The Strategy for God’s Peace
Last week we looked at Romans 12 and ways to battle for our mind in the difficulties of chronic illness. Now let’s look at another equally important passage on thinking and anxiety.*
“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 understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 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. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”Philippians 4:6-9
These verses give us several more practical things to do in our chronic illness.
1. Move on
We are not supposed to allow anxious thoughts to stay in our minds. That is the number one problem I discovered. A worrisome thought can come to me either because I allow it to or because Satan has cast a doubt in my mind. He does this much more frequently when we are already weak.
I think of Elijah in I Kings 19. He has challenged the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and literally run all the way back to Jezreel. Already exhausted, he then flees to Beersheba to escape Jezebel’s threat. By the time he arrives in the nearby wilderness, he is physically weak. At that moment he relies on his thoughts and not God’s, and he forgets what God has just done on Mount Carmel.
The most comforting thing in this narrative is that God never once chides Elijah for his weakness. Instead, He recognizes Elijah’s limitations, gives him food and rest for forty days, and then speaks to him in a still, small voice telling him what he needs to do next.
So we are not supposed to beat ourselves up inside when we feel anxiety grip us. We can, however, take our minds in a different direction.
Here I have a choice: I can dwell on that worrisome thought, or I can move on to the things Philippians tells me to do. If I dwell on the worrisome thought, the anxiety will overcome me. But if I switch gears and do the next steps in the passage, my mind will change, leading to changes in my attitude and emotions as well.
The next part of verse 6 says to pray with supplication and thanksgiving.
Supplication means asking God for help, letting Him know what you’re struggling with. Thanksgiving means thanking God that He hears us, that He promises to help us, and that He cares about all matters of our lives that might cause us to be anxious.
We also ought to think of other things we’re thankful for, remembering what God has done in the past as a way to encourage us to trust Him now.
Then, once we’ve thanked God for His work in the past, we know better how to ask Him to continue to help us with this anxiety in the present and in the future.
The next step is to ask Him our petitions, to pour out our heart before Him (Psalm 62:8) knowing that He hears us (Psalm 34:7) and cares for us (I Peter 5:8) and can answer us beyond what we expect (Eph 3:20).
As we take these steps, we discover a peace from God starting to overflow us. We can then adapt our thinking to the series of prompts listed in verse 8.
It now becomes an intentional choice to think about the things that force our minds to change from their natural, negative tendencies to a new way of thinking.
I know from personal experience that this particular struggle is unbelievably intense! When you are getting no answers for your condition and are told, “It’s all in your head,” but you know something is seriously wrong, or you get the next bill and you have no way to pay it, or you have things you need to do and can barely pull yourself out of bed as the dizziness washes over you, let alone accomplish those tasks . . . Switching our minds to Christ and truth in those moments comes only through the grace of God!
But as we choose to intentionally, continually refocus our thoughts, we will discover that God steps in and helps us. Our minds will slowly, steadily, and consistently change so that anxiety no longer controls us the way it used to.
So let’s look at this list in verse 8:
Is the thing on your mind right now true?
Is the thing on your mind right now honorable to God, to yourself, to another person?
Are the thoughts you’re thinking right now right biblical? Can you think of a biblical reference that supports what you are thinking in this moment?
Are you making sure your mind is pure? Are there thoughts that need to be stopped and repented of as you move to a different thought pattern?
Is what you’re thinking about right now giving you a picture of something lovely? If not, switch to something lovely like a flower or a butterfly or the kindness a friend showed you.
“OF GOOD REPORT”
The things that are going through your mind if you utter them in a setting with other people, will that develop a reputation for godliness either about your character or about the character of another you are anxious over?
“VIRTUE AND PRAISE/PRAISEWORTHY”
Is what you were thinking about excellent in your mind?
Is what you’re thinking about worthy of praise? Could you tell other people how you would praise God in this situation for what He has done, is doing, or will do?
The last part of verse 8 is profoundly important:
As easily as we spend our time dwelling on all the things that can cause us trouble, discourage us, or defeat us or those we care about, we must similarly spend our time dwelling on those positive things.
I will say from personal experience that when I do this, it completely changes my world from one of profound anxiety, fear, and despair to one of quiet hope and trust, even when things are still difficult externally.
My external circumstances cannot control what God has done to create peace in my heart.
So then the logical last step comes in the last verse of this passage:
“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
We can talk about these ideas all day long, but unless we actually, intentionally, daily–sometimes by the moment–choose to do them, we will not have peace.
We must choose to think differently. We must choose to keep our minds fixed on God and His Word, not on the billowing waves around us.
When Peter went to Jesus walking on the water in the middle of that massive storm (Matthew 14:25-31), he was able to stay above the water as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus.
The minute he took his eyes off Jesus, looking instead, all around him, at the storm and waves and the “what if”s and the troubles, he started to sink.
The only way he was rescued was when he turned his mind and eyes back to Jesus and cried out to the Lord to save him from drowning.
Like Peter, we have to choose to keep our minds on Jesus Christ. Only then will we be kept from sinking into the billows of anxiety.
*If your anxiety is a result of a physical condition (brain damage, hormonal imbalance, etc.), appropriate medication may help but should not exclude obedience to these biblical instructions.