It’s 6:30 AM, and I’ve been woken up by sick kids again. I know many people are regularly up at this time and earlier, but I was awake well after midnight with garage sale prep buzzing around my mind. Garage sale prep and…a bit of fear. To provide my working husband with a little better chance at sleep, our daughter has been sleeping in our bed, and my husband has been sleeping in her room/our guest room. She sleeps with her feet propped up on me. It would be a gross overstatement to say our last few nights have been restful. I’m going to need coffee and a nap today.
Yet despite the late bedtime and interrupted sleep, when my son woke up crying (and quickly went back to sleep), my brain decided to turn on, and to fill up with fear mixed with a little bit of mourning. With my thoughts racing, I was reminded to fix my eyes on Jesus. Philippians 4:6,7 came to mind, and rather than simply repeating the verse in my mind, I leaned into it.
In Philippians 4:6,7, Paul writes, “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 hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It’s easy to read words like, “Do not be anxious about anything”, and to hear echoes of a fish singing, “Don’t worry, be happy!” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Mouth_Billy_Bass) But Paul is not a Big Mouth Bass, and Philippians was not written by a man vacationing on a tropical beach. Paul was a man well acquainted with circumstances we would say could have warranted anxiety.
Years earlier, Paul had written about his experiences to the church in Corinth. He wrote, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
When Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything,” he writes with a resume of troubles past and present.
As he wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything,” Paul was sitting in prison in Rome, rather than on a tropical beach. His words to the Philippians are not just some idealistic instructions meant to calm his readers. His words carry the weight of experience.
After telling his readers what not to do, he tells them, and us, what to do instead and what will happen.
He writes, “… 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 hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Rather than having anxiety about any given situation, Paul says to pray and petition, and with thankful hearts, to present our requests to God. When we’re walking through scary, anxiety inducing things, it can be hard to be thankful. When I’m worrying, I tend to have my situation in focus, and thanksgiving is far from my mind. Having a heart of thanksgiving, while challenging, is so important.
With a heart of thanksgiving, our hearts and minds are brought to a place of remembering. We remember who God is: all-knowing, all-powerful, present everywhere, never changing, holy, righteous, gracious, kind, faithful, etc,. We remember what He has already done. With thanksgiving, our eyes are taken off of our situations or the things causing us to worry, and they shift towards our sovereign, able God.
With hearts of thanksgiving and eyes on God, we are told to present our requests to God. The result? “…the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”