Anxious for Nothing
Welcome to week number three of Anxious for Nothing. In this series we have been asking the question, is it even possible to be anxious for nothing. From a scriptural standpoint, it is quite clear that anxiety is not God’s will for any of His children. So, today we are going to take a look at a real-life example of someone who had learned how to effectively handle anxiety.
If you missed out on any part of the series so far, or if you would like to share it with someone who might be struggling with anxiety, you can do so from our website, at gotothepoint.com, or from The Point App.
One thing is clear, anxiety is a very complicated subject that affects us all. We have acknowledged that there are numerous potential physiological, psychological, emotional, situational, and spiritual factors that may contribute to our anxiety. Of course, we are approaching anxiety from a spiritual and a biblical perspective.
Our focus has been primarily on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The Apostle Paul was very strategic, as he was writing from a lonely prison cell. First Century Rome was a primary hub for influence and commerce. With all traffic coming in and out of Rome, Paul knew that if he could reach the Roman empire, he had the potential to reach the world. That is why his big dream was to preach the gospel in Rome.
The good news is that he made it to Rome. He even started preaching! But he was arrested for preaching that Jesus was the Messiah. His preaching landed him in prison. But if you know anything about the Apostle Paul, you know he was still preaching, even though he was in prison. You might say he was a preacher in prison. Or maybe he was a prisoner that was preaching. Either way, God was teaching Paul some valuable lessons that he would go on to write about, lessons that would still be having an impact some 2,000 years later.
One of those lessons is recorded in Romans 8:28. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (NIV) Even though things did not go as planned, and Paul’s preaching was restricted to the guards and his fellow prisoners, the message of Christ was still being proclaimed.
So, as Paul is writing his letter to the church at Philippi, he was writing while he was chained to a Roman guard. He was there in prison awaiting trial. There was no way to be sure what would happen next. His future seemed uncertain. Paul’s release from prison was unlikely. He could remain in prison, or he might be executed. Rome might be the end of the road for Paul. It is easy to see how…
The soil in Paul’s life might be a fertile place for anxiety to grow
This background makes Paul’s letter to the Philippians even more surprising…“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4 (NIV)
Out of a place where he could have been overwhelmed with anxiety, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. And just in case you were not listening, I will say it again, rejoice!” That is great verse for a coffee mug. It is the kind of thing you could put on a refrigerator magnet or greeting card. It is a great verse to quote to all your friends!
On second thought, maybe not. Have you ever had anyone quote these words to you when you’re in the middle of a difficult situation? Rejoice in the Lord always! Really? Is that what you want to hear when you have a flat tire and you are sitting along the highway, in the rain, hoping not to hit by oncoming traffic? “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Who want to hear someone telling them to rejoice in the Lord always, right after they lost their job?
Rejoice in the Lord always. Surely, Paul doesn’t mean that. But then he said it again for emphasis. I will say it again, rejoice!
What about when there is not enough money to make it to the end of the month?
Or when the kids are in trouble…again. Paul, are you telling me that even then I am supposed to rejoice in the Lord? “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And then for emphasis he adds, “I’ll say it again, rejoice.” Paul’s situation is living proof that our current circumstances are far less important than the choices we make about those circumstances.
He then continues…“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” – Philippians 4:5 (NIV) Then he gets to the topic of anxiety. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
How could Paul rejoice when he’s locked up? How could Paul still be praising God when what he really wanted to do was preach? He laid his head to rest on the pillow each night as a prisoner not a preacher. It is really all about perspective and I don’t want you to miss this. Paul did not choose the perspective of a PRISONER. Instead, he chose the perspective of PRAISE. Perspective is all about how you see things.
Two different people can look at the same thing and they can see it from two entirely different perspectives. Most of us would look at Paul’s situation and we would say, this is not good. In fact, it looks bad. Really bad. Anxiety tends to flourish in a situation like this, doesn’t it?
We can all see how Paul’s situation is fertile ground for anxiety to grow. How can he even function in a situation like this? It looks like his ministry is over. His dreams are crushed. What is there to rejoice about?
Given the circumstances in Rome, nobody would blame Paul if he had written to the Philippians and said…”My dear brothers and sisters, I want you to know that what has happened to me here in Rome really stinks. My God has let me down. This imprisonment is not what I planned. I’m overwhelmed with anxiety. I am discouraged. I am battling depression. It seems all hope is lost…And because of the turmoil I have been facing here in Rome, I’m quitting my small group, and I’m never going back to church again. Yours truly, The Apostle Paul.”
Can anybody relate? That is the kind of thing most of us would be tempted to write. We look at our situation and say, this is bad. I’ve got anxiety. It’s getting worse every day. I can’t function. I don’t know what to do. It really is all about perspective.
I’ll be quick to admit, I am in no way wanting to stand up here and pretend that I have mastered this. Far from it! I am embarrassed to admit how often and how fast I can drift into poor me mode. I see the clouds, but Paul had learned to see the silver lining. He knew that God was in control, and he trusted that God was at work in ways he could not see.
Somehow, Paul was able to look at a very bad situation and see it from a positive perspective. He wasn’t minimizing the situation. His faith in God allowed him to possess a unique outlook and positive perspective on life. In fact, this is what he said earlier, in this same letter…Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. – Philippians 1:12-13 (NIV)
In other words, Paul is saying, by all outward appearances, things are not looking good, but it is good because God is using it. You may think it is bad, but it is not bad.
God is at work. God promised he would never leave me or forsake me.
Guess what my Philippian friends? It is true! No weapon formed against me will prosper. My God is working together for good in all things.
I believe that is why Paul was able to possess such a positive perspective of praise. He was able to see that what was happening was actually working out for the good.
God was using it. These apparently unfortunate circumstances were being used by God to advance the gospel.
In fact, for the longest time, these guys in Rome thought Paul was their prisoner. They had no idea what God was up to. They were locking him up to a different guard every 8-12 hours. All that did was give him the opportunity to preach the gospel to every single one of them. Who is the prisoner now? It is really all about perspective, isn’t it?
I love this quote…“Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw the mud, the other saw stars.” – Dale Carnegie (How to Stop Worrying and Start Living) Two people can look at the same situation. One says, this is bad. It is horrible. I can’t stand it. Another says, don’t worry. God is working all things together for good. Something positive will come out of this negative situation.
Paul Had the Perspective Of Praise
Paul had the perspective of praise. This isn’t the first time that Paul was in prison. There were multiple times that we know about, and maybe others that we don’t. Some may not be recorded. But there is a record here in the book of Philippians, and there is a record in Acts 16 where it tells how Paul and Silas were on their way to a place of prayer. On their way they encountered a woman who was possessed by an evil spirit. When Paul cast the evil spirit out of this woman, a riot broke out. Paul and Silas ended up being arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail.
You can read this historic event in Acts 16…“The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten.” – Acts 16:22 (NIV) I doubt that any of us will be stripped of our clothes and beaten, but some of us have been stripped of our confidence. Others have been stripped of their faith. You’ll probably never be beaten with rods, but I have known some people who have been beaten down with anxiety. Perhaps you have been beaten down with doubt. You’re doing everything you can to hold onto your faith, but the anxiety feels so real that you just can’t press through it.
The apostle Paul and Silas weren’t thrown into prison for doing the wrong thing. They were doing the right thing. They were preaching the truth. Now, I want you to try to visualize this. They’re in prison after being beaten. Maybe one of them has a broken or bloody nose. I could imagine a tooth or two might be missing. There might be a couple of broken ribs, and maybe some dried blood on their faces. These guys have been through the wringer.
It is easy to read right past this without thinking about the significance of what had taken place. But I want you to think about their condition, and picture them laying there on a filthy prison floor. If you haven’t heard the story before you would never guess what happened next. The circumstances are dismal. It is dark and to most, depressing.
It was midnight, and they decided to sing.
Most of us would be looking at their situation through the lens of anxiety. These guys have worship on their mind. They are looking at it from a very different perspective. Instead of looking at what was WRONG, Paul and Silas decided to focus on what was RIGHT. I suspect most of us would like to do better at this. I know I do.
The situation may seem dark and hopeless, but we must not forget to keep our eye on the bigger picture. Paul provides a glimpse into the background of this kind of thinking in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)
It is all about perspective. Don’t just look at what’s wrong. Be sure to focus on what’s right. Look at the big picture. Keep things in perspective. That might not be your natural inclination, but I am convinced that it is something we can all choose, and we can all learn if we are willing. We must be INTENTIONAL about making a choice to see things from a BETTER perspective.
How could Paul and Silas worship God? They’ve been beaten, falsely charged, and imprisoned. It is cold, dark, and I think most would agree, a discouraging situation. Now, I don’t know who started it that night. Maybe Paul leaned over to Silas and said, “Well, this is bad, but we’re not dead! If we’re not dead, we’re not done!
They chose to see things from a different perspective. And here is what happened next…“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” – Acts 16:25 (NIV) Say what?! They were praying and they were singing hymns to God, while they were still locked up in prison.
God had not delivered them from prison. There was no miraculous provision. There had been no miracle. Paul and Silas were not praising God at that moment for the what…they were praising Him for the Who.
PRAISE comes before the PROVISION
For Paul and Silas, and I think for us if we are open, so often our PRAISE comes before the PROVISION. Paul and Silas weren’t praising for what they had seen. They were not praising God for what He had done in their current circumstances. Instead, they were choosing to praise God for Who He is.
Spoiler alert! God is about to show up in the middle of their praise. He’s going to shake the cell with an earthquake. The doors are going to swing open, and their chains are going to fall off. But that is not what happened when Paul was in prison previously. And that is what makes it all the more powerful when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” God has the power to deliver, but even if He doesn’t, we can still choose to praise. Paul was not praising for the what, he was praising for the Who, which is a deeper kind of praise.
I doubt that Paul and Silas felt like praising. How could they. Beaten and bleeding. Separated from family and friends. They are in jail for heaven’s sake! I am convinced that praising was a choice they made. I believe it is a choice we can all make, if we decide to do it.
By singing praises at the midnight hour, Paul and Silas are saying, “God, You’re good. We trust You. You are in control. We know we can always count on You. You are the God who provides.
I’m not saying praise makes anxiety go away. It may…and it may not. But an intentional act of praise can change your outlook on dismal circumstances. It helps when we remember, as believers, we are just passing through. That is why Paul referred to his trials as light and momentary in 2 Corinthians. While the trials are happening, whether they span hours, days, weeks, or months, they typically don’t seem momentary to me.
Paul is facing the possibility of execution. That is anything but light. Viewed through the lens of ETERNITY, even the darkest circumstances can begin to LIGHTEN UP. That changes our perspective. It also helps when we remember there is purpose connected to our pain. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Paul and Silas are beaten, bloody, there in prison, and they decide to worship. We are going to get ready to do the same thing here in a few moments. I want to invite the BAND AND VOCAL TEAM to PREPARE to lead us. As they do, I want you to picture this scene.
Imagine yourself in the cell. It is about midnight as Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners are listening to them. “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.” – Acts 16:26 (NIV)
Suddenly, God showed up! Be sure and notice He doesn’t show up before their praise. He showed up during their praise. His power was revealed in the middle of their praise. Imagine being in that prison cell right there beside them.
It’s midnight. There’s no visible reason to praise God. They are beaten and broken men sitting around in a dark prison cell. I can picture Paul leaning over and saying, “Silas, look on the bright side. We’re still alive. God is still on the throne. Jesus is still risen! He’s at the right hand of the Father right now. He is interceding there for us. Why don’t we just give Him some praise? Let’s worship him right now.”
Can you picture it?! They made a decision you and I can make. Paul and Silas were praying, and praising, and worshiping God – not for what He has done, not even for what He might do, but for WHO HE IS. And right there, in the middle of their praise, the ground begins to shake. The doors of the prison fly open. Their chains come loose.
God showed up in a miraculous way. And it all happened in the middle of their praise. What if the key that unlocks your miracle is found in the sound of your praise? We’re going to take some time to praise God today. We are called to walk by faith, not by sight. Do you believe God is working together for good in all things in your life? Do you believe He is refining in you the image of His Son? Do you trust Him?
As an expression of faith, are you willing to praise Him today? Given your current circumstances, some of you are going to have to choose to praise Him in the middle of the pain. Praise won’t come naturally. It will have to be on purpose. We want to praise Him when He breaks us out, but we need to learn to praise Him even when He leaves us in.
We will praise Him when we feel like it, and we will praise Him when we don’t. It is all about perspective. We will praise Him in prosperity, and we will praise Him in our pain.