In Amor Towles’ book, A Gentleman in Moscow, the central figure is a Russian count who has been exiled by the Soviet authorities to live within the confines of a single hotel; he cannot leave it at the risk of his life. At one point in the story, the Count is consumed with worry: “The Count closed his eyes and prepared to drift into a dreamless sleep. But, alas, sleep did not come so easily to our weary friend. Like in a reel in which the dancers form two rows, so that one of their number can come skipping brightly down the aisle, a concern of the Count’s would present itself for his consideration, bow with a flourish, and then take its place at the end of the line so that the next concern could come dancing to the fore.” (p. 267)
Some of us could say that we have had that same experience: one worry takes center stage in our mind, bows — and then the next one appears to take its place! In fact, if the truth be known, I think it might be a lot like last week, when I asked: “Who had some branches down, or lost a fence, or had power out in the hurricane?” — and the answer was, virtually ALL of us; it’s probably very similar this week. Perhaps virtually ALL of deal with worry or anxiety of some kind or another, at some time or another. But worry is NOT a state God wants us to continue in. Verse 5 says, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” That word “gentle” means “mild, forbearing, moderate” — in other words, we are not going around rashly, worrying about everything. God wants us to have a “quiet and gentle spirit” that trusts Him. But how can we achieve that? How do we deal with worry? Our scripture for today specifically deals with that:
I. REMEMBER THE LORD
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! … The Lord is near.”
We talked about “rejoicing in the Lord” earlier in Philippians, so we won’t dwell on that long now. But this reminds us again that our joy as Christians is NOT to be found in our circumstances, whatever they are, but in the Lord. Many of us need to focus less on some of our circumstances — which are causing us a great deal of worry & anxiety, and more on the Lord.
There’s an old expression: “glance at your problem; gaze at God.” We don’t need to be in denial; we don’t “stick our heads in the sand” and pretend that some things aren’t really there. But don’t just keep “gazing” at those problems over and over; don’t be obsessed by them. “Glance” at that problem — but GAZE at God! Spend more time talking to Him, and praying to Him (we’re going to talk about that in a minute) than you do tossing that problem over and over in your mind. “Glance at your problem, gaze at God.” And rejoice in who He is in your life. As we’ve talked about before, if Jesus is your Lord & Savior, you always have something to rejoice in.
Now, the first thing, of course, that you have to make sure of, is that Jesus really IS the Lord your life. You CAN’T “rejoice in the Lord” in all situations, if His Holy Spirit is not truly inside you; if you have never committed your life to Jesus as your Lord & Savior. It’s not enough to just “go to church” — though going to church is good; it can get you pointed in the right direction if they preach the gospel of Jesus. But the message of the gospel is that we have sinned, and separated ourselves from God. That is why Jesus came to earth: to die on the cross and pay for our sins, to reconcile us with God. And when you repent of your sins, and trust Jesus as YOUR OWN personal Lord & Savior, then He forgives your sins, sends His Spirit into your heart, and promises you a home in heaven with pleasures and joys that are literally “out of this world”! With that kind of salvation; with that kind of future ahead of us, a person who has given their life to Christ can ALWAYS find something to rejoice in! When you’re tempted to worry: “Rejoice in the Lord”!
So #1 is make sure that Jesus IS your Lord & Savior. If you don’t have that, NOTHING else I am going to say this morning is going to help you!
Now, while we are focusing on the Lord, notice that he says at the end of :5, “The Lord is near.” I think this I significant, although I must say I have NEVER heard this used in connection with the verses that follow — it’s like they ignore this word and just start a new paragraph dealing with worry. But why should this not go with the verses after it? There is no “punctuation” in the Greek New Testament, You can go right from “The Lord is near” to “be anxious for nothing.” And doesn’t it make sense that if “the Lord is near,” then that is really the best reason in all the world for being anxious for nothing?!! One of the very best things that will ease our fear and anxiety is remembering that God is near! You are not alone in this. GOD is with you in this situation!
We’re going through the Psalms on Wednesday nights (in a couple of weeks we’ll be in Psalm 23 where we’ll see that David writes “I will fear no evil for You are with me.” Those words, “YOU ARE WITH ME” are at the exact middle of Psalm 23, which is a place of emphasis for the Hebrews. YOU ARE WITH ME! That is the whole thing. That’s what gives Psalm 23 its power: that GOD IS WITH HIM!
– when he needs his soul restored, God is with Him!
- “in the valley of the shadow of death,” God is with him!
- “in the presence of mine enemies,” God is with him!
That’s what that whole Psalm is about: that God is with him!
And if you are a Christian, like we talked about just a moment ago, then you can know that GOD IS WITH YOU TOO! And that makes a huge difference to our fears and anxieties. God is with us; right behind us; beside us; IN us — with us!
In 1952 Lyndon Johnson became the majority leader of the Senate, at a very young age. Evans and Novak reported that Richard Russell, the long time, respected Senator from Georgia, recommended Johnson for the job. Johnson said he would take it —on one condition: that Russell would change his desk in the Senate Chamber so that he would sit directly behind Johnson’s desk! LBJ wanted Russell’s power, and wisdom, and especially his PRESENCE, right there behind him as he served in that vital position. (Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Passage of Power, p. 448)
You & I need to remember as Christians, that we have a greater Presence with us, all the time: behind us; with us; INSIDE of us; the very presence of GOD! So as the Psalm says, “Whom then shall I fear?” It will help us fight off worry and anxiety if we will focus on the Lord, and remember that He is always with us.
II. PRAY CONTINUALLY
Many of us are familiar with :6-7 of Philippians 4: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
These verses are famous when it comes to fighting off worry, and rightly so. Let’s look at what they tell us:
— “Be anxious for (what?) NOTHING.” God doesn’t want us to be worrying about ANYTHING. Now understand me when I say this: sometimes we think it is a virtue to worry. And I understand where that idea comes from: our thought is: “I love this person so much, that I am just going to worry about every little thing they do.” But that is not how God wants you to show your love. He says, “Be anxious for NOTHING.” Do not worry about anything; even that loved one or that important situation.
Instead He says what? PRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” “In EVERYTHING” — in every situation, PRAY: “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” — in other words, with every different kind of prayer you can pray, PRAY about everything.
SO the summary of this scripture is: “WORRY about NOTHING; PRAY about EVERYTHING.” That’s easy to remember, and it makes sense — but the thing is DOING it! “Doing it” is always the thing. There are SO many things we “know” to do, but we don’t DO them:
- We know to eat less; but we don’t DO it!
- We know to save money, but we don’t DO it!
- We know we need to exercise, but we don’t DO it!
There are SO many things like that; it’s not that we don’t “know” it; it’s that we don’t DO it! And the whole thing is DOING it!
I’ll just be honest: how many times have I myself been in a situation, or heard about a situation, and I just started worrying about it — and it was some time later that I thought: “You know, you really need to PRAY about this — PASTOR SHAWN!!” We all probably do that some, I think. We get so caught up in worrying that we forget to REALLy pray. We “know” to pray, but we don’t always DO it as much as we should. And like everything in Christianity, the power is not in the “knowing” of it; it is in the DOING of it.
So every time you are tempted to worry; PRAY. Every time you think about it, PRAY. Many of us here today need to memorize this verse, and quote it every time you are tempted to worry about something. I have done that many times. And there have been times when I have quoted this verse, and prayed, and I felt better about it … for about 1 minute … and then the worry started coming up again! So what do you do? Quote the verse again, and pray AGAIN. And how many times do you need to do that? AS MANY TIMES AS IT TAKES! 500 times a day if you need to. THIS IS THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE. This is spiritual warfare. Do not give in to Satan’s lies and worry. Overcome his attacks by using God’s word and prayer.
And do it as often as you have to: “Worry about nothing. Pray about everything.” Put that on a card in your pocket; tape on your mirror; put it on the dash of your car, or on your desk at work or school: “Worry about nothing. Pray about everything.” But remember that the important thing is not just “memorizing” it, but DOING it. DO IT! “Worry about nothing. Pray about everything.” He says if you will do that, God’s peace will guard your mind, and you will win the victory over worry.
III. WATCH YOUR INPUT
We all know the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That applies here to worry as well, and we see it in :8, which says: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Here again we see the importance of CONTEXT. In CONTEXT we saw that “the Lord is near” comes right before the admonition to not be anxious, reminding us that His presence will help us not to worry. And here again, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that right AFTER the command to not be anxious, we find :8 advising us to watch what we “feed” our minds — feed it “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right (and so on) … think on THESE things.” Why would God say that right there, after He has been talking to us about worry & anxiety? Because what we “feed our minds” will have an impact on the way we think and feel. And at least SOME of the anxiety that we experience in our lives is a result of the input we are giving our minds.
We feed our minds by the things we watch, and read, and listen to — and it has a great impact on our thoughts, and our emotions, and our attitudes — in every area of our lives — including anxiety. If you tend to worry and be anxious, then one of the things you need to do, is carefully guard what you are feeding your mind. Make sure that you are not watching, and reading, and listening to, things that will make you tend to worry, or be anxious.
Cheryl & I don’t watch much television (except during college football season!) but a lot of times we’ll watch a “Poirot” or a “Miss Marple” or a BBC mystery when we eat dinner, and then afterwards we’ll read. But not long ago we were watching a show during dinner, and it was just SO intense, I said, “This thing is making me anxious just sitting here watching it. I don’t think this is good for my nerves.”
And yet how many times do we watch things like that, that make us anxious — and not just shows, but even the news — or maybe ESPECIALLY the news. I think sometimes the media just THRIVES on making us anxious, so that we’ll stay tuned to their channel:
— we’ve got to see if that storm develops;
— we’ve got to see if that riot gets worse;
— we’ve got to see if that international crisis gets resolved, and so on.
I think sometimes they thrive on making us anxious about what is going on, so we’ll get “hooked” on watching their channel. I’ve had several people tell me over the past months: “I’m turning the news stations off; they’re just making me worry too much.” And I think that’s a legitimate thing to do. Not that we need to “bury our heads in the sand” and never know what’s going on in the world, but don’t just sit and watch the news 24/7 and worry, worry, worry all day long about what they’re telling you. Again, probably a good prescription for many of us here would be to “glance at the news, and gaze at God.” It’s ok to watch the news. But don’t watch TOO much of it; especially if you see that it’s causing you to worry. “Glance at the news, and gaze at God.” Give GOD more attention than what the media is feeding you.
Honestly, I think I can make the statement that as a rule, most Americans, and probably most members of our church, could do with a lot less television in general. Someone told me the other day, “Bro. Shawn, with all the books you read, you must not watch much tv.” An we don’t. We might watch a BBC show while we eat, and then we turn it off and read. We don’t get Hulu until football season – then when football’s over, we cancel it again! We just don’t watch much tv. Really, what good is on there to watch? If you evaluate it by what Philippians 4:8 says here, ask yourself about the show/shows you are watching: “Is this ‘true’? Is it “honorable’? Is it ‘right’? Is it ‘PURE?” If it’s not, then we shouldn’t be watching it. If we really applied Philippians 4:8 to our tv watching (and we should!), there wouldn’t be much tv watching left!
And that would be ok. Honestly, MOST PEOPLE WOULD BENEFIT IN AMAZING WAYS, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, if they would watch much less television. And one of the ways that many of us would benefit, is that we would worry less, and be less anxious. We need to guard what we are feeding our minds.
But: it’s not just that you STOP putting the “bad stuff” in your mind; you then need to REPLACE it with something better. You can’t just “stop thinking about it.” It’s like the man who said “stop thinking about a pink elephant!” Well, you can’t do it; if you try to stop thinking about a pink elephant, that’s all you’ll think about! To get rid of that thought, you have to REPLACE it with something else.
A young man went to Key West, Florida in 1935 to visit Ernest Hemingway and get some advice on writing. Hemingway told him: “Always stop (writing) while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it. … So there is no sense to worry. You have to learn that to write a novel …”.
The young man said: “How can you learn not to worry?”
Hemingway told him: “By not thinking about it. As soon as you start to think about it stop it. THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE. You have to learn that.” (Ernest Hemingway, By-Line Ernest Hemingway, pp. 216-217)
Now, Ernest Hemingway was not necessarily the greatest role model in the world, but he had this right. If you want to stop thinking about something: THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE. If we want to stop thinking anxious thoughts, you’re not just going to “stop thinking them,” you have to “THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE” — you have to replace those worrisome thoughts with something better. As Philippians 4 says here, replace those thoughts with something that is “true, and honorable, and right, and pure …” — replace those negative thoughts with God’s word, which is true, and pure. Read the Bible — especially take a section a memorize it, and whenever you are tempted to be depressed or discouraged or worried, start quoting that scripture. And it will lift you up.
As we saw Wednesday night, Psalms are good for this. Wednesday night we studied Psalm 20, and we saw how an English doctor grew up in the 1800’s, and his mother was widowed, and had several children, and it was a tough time for that family. But he said whenever his mother was discouraged or worried, she would just sit down and quote Psalm 20, and it would give her peace. So the kids called Psalm 20 “Mother’s Psalm.”
Some of us need to do the same thing. There’s a Psalm you need to memorize, and that’s gonna become “your Psalm,” because you’re going to read it until you memorize it, and you’re going to turn to it whenever you are tempted to worry or be discouraged, and God’s Spirit is going to use that Psalm to lift you up in those times and help you trust Him. But that Psalm not just going to appear in your mind “like magic” — you’ve got to put some time and effort into memorizing that Psalm – or whatever portion of scripture God leads you to memorize. (Maybe it’s Philippians 4:1-8 here; whatever portion He leads you to.) But replace those anxious, worrisome thoughts, with God’s word, that is true and right and pure; and it will make a difference in your life, and your attitude.
It’s the same thing with Christian music and worship. Get more of God’s music; God’s thoughts into your life. Can you see how listening to “the Lord bless you and keep you, and make His face to shine upon you” is going to have a better impact on your life than listening to “oh, my heart, my achy break heart” or whatever? It matters what you listen to! It matters what you feed your heart and your mind, with what you read, and watch and listen to. You will take a big step in the right direction against worry and anxiety if you will replace your anxious thoughts with godly input that is “true and honorable and right and pure.”
Each of us needs to ask God today to show us some specific ways in our lives where we need to do that. Ask yourself:
— What input do I need to cut out of my life, that I have been feeding my mind but it is not being helpful to me? It’s causing me to worry or be anxious?
— What input do I need to ADD to my life that will help me? Start with daily Bible reading, at a minimum. Memorize scripture, like we’ve been talking about. Listen to Christian music. Look for opportunities in YOUR life and schedule when you can do that. One of our men has recently started using his 45-minute commute to work to listen to Christian podcasts and sermons and music, instead of other things. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing we need to do. A lot of us have a commute — mine is only 10 minutes right now, but I use that time to quote chapters of praise Psalms to get my heart set on God before I get to the office. What is it that YOU can do, to get more positive, godly input into your life? Whatever steps you can take, will help you to win the battle over anxiety and worry. Cut OUT the input that is dragging you down; and add IN more things that will lift you up, and help you remember and trust God. It will make a difference. What you feed your mind matters.
Then verse 9 ends with an important word: “PRACTICE these things (and he says you’ve seen these things in me) then the God of peace will be with you.” I.e, he says, you can have that peace you’re looking for. You can win the battle over anxiety and worry. But he says, you’ve got to “PRACTICE these things.” You’ve got to DO it! You can’t just listen to this message today and walk out and do the same things you have been doing. You’ve got to “practice these things;” you’ve got to DO what he shows us here:
— Remember that the Lord near; and find your joy in Him.
— PRAY every time you are tempted to worry; every single time. “Worry about nothing; pray about everything.”
— And watch your input. Replace the “garbage/anxious” input that has been dragging you down, with a Psalm or song or something spiritual that will lift your thoughts up to the Lord.
He says, “If you will PRACTICE these things — if you will DO them — then “the God of peace will be with you.” God will give you that peace that you’re looking for; He’ll help you, to deal with worry.