Ever wake up with the blood pounding in your ears because you’ve just had one of “those” dreams? It happens to me more often than I’d like to admit. For example, I dream someone’s left the gate to my yard open and the dog’s run out. I’m running through some unknown location shouting her name, desperate to catch her before she’s hit by a car, or mauls the mailman and has to be put down. Finally, I’m jolted out of sleep and in the seconds it takes for that hammering in my head to stop, I wonder if one day I’ll die of a heart attack over something that never really happened.
Anxiety dreams. They come in various degrees of realism. (Haven’t we all had the one where you have to take a final exam for a class you somehow never attended all semester? I’ve been out of school for decades, and that one still comes around!) The worst ones are those in which someone you love is in danger—and you can’t reach them. You’re powerless, or as David put it in his article, you’re not in control.
The best way for believers to respond to the fact that we are not in control is to remember that the One who is worthy of our complete and utter trust is. He told us,
“Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
But what if we are still anxious? When we don’t do what we know we should, we not only have the original anxiety but also the anxiety of knowing we didn’t follow instructions. Until we follow them, the promise of peace that passes understanding will always be out of our grasp.
Do you ever pray anxiously? As though obeying this verse halfway is better than nothing? My own anxious prayers do not produce the peace that passes understanding, and my heart and mind remain unguarded. So how are we supposed to get into a Philippians 4:6-7 state of mind?
Verses eight and nine tell us:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
God knows we can’t ignore, shouldn’t ignore, the terrible things going on around us. We need to ask Him what we can do to be a blessing and not a burden in the midst of difficult circumstances, whether they are happening to us directly or to others whose welfare means so much to us. While we need to be aware and prayerfully respond to such circumstances, thoughts of those circumstances should not become the dwelling place of our imagination. We should not meditate on them.
How do we do Philippians 4:8-9? Lots of ways. It makes sense to start with thinking of God and ways that His character as well as what He’s done for us fit into the “whatever” categories. But we can apply the same thing to people, perhaps even those with whom we experience conflict. Find something about that person’s attitude or actions that fits into some of those categories. We can cast the net even wider and think about some of the positive things we hear on the news: a young man tackling a shooter, risking his life to save others. The more we filter our thoughts so the ones we really dwell on fit the Philippians “grid,” the easier it will be to have a mindset of thankfulness and not anxiety when we make our requests known to God. An anxious prayer focuses on whether or not God will do what we are asking. A prayer made with thanksgiving focuses on who God is, and why He can be trusted with our requests, however things may turn out.
Sometimes when I’ve experienced that peace that passes understanding, I sense that it’s not due to my own prayers, but someone else’s. That’s one reason why we need one another in the body of Messiah. But there are other times when I pray along the lines of Philippians 4, and that peace fills my heart and mind. And I think, “Ahhh . . . why did I wait so long to do this?”
I’d like to say goodbye to anxiety, both waking and sleeping. How about you? Let’s go for it!