Overcoming The Great Barrier To Spiritual Growth

Philippians 4:6, 7

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

Have you ever found yourself unmotivated to read your Bible? Have you ever felt too tired to pray? Have you ever felt like skipping church to watch T.V. or to do work around the house? I suppose, what I am really getting at is this: have you ever felt stalled in your spiritual growth? I know I have.

Do you know what the primary cause of stunted spiritual growth is? If your answer is sin, you are correct. But there is one particular sin that dominates us like no other. This sin, if left unchecked, can even harm us physically. This sin, of course, is the sin of anxiety .

All of us, in various degrees, struggle with anxiety. In this day and age, anxiety is something we have come to accept as a fact of life. This, however, is a mistake. Anxiety impedes Christian progress . Worrying stunts spiritual growth. For this reason, the apostle Paul admonishes us, "Be anxious for nothing "(Phil. 4:6).

Are you kidding me?! Be anxious for nothing? Come on Paul, surely you don't mean that there is nothing worth being anxious about.

First of all, we must be careful to make a distinction between being anxious and being concerned . Being a Christian doesn't mean we must be apathetic. We should concern ourselves with many things--looking after those who are sick, providing for those we love, feeding the poor, sharing the gospel with unbelievers--there are many things the Christian should be concerned about. The difficulty is, we often allow our concern to escalate to harmful anxiety.

How do we know? How do we know when we've crossed the line from concern to anxiety? Here is a simple checklist for you. When you are concerned, are you driven to read God's Word for direction or is reading the Bible the farthest thing from your mind? When you are concerned, are you driven to pray or do you find yourself too tired to pray?

Now that checklist may help you with the serious issues of life, but what about the less critical issues? I can give you an example from my holidays where I struggled with anxiety from a very minor setback. This definitely falls under the category of "less critical". We arrived at our cottage outside of Midland and had to immediately dig our way through a significant amount of snow--no big deal. Once in the cottage I attempted to get the furnace working, but to no avail. I could sense that I was getting flustered because I suddenly felt short tempered--as if Allie were to do or say anything to distract me, I would give a sharp reply. Thankfully, I didn't snap and it turned out all I had to do was find the oil tap and turn it on.

But then there was the water trouble. It took me a few hours to get water going and when I did, I found that I had unintentionally burned out the hot water burner. That's right--no water for 2 weeks. Anxious, was I? You bet. The evidence is that my usual exemplary love for Allie(tongue in cheek) had given way to a shortened temper. I say this only to subject myself to the embarrassment that I deserve. I'm sure if we all examined this past week we could all point to times of anxiety with things as trivial as finding a parking spot or getting dinner ready.

Paul says, "Be anxious for nothing ", but what does he know? Some of you may look at your circumstances and feel you have good reason to be anxious. You might be anxious over your own serious health problems, or your own serious financial setbacks, or the serious difficulties experienced by someone you love. How can Paul say "Be anxious for nothing "?

I may not be qualified to tell you "Be anxious for nothing ", but the apostle Paul certainly is. Remember, first of all, that he is writing this letter from jail(Phil. 1:13). It is the imprisoned Paul, the Paul who would be executed as a prisoner who says, "Be anxious for nothing ".

Imprisonment, however, is just the tip of the ice berg for Paul. Paul reports in his second letter to the Corinthians that he has been "beaten times without number "--that "Five times I received 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked . . . I have been through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure "(11:23-27).

This is the same man who insisted that we "Be anxious for nothing " and that he had "learned to be content in whatever circumstances "(Phil. 4:11).

Paul is a great example of one who learned to be content rather than anxious, but let me direct to you some of the practical reasons why we must avoid anxiety. In the passage we read in Matthew, Jesus gives us at least 3 reasons why we should not worry.

In Matthew, chapter 6, verse 27, we read, "Which of you, by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? ". In other words, Jesus is asking, "Which of you can solve your problem of worrying?". By asking this rhetorical question, Jesus wants us to understand that worrying doesn't do us an ounce, a "cubit ", of good--not even a little bit! The first reason why we should never worry is because worrying never profits us .

The second reason for not being anxious is found in Matthew 6, verse 30: "If God so arrays the grass of the field . . . will He not much more do so for you? ". In other words, "If God looks after birds and lilies, is it not foolish to think that He would neglect us?". Sure, things don't always go as smoothly as we would like, but that does not mean that God doesn't care. The point Jesus is trying to make is that, if God, the ultimate Power of the universe, cares for us, it doesn't make much sense to worry .

The third reason not to be anxious is given in Matthew 6, verse 32, "all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek ". When we worry about "these things " we are doubting God's care. And when we doubt God's care we resemble unbelieving Gentiles--we resemble people who don't depend on Christ.

There are many things that should make Christians stand out from non-Christians, but clearly, our anxiety levels should be one of them. Christians should be far less anxious than non-Christians because we should be trusting in a sovereign and loving God who governs our life.

Paul tells us to "Be anxious for nothing ", and Jesus gives us 3 important reasons to follow this command: 1) worrying doesn't do us any good, 2) worrying demonstrates a lack of trust in God, and 3) worrying makes us resemble those who don't trust in Christ.

Hopefully we are all convinced by now of the need to overcome our anxiety. But how? How do we overcome this great barrier to spiritual growth? Would you believe the answer is quite simple? Not necessarily easy, but simple nonetheless.

Notice how Paul finishes his sentence, "Be anxious for nothing, BUT in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God ". In the Greek, one cannot fail to miss what Paul is saying here. Paul is using 3 different Greek words for prayer here as his resolution to anxiety. You could responsibly translate the verse this way, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and prayer with thanksgiving, pray". Prayer is the antidote to anxiety .

The first thing I want you to notice is 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.

Also, by encouraging us to "present our requests to God ", Paul is essentially telling us to "get off our chest" that which is troubling us. Tell God was has made you so anxious. You may presently be troubled by many things--your work, your marriage, your children, your future, money, or habitual sins. God invites you to place these difficulties before Him.

What does God promise to do for us when we do this? 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.

My prayer for all of you is that you learn to "seek first His kingdom "(Mt. 6:33), that you would recall God's past faithfulness, and that you would tell God everything that is troubling you. From the authority of Scripture, I can promise you--if you do this, you will experience "the peace of God which surpasses all understanding ". Grace and peace to you all. Amen.