Lord of peace.” There’s definitely a theme in His writing about man's ability to know peace. While we are not promised everything we pray for, we are promised an incredible peace in the midst of our fears.
Let me sound a bit like a salesman for a moment. This is not just any peace. It is a peace all-surpassing in worth or value. Paul uses the word earlier in Philippians 3:8 to refer to the “surpassing worth” of knowing Christ; compared to it, every achievement and accolade he received in life are all rubbish. This obviously contributes to that: knowing Christ means knowing a peace that surpasses every pleasant thing this world has to offer—far beyond anything one could even imagine!
Note that the text doesn’t just promise the presence of peace. It says that “the peace of God… will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It is the guarding presence of peace, the protection it provides our inner being.
On one level, this is a wonderful promise of our eternal security. Folks have tried to capture the thought of God’s guarding us in a pithy little statement: “once saved, always saved.” On its own, the statement is true enough, though it fails to capture the weight of verses like this one. Once you are saved, beloved, once the Holy Spirit has regenerated your lost souls by placing within you a new heart and mind, you are a new creation. The Spirit of God will then keep that new heart and mind from the depravity of your former life.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t sin in this life, but it does mean that God will forever watch over you as a sentinel, a supernatural special-forces agent, to ensure you remain in Christ Jesus. Knowing that fact is a cure for anxiety, isn’t it?
Listen, the text says He will keep you there, but that means you have to be there in the first place. If you are there, however, your soul will persevere through this trial in which you find yourself—meaning that your feelings, thoughts, and what you want and desire in this life will ultimately come back to Him. Pray with thanksgiving, and He promises His peace to sustain you through this situation. If you are not experiencing it, it ultimately comes down to the fact that you either don’t believe correctly regarding this or you do not trust Him in prayer.
Because of this, other Scriptures become clearer. Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” Have you experienced that? We can more properly see the contrast: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Pro 28:1). Why? Because you righteous ones have access to a peace that surpasses all human understanding, a peace that God will guard in your hearts and minds if you are airing your requests to God. Are you righteous? Are you lions?
Third, we can replace anxiety with the peace of God when we think correctly (v. 8).
Pull out your pencils and look with me at verse 8. We are going to spend a moment on each of these key words and consider how they affect us. I’ll read the verse, and then comment on it.
That last part was a command. Our manner of thought is to think this way, all the time. What way are we supposed to think? Well, once again, have your pencils ready to underline some words in verse 8.
“Whatever is true.” Wise men and women find their delight in meditating upon the truth of Scripture (Psa 1:2). The truth is in Christ (Eph 4:20, 21). Do my thoughts help me grow in my knowledge of Christ and of His Holy Scripture? The more we understand about Christ and His ways, we will become less prone to anxiety.
“Whatever is honorable,” or that which is revered. It’s the same word used of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8: they “should be of good character.” You see, if you are a Christian, God has raised you up with Christ and seated you with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6). You have an honorable position in Christ, and you have an honorable position as His ambassador in the world (2 Cor 5:20). You have to ask yourself this: Do my thoughts help me act in a way a Christian should act, in an honorable way, or do my actions prove that my thoughts are as profane as the world’s thoughts?
The more concerned we are with the way others perceive Christ through us, the more honorable He will help us to act when these causes for concern arise.
“Whatever is just”—that which is right. When times of stress presses against me, do I remain constant in doing what is right? There is great temptation to cut corners and to deal deceitfully with others. Yet, I have the righteousness of Christ at my disposal! In Ephesians 4:22–24, Paul writes that when we believed in Christ, we gained the ability to put off the deeds of the old self, to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to put on the new self that contains the righteousness of God.
“Whatever is pure”—the clean and undefiled morally. Does my mind spend more time dwelling on worldly humor and amusements or on the excellencies of Christ? It’s tempting to switch on the TV or computer to distract us, to crank up the radio to drown out the stresses of the day. Some folks even use chemical substances to help them cope with their fears. While there is nothing wrong with taking a few minutes to get away from the tensions of life, we must remember that we are still commanded to be separate from the world and all of its trappings. Dwell on that which is pure and holy, not on things that will send you into a deeper despair.
“Whatever is lovely”—that which is pleasing and attractive. Sometimes we get the wrong idea about being separate from the world, as if it means to live like a monk who enjoys no pleasures. God provided beauty in this world, and Paul encourages us to think about these things. Lost people can even understand this, but taking a walk while taking in the beauties of nature is something Christians should uniquely appreciate. This includes turning off all of the news feeds, as well. When I am trying to deal with anxiety, it is counterproductive to think about the ugliness of humanity. Do I fill my mind with the general grace God has shown the people of this world, or do I focus on the negative and unattractive aspects of life?
“Whatever is commendable,” or good repute; that which is worth a good word or praiseworthy. God has done a hundred things just this morning to get me here to speak to you. Fathers, though you may be anxious for your families, it is because you want to protect the blessings God has given you. If I asked you to make a list of the things for which you could be thankful to Him, I guarantee you that you would never complete it. Yet, whenever something happens to me, I always face the temptation to forget just how praiseworthy He has been. Have my thoughts dwelled on His commendable ways this morning… have your minds?
“If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise.” Sometimes it’s found in the little things of life, the mundane and everyday drudgery, but there are moments when we cannot deny the God’s providence and provision. The car we almost hit. The mistake you almost made at work. We can forget these things easily and move on with the day, but these instances deserve our contemplation and meditation. Sometimes the events are so large that we cannot help but to join in with those of Isaiah 42:12: “Let them give glory to the LORD, and declare his praise in the coastlands.” It will never happen if we never think on these things.
So, if you will allow me, let’s look at each of these words one more time and consider them based on the knowledge you’ve gained today. Let’s see if the Holy Spirit has any application for you:
- TRUE: Finally, brothers, when anxiety arises in your soul, replace it by thinking on the truth God has revealed to you in Christ and in His Scripture.
- HONORABLE: Finally, brothers, when anxiety arises in your soul, replace it by thinking on the honorable position God has given you in Christ and in the world.
- JUST: Finally, brothers, when anxiety arises in your soul, replace it by thinking on the righteousness of Christ.
- PURE: Finally, brothers, when anxiety arises in your soul, replace it by thinking on the holy things of God, avoiding anything sinful.
- LOVELY: Finally, brothers, when anxiety arises in your soul, replace it by thinking on the beauty God provided in this world.
- COMMENDABLE: Finally, brothers, when anxiety arises in your soul, replace it by thinking on God’s past provision.
- Finally, brothers, when anxiety arises in your soul, replace it by thinking on anything excellent or praiseworthy.
Fourth, we can replace anxiety with the peace of God when we practice correctly (v. 9).
Note that we are not just to “do these things” but “practice these things.” It is a way of life, not a checklist of commands. We have a term in seminary classes—practical theology. It’s not referring to theological discussions that most people find relevant, as if some theology is not relevant. No, because everything we learn about God and His ways from Scripture and from other godly individuals is relevant, we have to then ask, “How do we put it into practice?” Practical theology, get it?
You see, Scripture never tells us to just learn; it tells us to put it into practice. Of course, it never makes a command that is not based on some theological truth, such as the one in verse 5—the Lord is near you—or the one in the final part of the verse—the God of peace will be with you. And now we have come full circle. The theological truth that we must believe is that God is near, and the practical theological extension of that is to put the truth in motion in your daily life.
Notice also that there is a sense in which it is all practical. Because God is with you and working in you, don’t be anxious, pray with thanksgiving, and think on His things. That is putting truth into practice. And now there is a command, in case it wasn’t clear for you until this point, to practice “what you have learned and received and heard and seen.”
I’d like to make a quick word just for the men in here. Paul calls for imitation, a bold statement for any person. Have you considered the fact that you teach others in the way you live, as well? Fathers, your sons learn to be men in this way—they absorb what they see you do and what they hear you say. If you haven’t started, make certain that you create a pattern of following the Bible in everything you do. Let me tell you—it’ll save you anxiety with your kids later. Like the old country song says, “You can’t be a beacon if your light don’t shine.”
Young men, don’t waste your youth just because fatherhood may be years away for you yet. There’s older men that will tell you how much of a struggle it is to overturn a lifetime of sinful patterns. Start studying Scripture now so you can believe correctly and avoid the anxieties of youth. Learn how to be thankful in your prayers and petitions to the Lord. Create a habit of thinking on godly things, as well as putting them to practice.
Moms, ladies, and gals, this message is for you too. This world needs godly women doing all of this. Some of you already are, I know, but we could all do better, couldn’t we? The men of this church could help single mother who must work double-duty. As for the young ladies, you should begin all of this so that they might be godly examples to your future husbands.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” As I said at the beginning, anxiety is common to all of us. Sometimes adults think that the fears of children are of little consequence, but a better way would be to teach our kids how God wants us to deal with fear rather than dismissing their concerns.
In the same way, there is no one who could say his concerns are greater than anyone could imagine. If you believe you need further council in this area, I, the pastor, and the church elders will be here to walk with you and pray with you. Ultimately, though, the answer will come back to replacing your anxieties with the peace of God. If you trust Him enough to let Him take your soul to Him when you die, then you must also be willing to trust Him with this life. Take your cares to Him and lay them down at His feet with thanksgiving. Invest the time you would have spent fretting with correct thinking and correct practice, “and the God of peace will be with you.”