Combatting Anxiety

Paul didn’t just tell believers not to be anxious about anything – he taught them ‘how to’ not be anxious about anything. He knew, most likely from experience, that anxiousness would be a part of their life. Remember in that day, to do what they were called to do as disciples of Christ often led them to imprisonment or worse. However, it wasn’t just the big stuff that he focused on – he told them, “Do not be anxious about anything“. What I love about Paul is that often when he told the people ‘what not to do’ he followed it up with ‘what to do’. Instead of stopping with “don’t be anxious” he continued, “but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Paul gave them a remedy for their anxiousness. His remedy was to pray. However, he broke it down using three essential elements and one specific focus. The essential elements were prayers, petitions, and the giving of thanks. The focal point was to be God.

“Do not be anxious about ANYTHING but in EVERY SITUATION by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Philippians 4:6

To better understand and implement the remedy let’s look at the elements first. Prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. Some, including myself at one point, would say aren’t prayers and petitions, and even thanksgiving all the same thing? While, for many years I would have said yes I have come to understand the answer is truly no, they aren’t. I have learned that prayer can be very broad, such as ‘Father, help so and so’, or ‘I need such and such’, and of course the eventual and often obligatory ‘thank you for everything’ – or it can be personal (real) and relational (involving more than self) and heartfelt (attentive and faith driven). I believe the latter of the two choices is the remedy Paul spoke of. Why? Because it is when we pray relational prayers our postures change from a focus of ‘me’ to a focus of God. We’re no longer simply praying words but we are, as Paul instructs, presenting our requests to someone, and that someone is God. Once our prayers move to relational, in my experience, they also convert to heartfelt. When this happens our focus shifts from self to God, from concerns to God, from worries to God, from fears and jealousies and a myriad of other things to God. This in itself begins to calm my anxieties, but it’s the giving of thanks that really changes things. You see, when we are thanking God we are reminded of His faithfulness, not only in the present but often we will recall what He’s done in the past which tends to bring our focus full-throttle on God and results in a calming hope of what He can and will do in the future. Lest we question the validity of Paul’s teaching let’s consider and rest in what God said through the prophet Isaiah centuries before –

God will keep in perfect peace all who trust in Him, all those whose thoughts are fixed on Him

Isaiah 26:3

So, does this mean if we pray we will never be anxious? The answer I have found is no. However, I can promise you when our anxious thoughts are truly given to God we will not stay in a state of anxiety. Instead, as Paul goes on to say, “you will experience a peace that passes all understanding and guards your hearts and minds as you live in Christ.” May we faithfully live in Him in 2022, may we become women who are devoted to prayer – with an attitude of thanksgiving being able to boast of His peace rather than wallow in our anxious thoughts.

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

Colossians 4:2
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