Anxious About Anything?

Anxious About Anything?

Phil 4-6 don't worry

Philippians 4:4-9 (4:6) – September 2, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Worry. Anxiety. Fear. These are natural emotions, and so common to our human experience! When we are on edge, lonely, filled with anxious thoughts—our minds can play funny games. Some people can think frightening or isolating thoughts. We often talk—or think—ourselves into things that cannot be true. Sometimes we talk—or think—ourselves out of things that are absolutely true. [1]

The Apostle Paul understood about worry, anxiety and fear. When he wrote this letter to the believers in the city of Philippi, he was imprisoned in Rome. Prison in the first century was not at all like the functional, barred jail cells we might think of today, when we consider American prisons. Whether in prison today or 2000 years ago, being in prison must be an awful thing. I have never been in prison. I’ve never been arrested. Several of my friends and acquaintances have, though, and I understand it can be a very frightening experience indeed.

Except, the Apostle Paul was not your normal prisoner. He was a Roman citizen. What’s more, in his first imprisonment, he was allowed to remain confined in a private apartment, although chained and shackled to a Roman soldier as guard. Paul mentions his chains and being confined in this letter to the Philippians.

This scary predicament of Paul’s would probably cause most people a great deal of fear and anxiety. Wouldn’t you be afraid, to be chained and shackled to a Roman soldier? They were no joke military men. Not playing. Not even close. And, it was worth the soldiers’ lives, being responsible for a prisoner and keeping him under close custody. Like I said, serious business.

So, what on earth did Paul mean when he said “Do not be anxious!”

Probably few people here have been arrested or put in prison. However, everyone here knows what it’s like to be anxious and fearful. Let’s take finances. How many here have wondered if their money would last until the next paycheck? What about grocery bills? What about unexpected car repairs? Or, house repairs, like a plumber or washing machine repair?

Let’s talk about health, or lack of it. If not for you, then a loved one. Any broken bones or sudden falls? What about an emergency operation? Or a routine procedure suddenly made much more complicated by the unexpected? What about loved ones with recurring mental health issues? Doesn’t that put a great deal of additional stress on the whole family?

Speaking about our families, what about our loved ones? What if something happens in one of their lives? Fights can get particularly nasty, turning into long-held grudges. What about children or grandchildren? Will they be able to go to school? Go to college? Get a job? Avoid drugs and alcohol, and keep to the straight and narrow?

Paul has an answer to growing anxiety, fear and worry: he says to pray! Listen to verse 6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Wait a minute, Paul! That sounds an awful lot like the tricks Jesus used to pull, when He told His disciples to do something that was next to impossible. How on earth are we supposed to keep that fear, worry and anxiety away? I have heard an old expression: “Worry about nothing; pray about everything.” But, how does that work, exactly?

Some might think they need to do everything themselves, with no assistance. Sort of like a big home improvement project. A huge do-it-yourself project. What’s more, if those same people go to YouTube and look online, they will see handy handymen and handywomen doing amazing things to their homes, all by themselves. But, it very rarely works that way in real life.

If you go to the home improvement mega-stores, you’ll find lots of helpful employees, ready to give advice about all kinds of improvement activities. Except—you don’t need to do it all alone. In fact, there are helpful people to come alongside you and give encouragement and moral support, and even assistance.

Commentator Alyce McKenzie writes, “There are other things that I might be able to do but that it would be so much better to have someone else do. We had a bad storm in our area a few weeks ago. The result is that lots of houses in our neighborhood have to have their roofs redone. Could I do this? It is humanly possible, I suppose, but we are hiring a roofing company that knows what they are doing.” [2]

The apostle Paul could have done this prayer thing all on his own. Except—he had some good friends present with him while he was in captivity in Rome. Dr. Luke was one of Paul’s faithful companions. I suspect they prayed together regularly; Aristarchus was another friend, and probably Tychicus, too. Plus, Paul also mentions a number of others in Rome who came to faith in Jesus Christ. One or two, or perhaps even more of these unknown friends came to see Paul, and to pray with him, for the many months while he awaited his trial.

Alas, along with Dr. McKenzie, I am afraid I might not have the faith. I might be anxious and fearful anyway. As she said, I can psyche myself up in other areas of life. But I need God to bring peace to my soul.” [3]

Just like Dr. McKenzie, I wish Paul had reversed the order of this verse and written it like this instead: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and then you will receive the gift of not worrying about anything.”

Oh, it is so difficult for me to train my heart and not worry or be anxious about things. Things that go bump in the night. Things that are scary, or irritating, or anxiety-producing. Things that can even frighten us to death. Our attitude is often exactly the opposite of the way Paul encourages us to be. Paul wants us to hear: “’Live without anxiety because God cares for you.’ In Philippians 4…the peace of God that comes through prayer counters anxiety because it ‘guards believers’ thoughts and hearts in Christ.’” [4]

The people of Philippi would have understood what it was like to have a guard watching over their thoughts and hearts. There was a Roman garrison in Philippi, so this was a familiar image to them. The Philippians could rejoice—just as we rejoice—because prayer can guard our hearts and minds. Each moment of each day, “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,” we can present our requests to God. And, we can help each other, support and encourage each other, as we pray.

Requests, joys, concerns, whatever is on our hearts, God wants us to bring these prayers to the throne of grace. “This is the peace of God Paul proposes as an alternative to anxiety. The Philippians are not called to imitate the peace of Christ, but to accept the gift of that peace being offered to them by the Grace of God, accessed through the habit of prayer.” [5]

Verse 4:7 is almost a benediction: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Hear the words of the apostle Paul today: the gift of God’s peace is offered to all of us, despite fear and worry. We all can live without anxiety, because God cares deeply for each one of us today. Yes, now, and forever. Amen!

[1] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 123.

[2] http://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/lets-do-this-alyce-mckenzie-10-06-2014.html

“Let’s Do This!” Alyce M McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2014

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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We Cannot Keep from Speaking!

“We Cannot Keep from Speaking!”

Peter - cannot stop Acts-4-20_2

Acts 4:1-20 – June 21, 2015

Ever had this situation happen to you? Just when you thought you had taken care of some pesky problem, here it comes, all over again! Sort of like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole. Just when you whack at all the moles, and think that they are all gone—that your problems are all solved—here they come again! Popping up all over the place.

I suspect the ruling council in Jerusalem felt this way just about now. Here they had rid themselves of that troublesome Rabbi Yeshua, or Jesus, some weeks ago. They had even gone to their Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to get his permission to put this upstart Rabbi to death. They got some people to accuse Jesus of insurrection and treason, so He would be killed by crucifixion. That was it! Done! One great, big, pesky problem taken care of!

True, there were some rumors about Jesus coming back to life a few days later, but that was just a rumor. Resurrection? Hah! Sounds pretty far-fetched to me. It was far-fetched to the ruling council, to the Sanhedrin, too.

They didn’t figure on Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples. They didn’t figure on the blowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or the energy of the new believers in the Risen Jesus.

Our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church, reminds me a bit of a radio serial. You might remember those! “When last we left our intrepid heroes . . . “ Last week, we saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple in Jerusalem for daily afternoon prayers. A long-time beggar, lame from birth, asked Peter and John for alms—for money. Peter made that extraordinary statement to the lame beggar: “Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk!”

As I mentioned in my sermon last week, Peter suits the words to his action. He leans forward, grasps the lame man’s right hand, and raises him to his feet.

What happens next? “Immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.” Whatever congenital defect there was in his feet and ankles was immediately, miraculously healed. The ex-lame-beggar could walk. And not only totter around, but leap in the air! He praised God right there inside the Temple, giving immediate public testimony to God’s mighty power!

This was a big problem for the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, believe me! Just when they thought that pesky Rabbi Jesus was all gone, permanently taken care of, they have even more miracle-workers on their hands. The disciples, the friends who had been with Jesus.

The Sanhedrin—the Jewish leaders—quickly grabbed Peter and John, and threw them into prison. Right after this marvelous miracle! I am sure the bystanders were asking, “What gives? These men did a miracle! Why are you arresting them?”

But—are we surprised? Looking at the Hebrew Scriptures, many of the miracle-working prophets were misunderstood, mistreated, imprisoned. Exiled, and even put to death, sometimes.

The Jewish leaders needed to get on this miracle stuff right away. Try to hush it up. See whether they could sweep the whole business under the rug. But—there was a problem. This was a very public miracle, done in downtown Jerusalem, at the height of rush hour. Or, the equivalent. Afternoon prayer time at the Temple in the city center.

We see from this reading today that the leaders had Peter and John thrown into prison overnight. For working a miracle! For doing what God had called them to do!

This makes me think of the Civil Rights movement and marches of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A friend of mine, Ken, (a recently retired seminary professor) marched alongside of African-American activists. A good friend of this church, Pastor Gordon, attended several marches in the South during the 1960’s. It was a tense, even dangerous time. Both my friends were jailed in the aftermath of the marches. Both are proud to say that they were imprisoned for standing up for a Godly cause.

Back in Jerusalem, the day after the miracle occurred, Peter and John were hauled out of prison and brought in front of the Sanhedrin. The ex-lame-beggar was there, too! The Jewish leaders could not deny that this man—who everyone knew as lame from birth—now had full use of his fully-restored feet and ankles. The news of the miracle was traveling around Jerusalem like wildfire! The leaders knew they had to let Peter and John go free.

But Peter wasn’t done yet! Just like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole, where the Sanhedrin desperately wanted to make all those pesky miracle-working moles go away, Peter kept on popping up. And, he spoke to the learned Jewish leaders and teachers, too.

Peter quoted from Psalm 118 in his defense of the miracle he and John had done. He said to the Sanhedrin, “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Talk about in your face! Peter had a lot of guts, speaking to the ruling leaders of his country like that!

As commentator Scott Hoezee brings out, “the Spirit led them to a lowly little textual nugget embedded deep inside one of the lesser known of all the psalms and prompted Peter to use that little verse as the perfect summary of what God’s ways are all about.” This idea is something that Peter repeats again and again. The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the building. The most important part of the whole structure. “That’s my Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, and by the way? You Jewish leaders crucified Him!” (That’s guts.)

By Peter quoting this psalm, he reminded these leaders of an unpleasant confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, shortly before His death. I appreciate another commentator’s words: “It was to say, in effect, “Jesus told you so.” How this citation must have stung in the ears of the Sanhedrin. The One they thought they had rid themselves of was still speaking to them, through the apostles.” The Jewish leaders didn’t have just one pesky problem any longer. The problem had multiplied.

Oh, my goodness. The Sanhedrin tries to tell Peter and John and the rest to shut up. To keep quiet about this Jesus person!

But it does just as much good as attempting to hold back the wild waves of the ocean. In other words, it doesn’t work at all. There is far too much power, far too much momentum behind that crashing ocean wave of testimony.

Despite the stern orders to “pipe down! Sit down and shut up!” Peter and John refuse. Their response? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What about us? Are we eager to tell people about what we have seen or heard? What about the mighty deeds we have experienced? Or, perhaps you haven’t had God do anything extraordinary in your life lately. Can you tell people about how God has been faithful? God has continued to walk with you, each and every day. I encourage you to tell someone! Amen!

Praise God, each of us can talk about something God has done—for each of us. God has given each of us a new day, each and every day. Praise God! That is truly something to praise and thank God about. Can we all say Amen? Amen! And again! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)