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.” 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)

 

With The Eye on The Finish Line

I’ve never been good at running. As a child, I was always last in my school’s races. As an adult, I do not have the stamina for it. But I love to watch runners (one of my favorite Olympic sports) and I imagine that being fast and strong would feel free and powerful.

Lately (I love summers when I have tons of time to read) I’ve been learning about runners, such as Glenn Cunningham and Norm Bright, whose lives shone forth dedication, passion, and discipline. They loved to run. Cunningham’s legs were burned as a child and he was not expected to walk, much less run or become the fastest long-distance runner in the world. Bright ran even after he became blind, and it’s told that in his 80’s, he would walk around his care center with his grandnephews, as he timed the walk on his stopwatch.

Paul, the apostle, defined life as a race. I may not understand what it feels to be physically fast, but I think I sort of get the concept of a race, if nothing else, because my life feels like one. I know I have left the starting line, and I am currently running. Sometimes I feel exhaustion, as if I can’t run any longer. Other times I feel energized and renewed, with fresh vision and stamina. And I know there is a finish line waiting for me. We all get there one way or another, sooner or later.

How will I run this race of mine? That is a question I need to answer constantly. Distractedly? Aimlessly? Self-relying? Or will I run it strongly and with macular vision? It is said that Cunningham’s favorite verse in the Bible was Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” This is my desire, to wait on the Lord and to continually sense the strength-renewing power that comes from abiding in HIM. Oh, I have known this power many times in my race. I have been lifted, dusted off, and energized plenty of times. It is not just wishful thinking. I know this power to be real and effective. Because as I run this race, in the power of God, He gets all the glory.

I do not know when my last day on earth will be. I do not know when I will reach my finishing line. Today, I pray for strength and vision for my next lap, and joy while I run with everything I’ve got. On that day, when my race is done, I will get everything my heart ever longed for, because when I meet Jesus face to face, He will be my everything. Ah, I can hardly contain my excitement and longing! When I cross that line, those who love me should throw a party and rejoice with me, for there is no greater reward than running the race, finishing well, and obtaining one’s reward.

 

Glenn Cunningham, 1933

Glenn Cunningham, 1933

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:13-14