Mike Graham is a husband and dad of two kids. He and his family live in Charleston, West Virginia, where Mike serves as Pastor of Groups at Bible Center Church.
I often hear athletes quoting Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” assuming that Paul was talking about one’s ability to score a touchdown. But in context, Paul teaches that he has learned to be content in any and every circumstance. Whether lacking or having plenty Paul has learned to trust the Lord—he has the ability to be content “through him who strengthens me.”
Anxiety is ever-present in the lives of most people. There is no easy answer for our anxiety and no single blog can discuss every nuance and need. Anxiety can come from different sources and situations in our lives. Everyone experiences suffering and stress from outward sources which can lead to an increase in anxiety. Unfortunately, we can also add to our own level of anxiety by setting our hearts on pursuing things outside of God’s intent and design for our lives. Part of what Paul is saying in Philippians 4:13 is that our ability to experience contentment instead of anxiety is directly connected to strength that comes from God.
In many cases, Christians are dealing with self-inflicted anxiety. God has designed us to pursue and enjoy peace, joy and contentment in this life. Unfortunately, these God-given qualities are often warped and replaced with our culture’s values of convenience, happiness and comfort. A lot of our anxiety comes from the pursuit to attain and/or maintain convenience, happiness and comfort, rather than knowing and trusting God to enjoy his peace, joy and contentment. In our wayward path, things, experiences and relationships are no longer considered blessings, but the avenues by which we meet our greatest perceived needs—convenience, happiness and comfort. We sink our claws in deeply, grasping onto things that we cannot control. The thought of losing our means of happiness brings distress and anxiety into our lives.
Happiness is a great thing. In God’s goodness we experience happiness in life. Happiness is like a cool glass of water, but joy is like an ocean in which we can anchor our lives. Happiness is situational and inconsistent. Joy, rooted in our relationship with Christ, is relational and lifelong. Find someone who places a premium on personal comfort and try to take away his coffee. In this person’s life, the loss of a coffee maker, comfy clothes, or a good night sleep can ruin his day. Anxiety builds and takes control as great effort is put forth to gain and maintain sources of happiness, convenience and comfort. This situation can feel really hopeless and doomed, filling our today and tomorrow with anxiety.
We feel so incredibly anxious because the things we are pursuing—convenience, happiness and comfort—are forever fleeting and therefore naturally create instability, stress and frustration—a chasing after the wind. But godly pursuits lead to the development of a foundation able to withstand suffering, stress and struggle. So we need to test our hearts and minds to assess our pursuits.
Jesus Addresses Anxiety
Jesus calls us to trust God with our basic needs in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:25-34). As God provides for his creation, we are given a basis for confidence in his provision for us. Jesus addresses this issue because he knows that anxiety is a struggle with even our most basic needs in life; food, clothing and shelter. When we add; dependable car, successful career, attractive spouse, well-adjusted children, large retirement account, annual vacations, personal health, etc to the list, then our potential for anxiety skyrockets.
Jesus redirects our pursuits back to him. A growing relationship with him is the end goal. In him there is peace, joy, and contentment as we place our confidence in who he is, what he has done and what he has promised us over and when necessary, against what we think will be convenient and make us feel happy and comfortable.
Paul Addresses Anxiety
Paul gives more insights into combating anxiety in Philippians 4.
“God is near” (4:5). He is present in every moment and circumstance of our lives. Knowing this, we can go to him in prayer—expressing our dependence and faith in him. When we are experiencing communion with our Father (who we know to be loving, faithful and present) anxiety loses a foothold in our lives and we begin to experience the peace of God. In 4:8, Paul calls us to renew our minds with thoughts of God. Our thoughts will often lead our hearts. God-ward thoughts will lead towards peace. Thoughts focused on worldly pursuits will lead us to increased anxiety.
Our Lord is “the God of peace” (4:9). God, who is fully aware of every atrocity, pain and ache, lives in perfect peace. He is an all knowing, all wise and all powerful emotional being. God feels our pain, but he can also see its worth and eternal benefits. Reflecting on him and his thoughts will decrease our anxiety and help us to find his peace by trusting his goodness and perfection in our broken lives.
Paul’s instructions bring us back to the presence of God. In our communion with God and our right thoughts of God we experience the peace of God while walking hand in hand with the God of peace.
Checking Our Hearts
Everyone will experience anxiety, some at higher levels than others. Anxiety comes from outside pressure, but we can create additional anxiety by pursuing the wrong things. Jesus and Paul call us to consistently assess the pursuits of our heart. It's so easy to get off track and to pursue the values of our culture rather than the virtues of God. But God offers incredible gifts to his children! Peace, joy and contentment can be truly experienced in the here and now and will be fully experienced forever in the very presence of God.