“Anxiety was a way of life in the ancient pagan world. With so many gods and goddesses, all of them potentially out to get you for some offense you might not even know about, you never knew whether something bad was waiting for you just around the corner.” But Paul makes clear that the God revealed in Jesus Christ will hear you when you call. Anxiety becomes sinful when it is not delivered into the hands of the God who answers us. The way you stop worrying sinfully is by handing over your concerns to God. When worry is not followed by petition, it becomes chaotic and generally sinful. Paul is bringing these two similar mental activities to mind: worry and prayer. Worry uses the same faculties that prayer uses. In both our thoughts and words are present, as well as our emotions and imaginations. Ungodly worry is imagination used in futility. a Prayer turns our cares and concerns into fruitful reasons to trust in God. Worry without God’s intervention becomes a pagan habit. We become so consumed with anxiety that we lose our appetite or we make our appetite a god; or we become manically depressed; we make ourselves vulnerable to whatever items or false solutions take away our pain. We hide ourselves, whereas Paul says “reveal all your anxieties to God for he will hear you.”
Since worry and anxiety are such daily exercises of the human mind, Christians are then to react to worry as God would have us.
How Shall We Then Live?
We live by transforming and renewing our minds, according to the Holy Scriptures.
It’s all right to be concerned about a loved one’s health, a difficult financial situation, a conflict with your closest friend in the Church, but Paul’s answer to Euodia and Syntyche’s in Philippians 4 is to find a common mind by asking the Lord for one.
A few simple, perhaps obvious, but hopefully helpful applications to deal with our daily worries biblically:
First, we need to address our anxieties to God. Instead of a vague nervousness, name the worry and concern. “Our Father in heaven, I am worried about my son, daughter, and my relationship with this or that person. Name your worry in prayer. Leave the vague generalizations to those who worship false gods. Our God is deeply interested in hearing specifically about your concern.
Second, turn your worry into a specific request. Once you have identified your worry, then make it known to God. “My God, I am concerned for my son’s relationships. His friends are not leading him to godliness. Help me to communicate that gracefully to him, so that he would seek godly friends instead.”
Specific petitions refine us and cause us to think deeply about the things we pray for as we pray daily.
Third, Paul says pray with gratitude, with thankfulness that our God hears us and that unlike the pagan gods of the ancient world, He is not out to get us; rather He is near us to help us.
Celebrate the kingship of Jesus over our affairs in the body. Let the world know that the way we go about solving conflict in the Church is with grace and gentleness, not with anger and bitterness, and then turn those concerns about relational or other problems into opportunities to ask for intervention from God himself.
Here is the bad news: You may be faithful in all these things, and still the one with who you are in conflict may continue to dislike you and act as if you do not exist. After all the pastoral intervention, that relationship may never be the same again. That’s the bad news! The good news is that by faithfully dealing with conflict as Paul instructs, God will be pleased with you. You will have learned to live through difficult circumstances by honoring God.
Is worry consuming you to the point where you can no longer see the end of the story? If so, refine your prayers, people of God, and make it known to God even now for He hears us.
 N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone. Prison Letters.
- Some of these thoughts come from Gregg Strawbridge’s sermon notes on Philippians (back)