Lifeline: The guard against anxiety

Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.


This sermon is for everyone who has a problem with anxiety. How many of you have a problem with anxiety? Those of you who do not raise your hand, you are anxious about what people might think of you if you raised your hand. Everyone has a problem with anxiety. If you don’t you are not a human; you are a robot. To be anxious is to worry. Worry usually involves imagining the future in a worst-case scenario and then panicking about it. We do this all the time, don’t we? We worry about our lives. We worry about our families. We worry about our futures, our finances, our jobs, our health. We worry about others. We worry about what others think about us. We worry about yesterday. We worry about today. We worry about tomorrow. In short, we worry about everything, and we can’t stop thinking about what we are worried about. The word anxiety or worry comes from the concept of being strangled or choked. And that’s what anxiety does. It chokes us. It keeps us from functioning. What happens when we are anxious? We have less sleep, we are tired, we are cranky, we can’t concentrate, and our body is tense. It makes us sick when we ought to be well.

So, how do you deal with anxiety? If you go to a bookstore, you will see that books on anxiety are extremely popular. People want to know how to deal with worry. And let me tell you the world’s answer to this problem. They tell you, “You have to think positively. Do not waste your time and energy thinking about “what if” scenarios. Nine out of 10 things you worry about do not happen. Thinking and visualizing your fear will only drain your energy. What you need to do is to direct your mind to the positive things in your life. Visualize the positive and remove the negative.” Does that sound familiar to you? There is some truth to it, but it is not realistic. Because 1 out of 10 things you worry about does happen. What happens when it happens, and you are not ready for it? Positive thinking does not work. The other common answer is to go on vacation. The popular word for it now is healing. Vacation does work temporarily until you come back and start worrying about how to pay off the credit card bills from your vacation. Breathing techniques and pills do help, but only momentarily. But let me tell you what does not work at all. Do you know what it is? To be told to stop worrying. Have you ever experienced that? Wives, I know you know what I am talking about. And husbands, listen up. I am about to help you here. Wives, remember those times when you were stressed out and worrying about something and you told your husband about it, and he said, “Calm down. Stop worrying”? Did it help? No, it did not. In fact, it made you even more worried that maybe you married the wrong person. Why? Because worry is an outward expression of a far deeper issue. It is only the symptom, not the disease. Worry is a fruit of a condition of our heart. Why do we worry? We worry because we have an intense desire for something, and we are afraid we are not going to get what we desire. It is a heart issue. That’s why to deal with worry we need to deal with our heart. This is why the world’s way won’t work. The world’s way only deals with the symptoms and not the disease. So, how do we deal with anxiety? That’s what we are going to talk about tonight. In our passage today, Paul is giving us the guard against anxiety.


Let me give you the context first because the context is extremely helpful for us. Do you know where Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians? He did not write it while he was staying at a beach house in Athens. He did not write it while sipping his cha latte at Café Roma. Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians in a house prison. He was not sure if he was going to be alive the next day. He was not sure when he would be beheaded for his allegiance to Christ. So, Paul knew exactly what it is to be anxious. And toward the end of the letter, Paul is giving them instructions on how to deal with worry. Paul gives them the guard against anxiety. If I can sum up my sermon in one sentence, it is this: The guard against anxiety is not the certainty of having what we desire but the certainty of God’s presence in our lives.


Let’s look at the passage together. I have three points on the guard against anxiety: Pray about everything; Talk to the mind; Practice the truth.


Pray about everything


Philippians 4:4-7 – Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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 begins with a statement that does not seem to make any sense at all. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” And this is not a suggestion. This is a command. Paul is commanding every Christian to rejoice always. To which some of you say, “Paul, you must have been living in a dreamland. There is no way for me to rejoice always. Don’t you know what’s been happening all around me? Can’t you see how awful my circumstances are? My spouse cheated on me. My children walk away from God. My business is not doing well. My doctor told me that I needed to have an operation. What do you mean by rejoice always? Are you kidding? You are not making any sense.” I understand your reaction. But before you dismiss Paul as some guy who is not in touch with reality, remember that he was writing these words while in prison. Paul has experienced suffering and unjust treatment more than all of us combined. But he still commands us to rejoice always. Here is what we must understand. Joy is not the same as happiness. A while back, Pharell Williams wrote a song that made everyone dance and clap their hands. Remember that song? “Because I am happy, clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Because I am happy, clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth…” It’s a very happy catchy song that made even Presbyterians want to clap their hands and dance. This song speaks to the universal human desire to be always happy. But here is the problem. It’s not possible. Why? Because happiness always depends on circumstances. Happiness comes from the comfort of having things we want. We are happy when things turn out the way we want, and we are not happy when things do not turn out the way we want. Happiness is circumstantial. But joy is different. Joy is a deep kind of rejoicing that is constant and not based on circumstances.

How so? Look at what Paul says. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” That means, get this. Joy is rooted not in ever-changing circumstances but in the unchanging God. Joy is constant because it comes from our relationship with God, not having what we want. In other words, to rejoice in the Lord always is to value God so much that nothing else matters. God is our joy. It doesn’t mean we are always happy and clapping our hands. But it does mean that even when we have no reason to be happy, our heart is at rest. Listen to the way Timothy Keller puts it. “To rejoice is to treasure a thing, to assess its value to you, to reflect on its beauty and importance until your heart rests in it and tastes the sweetness of it. “Rejoicing” is a way of praising God until the heart is sweetened and rested, and until it relaxes its grip on anything else it thinks it needs.” So, if our heart is not at rest, it means that something or someone else is more important to us than God. And that very thing cannot give us joy because it is circumstantial, not constant. Then Paul continues to say, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” The word reasonableness comes from a Greek word that is not easy to translate. But the idea is the opposite of being contentious and self-seeking. It means we are gracious and easy to get along with others because we no longer seek our own interests but the interests of others. We know the Lord is at hand. We know God is close to us, present with us, concerned about us, and he will help us. That’s why we are free to serve others. But when we are anxious, we are self-absorbed. Our attention is on us, and it distracts us from serving other people around us with graciousness.

Listen. Do you know why we are anxious? Because we forget God. We forget that we have God who is near to us. Living anxiously is living as though God does not exist. We might be Christians, but if we are constantly worried, it is functional atheism. We may say with our mouths that the Lord is God, but something else is God in our hearts. St. Augustine had an amazing insight into anxiety. He asked, why are we anxious? By the way, a little anxiety is a good thing. It means that we care. If we never feel anxious, it means we have no feelings. We do not care about anything. We are zombies. But why are we overly anxious? Why are we sleepless and constantly filled with fear and worry? Here is why. All of us have things in our lives that we treasure. And they are good things. Parents and children are good things. A career is a good thing. A relationship is a good thing. All of us have lots of good things in our lives. But when good things become the ultimate thing we must have to be happy, it becomes our treasure. It becomes our idol. We seek them. We desire them. And we believe we can’t be happy unless we have it. So, when the good things become the ultimate thing, that’s when anxiety hits. Anxiety is like smoke that we can trace down to the fire. When we are overly anxious about something, and we trace down the root of that anxiety, we will always find good things that have become the ultimate thing. At the root of our anxiety, we will find a counterfeit god that has become our treasure. We forget God.


So, the question is, how do we guard against anxiety? Philippians 4:6 – do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Here is the first step toward battling anxiety. The way to move from anxiety to peace, from worry to rest, is by prayer. The way to not worry about anything is to pray about everything. Why prayer? Because prayer reminds us that God is God, and we are not God. And we are to bring our prayer and supplication to God. Martin Luther famously said, “Pray and let God worry.” Which God won’t because he doesn’t have to. He knows the end from the beginning. He is never surprised by anything. But note. Paul not only says we are to bring our prayer and supplication, but he also says to do so with thanksgiving. And this is very important. This is the secret to prayer. When we bring our requests to God, we not only say, “God, this is what I need. Please help me.” We say, “God, this is what I need. I bring my requests to you. And I know you are good. Whatever you do in response to my request is good. I thank you for it. If I’m asking for something that might hurt me and you don’t give it to me, I thank you for that. If you give me something opposite to what I ask, even though it’s going to be difficult, I thank you for that. I am not going to be happy about it, but I know I can trust you. I know you are a good God, and you will do what is right for my life.” To bring our requests with thanksgiving is a way to replace worry with faith. We trust God’s all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful hand over our lives. This is why prayer is such a strong weapon against anxiety.

Look at what happens in this chart.
Anxiety VS Prayer. (Taken from Sam Storms).
Anxiety: Rooted in self; Narrow view of life (problem-centred); Horizontal focus (consumed with surrounding); Our circumstances control us; Expression of fear.
Prayer: Rooted in God; Expansive view of life (purpose-centred); Vertical focus (focus on God’s power and resources); God controls our circumstances; Expression of faith.

When we are anxious, it is easy for us to retreat into a corner and try to figure things out on our own. And it results in more anxiety. It is only when we bring the matter to God in prayer that we find release. It’s like bowling. Have you ever watched a bowler after he or she released the ball? I used to play bowling a lot, so I have seen all sorts of things. I have seen people do a side lean, hoping that somehow by moving their body to the side it will affect where the ball goes. Some talk to the ball before they release it. Some kiss the ball. Some tiptoe or leap. The fact is, once you let go of the ball, nothing you do will change the course of the ball. And that’s what prayer is. Prayer is releasing the ball to God. And once we release our worry, don’t worry about it. Let God deal with it.


And look at what happens next. Philippians 4:7 – And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. When we pray about everything, the peace of God is guarding our hearts and minds in a way that no human mind can comprehend. And I love the term ‘the peace of God.’ Paul does not simply say that God will give us peace. He is not talking so much about the peace that God gives as he is about the peace that exists in God himself. What is promised to us is the very peace that God experiences. That is why this peace is beyond all human understanding. It transcends all human comprehension. And this unexplainable supernatural peace will guard our hearts and minds. The word guard is a military word. It means to take an army and surround a city with an army to protect it from invasion. And if we have an army protecting our city, we can sleep in peace. There is an army protecting us from the enemy. And this is the promise God gives us. When we pray about everything, the enemy is still out there. The enemy wants to attack us with fear, worry, and anxiety. But the peace of God is our fortress. It will guard us from the enemy’s attack so we can sleep well at night.

I remember experiencing this supernatural peace when I was diagnosed with leukemia. At first, I was extremely angry at God. “God, why would you let this happen to me? After 5 years of Bible college, is this how you are going to treat me?” I was extremely anxious about my life. But then God opened my eyes to see how prideful I was and there I tasted the sweetness of his grace. So, I prayed to God and brought all my supplications to him with thanksgiving, and then I slept. And the next day, I can’t explain what happened to me, but I was at peace. I had this strong confidence that God was with me, and everything would be okay. Even if I had to die, I was okay. I experienced the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. And listen carefully. We are not promised deliverance; we are promised the peace of God. And this peace has nothing to do with us getting what we want. This peace is confidence and trust in God’s wise and good control over our lives, even if we do not get what we want. So, that’s the first step. Do not worry about anything but pray about everything.


Talk to the mind


Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The second step on how to guard against anxiety is to talk to the mind. Here is the thing about the human mind. It cannot remain a vacuum. Something must fill the mind. That’s why a vacation to Japan does not help our anxiety. Because our mind still needs to be filled with something after the vacation. What we need to do is to turn our minds from a thermometer into a thermostat. Do you know the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat? A thermometer moves up and down based on the temperature around it. A thermostat influences and controls the temperature around it. If our mind is a thermometer, it means we are controlled by our worry. We are controlled by what’s happening around us. If our mind is a thermostat, it means we are not controlled by what’s happening around us, but we influence everything around us. But do you know what is our mind’s default mode? A thermometer. So, how do we turn our minds from a thermometer into a thermostat? Here is how. By talking to our minds. We have a choice. We can either talk to our minds or we can listen to our minds. Worry is listening to our minds. Peace comes from talking to our minds about God and his truths.

This is what Paul is saying. He wants us to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. I know some of you are thinking, “Isn’t this positive thinking? Is Yosi teaching us the power of positive thinking? Has he finally turned to the dark side?” Yes and no. Let me explain. Yes, what we think matters and it matters more than we think. The battle to turn a worrier into a worshipper happens mostly in the mind. We can’t expect God to guard our minds and hearts if we continue to fill our minds with junk. But no, this is not positive thinking. What Paul lists in this verse are characteristics that describe God. Think about it.
God’s word is the highest form of whatever is true.
God’s moral excellence is the definition of what is honorable.
Just is whatever conforms to God’s standards.
Pure is to be free from the taint of sin and only God is pure.
Lovely is what evokes admiration in the heart, and there is nothing more lovely than God.
Commendable are things that are good and appealing, and nothing is more commendable than the works of God.
God is the source of everything excellent and worthy of praise.
So what Paul is saying is that he wants our minds to be filled with God and his truth. Instead of exhausting our mental energy on the futile “what ifs,” focus our minds on God and his words. In other words, God guards our hearts and minds by us filling our minds with God’s truth.

And this is not a one-time thing. Paul says, “Think about these things.” And it is the Greek word, ‘logizomai’, which means to ponder and give proper weight. And it is written in the present tense, which means it is a continuous ongoing action. Every day when we wake up, we are given a choice. What are we going to fill our minds with today? The what ifs? Or the word of God? And we can’t just read the word of God once. We have to continuously think about it. Don Whitney describes it like a tea bag. We are the cup of hot water and the intake of the word of God is the tea bag. Reading the word of God once is like one dip of the tea bag into the cup. Some of the tea’s flavour is absorbed by the water but only a little bit. The more frequently the tea bag enters the water, the more effect it has. Thinking about God’s word continuously is like immersing the tea bag completely and letting it steep until all the rich tea flavour has been extracted and the hot water turns reddish brown. And this is the way God guards our hearts and minds. So that means if we are Christians and we do not have the peace of God, we are not thinking rightly. We have let other things occupy our minds besides God’s word. We grow anxious when we fail to remember God’s word. We must battle anxiety with the word of God. We must talk to our minds instead of listening to our minds.


Let me make it very practical for you. How do you talk to the mind? Three things. First, ask yourself, “Is this thought from God?” That means you need to know God and his word. It’s really hard to discern whether this thought is from God or not if you do not know God and his word. Do you know who God is? Do you know what God is like? Or what you know about God is simply from Instagram reels that you watched. And if you know God and his word, then you can know what is not of God. Maybe this thought that you have is the enemy’s attack. Maybe it is a lie of the culture. Maybe it is a false accusation from people around you. So, the first step is to ask whether this thought is from God. Second, open the Bible. Find a specific promise of God that deals with your situation. And third, ponder on God’s word over your situation. Don’t just read it once but let the tea bag flavour the whole cup.

So, let’s put it into practice. Let’s say you are worried about your future. There is this constant fear and worry whenever you think about tomorrow. You don’t know whether you should live in Sydney or Indonesia. You don’t know what job you should take. You are worried about your children. You are worried about your relationship. You constantly worry and you know this is not from God. God does not want you to live in fear. So, what you do is open specific promises on God’s word that deal with your situation. You open Matthew 6:31-34 – 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” You read it and you are reminded of God’s promise. That’s great but not good enough. Now, you have to ponder on God’s word. You need to think. And you need to talk to your mind. “Why do I worry? I worry because I do not know what might happen tomorrow. I worry because I am not sure what the future holds. I do not know if I have what it takes to face tomorrow.” Okay, but what does the word of God say? “The word of God says I should not be anxious about tomorrow. God does not want me to worry about tomorrow. God wants me to care about today. God already knows what I need tomorrow. But God guarantees grace today for challenges today. And God guarantees grace tomorrow for challenges tomorrow. God does not give grace today for challenges tomorrow. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. And God who supplies me with grace today will not fail to supply me with grace tomorrow. This means I don’t have to worry about the grace that I need next week, in September, or in 2024. Today is August 27th and I have been given grace for August 27th. When August 28th comes, God will give me grace for August 28th. My heavenly Father already knows what I need tomorrow, and he will give me what I need when tomorrow comes. So, I don’t need to worry about tomorrow.”

Can you see what happened? Instead of letting your worry talk to your mind, you talk God’s word into your mind. Anxiety and worry happen when you forget that God is sitting on the throne, and he is in control of all things. Anxiety begins when you think thoughts that are not true, not honorable, not just, not pure, not lovely, not commendable, or not praiseworthy. Then you spiral down into despair and discouragement. These emotions then lead to you being harsh and unhelpful to people around you and missing out on the life that God has in store for you. So, the way to guard against anxiety is to pray about everything and talk to your mind. And this leads me to my third point.


Practice the truth


Philippians 4:9 – What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Listen carefully. It is not how much we know that makes a difference; it is what we do with what we know that makes a difference. Paul is very clear here. He says, “What you have learned and received,” that’s the truth that we know, “practice these things.” So, we need to not only know how to guard against anxiety, but we also need to practice what we know. If we hear God’s word in Philippians 4, but then we don’t do it, this word of God will not do us any good. If we hear God’s word on how to guard against anxiety, and we say, “Well, that’s very helpful,” but we don’t pray about everything and speak God’s truth into our mind, then we won’t experience peace of God. I know this is not groundbreaking, but this is extremely crucial. Knowledge is great. But knowledge that is not put into practice is useless. God has already promised his peace for us. But it does not come automatically. It requires us to practice these things. And the word practice means that we won’t have it all together on the first go. It is something that we need to continuously practice throughout our lives. It does not matter how long we have been a Christian, 5 days, 5 years, or 50 years, we still need to practice these things to guard against anxiety. The moment we think we have it all together is the moment the enemy attacks us with fear and anxiety. And Paul says, “Don’t let the enemy take you captive to anxiety. Continue to practice what I have told you.”

In my preparation for this sermon, I read a sermon by Tony Evans and he gives a very helpful practical way of doing this. He calls it “a worry box.” So, what you do is create a box and label it a worry box. And whenever you are worried about something, take a piece of paper, write down your worry, and put it in a worry box. As you do, pray to God, “God, this is my worry. I am bringing my worry to you. I know you are good, and I know you are in control. So, I am casting all my care on you. I am giving my worry to you, and I am leaving the result in your sovereign hand.” Once you pray and put your worry in the box, go on about your day. As you do, the enemy will try to attack you. He is going to tempt you to look at the box and pick up your worry. He wants you to doubt God and take the matter back into your own hands. But don’t do it. You battle that temptation by speaking the truth of God’s word into your mind. You ponder on God and his promises until it puts your heart at rest. And when the enemy attacks again, ponder on God’s promises again. Do this continuously. And do you know what’s going to happen? Paul says that if you practice these things, “the God of peace will be with you.”

Listen carefully. This is different from verse 7. In verse 7, Paul promises that when we pray about everything, the peace of God will be with us. The peace of God will guard us from the enemy’s attack. And in verse 9, when we continue to practice these things, the God of peace will be with us. Not only his peace, but God himself will be with us. We must get this. Peace is not found in the absence of problems; peace is found in the presence of God. One time, there was a contest between two painters to paint a picture of peace. One painter painted this sunset with the sun going down over calm water and everything was just nice and bright. The other painter painted a picture of a storm. The sky was dark and there were lightnings, thunders, and thick dark clouds. The waves were crashing against the rocks and things were chaotic. And at the bottom corner of the painting were two big stones with a bird singing in the middle. That’s peace. Peace is not when the sun is bright, the weather is nice, and everything is calm. Peace is when we are singing even though the storm is still raging. Do you know why? Because what God does when he gives us peace is he gives us an umbrella in the middle of the storm. That umbrella doesn’t stop the storm. But that umbrella keeps us from getting wet. But God not only gives us an umbrella, but he is with us under that umbrella. He is standing beside us under that umbrella in the middle of the storm. That’s peace.


But here is the question that I want to ask you and I am done. How do we know that the God of peace is with us? How can we be sure that we can have the peace of God? Here is how. We can have the peace of God and the God of peace with us when we have peace with God. Unless we have peace with God, we won’t have the peace of God and the God of peace. That is why Paul says in Philippians 4:7 – And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. This peace is only possible in Christ Jesus. Because the truth is, what we deserve is not peace. What we deserve is deep restlessness. What we deserve is to be constantly worried and anxious about our lives. Why? Because we were enemies of God. We sinned against God, and we turned away from him. We removed him from the throne of our hearts and replaced it with idols. But rather than giving us what we deserved, Jesus came and took what we deserved. That’s why at the cross Jesus experienced deep restlessness. God turned his face from Jesus and Jesus lost the presence of God. Jesus lost God’s peace. He died in agony, screaming. Why did Jesus lose God’s peace? So that when we put our faith in Jesus, we can have God’s presence. Jesus lost his peace so we could have peace with God. And peace with God will lead to the peace of God and the God of peace. This is the gospel. And if we see what Jesus has done for us, if we see what Jesus has suffered for us, if we put our faith in Jesus, we can be sure that God will never ever leave us. So today, if you have yet to make peace with God, there is an offer for you. Jesus died for your sins so that you could have the peace that surpasses all understanding. All you must do is simply surrender to him and put your trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

And for us who have put our faith in Jesus, this peace with God is something that no one can take from us. So do not believe the lies of the enemy. But at the same time, it does not mean we do nothing. God has designed and ordained the universe in such a way that we will experience the peace of God and the God of peace when we pray to him about everything and feed our minds with his word continuously. Never assume that God will do for us apart from prayer what he has promised for us only through prayer. And maybe the reason we are constantly anxious is because we do not pray about everything. Or maybe we pray but we continue to open the worry box instead of trusting God with it and feeding our minds with his promises. So today, make a decision to practice these things. I am not saying that if we practice these things then God will give us what you ask. The storm might not end. The sickness might still be there. The problem might not go away. The gossip and slander might not stop. The business might collapse. We might lose everything. But the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. So that we can say, “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well with my soul.” Let’s pray.



Discussion questions:


  1. What struck you the most from this sermon?
  2. How do you usually deal with worry? Does it work?
  3. Explain why prayer is the nemesis of anxiety.
  4. What does it mean to talk to the mind? Give some practical applications.
  5. How does the gospel address the heart problem of anxiety?
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