What are you afraid of?
This question would bring a whole host of responses if we were to each offer our input. As a child, I was afraid of the dark. I hated waking in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. The thought of traipsing through the house in the dark by myself was terrifying. I would hesitantly slip from my bed and cautiously make my way to the door of my bedroom. Peering out my door, across the dark kitchen, I could see the gentle glow of the nightlight above the bathroom sink that marked my destination. However, inviting this light was, it also cast eerie shadows around the kitchen, particularly under the table, and this was the land I had to cross to reach the light. After carefully assessing the area, I would run as quickly (and quietly) as I could. Upon reaching the bathroom, I would close the door and experience a rush of relief as I turned on the light switch. The sudden flood of bright light would sting my eyes as it chased the darkness--and my fear--away.
Today, my biggest fear when I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night is stepping on an abandoned toy that one of my children has left on the floor in my path or stubbing my toe on the dresser. It is not that I have outgrown fear as I have grown up. It is just that fears of the adult variety have replaced my childhood fears. The car breaking down, paying bills, getting all of my “To do” list done, and dealing with conflict can bring about a fair amount of anxiety. It is easy to focus on our difficult circumstances or the state of the world and become fearful and anxious. There is not one of us that does not have ample reason in life to have at least some anxiety and fear.
The Apostle Paul had plenty of reason for his own to be anxious and fearful. As he penned his letter to the Philippians, he was sitting in a Roman prison facing the very real possibility that he would not be released, but rather executed. Yet, he wrote a letter that has joy as one of its central themes. Listen to his words:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7, NIV)
If it were not for Paul’s dire circumstances, it could be easy to shrug off his admonition not to be anxious as the words of an individual that is out of touch with reality--or at least out of touch with my reality. We could say, “Paul, you have no idea what my life is like.” But, I doubt that there are any of us sitting in as precarious of a position as Paul was.
Paul doesn’t merely give us a command to not be anxious; he tells us how to do it. One succeeds by living a life of “rejoicing in the Lord,” prayer, and thanksgiving to God. When we keep our eyes trained on Jesus in worship, prayer, and thanksgiving, we find that our anxieties will dissipate. Paul says that the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.” Notice that Paul did not say that our troubles would go away. He doesn’t promise that our circumstances will suddenly improve. He only promises that we can experience the peace of God, even amid difficulty.
In my own life, I know when I keep my eyes on Jesus and intentionally keep connected to him through prayer, worship, and thanksgiving every moment of every day, that my fears and anxieties are chased away by the flood of his glorious light just like the darkness receded when I turned on the bathroom light as a kid. And then, I experience the “peace of God that transcends all understanding.”