One of the ways that God has helped me better understand sanctification, that is how to grow spiritually and how to take practical steps towards change, has been through the works of David Powlison, namely his book entitled Seeing with New Eyes (e.g. Sanctification is another wonderful primer on progressive sanctification). Let me see if I can give you a summary of one of his chapters on the problem emotion of anxiety and worry.
He looks primarily at a passage in the gospels (Luke 12), but I would like for us (since we are in Philippians for our sermon series) to understand his thoughts in light of Philippians 4:1-7:
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion,help these women, who have laboredside by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus”.
The reason why I wanted us to think about spiritual growth this week is because there are a lot of you who are again wrestling with various fears and insecurities as our city re-opens. What is this re-opening going to look like? How safe is it going to be? What will my life look like going into this new phase? I certainly don’t want to add to all of the polarizing controversies out there that are coming from different camps about how we should re-open. However, we need to continue to follow the guidelines of our government and health officials, and we need to continue to be good neighbors (keeping social distancing, etc.).
I do want to share with you Powlison’s insights about practical steps we can take toward change as we deal with anxiety and fear.
He gives us four initial, orienting perspectives:
- The Bible is very clear about telling us not to be afraid (e.g. 365 times the Bible gives this command, “do not be afraid,” or “fear not”).
- This may seem ironic but there are very good reasons for us to be anxious and afraid.
You might have anticipated the opposite, but we actually have good reasons to be afraid – since everything in our world is fallen because of sin. Because of that, there is fragility all around us. On top of that, there are so many uncertainties about our future. I’ve said this before that anxiety operates in the future tense. Worriers fantasize about their concerns that are in the future.
- We don’t want to be anxious and afraid but we are! That is not our desire but it is our reality. It is the opposite of trust and the basic form of it is forgetfulness or temporary amnesia while the worst form of it is catastrophizing.
- There are good reasons for us to trust in God in the midst of our anxiety and fear. Here are some truths we find in Philippians 4:
- We can stand firm because we are in the Lord (Phil. 4:1).
- We are loved because we are called the beloved and we are called by Paul as his “joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1). God is mindful of those whom he loves.
- Jesus was willing to enter into our sinful life setting in order to rescue us (2:5-8).
- He is not only working in us to change us but he desires to do so! (2:13).
- Our names are written in the book of life (4:3).
- He also listens to our prayers and supplications (4:6).
- He guards our hearts (4:7).
- He gives us his peace (4:7).
- He will be with us (4:9).
- He supplies for all our needs (4:19).
- He provides his grace for us (4:23)
There are good reasons to trust – even though there are good reasons to be anxious, there are better reasons to trust!
Powlison goes on to give six practical steps for putting this biblical truth to work:
- Recognize, identify, and name the fruit of your anxiety (anxious feelings, irritability, looking for coping mechanisms such as over-eating, over-bingeing on the screen, sexual fantasy, etc.).
- Gather and rehearse the reasons for trusting in God. Rehearsing all of the reasons from Scripture why we should trust. “Preach/speak the gospel/biblical truth into your own heart”.
- Specify what the “anything” is in verse 6: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” You need to personalize that “anything” at this moment! It is good to have a specific, personalized “anything” that you are naming!
- Excavate deep into your heart to determine what the treasure/source is that is being manifested in the specific personalized “anything” anxiety. That is why Jesus says in Luke 12:34, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He talks about this in light of the theme of anxiety and worry. Something has hijacked your heart that is causing you to be anxious about your “anything.”
- Pray and find your rest in being able to lay your requests before God. It is what the Psalmist says in Psalm 62 – God alone is his hope, his only salvation and fortress. Therefore, he shall not be shaken (Psalm 62:5-6). He places his rest on God, his refuge.
We all face challenges that make little sense to us. We will never ultimately be able to find rest in things we don’t fully understand. Rest can only be found in trusting God who understands it all. There is only one who perfectly knows what is going on and who knows what is in the darkness (Daniel 2:22). Seek this God, who is willing to hear and say, “help me! I need your help!”
- Only do what needs to be done today! To put it another way, let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day – tomorrow will take care of itself. Powlison gives this description of having a six-foot circle of all the concerns that you have – that we have a big six-foot circle of our concern and we start worrying about those future concerns which we don’t have control over. He contrasts that with a six-inch circle of our responsibilities. He says, “only one or two within the six-inch circle is an action item for you today!” Some of the others might emerge in the future but you must entrust those concerns to God and respond in active obedience in walking by faith and making informed decisions in faith for the one or two action items that we have for today.
Tonight is our weekly “Wednesdays with Pastor Um” session at 7:00 p.m. I will field some of the questions that were asked in last week’s session. Look back at the latest Citylife News email, subscribe to our weekly Newsletter here or join our Citylife Social FB group to find the meeting login info.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit (Philippians 4:23),