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The Secret to Not Being Anxious

The Secret to Not Being Anxious

It’s a verse most of us Christians know well.

Philippians 4:6-7: “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 minds in Christ Jesus.”

It’s one I read often, and, this week, it was again part of my daily devotion time. Part of the reason I read it a lot is because I am an anxious person. I tend to use the term “stressed out” more often to describe myself, but the truth is that I’m one of those persons who is almost always thinking about the future, and worrying about it in some way. What do I need to do in schooling my children? How are we going to pay for upcoming expenses? How am I going to have the time to complete what I’ve got to get done tomorrow? Are we going to be able to have any more children? I spend a lot of my life there…in that place this verse would label “anxious”. So this verse always…speaks.

Usually when I read it, I’m reminded that I am to combat this anxiousness with prayer, which I try to do. Even more recently, I’ve learned that just as important as prayer is the next part…being thankful for what God gives in each day. Thankfulness in each moment, by seeing everything the Lord brings our way as a way that He is working for good, reduces our anxiety by reminding us that God is always good and always working for good, no matter what it looks like in the moment. Thankfulness also takes us out of the future and brings us into the present – into focusing on God in this very moment. And I believe that is where God is found…in the right now.

So, the secret to not being anxious is prayer, and thanksgiving. But this week, when I read Philippians 4:6, the Lord showed me something new. Something that brought my understanding of this verse full circle.

It actually comes in the verse before this one. We almost always read Philippians 4:6 by itself. But something is lost unless you first read the second part of verse 5. What does it say?

“The Lord is near”.

Now put it all together:

“The Lord is near. 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 minds in Christ Jesus.”

Why aren’t we to be anxious? Because the Lord is near.

We often read this verse and mistakenly understand it to mean that in every situation when we’re anxious, we pray and present our requests to God – with the insinuation that our peace is dependent upon God answering our requests in the manner we would like. But this verse doesn’t say “Do not be anxious when, after your prayer and petition, God changes your anxiety-producing circumstances.” It says, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious.”

In other words, to not be anxious, we are to connect with God’s presence. It’s not that prayer and thanksgiving necessarily make the situation change, or to get some miracle to occur, at which point our anxiety is reduced. Prayer and thanksgiving focus us in on God Himself – on God’s presence – in the very moment. When we tune in to the fact that the Lord is near, when we connect with Him, we get peace instead of stress. Our lack of anxiety is not about the alteration of the circumstances. It’s about experiencing God Himself.

In Exodus 33, for example, the Israelites are causing Moses just a bit of anxiety, as he comes down off of  the mountain from receiving the ten commandments, only to find that they have begun to worship a golden calf. Moses seeks to make atonement for the people, and he says to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me”. The Lord’s response, even after the blatant apostasy of his people, is “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (33:14). The solution, the relief for his anxiety? God’s presence. Not an easy fix. Not a jolt of mind-melding lightning that transformed the Israelites into grateful, faithful followers of the one true God. Not a heavenly side-kick to, well, kick some sense into the Hebrews and make life a little easier for Moses. Nope. Just His presence…just Him.

Why? Because He is enough. Having God, having his presence, is worth so much more than having whatever fix or solution we think we need in the circumstances. Getting the fix gives us happiness temporarily. Getting the Lord gives us life and joy forever.

Psalm 16:2 says, “I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” We don’t need better circumstances. We need Him.

So what does this mean for everyday life? For me, it means using prayer and thanksgiving as the disciplines to help myself be ushered into the presence of the Lord, in the moment of the present. When I start stressing, and my mind starts doing the mantra:

It seems like we just can’t ever get ahead, financially. I know we’ve committed to homeschooling and living on mainly one income, but how are we going to pay for the girls’ college educations? What if the economy starts going seriously downhill, how will we make it? We’ve got medical bills to pay, and a car payment now, and expenses for everything are just going up…

I purposefully pull my mind back from the future, into the present. Instead, I pray, focusing on God’s nearness and bringing my thoughts back to the Lord’s presence in the right now. Specifically, I work to find something I am thankful for in that moment, and name it:

Lord, thank you that we have this van to drive in, and that you have provided it at just the time when our other vehicle was dying. Thank you for giving me these moments in that van to spend with my two beautiful, healthy girls, and for being able to be on the way to visit with family. Thank you that right now, I have what I need. Whatever you have in store for us in the future, financially, please guide and direct us to it one step at a time, and be with us as we go through it, whatever it is. And show me if there is anything you want me to do, financially, today. Help me to see and feel only You, and only your blessings in this moment.

And I’ve found, that when I do that, it’s true. I do get peace. Peace overcomes my stress. It’s the only way I’ve discovered to make it through, when the past is painful and the future is scary. I stop trying to change the circumstances, or holding out hope that I’ll get peace when the circumstances change, and instead I focus on the present, and on God’s presence and work for good in this moment, right now. Interestingly, after enough moments of experiencing God’s presence and peace right now – all of a sudden I realize that time has moved on, and I’ve survived. Not only survived, but (miracle of miracles), thrived. The moments somehow became days, and the days became weeks, and it’s true – His nearness and presence sustained me and got me through.

I do not want to be anxious. So I will pray, with petition and thanksgiving, because the Lord is near. And more than any thing, any help, any fix, any miracle, I need Him.

 

One Response to “The Secret to Not Being Anxious”

  1. skt says:

    I forget what thread I followed to get here, but your musings spoke to me—I’d just been reading about poor ol’ Moses’ experience in Ex 33 for one thing. And I just wanted to let you know that out in the great cosmos, your writing made sense to me; also, I shared it with the people I do life with, so it’s rippling on ‘n on ‘n on…

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