Dealing With Anxiety: Answers in Philippians

So I’m reading Philippians this morning (one of my favorite books of the Bible — basically my go-to book whenever I need perspective), and I stop in my tracks when I get to 2:28. I notice something for the first time, “Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.”Β I notice the words: Less anxiety.

Paul had anxiety?

I try to put it in context, understanding the background story: The believers in Philippi loved Paul and wanted to provide for him, knowing he was enduring suffering and persecution (just as they were). So they sent him a man called Epaphroditus to help him. EP (let’s abbreviate, shall we?) stayed with Paul, risking his life and becoming very ill, to the point of near death. EP had become very distressed to hear that the Philippians found out that he was ill. He didn’t want to cause them worry (a lot to learn from that kind of selfless attitude), and now longed to return home.

So here comes the verse where Paul says that he is also eager to send EP back home, so that when the Philippians see him again, they can be glad. This would relieve Paul of anxiety. It would not take it away, but it would lessen it.

Yes, Paul had anxiety.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, anxiety is a human emotion; a natural response to difficult circumstances. I’ve read psalm upon psalm where King David pours out his anxiety in song. However, I am smiling just because, for the first time, I read it in Paul’s words.

I just love the apostle Paul. I love that he freely shares his struggles and he also explains how he deals with them. He has so many reasons to be anxious. Pain. Persecution. Loneliness. Alienation from loved ones (no facebook or skype, say what?). Sickness. Poverty. You name it! He is not some kind of saint who is above human feelings and discouragement. He struggles, and in the midst of his struggles, he writes encouraging notes to his friends. He shares how anxiety and pain do not rule him, but he has found inexplicable peace.

Shouldn’t I read this letter and see what advice he gives his loved ones? Paul doesn’t only write from a purely theological and intellectual place. He writes from experience! Yes, there is copious amount of doctrine in every line, but similarly, there is practical, day to day help for people like me. In this letter, I read not only what Paul says to his friends in the form of counsel, but I also read about his own attitude and view of life. This wonderful, little book gives me insight into the man who experienced peace in spite of the storm. Here are the 7 answers to anxiety I see in the book of Philippians:

  1. He is thankful for the people who surround him and spends himself encouraging them, praying for them, and building them up. He has learned to love people deeply and genuinely care for their well-being. He puts others first. (1:3-9, 2:1-5)

  2. He lives, not for himself, but for the glory of another. He is driven by the call to advance the Gospel. He is single minded in purpose and pursuit. (1:12-26)

  3. He truly understands that suffering and hardship are in the hand of God. It’s not simply that God is not surprised by the suffering he’s going through, but he is convinced that God has sent it his way, and for a good reason. (1:28-30)

  4. He rejoices. I think this is an attitude of being joyful, as opposed to grumbling or complaining. Because he has such a high view of God, he is able to see his life from a positive perspective. (2:12-18

  5. He not only gives encouragement, but he allows himself to receive it from others. He is not proud to think he doesn’t need help, but rejoices when others offer friendship and support (2:19-30, 4:10-20)

  6. He is not self-reliant, in other words, he doesn’t trust that he is strong enough or good enough to achieve his goal and complete his race. He trusts and relies in the power of God. He prays earnestly, confident that God will empower him to do His will. (3:1-11)

  7. He does not dwell in the past and doesn’t wallow in the things he could have done or should have done. He looks to the future instead — not the immediate future, but the ultimate one. Within that perspective, he doesn’t rely on temporary things, but has his eye on eternal things. (3:12-4:9)

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your life in writing. One day I will meet you and rejoice alongside you.

I will keep this book close by to meditate on through the course of my life. I want to imitate Paul, because he imitated Christ.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:6-7)

 

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