Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow, because today has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34). We can infer from this statement that each day has plenty of trouble! For this reason, counselors need to be prepared to help counselees handle their daily troubles in a way that glorifies God.
Biblical concern is an appropriate response to our daily troubles. Paul and Timothy had this type of concern for the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28; Philippians 2:19-20). The ditches on either side of biblical concern are apathy and anxiety. When we stray from biblical concern, we do so either in the direction of ceasing to be concerned at all (apathy) or being concerned in an inordinate way (anxiety). In this article, I would like to focus on exploring how Philippians 4:6-7 equips counselors to help those who are veering into the ditch of anxiety.
Be Anxious for Nothing
Paul has experienced no shortage of daily troubles at the time he composes his letter to the Philippian church. He writes as a prisoner, suffering persecution as a minister of the gospel. It is from this trouble-ridden vantage point that Paul unreservedly delivers the command for these believers to be anxious for nothing. With this imperative, Paul essentially strips away their every excuse for being anxious. He does not just tell them to generally refrain from being anxious. He tells them to be anxious for nothing. Not one thing.
But in Everything by Prayer and Petition
Paul follows the initial imperative with a contrastive conjunction to signify what the saints at Philippi ought to do in contrast to being anxious. Whereas anxiety is appropriate for nothing, Paul stresses that its replacement is appropriate for everything. That “something” which is appropriate for everything is prayer.
For quite some time, I had thought of this passage as a text to turn to when we are tempted to be anxious. But the more I have studied it, the more I have become convinced that its deeper lesson is that we should be praying about everything. Pray about everything so that you can be anxious for nothing.
Our prayers should be marked by thanksgiving. We easily forget the multitude of reasons we should be thankful for, especially in moments of trouble. Paul’s prayers in his epistles, by contrast, are consistently infused with thanksgiving to God. It matters not whether he is a free man or a prisoner. His gratitude is not contingent upon his circumstances.
When you develop a habit of consistently thanking God in prayer for who He is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do, you will place your troubles in their appropriate context and see them in proper proportion. Troubled as you may be, you have nevertheless been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ while you deserve every spiritual cursing in the heavenly places for sinning against an infinitely holy God (Ephesians 1:3). You come to realize that every one of your troubles has an expiration date, while your new life in Christ has none! What mercy and grace! Though your troubles may be weighty, they are not worthy to be compared with the weight of eternal glory Christ has secured for you (Romans 8:18)!
Make Your Requests Known to God
The actual imperative that Paul issues to the Philippian saints concerning prayer is to make their requests known to God. Making our requests known to God in everything will lead us to constantly acknowledge our dependence on God and remind us over and over that God is in control of everything. Praying about everything keeps anxiety from having a seat at the table by filling all the seats with the reassurance that God knows what’s going on, He is in control, and He will act to accomplish what is glorifying to Him and good for His people.
The transition from being gripped with anxiety to bringing everything to God in prayer can take time. Therefore, be patient as you provide counsel to those gripped with anxiety. The imperatives to be anxious for nothing and to make one’s requests known to God in everything are both in the present tense, emphasizing the need for continuous action. Urge the anxious to keep repenting from their anxiety by turning to prayer as an expression of faith in the Lord.
Encourage those struggling with anxiety to leverage moments of temptation by turning those situations into opportunities for obedience. When they experience anxious thoughts flooding into their minds in a seemingly uncontrollable manner, I encourage them to turn those thoughts into prayers. Rather than talking with themselves about their troubles (which is basically what we are doing when we repeatedly mull them over in our minds), they should talk to God about them. Give God thanks and make requests regarding your concerns known to Him.
And the Peace of God Which Surpasses All Comprehension
The experience of anxiety is anything but peaceful. We have certain outcomes we desire, and we fret over how we might find some way to control the situation to ensure those outcomes. When we bring everything to God in prayer, however, we approach the One who knows the very best outcomes according to His manifold wisdom, and He is rightfully in control of all things and will bring about what He deems best. And what He deems best, truly is best.
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry,
Everything to God in prayer.1 From the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
Will Guard Your Hearts and Your Minds in Christ Jesus
This peace of God is His provision to guard our hearts and minds from giving into the temptation to be anxious. But this is only true for those who are in Christ. Christ is the only Mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). Only those who by faith are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and no longer at enmity with God can experience this peace in their soul.
The Anxious Need Christ
Jesus is the ultimate answer to our struggle with the sin of anxiety. He lived a perfect life on behalf of His people, never doubting His Father (1 Peter 2:23) nor asserting His human will over the will of His Father (Luke 22:42). He died to pay the penalty for our inordinate concerns, our doubting of God, our obsession with getting the outcomes we want, and our desire for control. He rose from the grave, demonstrating that He defeated death for those who trust in Him. And He ascended to the right hand of the Father so that He could send the Spirit of God to strengthen believers as they wage war against their fleshly impulses to be anxious. Augustine acknowledged in one of his prayers to the Lord: “You made us for Yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in You.”2 Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Penguin Classics, p.21 Though each day in this fallen world may have plenty of trouble, believers can find peace in the midst of it as we learn to prayerfully rest in Jesus Christ.