Guarding Your Heart from Anxious Worry

What makes your heart anxious? What do you tend to fret about? Sometimes we worry about major issues like a loved one with cancer. Other times, our worries are smaller than a life-threatening illness. Worry can be replaying a conversation over and over again in your head to make sure you didn’t embarrass yourself. It can be the sinking feeling in your stomach as you consider an upcoming meeting. It might look like obsessing over what the boss is going to think when you are late to yet another appointment.

Opportunities abound for our hearts and minds to be consumed with anxious worry. However, God’s agenda for us is to experience the peace associated with prayer, not the turmoil that accompanies worry. In Philippians 4, Paul makes the connection between fervent prayer and a peaceful heart. He wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

The Philippian Christians were confronted with many opportunities to worry. They faced threats and persecutions from their “opponents” (Philippians 1:29-30), and they were concerned about the welfare of Paul and Epaphroditus (Philippians 1:12; 2:26). Paul was imprisoned in Rome and Epaphroditus had fallen deathly ill. Instead of being pleased with their over-concern for his safety, Paul gives them the sweeping prohibition, “be anxious for nothing…”

The same verb translated “be anxious” in Philippians 4 is used positively earlier in the letter where Timothy is said to “show genuine concern” for the church in Philippi (Philippians 2:20). Apparently, the Philippian church had moved from genuine concern to a posture of worry or stress. Paul’s command for them is to cease what they have been continually doing. For Paul, there are areas in which we should express real concern for ourselves and others. However, there is no proper object of obsessive worry. Instead, we ought to bring all things before God in prayer.

How does prayer lead to a peaceful heart?

Hannah was worried. She wanted a child (1 Samuel 1:7-8). She was so overcome by her emotional state, she had stopped eating. Those around her only compounded her suffering. Her husband had taken another wife, presumably because Hannah couldn’t bear him children. On top of this was the relentless bullying and mockery coming from her husband’s other wife.

Hannah had much to worry about. However, she models Philippians 4:6-7 by running to the Lord in prayer. She speaks to the Lord out of her “great anxiety and vexation” (1 Samuel 1:16). She is convinced that God hears, God cares, and God acts. You can read here for a more detailed explanation of Hannah’s theological commitments that led her to pray. This article deals more with the peace Hannah experiences following her prayer.

After pouring out her soul to the Lord, Hannah experiences a peaceful heart. The Scriptures record that following her prayer she “went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad” (1 Samuel‬ ‭1:18‬). Hannah’s swift change is perplexing to us because nothing about her circumstances had changed (yet). When Hannah said “amen” she was still childless, still sharing her husband, still going to be mocked. Yet she had peace.

After bearing her heart to the God who knows all things, who cares for his people, and is powerful enough to act, she can rest. When we begin to believe God’s grace toward us, we can begin trusting him with the outcome of our circumstances or suffering. Peace is not the result of God giving us what we want in prayer, it is a gift he gives his people when they rely on his good plan. One commentator put it succinctly, “The condition for experiencing God’s peace is not that God grants all of our requests but that we have made known all our requests to God with thanksgiving. God’s peace is not the result of the power of our prayers or the effectiveness of our prayers… When we trust God in prayer, God gives to us his peace to guard our hearts and minds against anxious thoughts.”

In Closing

Bobby McFerrin released the hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in the fall of 1988. Often wrongly credited to Bob Marley, who died in 1981, the song is catchy, fun, but overly simplistic in terms of its message. If only it were that easy. Just stop worrying, just be happy. Philippians 4 and Hannah’s example instruct us that peace is a gift from God that he gives his people when they run to the creator of the universe and pour out their hearts before him. This is not a simplistic, one-time occurrence, but a habit we form by continually taking everything to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is not some kind of a magic bullet, but it is one of the means God uses to move us from a posture of worry to one of peace.

G. Walter Hansen, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter to the Philippians (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2009) 293.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Philippians 4:6-7 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

God Created the Stars For Anxious Hearts

No one really knows how many stars are in the Universe. Even using the best instruments available it is not clear how many stars are in the Milky Way galaxy (our galaxy). Some experts in this field have estimated there may be as many as 2 trillion galaxies with each galaxy containing an average of 100 million stars. Even a conservative estimate would yield more stars than we can fathom.

One question Christ-followers should consider is why did a good and purposeful God create so many stars if we are incapable of seeing all of them or even understanding their multitude?

A Seemingly Infinite Galaxy declares God’s Infinite Glory

One limitation of this question is that it assumes God created the stars exclusively for us. However, this is not the case. Psalm 19:1 teaches that, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (ESV). Simply put, God created stars to declare His glory. There are an incomprehensible amount of stars because His glory is incomprehensible.

The Universe and all of its contents are like a choir declaring God’s glory and the audience is every human being, angelic being, and even God himself. When we gaze into the sky God invites our hearts to join the chorus of the heavens in order to exalt who He is. It is only right that an infinite God with infinite glory deemed it necessary to sing His glory with a seemingly infinite universe. While it is true that God created the stars for His glory a more nuanced look at God’s purpose in creating the stars reveals God’s pastoral care for our anxious hearts.

God’s Word Speaks to those who are Overcome with Anxious Thoughts

In my experience those who struggle with anxious thoughts are often tempted to believe harmful lies which feed back into and compound feelings of anxiety. For instance, anxious hearts tend to believe that they are alone (“No one knows what it’s like to be in my head.”) and also they tend to feel a heightened sense of responsibility to control the future and how things turn out. These examples are anecdotal and anyone who deals with anxiety would be quick to point out that they are not an exhaustive description of what it means and feels like to battle anxiety. That being said, it is helpful to consider how God’s Word speaks to these commonly shared experiences.

In Luke 12 Jesus calls our attention to the Father’s intimate knowledge and care for ravens (v.24) and lilies (v.27). In this instance Jesus speaks to the Father’s awareness and care of relatively lesser created things as a way of soothing anxious hearts. Jesus’ logic is that if the Father knows and takes care of these simple and relatively insignificant things then certainly He will care for us, the crown jewel of His Creation (Psalm 8:3-4). This is good news for those of us struggling with anxious thoughts because it means that we are not alone and also that we do not have to feel the weight of controlling the future. There is One who knows our worries and cares for us and the outcome of our situation beyond what we could ever imagine.

The Soothing Work of God’s Universe

It’s not just knowledge of God’s intricate care for birds and flowers which soothes anxious hearts. A look at what God tells us about those seemingly innumerable stars cast throughout the depths of the Universe is also soothing to our anxious hearts.

In Psalm 147:4 we read a telling statement about the stars, “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (ESV). The seemingly infinite number of stars are included in God’s intimate knowledge. He alone knows their exact number and even more than that He has them named.

Not only is God intimately aware of the stars, He is also present and in control of them. We see this in Isaiah 40:26 which says, “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing” (ESV). If God is intimately aware and in control of what is going on with flaming balls of gas billions of light years away then certainly He knows and is control of your situation in ways you just cannot fathom. God’s Word is helping us feel the weight of this reality so we can see that God created the stars both for His glory and for our good.

In Closing

I am not suggesting that all it takes to cure and overcome anxious thoughts is a good long look at the stars. Anxiety is complex and the conversation of getting help should involve a multitude of counselors including medical professionals and pastors. That being said, God’s Word provides hope and help for those struggling with anxious feelings and thoughts. One of the ways God provides this hope and help for those struggling with anxious thoughts is by instructing followers of Christ how to interact with the world around us.

While it is important to see that God created the stars for His glory it also important to not miss the truth that one of the ways the God gets glory is when His Saints have their hearts instructed by His Word on how to interact with a created thing like stars and are soothed as a result. When we hear the birds outside chirp, see our neighbors beautifully maintained flower gardens, and pause to gaze into star filled skies we should be comforted. God knows and is in control of these things but is much more concerned for those in Christ.

Credits

Photo by Denis Degioanni on Unsplash

How Many Stars Are In The Universe? By Elizabeth Howell on Space.com (accessed 7 April, 2019).

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.