Bringing Anxieties to God is Tough (Philippians 4.1-9)
What do you do when you’re anxious? Is there a place you go to escape it? Do you try not to think about what you’re anxious about? My cat’s anxious, I should probably explain. My Mum and Step-Dad have just moved into my house temporarily with their cat. I can give or take them, but having the cat around is quite nice. The cat has been quite anxious and has taken to hiding under the bed inside a gym bag, we spent ages trying to find him, thinking he’d got out, but there he was, hidden away, somewhere he felt safe. When we discovered Mum in a rucksack in the wardrobe however, that’s when we knew things had gone too far. Perhaps we all have that instinct to hideaway in the safe places of our life, when things get tough, when worry seems to overwhelm everything in our lives and takes control.
For many of us, worry is a fact of life, so when St Paul says in Philippians, “don’t worry about anything”, I think, thanks mate, but that’s a little unhelpful. Have you seen what’s going on in the world? That’s easy for you to say. I can’t think of a single day in the last five years that I haven’t worried about something. I really struggle with anxiety and worry, I’ve had panic attacks in the past, even a mental breakdown because the anxiety and worry overtook me, it took control, and I lost control. I lost my sense of God, any sort of rooting in him, at its most extreme anxiety and worry can lead to depression and a sense of complete hopelessness.
Panic attacks are a common experience for many people, some of you have probably had them too, or know and love someone who has suffered with it. they’re not fun. A sense of overwhelming fear, being trapped takes over your entire mind.
If we worry or have panic attacks does this mean that we’re faithless? That we don’t trust God enough?
Struggling with anxiety and worry is not a sign of faithlessness, some people are more prone to it than others, but everyone worries from time to time. Sometimes worrying is a good thing, and a natural response to a situation. Worrying about the welfare of another person, for example can often spur us into helping them. Worrying about the rights of others, and how society is functioning has led to great change. Worrying about the future, and planning for that has enabled our species to develop and advance.
Have you ever walked into a shop with something that you’ve bought elsewhere, and it’s not in a bag? This almost irrational fear sometimes comes over me that I’m going to try to leave and they think I’ve nicked it from their shop. I get the image in my mind of one thousand security people pouncing from somewhere and rugby tackling me to the ground! The kind of worry that St Paul is talking about is not about things like this, or the little things of life, but the kind of all consuming worry that gets in the way of our relationship with God.
Paul wrote this letter to try and strengthen the commitment and faith of the Philippian Christians, a similar message I still very applicable today.
Following Christ with a right mind is what Paul is trying to articulate. Finding our strength in and through, and with God. That doesn’t mean our troubles go away, it doesn’t mean that life will be perfect if we have enough faith. There are many snake oil merchants who promote something called the prosperity gospel, that if you do the right things, God will automatically bless you with everything you want, usually giving money to the church is what’s involved to achieve this. Just looking at the world, we know this isn’t the way that God operates. We know as Christians that God’s grace transcends good and bad, it is the one thing we can count on, the reliable forgiveness of God.
God is with us, and God is the God that runs to us with arms outstretched. God doesn’t just disappear if we don’t do the right stuff. It can often feel that way in times of distress and anxiety, but God is there. Sometimes we let ourselves get in the way, our minds get so clouded with worry that we can lose touch and sight of God in the busy mess of life. The point here isn’t really that we shouldn’t worry about anything, but what we do with that worry matters.
“Rejoice[c] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[d] 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry 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.” (Phil 1.4-7)
Paul isn’t talking about some magical peace that will overtake us, but that if we trust in God we will feel and see the benefit. We should bring our anxieties to God, let him know and work with us and in us. What we do with our worry matters, and bringing it to God can sometimes help us to know peace. If we bottle it up, and hide it, it can be destructive to our faith, to our relationship with God and other people. This is hard though isn’t it. To proactively try and be positive when our emotions and life events seem to be negative.
This is something that I struggle with, I don’t know about you, but when I’m particularly wound up, I find it difficult to be in touch with God, I find it hard to pray, to see Him in it with me. It’s like a mist descends, and this is a very tough message we’re hearing this week. But He is there.
It’s important to remember that It’s not God that moves away from us, but the other way around. God is always there in the midst of our pain, knowing it intimately, He doesn’t expect us to put up or shut up, somebody that loves us doesn’t expect that from us, but what He would quite like is to talk, and to share with us when we’re struggling and worrying.
Sharing our anxieties with God, trusting him, is difficult. But we should give it a go, and the choice is up to us. We can try to hide under the bed in a gym bag, like the cat, but will that really help? Hiding away from God is not the solution.
Worry is a fact of life, but if we can try and see past it, to God, then perhaps some of his peace can permeate our situation, and we can know that God is with us.
My prayer is that we can all know his love and grace in times of anxiety.