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Do not look ahead in fear but look back in appreciation
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Come Thirsty,” published in 2004 by W Publishing Group.
The idea captured the fancy of futuristic scientists: an eight-story, glass-and-steel dome in which eight scientists could lead a self-sustained life. The outside elements of the Sonora Desert would not touch them. Let the sun blaze. Let the winds blow, Let the sand fly. Safe within the dome the researchers would be untouched.
So, with the hope of developing a space-colony prototype, the biospherians entered the two-hundred-million-dollar, three-acre terrarium in 1991.1 They planted their seeds and grew their food; scientists watched with fascination, and not too few of us felt a tinge of envy.
Who hasn’t longed for a rotunda of relief? Not from an Arizona desert, but from the harsh winds and hot sun of life. The bank demands the mortgage each month. Hospital bills pack a knockout punch. Semester finals lurk around the corner.
And look around you. You have reason to worry. The sun blasts cancer-causing rays. Air vents blow lung-clotting molds. Potato chips have too many carbs. Vegetables, too many toxins. And do they have to call an airport a terminal? Why does the pilot tell passengers, “We are about to make our final approach”? Even on the ground, the flight attendant urges us to stay seated until we have reached a “complete stop.” Is there any other kind? Do some airlines have “sort of stops,” “partial stops,” or “little bits of stops”?
Some of us have postgraduate degrees from the University of Anxiety. We go to sleep worried that we won’t wake up; we wake up worried that we didn’t sleep. We worry that someone will discover that lettuce was fattening all along. The mother of one teenager bemoaned, “My daughter doesn’t tell me anything. I’m a nervous wreck.” Another mother replied, “My daughter tells me everything. I’m a nervous wreck.” Wouldn’t you love to stop worrying? Could you use a strong shelter from life’s harsh elements?
God offers you just that: the possibility of a worry-free life. Not just less worry, but no worry. He created a dome for your heart. “His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NLT).
Interested? Then take a good look at the rest of the passage.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (vv. 6—7)
The Christians in Philippi needed a biosphere. Attacks were coming at them from all angles. Preachers served for selfish gain (1:15—17). Squabbling church members threatened the unity of the church (4:2). False teachers preached a crossless gospel (3:2—3, 18—19). Some believers struggled to find food and shelter (4:19). Persecutions outside. Problems inside.
Enough hornets’ nests to make you worry. Folks in Philippi had them. Folks today have them. To them and us God gives the staggering proposal: “Don’t worry about anything.”
Yeah, right. And while I’m at it, I’ll leapfrog the moon. Are you kidding?
Jesus isn’t. Two words summarize his opinion of worry: irrelevant and irreverent.
“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not” (Matthew 6:27 NLT). Worry is irrelevant. It alters nothing. When was the last time you solved a problem by worrying about it? Imagine someone saying, “I got behind in my bills, so I resolved to worry my way out of debt. And, you know, it worked! A few sleepless nights, a day of puking and hand wringing. I yelled at my kids and took some pills, and---glory to worry---money appeared on my desk.”
It doesn’t happen! Worry changes nothing. You don’t add one day to your life or one bit of life to your day by worrying. Your anxiety earns you heartburn, nothing more. Regarding the things about which we fret:
• 30 percent regard unchangeable deeds of the past
• 12 percent focus on the opinions of others that cannot be controlled
• 10 percent center on personal health, which only worsens as we worry about it
• 40 percent never happen
• 8 percent concern real problems that we can influence2
Ninety-two percent of our worries are needless! Not only is worry irrelevant, doing nothing; worry is irreverent, distrusting God.
And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith! (Matthew 6:28—30, emphasis mine)
Worry betrays a fragile faith, an “unconscious blasphemy.” We don’t intentionally doubt God, but don’t we, when we worry, essentially doubt God? We assume the attitude of a kid asking Michelangelo, “You sure you know what to do with that rock?” No wonder the apostle urges us to “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6 NASB). Paul is not promoting an irresponsible, careless life. We are not to be like the procrastinating minister. I won’t worry, he told himself. The Holy Spirit will give me my message. All week long he avoided his work, saying, The Holy Spirit will give me my message. Finally, on Sunday, he stood before the church and prayed aloud, “All right, Lord. Give me a message.” Much to the surprise of the church, a heavenly voice filled the sanctuary. “Tell the people you didn’t study.”
Manage your problems? Of course. But let your problems manage you? The worrisome heart does.
And the worrisome heart pays a high price for doing so. Worry comes from the Greek word that means “to divide the mind.” Anxiety splits us right down the middle, creating a double-minded thinker. Rather than take away tomorrow’s trouble, worry voids today’s strength. Perception is divided, distorting your vision. Strength is divided, wasting your energy. Who can afford to lose power?
But how can we stop doing so? Paul offers a two-pronged answer: God’s part and our part. Our part includes prayer and gratitude. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6 NLT, emphasis mine).
Want to worry less? Then pray more. Rather than look forward in fear, look upward in faith. This command surprises no one. Regarding prayer, the Bible never blushes. Jesus taught people that “it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit” (Luke 18:1 MSG). Paul told believers, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart” (Colossians 4:2 NLT). James declared, “Are any among you suffering? They should keep on praying about it” (James 5:13 NLT).
Rather than worry about anything, “pray about everything.” Everything? Diaper changes and dates? Business meetings and broken bathtubs? Procrastinations and prognostications? Pray about everything. “In everything ... let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 NKJV).
When we lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I used to take my daughters on bus rides. For a few pennies, we could board a bus and ride all over the city. May sound dull to us, but if you are two years old, such a day generates World Cup excitement. The girls did nothing on the trip. I bought the token, carried the backpack, and selected the route. My only request of them was this: “Stay close to me.” Why? I knew the kind of characters who might board a bus. And God forbid that my daughters and I got separated.
Our Father makes the same request. “Stay close to me. Talk to me. Pray to me. Breathe me in and exhale your worry.” Worry diminishes as we look upward. God knows what can happen on this journey, and he wants to bring us home.
Pray about everything.
And don’t skip Paul’s ingredient of gratitude. “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”
Do what the shepherd boy David did when he faced Goliath. David didn’t cower before the giant’s strength. He focused on God’s success. When Saul refused to let him go head to knee with Goliath, David produced God’s track record.
“I have been taking care of my father’s sheep,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and take the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The LORD who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine!”
Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the LORD be with you!” (1 Samuel 17:34—37 NLT)
Are you afraid of a giant? Then recall the lion and the bear. Don’t look forward in fear; look backward in appreciation. God’s proof is God’s past. Forgetfulness sires fearfulness, but a good memory makes for a good heart.
It works like this. Let’s say a stress stirrer comes your way. The doctor decides you need an operation. She detects a lump and thinks it best that you have it removed. So there you are, walking out of her office. You’ve just been handed this cup of anxiety. What are you going to do with it? You can place it in one of two pots.
You can dump your bad news in the vat of worry and pull out the spoon. Turn on the fire. Stew on it. Stir it. Mope for a while. Brood for a time. Won’t be long before you’ll have a delightful pot of pessimism. Some of you have been sipping from this vat for a long time. Your friends and family have asked me to tell you that the stuff you’re drinking is getting to you.
How about a different idea? The pot of prayer. Before the door of the doctor’s office closes, give the problem to God. “I receive your lordship. Nothing comes to me that hasn’t passed through you.” In addition, stir in a healthy helping of gratitude. You don’t think about a lion and bear, but you do remember the tax refund, the timely counsel, or the suddenly open seat on the overbooked flight. A glimpse into the past generates strength for the future.
Your part is prayer and gratitude.
God’s part? Peace and protection. “If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NLT).
Believing prayer ushers in God’s peace. Not a random, nebulous, earthly peace, but his peace. Imported from heaven. The same tranquility that marks the throne room, God offers to you.
Do you think he battles anxiety? You suppose he ever wrings his hands or asks the angels for antacids? Of course not. A problem is no more a challenge to God than a twig is to an elephant. God enjoys perfect peace because God enjoys perfect power.
And he offers his peace to you. A peace that will “guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Paul employs a military metaphor here. The Philippians, living in a garrison town, were accustomed to the Roman sentries maintaining their watch. Before any enemy could get inside, he had to pass through the guards. God gives you the same offer. His supernatural peace overshadows you like a protective dome, guarding your heart.
After twenty-four months, the biosphere in Arizona proved to be a total flop. Biological balance between the plants got out of whack. Oxygen dipped dangerously low. Researchers squabbled among themselves. The ants ran amuck and conquered most of the other bugs. The experiment failed, and the dome was abandoned.
But the dome of God still stands. We need only stay beneath it. Are you tied up in knots? “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV). Strong verb there. Cast. Not place, lay, or occasionally offer. Peter enlisted the same verb Gospel writers used to describe the way Jesus treated demons. He cast them out. An authoritative hand on the collar, another on the belt, and a “Don’t come back.” Do the same with your fears. Get serious with them. Immediately cast them upon God.
Worry is an option, not an assignment. God can lead you into a worry-free world. Be quick to pray. Focus less on the problems ahead and more on the victories behind. Do your part, and God will do his. He will guard your heart with his peace . . . a peace that passes understanding. (99-106)
1. “Biosphere 2 Today, A New Dynamic for Ecosystem Study and Education,” http://www.accessexcellence.orgfLC/ST/st4bg,html.
2. Bob Russell with Rusty Russell, Jesus, Lord of Your Personality: Four Powerful Principles for Change (West Monroe: LA: Howard Publishing, 2002), 41.
3. R G.V Tasker, ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1976), 169.
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