Anxiety or Trust

In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God (Philippians 4:6).

The challenges of life are more than sufficient to give anyone an ulcer. It only seems to get worse as we get older.

It seems to start with concern about growing up, how we look, how we are perceived, and what we plan to do with our lives. We may get to the point where we worry less about ourselves but then tend to get anxiety regarding the welfare of friends, spouses, children, parents, grandchildren, and others. Then there are the ever present concerns about acceptance and advancement in our society in general, the direction of our culture, the welfare and prosperity of successive generations, and the constant dangers from physical and spiritual forces which may work against us. This is more than any of us can bear!

As Paul is finishing up his first conclusion to his letter to the Philippian Christians he exhorts them to be anxious in nothing (Philippians 4:6). They are not to allow anything to cause them to worry. Seems like something far easier to say than it is to do, doesn’t it?

Paul does not leave the Philippians without a solution; instead of being anxious they are to let their requests be made known to God in everything through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). Prayer is the way forward: Christians should not presume to hide anything from God since He can see all things (Matthew 10:26-30). We must always make our prayers and requests with thanksgiving so that we do not presume upon God’s past covenant faithfulness and loyalty as Israel did, acting as if every present challenge has become an existential crisis and forgetting all that our God has done for us in making us, saving us, and blessing us in life (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12). Thus the Philippians were not to be anxious but to take everything to God in prayer.

How is prayer the solution to anxiety? In order to make sense of it we must first recognize what we are really doing when we worry.

As humans we want to feel in control of situations; we do not handle the feeling of powerlessness very well. In a very real way anxiety and worry are the ways in which we attempt to exert control in situations in which we are afraid we have no control. We worry about the decisions others make because we may not have that much influence over them. We are anxious about the future because we do not know what it portends. When we do not have power over anything else we at least have control over our thinking about it: hence, worry.

By telling the Philippian Christians, and by extension us, to take everything to God in prayer, Paul is really telling them and us to put our trust in God and not in ourselves. We are not in control; such is a hard and sobering truth, but it’s reality. As Jesus makes clear, anxiety and worry do not help us in the least; no situation is made better because we worried or were anxious about it (Matthew 6:27). We do better to relinquish what control we think we have to the One who does have control over the heavens and the earth and who seeks to give us good things (Matthew 28:18-19, Romans 8:31-39).

In terms of anxiety and worry we must “let go and let God”: He can handle it, for we cannot. What will come of us? We should entrust ourselves to God in prayer, submitting in faith so that we can be vessels to be used for His purposes and praise. What about our parents or children? Entrust their care to God who watches over them and who can direct their steps. What about the future? The future will have its own trouble; Jesus is Lord now and will be Lord then, and we have no promise of tomorrow anyway (Matthew 6:34, James 4:14). What about the fate of this nation, or the economy, or our culture? Such are as the grass of the field, here today, gone tomorrow; Jesus is Lord (1 Peter 1:24). What about all the forces of evil, sometimes physical but primarily spiritual, which are arrayed against us? He who is in us is greater than he that is in the world (Ephesians 6:12, 1 John 4:4).

Not much has changed over the years; “in nothing be anxious, but in everything let your requests be made known to God” is as easier said than done today as it was when Paul wrote to the Philippians. But he’s right. We do well to take it to heart. May we not find ourselves paralyzed by the anxiety of the challenges surrounding us but in all things entrust ourselves to God in Christ through prayer!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Casting Our Anxiety Upon Him

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Believers recognize that one of the most critical, albeit challenging, aspects of the faith is humility. Jesus encourages believers to be humble servants constantly– indicating that those who humbly serve are the greatest in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:25-28) and constantly making the following comparison:

“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

The mandate for humility is strongly emphasized throughout the letters of the Apostles. Paul encourages it in Philippians 2:1-11; James provides a message strikingly similar to Peter’s in James 4:10. And we have Peter’s exhortation to humility in 1 Peter 5:6. The message is plain and evident: if we want to be Christ’s disciples, we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.

Yet notice the comment attached to this principle in 1 Peter 5:7. Peter goes on and indicates how believers are to cast their anxieties upon God since He cares for them.

This message also comes from Jesus. Matthew 6:25-34 is Jesus’ grand display of God’s care and concern for His creation and an imperative to not be anxious but to trust in God. Matthew 10:29-31 indicates God’s specific concern for each creature– the lowly sparrow and therefore humans– and that the hairs of our head are numbered (and yes, that is probably an easier task in regards to some rather than others). All of these Scriptures testify how we would do well to cast our cares and anxieties upon God, for He is concerned for our well-being and is far better able to handle the sources of anxiety and concern than we ever could be (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21)!

This is well and good, but Peter here attaches the idea of casting our anxieties upon God as an element of humbling ourselves under His hand. How can this be?

It seems almost innate and natural for humans to worry and to be anxious over anything and everything. It does not take much suggestion to get people to start worrying about almost anything from things like small creatures to the prospect of utter obliteration.

Natural impulses, however, can be controlled or re-directed if desired. We do not have to worry, especially over matters which we have no control. We can cast our anxieties and cares upon God and re-direct our focus and energies toward our service to God.

But our worry and our anxiety represent our sense of control over a situation. When we otherwise feel powerless, being able to worry about a situation or to be anxious regarding it is something we can have and nurture. We feel that as long as we focus on the circumstance we might be able to do something about it– no matter how futile that endeavor might be. As bad as worry and anxiety might be, and as much as we might know that worry and anxiety does not help us, feeling utterly powerless often feels that much worse.

It takes a lot of confidence in God and a recognition of His great power and concern for us to give up that last vestige of power we may feel we have and cast our anxieties upon Him. And that is precisely why Peter attaches the need to cast our anxieties upon God onto the exhortation to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. When we give up ourselves, our cares, our anxieties– all of us– we find that God takes care of all such things and much, much more, and as opposed to worry and fear we can be filled with grace and peace (cf. Philippians 4:7).

But we must take that leap of faith and place our confidence in God. Let us seek to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand and cast our last vestige of control– our worries and anxieties– upon Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Results of Worry

“And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?” (Matthew 6:27).

It starts early and it never has to stop. Getting accepted at school. Making the grade in class. Getting picked at kickball. Surviving middle school. Being liked by at least someone of the opposite gender. Making the sports team. Making it to college. Finding a spouse. Having children. Everything your children go through and will go through. And that just starts the process. Then there is terrorism. Economic uncertainty. Left-wingers. Right-wingers. Healthcare. Unemployment. Natural disasters. Artificial disasters. The ups and downs of the stock market. Suffering. Illness. Death. There seems to be no end to the things regarding which we worry. Hours upon hours are lost as humans agonize over these– and many other– experiences and challenges.

It feels quite natural to worry and to be anxious in life. In the end, it is not a bad thing to have some concern about oneself and how one lives life. We need to be concerned about whether our lives are pleasing to God and how we can improve ourselves in various aspects of life. Nevertheless, humans take worry and anxiety to unhealthy levels. If we humans do not stop and think about our lives for a moment, it is easy to get lost in a perpetual stormy sea of fears, anxieties, doubts, and worry.

Jesus encourages us to take that step back and consider our lives. He asks an excellent question. Who is the person who lived any longer because he had great concern and worry over his existence? A variant to this reading asks if a man can add a single cubit to his stature– the point is the same. No one has ever lived a moment longer or grown any taller because of worry or anxiety. The opposite, in fact, is quite true– people send themselves to an early grave because of the high stress brought upon by worry and anxiety.

But what are we supposed to do? As Jesus indicates throughout this entire instruction, we do better if we seek God first and trust in Him (Matthew 6:25-34). While it seems trite and oversimplified, it is true. Again, if we just stopped to think about it for a moment, we would recognize all that God has done for us. He has provided the creation, having made all things so that life could continue (Genesis 1). As the Creator, He has all power and authority, and knows His creation (cf. Matthew 28:18, Luke 10:28-30). Furthermore, He has provided us with the opportunity for reconciliation with Him through the blood of Jesus His Son and promises us every spiritual blessing in Christ (Romans 5:5-11, Ephesians 1:3). Paul indicates that if God did not spare His own Son, He will surely give us “all things” (Romans 8:32). If God has gone to all of this trouble, can He also not see us through our causes of concern and worry?

We do not want to seem sanctimonious or unfeeling: we understand that there are plenty of reasons for worry, concern, anxiety, and fear these days. When you or a loved one has lost a job, or has been diagnosed with a terrible illness, or have suffered the results of a natural disaster or an accident or any number of difficulties, life is difficult. You may not know how you are going to pay all the bills, or get food on the table, or a roof over your head. You may not see a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, and do not know how you will provide for your family. But God is greater than all of those challenges. The life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ proves to all of us what is really important– that our soul is in a right relationship with God, and that through days of plenty or want, ease or distress, it is well with our souls (cf. Philippians 4:12-13). Our time on this planet is too short to be lost in worries and fears– we need to redeem our time, and make the best use of it for God and His purposes (Ephesians 5:15-17).

The “serenity prayer” has guided many a soul through difficult and anxious times:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

We should show some concern to do the best we can in those areas of life over which we have some true measure of control. But for that which is beyond our control– which, in large part, includes all of what has been done in the past and what will be in the future– we do best to entrust to our faithful Creator. Being anxious and worrying about them will do us no good and much harm!

Yes, we live in dark and difficult times. But no matter what is going on in life– no matter how well-off or poor we are, how sick or healthy, how fortunate or seemingly cursed– there are always plenty of opportunities for worry and anxiety. Yet, in the end, worry and anxiety are entirely unproductive. Instead, we do well to seek the will of God, and trust Him, for He is wonderful in power and we are but dust. Let us seek His Kingdom and righteousness, cast our cares upon Him, be saved, and live lives of greater peace and tranquility!

Ethan R. Longhenry