Faith at Rest
Peace is faith resting. Faith in a God who doesn’t make mistakes, who has the whole world in His hands—including my worried world—releasing us to laugh at dark days and to dance in the rain. Peace is faith resting in the fact that God will carry our worries for us. Faith counts on it. It is our soul saying, “I will trust and not be afraid” (Isa. 12:2), and, “Though the mountains fall down and my world disintegrates, I won’t fall down and disintegrate, for I am banking on a God who is my refuge and strength, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 46:1-2; 19:14, my translation). The promise of a trustworthy God is this: “He will keep us in perfect peace if our minds are stayed on Him - because we trust Him” (Is. 26:3, my translation).
Paul’s letter to the Philippians ends on such a high note. How can there be more and more things to rejoice about in situations in which there are more and more things to be concerned about? Paul, who had everything in the world to worry about, says to people who have a whole lot less to worry about than he did, “Take it from me; you don’t need to worry about anything.” It’s not a question of things that we worry about disappearing off the radar screen, but rather a question of who is going to do the worrying about these things.
“Are there worrisome things around me?” asks the apostle Paul. “Oh, yes - like the trial I’m facing for my life, the care of all the churches I’ve planted, people I love who are dying for their faith in Jesus, old age and sickness, and sorrow upon sorrow. But I’m resting. I have perfect peace, because I have put it all on God’s shoulders, and He is carrying the crushing weight for me.” Such tranquility of thought and mind is priceless.
The Spirit’s work is to provide His serenity in the midst of a storm; our work is to stop trying to manufacture it ourselves and to be at peace, to rest.
Don’t Worry About Anything
Paul says we are not to worry about anything (see Phil. 4:6). I have been a worrier since childhood. When I became a Christian, I looked at what the Bible said about my chronic anxiety: “Do not be anxious about anything.” Worry now became a sin!
It’s important to draw a distinction here. There is worry and then there is concern. Concern is a given for a Christian. Concern is “right” worry. It looks for a way to relieve other people’s worries, not add to them. And it is a “worry” that turns itself into prayers.
Worry that is forbidden to the believer is that grinding, blinding obsession that slays your spirit, destroys your appetite, and kills your hope. It is an emotional flu that never gets better.
But a worry that is turned into a positive heart concern - one that looks for solutions and makes us more sensitive to people’s heart needs - is what God wants us to have. In Philippians you see Paul’s concern for his friends, but he doesn’t allow the problems of those he loves to dictate every waking moment of his life or obsess him or paralyze him. To do that, he knows, is wrong.
Jesus Has Forbidden Me to Worry
It really helps me to understand that anxiety is forbidden. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (Jn. 14:1). Jesus tells us not to let worry dominate our lives. Don’t let it? That means we can do something to stop it – and that something is trust.
To the people of his day - and to us today - Jesus declared, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matt. 6:34, MSG). If you trust, you do not worry; if you worry, you do not trust. Ask the Lord for the grace to trust Him.
Worry Distracts Us from the Essentials
The Greek word used for the bad sort of worry is merimnao - the anxiety that obsesses. It means “to be distracted,” to have a divided mind.” And isn’t that just what worry does? It divides your mind and distracts you from everything else going on around you.
Let me walk you through Paul’s formula for winning the worry war.
1. Prayer is Where You Start. Avoid the temptation to say, “But I can’t seem to pray when I’m worried.” Prayer is simply verbalizing your worry to God. You can verbalize your worries out loud or silently, for God’s ears are not too dull to hear (see Is. 59:1). “Instead of worrying, pray,” says Paul (Phil. 4:6, MSG). Prayer combats worry by building trust.
2. Prayer Changes Things Sometimes but Prayer Changes You Always. A common idea is that trusting God with our anxieties will make them disappear. Here’s what the thought process typically sounds like:
● If I pray hard enough, the sickness will be healed.
● If I pray long enough, my spouse will come back.
● If I pray with more faith, the threat will go away.
● If I pray with real faith, the situation will change overnight.
God may well decide to work this way. So, by all means, ask, but prayer itself is so much more than specific requests. Prayer is just being with God, enjoying Him, and absorbing His will for you. Prayer isn’t just something you do; it’s somewhere you go to experience the presence of God.
Prayer is where God may well say, “This illness will not be healed,” (as the Lord told Paul when the apostle asked that his thorn in the flesh be removed). Or God may say, “The danger will be ever present” - for example, if you live in a war-torn area or in “tornado alley.” The cause of concern doesn’t necessarily immediately disappear, but the worry over it can. Then, after telling God, “Your will be done,” the prayers of petition can be prayed for endurance and strength. God is always going to answer such requests, as he did for Paul is the case of his thorn in the flesh. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” the Lord said (2 Cor. 12:9).
So the cause of concern may still be out there after an intense season of prayer. The situation may not be one bit different, but your mind-set has changed. You look at the concern in a totally different way. So prayer changes things - sometimes - but prayer changes you always.
Paul says that we are to pray about our worries with thanksgiving: “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). What does he mean? Thank God for worries? No. Thank God for who He is in the midst of the worries. Thank God for His strong eternal shoulders that are perfectly capable of carrying all the burdens of worry in the world – yours included.
Pause right now and bring to mind a difficult situation you face. What can you find to thank God for in this instance? It may take a little time, but work at it. When you’ve thought of something, just tell God, “Thank you.”
It takes discipline to practice this attitude. It’s an art to diligently look for something to thank God for. You need to focus. You need to “mind your mind” and not allow it to be distracted. Paul talks about setting your mind to do this work (see Phil. 4:8). Our part is to do this “mind work.” Paul found something in his circumstances for which to give thanks, however grim the circumstances were. He occupied his mind with Godward thoughts. He tells us to program our minds with true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things (4:8). Then, he says, “The God of peace will be with you” (4:9). When praise and positive thoughts go and in hand, you discover something to praise God for – even from a dirty prison cell. Remember, serenity is a spiritual art.
3. God Does the Guarding. When we refuse to worry about anything and commit to pray about everything, when we thank God for His dear and abiding self inside our heart, then, Paul says, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Peace is something that enters the heart and makes it able to rise above all outside conditions.
The word “guard” brings into focus the image of a stronghold. God puts a garrison of soldiers around our hearts to face the enemy that besieges us. How does it happen? It happens when we respond to fear with faith and to worry with worship. It happens when we are deep in God’s Word on a daily basis, hiding verses of promise away for a rainy day.
Do you suffer from perpetual uneasiness? Do you have a chronic low-grade spiritual headache? You need to listen to Paul. Logic says that 10 percent of things you worry about actually happen – and that leave 90 percent of things you worry about that don’t happen. Guess what I worry about? The 10 percent that will. The problem is that I waste today worrying about tomorrows that in most instances never come. Though logic can’t keep me from worrying, God can. As J.B. Phillips writes in his translation of 1 Pet. 5:6, “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon Him, for you are His personal concern.” The secret of the spiritual art of serenity and its resulting freedom from anxiety starts and ends here – in God’s loving arms.
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