Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Anxiety Reduction Plan by St. Paul

In skimming through my archived sermons, one title leaped out at me: "God’s Anxiety Reduction Plan." Well – after a week of white knuckle Class V White Water Rapids with the stock market – I looked that one up! It was a reflection I had started awhile ago, based in work by William Loader, a Lutheran pastor, on this particular passage from Philippians. While I had prepared it for Advent, because of the phrase, “The Lord is near.” It seemed so appropriate to our times, that I opened it, and reflected some more on this most beautiful passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

“Rejoice in the Lord. Always. Again, I will say: Rejoice.” Paul is not being Pollyanna. He knows what it is to be in dire straits – to be in real need. He knows hunger and he knows plenty. He knows what it is to have very little – and to not know what is coming next –whether it is going to be storm wrecks or smooth sailing. The cause for rejoicing? The Lord is near. Remember what Jesus said? My peace I give you. I am with you always. Till death parts you from this earth, and I take you into your heavenly home. My peace I give to you.

The Lord is near, as close as your heartbeat. Relax. Rejoice.

And then Paul tells you his secret – he offers a specific set of instructions – which is good, because if you’re anything like me – you have an issue with worry.

But Paul just says: “Don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t Worry.” About anything! Let’s try it. I’ll say a worry – and you respond with Paul’s injunction: “Do not worry about anything.” And then, we’ll pass it around. Any one call out a worry – and we’ll all respond for you.

“I’m worried about the elections.”

“I’m anxious about the economy.”

“I’m worried about aging”

“I’m worried about whether or not I’m going to have a job.”

Ok- do we get the idea? There is NOTHING we are to worry about. But, if you’re anything like me – telling me not to do something, will almost guarantee I’m going to do it!

But Paul goes on with more instructions – about HOW to actually not worry… “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

In everything. Paul is emphatic in this passage – using words we were taught in our composition classes to NEVER use! Words, like Always, Everything, Never! But Paul doesn’t shy away. Always rejoice. In EVERYTHING, with prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be known to God. In everything that comes your way – turn first to God who can do something about your circumstance. In absolutely everything, first use: Prayer – conscious contact with God.

Second use: Supplication – turn specific difficulties over to God, and

Third, use Thanksgiving – rest in assurance that God is taking care of the situation. And is able to bring about divine intent for your life.

Does that mean everything just becomes hunky dory and works out exactly how you want it to? No, of course not. Paul followed this anxiety reduction plan daily – and he still knew hunger and jail and betrayal and eventually the death sentence, just like Jesus did, and just like countless Christians do still today. In November, I am going to be traveling to the West Bank and meeting dozens of faithful Palestinian Christians – people who cannot travel ten miles away to get medical care in Jerusalem, but must bear the cost of traveling to Jordan just to get medical care. Earlier this year I was in Quito, working with Christian children who do not have enough food to eat. So – no – emphatically no – God’s anxiety reduction plan does not meat that everything just becomes magically ok. But I do know that these children were among the most loving and happy of children. I have heard the same about the Palestinian Christians. And Paul tells us himself, in this passage, that he has found that working this plan produces contentment and the assurance that he can do all things because it is God himself that is near and is strengthening him.

He, along with many who follow him, have come to the know the promise that is connected to this plan – namely when a worry or anxiety comes, instead of worrying we pray with an attitude of gratitude for God's intervention in our situation and then:

"...the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Specifically this translates to: Peace: The result of knowing that God has promised to be in charge of the situation, whatever it is.

You have a guard standing outside your heart and mind – the Peace of God – stands guard, watching over you, protecting you from worry and anxiety, so that your mind and soul can roam freely among those things which are beautiful, and just, pure, and pleasing.

Practice God’s anxiety reduction plan daily – hourly if need be –

Rejoice. Because regardless of whether you emotionally feel it or not - the Lord is as near as your heartbeat.

Pray – get in touch with God.

Petition – let God know your needs. Your anxieties. Your problems.

Give thanks – rest in assurance that God cares for you.

And peace, guaranteed, will be yours.

Philippians 4:1-13

4Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.