Anxiety manifests in physical and emotional ways. Nausea, fatigue, sleeplessness, muscle ache, headache, high blood pressure to name a few. It is a sense of dread, of fear about tomorrow. It causes worry, stress, and often panic.
It is a disease of “What if?” “What if…I can’t do this? What if she doesn’t like me? What if I go bald? What if I lose my job? What if my children turn their backs on me? What if people know what I did 20 years ago? WHAT IF?” And it’s just not in the bad times that these questions pop up. Even when things are wonderful anxiety challenges that things will stay that way.
Anxiety is not just a mental challenge that can be overcome with logic. Those suffering with anxiety often know that they are anxious for no reason but feelings of fear and dread are real. They know it doesn’t make sense but they can’t shut down the emotions. Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. It gets to the point when it’s the loudest voice in the room. The only one you can hear.
God doesn’t want you to live with anxiety. When you became a Christian you found peace WITH God. He wants you to experience his peace. Peace WITH God is supposed to move you toward having the peace OF God. Anxiety is part of living in a broken world but we can grow through it and experience the peace OF God.
There is a lot written in the Bible about having the peace of God. I want to look at one small passage. There is much more the Bible has to say on this and I would encourage you to explore that. The passage is in the book of Philippians and was written by Paul who had suffered much and had learnt to overcome worry.
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:2–9, ESV)
There are 6 things in this passage that we can do toward having the peace of God.
At the beginning of this passage Paul asks both Euodia and Syntyche to get alone. The conflict is so severe he asks the community to help them work through it. When we are out of relationship with people the peace of God escapes us. We cannot have a vertically great relationship with God without having a great horizontal one with others too.
Granted, there are some people you will never make peace with. Some people are just too far gone to ever be reconciled with. But, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. If your relationship with another can be restored then restore it. If they made the offensive then you can take the first step to fixing the relationship. And if you made the offensive then take the first step to fixing the relationship. Either way, take the first step and restore the relationship.
And include others. Sometimes the gulf between us and another is too big and we can’t hear them anymore. Get others involved and have a mediator to help you work it through. That’s the beauty of living in a community of people who are focused on helping you grow without judgement – you can get put your hand up and say, “Please help me fix this.”
So, the first step is People. Fix your relationship with people. Having looked horizontally and sought to fix things it’s time to look up and rejoice in God. Rejoicing in God moves our attention from us to the glorious. This is actually very hard for some people to do because they are so self-absorbed. Praising God is a selfless act. It’s an important discipline in dealing with anxiety. When we praise God we lift our lives from the physical realm to the Spiritual realm. We remember that life is not about us. We remember that God is big and our problems are small. That God is eternal and our problems are finite. Take time to praise God. When God is praised we seem him for who he is and we see ourselves for who we are. We were broken and God restored us. We have faults but God is growing us. We have made mistakes but God has forgiven us. And when we see that of ourselves we can see that in others and our stance, or poise, before them changes.
When we look in the eyes of God in the midst of our brokenness our mistakes and see eyes of love shinning back we are better able to pass that look onto others. We can be reasonable with others because God has been (more than) reasonable with us. We can be gracious with others because God has been gracious with us. We can approach others with a win/win attitude.
And if there was one thing you simply must do it is to pray about your situation. Anxiety and prayer are more opposed to each other than fire and water. Don’t just winge and whine to God. Take time to look around your life and see those things you can thank him for. God will hear your prayer and begin to make changes not just in your head but also in your heart. How you think about the issue causing you to be anxious will change. How you feel about the issue causing you to be anxious will also change. Both your thinking and your feelings will be altered. The peace of God comes from God. He is the source of our peace. We pray, not to change God’s mind, but, to change ours. When we pray we change. So we pray for our needs. We pray for the needs of those around us. We give thanks to God. Giving thanks and being joyful go together like a shoe and a foot or a glove and a hand.
It’s no good praying if we don’t actively move our minds to those things that will bring positivity into our lives. We can’t stop the anxious thoughts from entering our minds but we can decide what we focus on. We can choose what to thing about. The happiness of your life comes from the quality of your thoughts. Before you can change what you think you must change what goes into your mind. What you put into your mind is what comes out. What do you think about? What do you ponder on? When your mind drifts where do you let it go? Paul calls us to think on truthful things, upon excellent things, upon good things.
Never try and force a thought out of your head. That doesn’t work. For example, don’t think about a pink elephant with yellow dots. The harder you try to get rid of that image the stronger it becomes. Instead, let the thought stay but gently bring in the thoughts you want. Refocus your mind. Positive thoughts lead to positive feelings which leads to positive behaviour. Ponder on these thoughts.
I deliberately have 3-4 thoughts that fit this description. Thoughts that I allow my mind to go towards and away from anxiety. One of those thoughts are the memory of watching my son play a table tennis match. He was down 5 to 9 in a game to 11. He stayed ca
lm. He took one point at a time. Even when it got to 8-10 he didn’t let it phase him. he drew that game at 10-10 and then after several back and forths he won the game. That’s a lovely, excellent thought for me. Pondering on that helps to dull anxiety.
Lastly, we need to practice these disciplines. We have tendency toward brokenness and negativity. Chances are nobody has ever taught you how to fight worry. Often we think of the Christian life like a light bulb – it’s on or it’s off. Black or white. Top or bottom. In reality there are levels of ability. And we can grow in these qualities just like we do physically. God has given each of us a body with the promise that this body can do amazing things – but it’s up to us to develop our bodies. If we want to be strong we need to lift heavy things. If we want to be flexible then we need to stretch. And if we want the peace OF God then we need to practise those things that help us to have more of God’s peace. We call these spiritual disciplines. Just like physical discipline we develop and grow in those areas which we exercise. If you want to be stronger than you exercise your strength. If you want to be fast then you do exercises that will make you faster. Paul, here, outlines those spiritual disciplines we need to grow so that we have the peace OF God in our lives – all the time. If you don’t exercise then guess what? You won’t get any better. You will remain anxious. Life will knock you around. Or, you can grow spiritually using these exercises and experience more of God’s peace.
Peace of God = People + Praise + Poise + Prayer + Ponder + Practice
- Make peace (as far as it depends on you) with others. Get help to restore relationships if you need it
- Praise God
- Maintain a gracious stance and be reasonable with everyone (including the @#%# who just cut you off while driving)
- Pray with thanksgiving
- Ponder positive thoughts
- Practice these things until you can do these disciplines well (forgiveness, praise, poise, prayer, pondering)
Try these disciplines and let me know if your sense of peace increases.