Finding God’s peace and guarding our heart.
Everyone deals with anxiety and few know how to handle it in a healthy way. When a difficulty arises, people often say something like, “Don’t let yourself worry.”
Unfortunately, we can’t just decide not to think about something, our mind needs to be focused. Do this experiment. Think about nothing. Most people think about blackness, but blackness is something. Empty space is something. Anything that represents nothing to us is something. This is what we are expecting when we say, “Don’t worry.” Thinking about not worrying keeps the focus on what we are trying to avoid.
It doesn’t work does it? I have yet to see someone stop worrying when told to do so. Often times, when sermons are preached or advice is given on worry, it only creates more worry. At first we worried about a problem, now we worry that we don’t have enough faith to stop worrying. When someone says that worry is a lack of faith, we become concerned about our spiritual condition on top of the problem we were already struggling with.
The Bible gives the answer. It is not to just stop and create a vacuum in our minds, but to have a shift of focus. Look at Philippians 4:6-8
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things.
This passage doesn’t merely say not to be anxious, but to overcome our anxiety by following practical steps. Steps that we know how to do if living biblically is already part of our lives.
The passage above gives us clear direction. Best of all, the results are not dependent upon us. It doesn’t say that we should guard our hearts and minds against worry / anxiety. It says that if we do these things, God will give us peace beyond human understanding as He guards our hearts and minds through Christ. How can we have peace in the storms of life? It’s impossible by human standards, but God has the power to give us a peace that goes beyond our human understanding.
Let’s look at the steps. First, we focus on prayer. Not just a prayer of, “God get me out of this,” but a prayer established upon thanksgiving. Remember David’s testimony in Psalms? When he complained, grief overwhelmed him, but when he meditated on the works of the Lord and the goodness of God’s hand in his life, he found comfort. His problems were still present, but how he faced them changed.
The Bible promises that the believer has the privilege of coming confidently before the throne of God in our time of need. Prayer is how we come before the throne of God. Prayer is talking to God. You don’t need to sound holy and spiritual, just pour your heart out before Him. That is what supplication means – to entreat the Lord, ask, or present a need before Him. But notice that we are entreating the Lord for our needs with thanksgiving. This is a very important part of praying for our needs or the needs of others.
A faithless prayer is, “Why are you letting this happen? Get me out of this mess.” There is no thankfulness. There is no focus on the end result or the eternal perspective.
A thankful heart reveals our true focus. A thankful heart stops and thinks upon the goodness of the Lord, and considers the truth that God seeks our eternal good through every situation. God will sacrifice your good in this life to keep you in the goodness of the eternal life to come. The thankless can’t see this clearly. But if we are living a surrendered and thankful life, we will have removed our greatest barrier to God’s goodness over us.
A stubborn person has to endure much more pain than a submissive one. There are people who go through life with both fists balled. They are usually those who think life is unfair. It’s unfair because life doesn’t stay within the boundaries of what they believe is right and wrong based on their own perceived needs.
The truth is that God sees the plan of eternity and how you fit into that plan. Sometimes life doesn’t make sense, but one thing is certain, the one who clings to faith always finds the goodness of God’s plan. The ones who buck against the Lord often miss it. Or can’t see it before them.
When I present my petition to God with thanksgiving, I am acknowledging His wisdom and my trust that His word is true – He really is out for my good. Sorrow is not a lack of faith. Acknowledging pain and frustration isn’t a lack of faith. Demanding that God change His plan is a lack of faith. Demanding that God conform to our will is also a lack of faith.
Freely acknowledge your struggles, hurts, worries, and feelings, and do so with thanksgiving. This will help you trust what God is doing rather than trying to escape it. Be thankful for what He has done and is doing. Meditate on His wondrous works. Search your heart to find reasons to be thankful. It will change your attitude. Over time, it will transform your heart into one that seeks the Lord. And it places you squarely in the promise that when you do so, He will guard your heart and mind, and give you His incomprehensible peace.
God’s word remains untried in the life of most Christians. It sounds good in theory, but because it goes against human nature, we abandon it when we need it the most.
It’s no accident that the passage above concludes with an instruction on meditation. We can’t meditate with a tumultuous mind; therefore, we pour out our hearts, set our minds on thanksgiving, and afterward, we follow God’s plan of bringing the focus of our minds to where it should be.
Most of us brood. We may force out a meager praise and make a prayer, but afterward we pick up the burden again through our brooding. The troubles we supposedly gave to the Lord remain the focus of our thoughts and we again dwell upon our problems. Anxiety remains and we fall into self-pity. Or we pick up our anger and frustrations and brood upon these and cultivate bitterness, frustration, and hatred.
The method God has given us is to end our prayers with meditation. Think upon these things – whatever is true, lovely, pure, honest, just, things of good report, praiseworthy, or virtuous, etc.
This goes completely against human nature. A bad report hits our tongues and is spread at lightning speed. We like to talk about bad things, and we naturally dwell on negative thoughts. There must be an intentional effort to set our minds on the things that are godly so we remain in the peace of God and cultivate a thankful heart. It’s the only way to fully experience the peace of God and grow into spiritual maturity. To neglect these things stunts our growth and keeps us in the circle of frustration.
True biblical meditation is difficult to put into practice. It’s not difficult to understand, but it goes against human nature. Knowing what God has taught means nothing until we learn to put these things into practice. Each moment you spend in thought, you are either training your mind toward negative habits, or positive. Negativism is a strain on the mind, while meditating on the godly things strengthens the mind and heals emotions.
Consider the plain truth before us. What causes someone to have a nervous breakdown? There are exceptions, but the vast majority of the time it is prolonged stress. Each stressful thought adds to the burden and the pressure builds. When the mind reaches the breaking point, a total collapse occurs, and the person is incapable of dealing with anything.
While we cannot control many of the situations that cause stress, we can learn to deal with it in a healthy way, and we can unload our mental burdens through the principles we have discussed here. We have the power to overcome these thoughts. Look at 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
We naturally want to confront the flesh through the flesh; however, God presents a different way. Our spiritual minds are mighty in God and He empowers us. Or should I say that He has already empowered us. It’s called walking in the Spirit. We’ll discuss walking in the Spirit in the next chapter, but for now be aware that our goal is not to muscle our minds into submission, but to turn from the flesh and walk in the Spirit where victory has already been given.
You and I have the power to take every thought captive and into obedience to godliness. When we catch ourselves dwelling on unhealthy thoughts or brooding, we must put God’s ways into action. The offending thought should be arrested and taken out of the way.
When angry, your first inclination will be to brood and give stress free reign over your mind. You will not have the desire to take that thought captive because our flesh enjoys its indulgences. You and I have to willfully submit ourselves under God’s direction and give ourselves wholly to the word of God. And I assure you that you won’t feel like it until after you’ve stepped into faith. Then you’ll discover the world of victory and wonder why it was so difficult. Yet the next time you’ll have the same battle again.
As we develop spiritual disciplines, it gets easier, but not necessarily easy. Each time we must willfully choose to surrender to God’s ways before we overcome. The good news is that as you do these things God has commanded, you’ll be training your mind to dwell on godly things and it will change your attitude, outlook on life, and drive you toward spiritual maturity.
The Bible says that we must constantly put ourselves and others in remembrance of these things. You will forget. This goes for every spiritually good thing. We naturally tend to drift toward old patterns and the easy way of thinking. Any dead fish can float down stream. In the same way, it takes no life and no effort to allow ourselves to drift toward our old ways of thinking. We must swim against the current and remind others of these principles so they can be refreshed in the Lord, too.
When we read the Old Testament account where the Jewish people murmured against God, it’s easy to wonder how they could be so blind. Yet we face the same scenario each day. The Lord has given me the answers to living a focused life. These principles teach me how to have a good attitude, see the loving hand of God, and be encouraged in any circumstance. If I refuse to apply these things in my own life, I’m no different than those who refused to see the miracles and the strong hand of the Lord, and instead said, “Has God brought us into the wilderness to die?”
The same God who led a faithless group of people out of bondage and to the edge of the promise, also leads you and I. They couldn’t inherit the promise because they couldn’t see past their problems to see the blessing. Can we? We can if we apply our hearts to the wisdom of God’s teaching.
Wisdom is the Spirit of God instructing us through His word. In scripture, wisdom cries out, “Turn at my rebuke; surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.” Not only does the word rebuke my bad attitude, it shows me how to change it. The same voice of wisdom also warns that if I refuse the instruction of God’s wisdom, I will eat the fruit of my own ways and suffer the calamity of my actions. Then if I call for deliverance, I will not be rescued from the consequences of refusing God’s instruction of wisdom.
We have the answer before us. As Jesus said, these words are spirit and they are life. It isn’t easy to turn from our own ways, but we must do so in order to find the joy of God’s peace, life, and deliverance from the ways of the flesh.
Do you want to be a man or woman after God's own heart? Meditate on these things. Cultivate a thankful heart. Think upon the word, God's works, and then trust Him enough to let go of anything that prevents you from submitting wholly to the Lord. It will change your life.