The Cure For Worry
Is there anyone here today who enjoys worrying? Is there anyone here who could say that experiencing anxiety brings you pleasure? So, are we agreed then that worry is a bad thing?
Now, is there anyone here today who hates being happy? So, are we agreed that joy is a good thing?
You should not be surprised then, to hear that the Bible commands us to be happy. And you should not be shocked then, to hear that the Bible commands us not to worry.
Listen again to what it says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice! . . . Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to God"(4:4,6).
I am pleased to tell you this morning that the cure for worry is not rocket-science. The antidote for anxiety is not elusive or mysterious. The cure for worry is joy in the Lord.
Here lies the problem. For most of us, worry is our instinctive reaction to adversity. And once we are in this anxious state, it is not easily overcome. I realize that it is not enough for me to say, "don't worry, be happy". The truth is, those of us who know how intense anxiety can be know that, in this state, we are incapable of happiness.
And so, while worry is the problem, and while joy in the Lord is the solution, the reality is that we need a "middle man". We need a bridge to Christian joy, and that bridge is prayer. In an anxious state we may be incapable of happiness, but we are not incapable of prayer.
Now before we examine how prayer leads to Christian joy, we first need to be convinced of the value of, and our need for, Christian joy.
Charles Spurgeon, a minister who frequently battled anxiety, says this about Christian joy: "There is a marvelous medicinal power in joy. Most medicines are distasteful; but this, which is the best of all medicines, is sweet to the taste, and comforting to the heart."
I can only speak for myself, but when a doctor prescribes me medicine, and when he assures me it will fix my problem, I do what he says. I do what my doctor says even if it means taking a treatment that I am uncomfortable with.
In the same manner, our Heavenly Doctor has a prescription for our anxiety, and that prescription is joy. And friends, we do not have the option to tear up this Divine prescription. The prescription comes to us as an imperative--that means this is a command from God: "Rejoice in the Lord always". Joy is not an option for the Christian. It is not set before us as a desirable thing which we can do without. Our God, who is eternally joyful in His being, commands His children to share in that joy.
This command, my friends, is within our grasp through prayer. Keep in mind also, that Paul is not saying to rejoice in our difficult circumstances, but "in the Lord". In chapter 2, Paul spoke about how if his friend Epaphroditus had died, Paul would have had "sorrow upon sorrow"(2:27). Certainly there are times when we experience sadness because of our circumstance, but there is no occasion where our contemplation of our Lord should leave us devoid of exuberant joy.
Admittedly, our joy in our circumstances changes as our circumstances change. But our God never changes. God is as perfect today as He has been every day for all eternity. For this reason, the command to "rejoice in the Lord" has no time limitations--we are to rejoice in the Lord "always".
Bear in mind also, the context for this letter. Paul is not vacationing at some Mediterranean Resort with a margarita in his hand as he writes this letter. Paul is a prisoner in a Roman jail. And this imprisonment must have been serious because Paul is not certain as to whether he will be allowed to live or whether he will be sentenced to die. Yet, even with a possible execution looming, Paul exclaims, "Rejoice in the Lord always".
Why do we have so much trouble obeying this command? Why do we struggle to be happy when there is nothing we would rather be? The reason is we are anxious. We are anxious and so the Word of God gives us another command: "Be anxious for nothing". And we have heard this command before. Jesus, in His sermon on the mount, commands us, "do not be anxious for tomorrow"(Mt. 6:34).
I agree that it is good to care about things. It is wise to give our earthly responsibilities due attention. But, at the sametime, excessive concern reveals our lack of faith in the providence of God. Excessive concern reveals our desire to be master of our life rather than servant of our Lord.
If we, through our excessive concern, insist on being master of our life, we fail to bring glory to God. Because the plain truth of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is that God is glorified by our dependence on Him. Our excessive concern reveals that we have yet to comprehend that not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of our Heavenly Father (Mt. 10:29). Our excessive concern reveals that we have not yet grasped that God has everything under control.
It is also true that our anxious thoughts prevent us from comprehending Paul's statement that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God"(Rom. 8:28). Spurgeon likens this to taking a telescope, "breathing on it with the hot breath of our anxiety, putting it to our eye, and then saying that we cannot see anything". When anxious thoughts prevail, it makes us incapable of seeing what God is doing in our midst.
So how do we fix this? We pray. One of the main purposes of prayer is, in fact, to gain insight into what God is doing in our midst. Paul tells us, "in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God"(4:6).
In the Greek, one cannot fail to miss what Paul is saying here. Paul is using 3 different Greek words for prayer here as he charts a path to Christian joy. One could responsibly translate verse 6 this way, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and prayer with thanksgiving, pray".
Why does Paul command this? Is God ignorant of what we need until we give Him our list of requests? Of course He isn't! You are commanded to make known your requests to God, not because He does not know, but perhaps because you do not know. It is common for us to be anxious about many things without even knowing precisely what we are anxious about.
Notice also that Paul insists that we offer our prayer "with thanksgiving". Surely what Paul has in mind here is a recalling of God's goodness and faithfulness in the past that will, in turn, protect us from anxiety in the future. When we remind ourselves that God's grace has brought us safe thus far, we gain confidence in the promise that grace will carry us home.
And what does God promise to do for us when we pray in this manner? Have you ever noticed that Paul does not say that we shall necessarily receive the things we ask for? You might expect Paul to say, "let your requests be made known to God and God will fulfill your requests"--but Paul does not say that. Instead, Paul says, "let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus"(4:7).
God does not always give us what we ask for, but God does promise, however, to give a supernatural peace to those who share their needs with Him. God does promise His presence.
Your anxieties may be as simple as getting to church on time or as complex as dealing with the death or illness of a loved one. God's presence can see you through. His love can provide peace in the most terrible times.
If you are like me, and tend to get anxious, let me encourage you today to cast your cares before God. God may not make your circumstances better, but He may make YOU better. This is cause for rejoicing.
Friends, be anxious for nothing. And since that command is easier said than done, I implore you: pray, pray, and pray some more. For only then will you be able to fulfill that blessed command: "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!".