“Unbelief and Anxiety” Philippians 4:6-7 January 6, 2008
SI: Last sermon in this series on unbelief.
The thesis of this series is that whenever sins crop up in our lives—
whether attitudinal or behavioral—
it’s a sign of lurking, growing, unbelief in God.
The flip side of the coin, the positive side is that all righteousness,
all good deeds in our lives come from faith in God,
in his word, both the promises and the warnings.
So the way to fight sin in our lives is to battle unbelief,
and the way to pursue righteousness and holiness and love,
is to fight the good fight of faith.
Each week, we’re looking at passages in which believers
are struggling with certain temptations,
and then show how faith helps us overcome.
INTRO: This afternoon I’m leaving for
I’ll be staying with a seminary friend and preaching and teaching
on four different occasions. I’ve been preparing for this trip for some time,
and I want to thank you for your support and prayers.
Last Saturday was cleaning the garage and I bent over to pick up at tool,
and something happened to me that I have never experienced.
My lower back “went out on me,” as people say.
I’ve always been amused by that expression—My back went out on me.
And I’ve wondered. What exactly does that mean?
How does your back go out on you? Now I know.
I was instantly crippled with excruciating pain.
I began shuffling around the garage, moaning with every step.
And two thoughts came to me one after the other—
The first was: My back!
And the second was:
And even in my pain, my mind started working really fast, spinning out scenarios.
All this planning, all this study—down the drain—I’m not going to be able to go.
I’m going to let my friend down.
I’m going to lose my non-refundable ticket.
I’m probably going to need back surgery.
And on and on it went.
None of that happened. A number of people assured me—
Now, when you pull your back like this, just take it easy,
it will work out in a week—and it has.
I wish worry would work out just as easily as a pulled back.
But if you have ever been in the grip of worry, you know what a hold
it has on you—and how it can go on for weeks and months.
Recall a time when you were anxious about something.
You got in bed and tried to go to sleep.
But you couldn’t keep your mind from spinning out scenarios.
You create and rewind and edit different possibilities for hours.
You consider every angle. You analyze and review.
What if this happens? What if that happens?
You reply all the steps that got you into this situation.
What if I had done this first?
Why didn’t I do that? Why couldn’t I see that coming?
These powers within you master you, they tyrannize you.
It can even become a chronic problem so that your life is dominated by worry.
It can grip a person with the same intensity as the most tempting idol or sin.
Just before Jesus introduces the subject of worry in the Sermon on Mount he says:
“No one can serve two masters . . . you cannot serve both God and Money.”
His point is that money can master people, it can drive them,
control their thoughts, dominate their lives.
They can become slaves to it.
And then, what that theme of mastery and slavery in mind—
Jesus turns to the subject of worry.
And the connection is clear: Worry can grip a person as powerfully as money can.
Worry can dominate and enslave.
It argues with you, threatens you, bullies you.
And worry is an enemy of faith. It is a form of unbelief.
Has this ever happened to you?
You are trying to encourage a fellow Christian who is in a troubling situation.
Maybe he has come to you and said, I’m worried about this problem.
And you say, the Lord is in control. Your life is in his hands.
Maybe you quote some Scripture and pray with him.
And the person says: “Yes, but . . .”
Yes, I know that’s true, but it’s not true for me.
Then he gives the reasons why these comforting words don’t amount to much.
I’ve had that happen to me, and I’ve done that myself.
Worry is a destructive spiritual force that argues against any relief
that God’s work and God’s people can give.
It sometimes leads even Christians to that perplexing condition in which it seems
that they don’t want to be relieved. Nothing you say comforts them.
They even seem to resent your attempts to cheer them with God’s promises.
I don’t want to overstate the power of worry—but I want you to know,
as you probably already do, that you can’t solve it with psychological tricks.
It has to be answered by faith.
Let’s look at this subject—and two great passages, Matthew 6, Philippians 4.
1. Two strategies for answering worry by faith.
2. Two stories of answering worry by faith.
MP#1 Two strategies for answering worry by faith.
One of these comes from Jesus in Matthew 6, one from Paul in Philippians 4.
Two strategies are think and pray.
What is faith? Faith, this is not going to sound very spiritual—faith is thinking.
Many people say faith is not thinking. Leaving behind mind and reason.
Nothing could be farther from the biblical view of faith.
Let me show you how Jesus teaches this.
Jesus says to you—Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink.
Doesn’t stop there. “Look at the birds . . .” So you watch birds. Build nests.
Some eat seeds, some eat worms. Always very busy, food is provided.
Jesus says—now think:
If God has created ways in nature for birds to be fed, isn’t He going
to do the same for you? Doesn’t God love you more than birds?
Aren’t you much more valuable than a bird?
You are tremendously valuable—made in God’s image.
Jesus says don’t worry about body, what you will wear.
Doesn’t stop there. “See how the lilies of the field grow.”
So you look—see beautiful. More beautiful than Solomon’s robes.
Jesus says—now think.
If God created beautiful flowers, last a few days, then gone forever,
won’t he take care of you? You are made for eternity.
And as you look through the rest of this passage, over and over Jesus gives
arguments for not worrying that he wants you to think about.
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Now think. Anxiety accomplishes nothing worthwhile.
“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows
that you need them.”
Now think. Is God ignorant of your needs? Isn’t he your heavenly Father?
Won’t he supply everything you need when the time is best?
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Now think. If you give yourself to the cause of Christ, rather than
worrying about what you don’t have, God promises to take care of you.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Now think. God will not give you more than you can bear.
Every day you will have mercies sufficient for that day’s stress.
Worry is not thinking. It’s being irrational.
It is letting your mind spin out scenarios that have not even happened.
It’s being enslaved to fantasies.
Faith is thinking.
Faith will not grow if you sit and expect it to happen, must discipline mind.
Take teachings and promises of God’s word, apply them to situation.
Take self in hand—self, this is what God says.
I feel like panicking—but I’m not going to panic because Father is in heaven.
Martin Luther: “It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow
should become a theologian and preacher to the wisest of men.”
Charles Spurgeon: “Lovely lilies, how you rebuke our foolish nervousness.”
Perhaps someone here, facing terrible crisis.
Feel like saying: If you knew what I was facing financially, in marriage, at work,
this teaching about birds and flowers is silly. It’s hollow. Doesn’t help my worry
Let me remind you, that when Jesus preached these words,
He was facing something that was much worse than your greatest trouble.
He was facing the painful and shameful death on the cross.
My friends, this is good teaching.
It is reasonable to trust your heavenly Father’s love,
even in times of great trouble, because Father’s love is proved in death of Christ.
So the first strategy for answering worry by faith is to think.
And the second is to pray. This is in Philippians 4.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer . . .”
And then explains how through this you will know the peace of God.
It’s almost as if Paul expected people to say: I’ve prayed and it didn’t work.
I’m still anxious. Because he goes into more detail.
“In everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, make your requests known unto God.”
Let’s look at each element of his teaching.
1. “By Prayer” Prayer is a general biblical term for communion with God.
Means coming face to face with the living God and worshipping Him.
Very first thing you do, have this problem, anxiety, is you in a sense put it aside.
Ok—who am I talking to? I’m talking to the God of all the Universe.
King of kings, Lord of lords. Talking to One who is glorious, sovereign.
I’m also coming face to face with my Father in heaven.
That is the way Jesus taught His disciples to pray—our Father in heaven.
Do you see what that does—if pray properly.
It immediately lifts you above the earth and into the presence of God.
Puts things in perspective.
Prayer doesn’t come easily—not just bowing head and asking God for things.
Awareness that you are in His presence. Gazing at Him.
Martin Luther had a dog, would sit and stare at him whole meal, waiting for a scrap.
Luther—if only I could pray like my dog!
If I could stare at God with such intensity.
2. “And Petition” Know what a petition is. Tell God, this is what is happening.
This is what I need. We’re usually good at that.
3. Then Paul adds, “With Thanksgiving.”
Now this is truly the key to petitioning God.
Means that with every petition you say these words and have this attitude:
And Lord, whatever your answer is, I will be thankful.
If You answer, “Yes.” Obviously I’ll be thankful.
If You answer, “Wait.” (even for a long time) I’ll be thankful for perfect timing.
If You answer in a way that is completely different from what expected,
I’ll be thankful for your wisdom.
If you say, “No.” I’ll be thankful that you know what is best.
Can only pray that way by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But if you do—what is the promise if you pray this way?
Not a promise that circumstances will change, things work out.
“and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Promise that you will be filled with confident, quiet rest in Lord’s presence,
and his wise control over your life.
Furthermore, it’s going to be a peace that you can’t imagine.
It will come upon you and you will enjoy it.
When you are anxious, do you say, I’ve prayed and it doesn’t work.
But what has your prayer been?
God change this. Fix this. Do something.
Or have you patiently, fervently prayed with thanksgiving as Lord teaches?
This is not a psychological tool pull out and say—pray and make self feel better.
This is a promise that God Himself, will respond to the prayers of His people,
and in His time, deal with your anxiety by filling you with his peace,
that transcends understanding.
So those are the two strategies for answering worry by faith—think and pray.
Not as the world defines those things, but as the Bible tells us to,
and as God, in his grace enables you.
MP#2 Two stories of answering worry by faith.
The first story is from a book I read last summer called “Evidence Not Seen”
recommended to me by Caroline Lunsford.
Written by an American woman named Darlene Deibler Rose.
In 1938 she and her
husband Russell went at newlyweds to
missionaries. Two years later, they were imprisoned by the Japanese,
along with other Americans, British and Dutch civilians.
Men and women were separated into different prison camps—
so Darlene and Russell said goodbye and several months later
she learned that he had died.
She was in the prison camp for four years, and conditions were terrible—
but the lowest point of all was when the Japanese secret police
took her and two other American women away for interrogation—
accusing them of being spies.
She was in a tiny cell, sick and emaciated.
This is what happened to her:
“Gradually I drifted into the spiritually unprofitable game of ‘suppose’! Suppose the Japanese do win the war, what then? That I’ll never believe! But none of us believed Hong Kong of Singapore would fall. Suppose my brothers Donald and Ray are here somewhere in the South Pacific, facing the kind of enemy who would use flame throwers on nurses hidden in a cave, the kind of people who would do what these men have done to Philoma and Margaret, innocent missionaries (other two American women). Suppose Don and Ray are killed, what of their families? What of mother and dad? Suppose none of us make it home?”
So for the first time she really gave in to worry. This is what she says about it:
“There is nothing that will plunge a person into despair more quickly than to suppose what could happen. This was another example of the worries of tomorrow that never come, robbing us of the joys of today.”
The Lord didn’t leave her in this condition.
She overheard someone singing in Indonesian a Christian song:
“Precious is Your name, a shelter that is secure.”
And as those words sank in, and she thought about them—she began to pray:
“O Lord,” I cried, “forgive me. It isn’t a game of ‘suppose.’ I live in the sure knowledge that
‘the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and are safe.’”
And God took away her worry and gave her incredible peace.
The second story is one that I’ve told you before.
But I love it because it’s such a great illustration of thinking and praying.
And because I knew the man who lived this.
His name was Dr. Robert Rayburn. He was the father of the Robert Rayburn,
whose sermons we are using in the Hebrews Sunday school class.
Dr. Rayburn, Sr. was the founding president of my seminary, now with Lord.
He served as an army chaplain during the Korean war.
There was one event that affected his ministry as chaplain more than any other.
What happened was this:
Company of paratroopers was to be dropped behind lines.
Regular chaplain unable to go, Rayburn volunteered, never jumped.
44 men on the his plane, all veteran paratroopers, all with combat experience.
When plane airborne, began looking at them, not joking as GI’s always do.
As looked at expressions, saw man after man in absolute agony.
Great drops of perspiration even though it was chilly in the plane.
Later wrote what he began thinking his thoughts:
“If the fellows that know what to expect look like that, how should I look?” I thought. It was just then that a feeling of sheer panic seized me. I began to shake and tremble with fear. I confess I felt utterly dismayed; it seemed that I just couldn’t go ahead with that jump.
Began to pray—I volunteered because believed you told me to so could witness.
Here I am shaking with fear. I can’t help myself, going to be useless to men.
Suddenly, as praying, Lord spoke, “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
Truth struck him. Jesus is with me. Jump out with me. What happened next:
As the full realization of the Lord’s promise swept over me, such peace flooded my soul as I have never experienced under any other circumstances. I doubt if I shall ever have quite such an experience again. My head was bowed in prayer over my front parachute. As the sweet peace of God took possession of me I fell sound asleep! The next thing I knew, Cliff was poking me in the ribs. “Chaplain Rayburn, you’d better wake up, it’s about time for us to be getting out of here.”
Survived the jump and the terrible fighting.
For days and days after that, men in the regiment would approach and say—
“Chaplain, we heard from men on your plane, sound asleep to drop zone.”
“How in the world could you sleep?”
“I had a chance to tell them about a Savior whose presence is so real, and whose promises are so sure that He can give perfect peace in the worst kind of circumstances.”
But what I wanted you to see is that in this intense anxiety,
God gave him the grace to pray and to think—worry was answered by faith.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:
“The great problem in life is, in a sense, how to lay oneself down to rest and sleep.
Anyone can lie down, but the question is, can you sleep?”
The Bible uses the image of sound sleep as the peace of God,
freedom from worry. Do you lay down and sleep?
Or does anxiety dominate you?
By God’s grace think and pray and answer worry by faith.