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Philippians 4:4-9  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

A recently licensed pilot was flying his private plane in a cloudy day. He was not very experienced in instrument landing. When the control tower was to bring him in, he began to get panicky. Then a stern voice came over the radio, “You just obey instructions, we’ll take care of the obstructions.”  You just obey instructions, and we’ll take care of the obstructions.  How could that singular focus, that singular adjustment transform every person’s life?  If we just were solely focused on obeying God and trusting Him to take care of all of our concerns?

There are some commands to obey in our text this morning.  We’re told to rejoice in the Lord.  Do you know that rejoicing in the Lord is more than just looking on the bright side?  It’s more than just trying to find a silver lining in the clouds.  To rejoice in the Lord is to continue to acclaim Him for all He has done and to recognize His presence in your current situation because He isn’t finished working.  He isn’t done with miracles, signs and wonders.  He hasn’t retired from being a Waymaker.  He hasn’t abdicated His authority or appointed a successor to His throne.  There always something positive and uplifting to say about the Lord, and when we rejoice in Him, His perspective, power and peace come into our experience!

Paul went on to say that we should let our gentleness be evident to all.  Gentleness would be the opposite of anxiety.  Gentleness would be accompanied by a spirit of calmness and confidence.  Gentleness would invite others into engaging with us in peaceful ways.  Gentleness sets a tone that keeps us from getting defensive, from being argumentative and combative.  Conflicts with others becomes a breeding ground for anxiety.

Paul said we are to be anxious for nothing, anxious about nothing and that happens as we commit to talking to God about everything.  There is a release that comes when we pray.  There is a transfer of our burdens when we pray.  And regular praying, like, every time a worry or concern comes our way, keeps us from getting overloaded.  It keeps anxiety from building to the point where we are overcome. 

I am not referring to anxiety that is the result of a chemical imbalance, but I’m referring to our response to potential anxiety-producing events and experiences.  Paul says we have an opportunity and responsibility to deal with the things that come at us in a godly and strategic way.

In verse 8 Paul suggests that we can feed our anxiety OR we can starve it by directing our minds onto the things that are helpful.  We can speak positively.  We can get into the Word and meditate on the promises of God. It won’t do us any good to reinforce our anxieties by ruminating on negative thoughts and feelings.

In verse 9, the Apostle Paul challenged people to put their faith into practice.  Faith isn’t faith if you aren’t practicing it.  You aren’t powerless over what I’ll call “circumstantial anxiety.” The battle for your mind and soul are as real as this building we are sitting in.  Satan wants you troubled.  Satan wants you frustrated.  He wants you to dwell in the lowest place possible, where there is no hope.  He wants you restless and unable to sleep.  He wants your stomach churning and your neck, shoulders and back to stay in knots.  He wants you to be cocooned by anxiety because anxiety will keep you from stepping out and following the Lord in faith.  Satan knows nothing can stop a Spirit-filled believer who is walking by faith.  He can’t bear the thought of what would happen in this world, this world that he claims for himself, if the people of God threw off anxiety and practiced faith in every situation.

I want to suggest that while there are things that happen which are beyond our control, we need to assume a greater responsibility for our response to those things.  We need to understand how we might be opening the door for anxiety to grow in our life.  We need to acknowledge that we might be feeding our anxiety instead of our faith.  We need to be accountable for the ways we are giving Satan a foothold in our lives, through the ways we are inviting anxiety in.  Here are some ways we might be contributing to the anxiety in our lives.

  1. Anxiety rises when we are overloaded with information.

Our daughter, now 22, was a precocious child.  She had the ability to discern things and know things that typically, only a much older person, like an adult, could discern and know.  She would pick up on and would process things that many other kids her age wouldn’t have been concerned with, difficult things, adult things.  By the time she was in second grade, and she began to show some signs of anxiety, we realized we were exposing her to way too much.  We had talked, somewhat openly in our home, about health crises in the church, about decisions we needed to make, about difficulties people were facing.  We weren’t discussing confidential information, but she would hear us speak about stress and strain in our lives or the busyness of our schedule, and she began to be overloaded as she took on our burdens.

In addition to that, we would have the news on.  She would key in on world happenings, bombings, mass shootings, robberies, and all kinds of stressful scenarios that became great burdens to her.  At that time, the children of our church stayed in the sanctuary until the sermon time.  She would hear prayer requests about people who were in distress, and it distressed her. 

We would take our kids with us to hospitals where they would sit in waiting rooms and watch sick people being transported on gurneys or would hear us updating each other about the visit we had just made.  She went with us to funeral after funeral.  We just weren’t aware of how what she was seeing and hearing was impacting her until the stomach aches and the inability to go to sleep began.  We were able to successfully address her issues with prayer and Scripture and Thom began helping her to routinely unpack her thoughts and feelings. 

It was then that we made drastic changes about what she was exposed to, and things began to turn around.  Here’s the thing; Our brain and our nervous system and our emotional selves are not equipped to handle the burdens of the world.  Only God knows it all, I John 3:20, and only God can handle knowing it all.  We aren’t meant to handle all that is happening in every part of the world. God is infinite.  We are finite. We aren’t meant to be able to absorb the drama in every household that is posted on social media.  We don’t have the capacity to take in information 24/7 and not be drained or strained or stressed by it. 

TMI-Too much information is too much!  We are not powerless against information overload.  We can limit our social media time.  We can resist letting network news be the soundtrack for our lives.  We can take extended breaks from pursuing information that isn’t pertinent to us.  You might be thinking, “It’s all pertinent.  We’ve got to know what is happening in our world.  We need to be able to pray for the things that are going on.”  I am certainly an advocate for prayer, but if you think that everything that is happening at one time everywhere in the world depends on your ability to pray, you have just elevated yourself to a status that is delusional.  Only God can know everything and impact everything with His power at one time.  You will only feed anxiety if you think it is your job to know everything.  There is a way to be informed without making information an idol.  Ask God to show you how much is enough, and ask for His help to know where to get the information you absolutely need to know.

  1. Anxiety rises with shifts of power. Every time there is an election, especially a presidential election, anxieties run high.  There is fear every time someone new takes office and even when the same person takes office.  Often, hope is wrongly placed in a political candidate, with an expectation that he or she will have the power and authority to right everything that is wrong with America.  Because we often have unrealistic expectations of those people, when the person we didn’t vote for takes office, anxiety skyrockets.  Listen, God doesn’t cease being God when the person we didn’t vote for takes office.

God is always ultimately in control.  Sometimes, when there is a change in political power, we get what we pray for and sometimes we get what we deserve. It’s true!  Ultimately, God is the One who is in charge.  Daniel 4:17 says that “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.”

Just because someone we oppose or don’t care for is ruling at the moment, that expression of power is still under God’s Sovereign authority.  That doesn’t mean we don’t work or pray for change when we see things out of alignment with Kingdom purposes, but it means we don’t allow an earthly leader’s stint in power to overtake our emotional wellness and render us ineffective for the Kingdom purposes to which we have been called. If we aren’t careful, we can make an idol out of people in politics and put them on a pedestal to the point where our peace of mind is dependent upon them being elected.  The Prince of Peace has never left the throne, Church.  We are subjects in His Kingdom.  He, and not an earthly ruler, should have that kind of place in our hearts.

  1. Anxiety rises when we overcommit. We cannot say “yes” to everything.  Only God is omnipresent, everywhere at once.  We cannot be.  We have to sleep.  We have personal responsibilities.  When Paul says, “Pray about everything” that includes asking God what you should say “yes” to. Maybe some of us are so busy doing what pleases ourselves and others that we haven’t even stopped to ask, “God, where do you want me to be involved?”  When your activities and agenda have been defined by God, you will not live worn out and stressed out. 

I am concerned for families today.  There are so many extra-curricular activities that are overloading the weekly schedule to the point where families are so busy and tired, Sunday morning becomes their only day to sleep in or Sunday is just another day to be busy with the extra-curricular activities.  When we overcommit and run on empty, both physically and spiritually, we will suffer with anxiety.  The anxiety will come from knowing there are other things we should be doing, but we cannot get to them because we are overcommitted with things that are of lesser importance.  We only have so much time, and making sure we are strategic about how it is used, making sure we maintain a rhythm to our life that includes making our spiritual life and true family life a priority, is critical.  When that is out of balance, we invite anxiety to creep in.

  1. Anxiety rises when we live with unresolved conflict. Relational pain is real.  We have all experienced it.  We will all experience it in the future.  We’ve all been hurt or disappointed by people.  We’ve all felt left out.  We’ve all felt the pain of feeling invisible.  We’ve all felt unvalued or overlooked. We’ve all felt used by someone. We’ve all known what it is like to be betrayed or to have people say unkind and untrue things about us.  We’ve all had experiences where we were talked down to, belittled or made fun of. We’ve also been the one to blow it with others and have perpetrated pain knowingly and unknowingly. Since that is a regular part of life, we need to become skillful at dealing with those issues.  If there is anything a Christian should become proficient in, it should be in handling conflict. 

Romans 12:18 says, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Christ-followers, we are called to peace and peacemaking.  If you know you have done something that has caused pain for someone else, you have an obligation to go to them, to ask for forgiveness and to try to make it right.  Whether you intended to hurt someone or hurt resulted from oversight or shortsightedness, you are the one who is to initiate the contact.  That is Matthew 5.  And Matthew 18 says that if someone hurts you, you should go to them, and let them know you are hurt.  Quite honestly, they may not even know.  But go in a spirit of love.  Go in a spirit of grace.  Go ready to forgive. 

Anxieties build up when bitterness goes down into our heart.  What if we see that person at Kroger? What if they sit in the same section as you at church?  Worse yet, what if you run into each other in the bathroom?  What if Uncle Herbert is coming to Thanksgiving dinner and you don’t want to go because last year, he offended you?  You begin to opt out of family opportunities and church opportunities because it would create too much anxiety for you to be in the same room with someone. Can we acknowledge that some anxiety results from our lack of willingness to walk through the biblical steps and be reconciled to one another?  Remember what I said at the front of the message.  Peace comes when we obey the commands of Scripture.  Going through these steps isn’t optional for Christ-followers.

  1. Anxiety rises when we try to control and manipulate outcomes. When things don’t go the way we want them to, and we conclude our whole life is ruined, we have let anxiety win.  When we start mistreating people because they don’t fall in line with our expectations, we have let anxiety win.  When we can’t get all of the ducks in a row and keep all of the plates spinning and something doesn’t come off perfect, and it causes us to crash and burn, we have let anxiety win.  When we put so much pressure on ourselves to make a certain grade, to achieve a goal, and it doesn’t happen and all of our happiness was tied to our personal success, we have let anxiety win. 

Make your plans.  Set your goals.  Put in the work, but ultimately, if you say you are a Christ-follower, you are trusting God for every outcome in your life!  Proverbs 16:9 says the Lord orders the steps of His children.  When something doesn’t work out the way you want it to, it is likely because God has something better or something different for you or because He wants to teach you something.  If you trust that…if you trust God’s sovereignty to establish you where He wants you, then whether you win or lose, you can believe God is at work to advance you for His purposes.  If Mr. Right doesn’t propose, then guess what, God knew he was Mr. Wrong for you.  If the school you have your heart set on doesn’t accept you, it’s because God has a strategic plan for you somewhere else. 

  1. Anxiety rises when things don’t happen on our timetable. Delays aren’t always denials of your pursuits or requests.  God just knows the perfect time for us to have the answer we are seeking.  Psalm 31:15 says, “My times are in Your hands.”  When you don’t see things happening in the time frame you desire, you just keep praying.  Praying in those moments will grow your faith and dependence on God.  It will give you spiritual muscles that will be useful in the future.  Waiting shouldn’t produce anxiety for the believer.  It should produce faith.  That is the difference between just waiting and waiting on God while we are waiting.  It’s ok to question why things are slow to change.  The Psalmist did.  Just keep that conversation with God going and affirm that you trust His perfect timing. Learning to wait also makes us more appreciative of those things when they do come our way!  While we wait, our wants may also be transformed. God may be using the waiting time to adjust our hearts to want the things He really desires for us.  Be thankful He doesn’t just give us what we want because if we had our way, we would miss the blessings He desires to give us more times than we could count.
  2. Anxiety rises when we choose to sin. When we head off in the wrong direction and we know it’s wrong, it is going to produce anxiety.  When we know what God’s word says and we do the opposite, we will be conflicted.  We will wrestle with ourselves and God.  We will feel the weight of guilt and condemnation and that won’t be because God is trying to weigh us down, it will be because we have invited Satan into the wrestling match.  He will try to pin us down by drawing us deeper into sin.  I sometimes wonder if the rise of anxiety in our culture is because more and more people have just accepted sinful lifestyles, sinful ways of being.  Sin is literally a gateway to anxiety.  Sin has negative psychological, relational, physical, and other personal effects.  You can never go into sin believing there will be a favorable or pleasant outcome on the other side.  Time and time again you will find yourself being grateful that you obeyed God, but you will never look back and say, “I am so glad I sinned.”  It will never happen.

If we have chosen sin as a lifestyle, if we have transferred the affection of our hearts from God to sin, Psalm 66:18 tells us we have cut off God’s responsiveness to our prayers.  What a dangerous place to be, right?  God hears every prayer from a repentant heart.  He will respond to every sincere request for forgiveness, but as I read this verse, it strikes me that habitual, persistent sin, that which we choose over obedience to Christ, is like having our lifeline cut and removed from us.  Prayer is a lifeline that leads us to peace in our heart, soul, and mind, peace that combats anxiety on a regular basis. 

If you are experiencing anxiety for any of the reasons I have shared or perhaps for some other reason.  It is time to come to Jesus.  Maybe you need to make a return.  Maybe you need to repent.  Maybe you need to reprioritize your pursuits.  This I know…It is time to put anxiety to rest.

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