In the face of a pandemic, unrest, and everything going on in the world, is not worrying even possible?
When Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6 “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything,” he is first and foremost telling us it is possible to not worry. Believing this is the first step to curing worry in our lives, even if the world around us is in crisis.
The order of this sentence is interesting. He doesn’t say “pray about everything, then you won’t worry about anything.” While that is true, this verse is saying something else to us. It’s teaching us what to do with worry when it comes. Worry is our signal to pray. While worry is often a symptom of a weak prayer life, it can also become a trigger to a better one.
We all catch ourselves worrying sometimes, and when we do, we should quickly get out of it and get into prayer. Thankfully, the rest of this verse gives us some clues as to how to do just that. The New Living Translation of this verse says, “tell God what you need and thank Him for all He’s done,” (Philippians 4:6). These are keys for us to step out of worry when we recognize we are in it.
There are far too many people who don’t transition out of worry and into prayer very well; they merely “complain pray,” (let me tell you, I’ve definitely done this way too many times). Bill Johnson says, “If I’m holding onto worry, I haven’t prayed, I’ve only complained.” You know what I mean. Those times when we tell God what’s going wrong instead of telling Him what we need. In order to tell God what we need instead of telling Him what’s wrong, we must ask ourselves the question, “what do I need in this situation?” This simple question will help us move from worrying and complaining into actual prayer.
The other key we see in the verse above is “thanking Him for all He’s done,” which causes us to remember the times God has come through for us, the times He’s rescued us, and the times He was so near when things were confusing. This small change in our attention is incredibly powerful because it causes faith to rise in our hearts. Instead of us worrying about what could go wrong, we are now focused on what’s gone right. As we do this, we step right through verse six and into verse seven, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7 NLT).
Instead of “exceeding anything we can understand,” other translations use phrases like “surpasses all understanding” (ESV), “passeth all understanding” (KJV), or “far beyond human understanding” (GNT). If we look at the actual Greek language, we can also say the peace of God is “better than” and “superior in rank to” all our understanding.
One thing we need to realize is that we all have a massive need to understand our situations, and far too often, we can actually push His peace away when we absolutely must understand everything going on. Our unmet need to understand can keep us from experiencing His peace that is better than our understanding. I’d much rather have peace when I don’t understand than reject peace because I need to. We know the verse in Proverbs 3:5 that says “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” In other words, if I’m leaning on my own understanding I might not be trusting God.
Since the peace of God is also “superior in rank” to our understanding, then as the peace of God comes, our need to understand must submit to His peace. Peace is in charge, not our understanding or lack thereof.*
At the time of the writing of this blog, there are a lot of people not only struggling with worry, but some are in full on panic mode with the current pandemic crisis. The toilet paper is gone and the food is running low in the stores. People aren’t gathering, even for church, due to the recommendations from government officials. Needless to say, peace is a pretty important thing to have right about now. No, it’s not pretty important, it’s absolutely critical, and the shelves of the grocery store shouldn’t be what determines our level of peace. Peace isn’t available in any store, only in heaven, and heaven’s “shelves” are full of it. Not only will peace help us personally, but it will also distinguish us from the rest of society, and society needs to see people living in peace right now.
Just as the Coronavirus was breaking out last year in March, I was returning home on a flight from Los Angeles. The day after I landed, my throat was sore and I felt lethargic. Next, my sinuses locked up, and I started coughing. I coughed so hard I nearly threw my back out. I laid in bed for 2 days. Of course I thought I might have COVID-19, and all the thoughts were coming at me: what if I give it to Lauren? To the kids? What if I spread it around church because I felt ok yesterday, and just didn’t have the symptoms yet? I’m not sure what was worse, the coughing or the worry flooding my mind. All those thoughts were simply signals to ask myself what I needed, and begin to remember things God had done before.
I started with remembering. “God, I need help remembering what you’ve done before,” I said between coughing and trying to blow my nose. All of a sudden, there they were, my God memories:
I was a drug addict one day and the next day it was all gone because Jesus stepped inside me in a radical encounter.
For weeks my knees were in so much pain I could barely walk, and one night He just healed me in my sleep.
Our son caught whooping cough at 6 months old and God led us to the right doctor who stopped all the symptoms in under 48 hours, without drugs (trusting God also looks like listening to doctors and seeking their help).
As soon as these thoughts came, so did His peace. The same peace that had invaded my life and my family many times before, I’d now allowed back in by asking God to remind me of what He’d done for us. Shortly after this, I heard Him whisper to me, “Even if lots of people get it, I’m the Healer. What an opportunity for people to discover that about Me.” And just like that, the worry was gone. The very thing that tried to come ruin me, sent me to God instead. Instead of worry taking me over, it took me to my Father.
We are all on the journey to learn to live in the place Paul said was possible–not worrying about anything. Not Coronavirus, not political unrest, not empty shelves, not anything. Biblically, it is possible to live this way. So while we are washing our hands and doing wise things to help our families and those around us, let’s also make sure we aren’t letting worry take up space in our lives that it shouldn’t have.
*Notes: Excerpt adapted from my book, Curing Worry God’s Way. You can get it here.