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[ Don’t be Anxious? ]

How we are feeling at the moment will differ according to things like temperament, personality, situation, jobs and how much loved ones or ourselves are affected by the coronavirus and the measures put in place by the government.  Whilst encouragements to trust in the Lord are right and true, and we take confidence in God’s love, kindness and sovereignty over all things, the reality is that many of us, to one degree or another, will be feeling anxious or worried at this time (I will use the two terms interchangeably).

When we read passages such as Philippians 4:6, “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 heart and your mind in Christ Jesus” and Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount which command us not to worry, we can end up feeling guilty and then worry about being worried!  If you experience anxiety and depression this can also feel plain unrealistic.

I have been pondering this and think there are several things to consider:

  1. The same Paul who says “Do not be anxious about anything…” also speaks of “daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” in 2 Corinthians 11:28 where the word used is the same in the Greek as “anxiety” in Philippians.

 

  1. In Philippians Paul is encouraging the people to replace anxiety with prayer. As Tim Lane, in his book “Living without worry” puts it, “In a sense, the goal is not to worry less, but to rejoice more.”

 

  1. The context for the Sermon on the Mount is one where Jesus challenges us with where are priorities lie and which kingdom we are living for – ours or God’s? Jesus is telling people not to worry about the wrong things.  He is calling us to go deeper with our trust in God and to not worry about things that distract us from seeking, first, His kingdom.  Some of the things Jesus tells us not to worry about are things, like food and clothing, which we have tended to take for granted.  Even with these things, however, Jesus calls us to put our faith in God here and trust Him for these things.

In his helpful book, “Living Without Worry”, Tim Lane suggests we need to distinguish between concern and over-concern or, we might say, between anxiety and concern.  He says the way we can know the difference is that a godly or right concern leads us to wise action and prayer.  Over-concern can lead us to prioritising people or things over God, essentially idolatry

In these times it is right to have a concern about health, food, family, finance, job etc. but not to make those things so big that they take priority over the things of the kingdom of God.  Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-34:

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

This calls us to trust God to provide for our needs, even in the most difficult of situations and to have a radical kingdom first mentality.  Wherever we are on the spectrum of concern, worry or anxiety the call is to action – it may be repentance, it certainly will be to godly action and prayer.  With all things that concern us we are called to, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).”

What am I concerned about?  My wife, Fatima, as she works at the hospital; our daughter, Carolina, as we seek to parent her well during these times; family and friends; my church family whom God has placed me as a shepherd over; the students I have laboured with these past 5-6 years and my colleagues in UCCF; those who I know who don’t know Jesus; and the future – wanting to be responsible in how we use money and what my next role is.  All these are legitimate concerns, and they could easily tip into over concern (to use Lane’s term) or worry.

So, what is the answer? I need to fix my eyes on Jesus, knowing that he cares for me and continue to commit these all of these things to Him. As I do this I am confident that the peace of God that surpasses all understand will then guard my heart and mind.

I wonder, what are the things you need to bring to Him in this time?

I have only just started Tim Lane’s short book, “Living Without Worry: How to replace anxiety for peace” but have found what I have read so far helpful.  For those who would like to think through these issues more and how they apply, I would recommend this book.

I have also seen that John Piper follows a similar train of thought but goes a bit deeper and takes it in different directions in a sermon he preached on this.  You can read the transcript of that sermon at www.desiringgod.org/messages/is-there-good-anxiety

Written by Andrew Larkin

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