There are Christian phrases that become so familiar that we can miss the added depth that comes from reading them in context. One of those phrases, and one that I’ve been working at applying to my own life in recent days, is “Do not be anxious about anything.” (Philippians 4:6) That’s quite a challenge – especially when there are real circumstances and concerns that seem like pretty valid reasons to be anxious.
This wasn’t just a pep talk from Paul. He wasn’t sending the church in Philippi a slogan – words to be hung on the wall or sewn on a pillow or used on the front of their bulletin. These words were never meant to stand alone but are tucked between two truths that give us solid reasons to live free from anxiety.
The words that immediately precede Paul’s call to not be anxious are, “The Lord is near.” This is a wonderful assurance when anxiety seems to be a legitimate response to what’s going on in our lives. It’s not just that the Lord is aware of our situation, but that we are not alone no matter what we’re facing. God stands by us as that “ever-present help” in our times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1) The more we know the Lord, the more we will find His presence a perfect antidote for anxiety. It’s the assurance of His presence that can calm the anxious heart.
“Do not be anxious about anything” is not only preceded by the assurance of God’s presence but is followed by some words of instruction. Times of anxiety often bring with them a sense of helplessness. What can we do? What should we do? Paul answers those questions. Pray. Paul encourages us that in everything we can bring our requests and petitions to God. Anxiety accomplishes nothing. Prayer accomplishes much. We have a God who is near and ready to listen.
“Do not be anxious about anything” is a tall order. These words taken by themselves can be hard to achieve when life seems to offer us legitimate reasons for anxiety. But take those same words and tuck them between the wonderful assurance of God’s presence and our freedom to unburden our hearts to Him in prayer, and we find solid ground for our feet to stand, anxious-free, during difficult days.