It’s getting close to finals time around here. During this season, I see students on edge, snippy, losing sleep, and in a general state of grumpiness. I don’t think there is anyone who enjoys being worried. We don’t give awards to those who are most anxious. And, in the American quest to be happy, anxiety is a downright ugly trait. Debbie Downers not only ruin their own lives, but ruin ours as well. Worry warts have become villainous scum in our day and age. Why then, if nobody wants to be anxious, do we have such a hard time stopping it?
We try to cure anxiety with simple maxims… “don’t worry, be happy,” “don’t sweat the small stuff,” or “what will be, will be.” I find these maxims unhelpful, because it seems that they give the picture that there is nothing to be worried about. But, there are things to be worried about. Car wrecks do happen. People do get hurt. So much of life is outside of our control. When you stop to think about it, what can’t go wrong? We can’t make the earth stay on its axis. We can’t make our hearts beat. We can’t hold the atoms of the universe together. If there is so much outside of our control, how can we stay calm?
But, even in regards to what we are in control of, there’s no less to worry about. We make bad choices that have consequences. If I don’t study well for my exam, I’ll get a bad grade. Who knows what will happen because I got a bad grade in my class? Will that keep me from getting the job I want? Will not getting the job I want force me to live in the city not of my choosing? Anxiety wears us down. It drives some to mental breakdowns. It causes relational strains when we lash out at others. It’s no fun.
Is there no cure?
Paul, in Philippians 4:6-7, makes a startling command: “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.” Paul tells us to not be anxious about anything. Nothing. Instead of anxiety, God wants us to experience his peace. We see from these two verses that there are three key characteristics to the peace that God gives:
1. Peace comes through prayer. If you’re feeling anxiety, it doesn’t mean that you are in disobedience to God. There are things that are going to happen in our lives that will create a natural response of anxiety. But, when those feelings strike, what will our response be? Let it drive us into an emotional paralysis? Let it drive us into a burst of frantic activity? OR will we go to God and ask him for his will to be done? Paul commands us “to let your requests be made known to God.” To experience the peace of God, we must give over our situation to God in prayer.
2. Peace comes through faith. If we just look at the situation that is causing us to be anxious, we may not understand why we shouldn’t be afraid. After all, bad things do happen, even to good, godly people. But, Paul tells us there is a peace that surpasses our own ability to explain. This happens when we believe that God knows what is going on with us, that God cares about what’s going on with us, that God has control over everything, and that God uses all things (even bad things, even suffering, even disappointment) for our good (Romans 8:28). Sadly, our festering anxiety is really a lack of faith in the goodness and sovereignty of God. We can guard our hearts from worry and our minds helpless introspection by believing what God tells us about himself.
3. Peace comes through grace. Ultimately, there is nothing we can do to ensure that all will go well with our lives. When we think it depends on us, we suffer under the weight of anxiety. But, the way we experience peace comes ultimately from what God has done for us in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that our hearts and minds are guarded “in Christ Jesus.” Where do we find the strength to believe in the goodness of God beyond what our circumstances indicate? Where do we find the strength to lay our requests before God rather than ‘pushing through it’? We look to Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he faced the greatest anxiety in human history. It was the night before he knew that he was to be crucified, so Jesus prayed. His prayer was: “If possible, let this cup pass from me. But, not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus’ prayer demonstrated a faith in the goodness of the Father that was beyond human understanding. Jesus conquered anxiety for us. We find our strength in the peace that He is working in us.
May we all experience his peace this week, particularly those of you in the midst of finals!