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Replacing Anxiety with God’s Peace & His Presence | Part 6

The Whole Goal of Philippians 4:5b-9

The whole goal in Philippians 4:5b-9 is to replace—or put off—anxiety and put on and enjoy the peace and presence of God. Prayer and thinking in Christ-exalting way are the means, or antidotes, to do that.

This passage that we’ve been discussing over the last several posts is a rich passage filled with theological truths, gracious commands, and sure promises. It’s also a very practical passage that gives us a framework we can work through as we counsel ourselves or others who are struggling with anxiety. In this post I want to show you how I, at a high-level, “use” this passage. We won’t go into all the details here, we’ll stay at a high-level, but if you didn’t read through the previous posts, the first post is here.

Putting It All Together

So, here is how I use this passage (this is my personal practice, but I’m not saying this is the only way to do it): I walk through it linearly; I start with 5b, “the Lord is at hand”. When I find myself riddled with anxiety, I literally say to myself, “Stuart, Jesus is near. Take heart. He hasn’t left you, nor forsaken you. Jesus is for you and not against you. He loves you. The Sovereign King of the universe is very near to you. Your situation is not lost on Him.” I might also speak other passages that proclaim this truth to myself, like, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (Psalm 46:1-3) In trying to apply Paul’s wisdom of putting this truth before the commands of verse 6, I will immerse myself in the truth of Christ’s nearness until I start to feel my heart warm and soften. Even now, just thinking about this truth—the Lord is near—is changing my disposition. When this truth has an effect on my heart, I’ll then go onto the commands of verse 6. We can follow this same practice and preach these truths to others who are struggling with anxiety as well. We want to make sure we do so with humility, empathy, and love.

I find that the move from “the Lord is at hand” to “do not be anxious” is really a natural transition. As I rest in the truth of Christ’s nearness, anxiety can’t help but start to give way and I naturally start praying to Jesus who I believe is very near to me. “Jesus, [and we need to be honest with where we are at] I’m struggling. And right now, my greatest struggle is that I’m not trusting You with what’s going on. I don’t feel like You have this in control. But I know You do! I know my feelings are betraying me. I know You are still on Your throne reigning sovereignly over all things - even this. Please forgive me for not trusting You and for giving into anxiety. Please help me to steadily trust in You.” And then, as verse 6 says to do, we need to be specific with those things that are giving us angst. As Peter says, we need to cast all our anxieties (not horde them) on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7). Maybe it’s that conflict at home with your spouse or your roommate. Maybe it’s the issue at work. Maybe it’s difficulties with the children. Maybe it’s the financial pinch. The list can go on, but Paul tells us that we are to make our requests (all of them) known to God. Whatever it is, we need to be specific. “Help me to trust You with ‘this’.” I don’t know about you, but I’ll even imagine myself, as it were, physically placing my concerns at the throne of Jesus and saying to God, “Alright God, I know I can’t do a thing to change this, so I’m giving it to you. I know you are in control and I know that whatever you decide to do, it will be for my good and it will be because you love me. Help me understand that and help me believe that.” Now, listen, maybe God will grant you understanding or even change your circumstances, or maybe He won’t; but what He does promise us in verse 7 is that if we trust in Him and go to Him in prayer, casting our anxieties on Him, He will gift us His peace that surpasses our limited understanding – His peace that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Ultimately, God wants to change our hearts and minds. The promise of God’s peace—the experience of it—is something that just naturally starts to happen as I rest in the Lord’s nearness and then cast all my anxieties at the feet of Jesus. Now, I’ll say again, this is my personal practice, but I’ll essentially stay in verses 5b-7 until I feel like I’m experiencing the peace of God, before I go on to verses 8-9.

When my anxieties have gone down and I’m at a place of more peace and stable thinking (not talking about perfection here), I’ll move on to the instruction in verses 8-9. Here’s what that looks like for me. I’ll do some self-analysis and go and ask others for help too. And what I’m wanting to ask myself, and have asked of me, is: “Stuart, was what you were thinking about really true? Was it honorable, or just, or pure, or lovely, or commendable? Did it have anything to do with excellence or was it anything that was worthy of praise?” And of course, the answers are no, no, no. But I need to have some honest self-reflection, because what I need to get to are the questions, “What is true about this situation? What is honorable? What is just?” So on and so forth. I need my bad conspiratorial thinking confronted, so that I can put off that way of thinking and put on Christ-exalting thinking. In my anxious thinking I can develop so many false beliefs—about God, about myself, about my situation, about others —that I often need to go one-by-one down the list and basically say, “That’s not true, God’s word says ‘this’.” Or “You don’t know that’s true; you feel like it is, but you’ve turned a subjective feeling into an objective reality that is now controlling you and has taken the place of God in your heart.” In large part, I put off subjective untruths (or unknowns) and put on the objective truths of Scripture: who God is, His promises towards me, what Christ has done for me, and so on and so on.

Listen, just to be clear, we need another’s help to do this. The command in verse 8 to “think about these things” is in the plural; we have to do this, together. If you try to do this alone, or in an echo chamber, you can be easily overwhelmed by how strong your anxious, conspiratorial thinking becomes. Engage with someone that you trust, that loves you, and that can help you in think in biblically right ways. You have to be honest with them though. “I’m thinking in these certain ways. I’m pretty sure that I’m not thinking well. I’m pretty sure that I’m believing lies and untruths. Help me. Are these things true? What does the Bible have to say about my situation?” And the beautiful part is that as we start to think in Christ-exalting ways, God’s fulfills His promise to us that we will experience His presence and peace.

This is how I practically use this passage to give self-counsel and counsel to others who are struggling with anxiety. I use it as a step-by-step manual on how to give practical help to anxious people (including myself) and have found it to be wonderfully useful and effective. Just start at 5b and work your way down to verse 9, running to your Savior in prayer, preaching the truth to yourself, and seeking out help from godly brothers and sisters.

Let’s end this post and series by restating what I believe is the main point of these verses, the promises of God’s peace and His presence are experienced by those who turn away from anxiety and turn to God in prayer and think in Christ-exalting ways.

Lord, help us do this, and help us help each other in these things. Thank You that You are our ever-present help in times of trouble.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 in this series.

Blog adapted from Replacing Anxiety with God's Peace & His Presence

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Replacing Anxiety with God’s Peace & His Presence | Part 5

Practice Christ-Exalting Thinking by Following Godly Examples

We’ve been in a series of blog posts considering Paul’s wisdom to anxious people from Philippians 4:5b-9. In these verses, God (through Paul) prescribes two antidotes for anxiety: prayer and deep meditation on Christ-exalting things. What’s more, Paul provides promises to those who take the medicine: the experience of God’s peace and the experience of God’s presence. We’ve looked at Paul's motivation to obey the commands in verse 6, the first antidote of prayer and the promise of experiencing God’s peace, and last week we looked at Paul’s first command to “think” in specific Christ-exalting ways. This week, we’ll consider Paul’s command to put into practice Christ-exalting thinking by following godly examples of this kind of thinking, and we’ll look at the promise Paul gives.

In verse 8 Paul exhorts us to intentionally think in Christ-exalting ways, and now in verse 9 he says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things”. The second command, which is connected to the first, is for us to put into practice Christ-exalting thinking by following godly examples of Christ-exalting thinking.

Paul often uses himself as a model of godly living worth imitating. Listen, it’s good to imitate others as long as those traits that you’re imitating are Christ-like traits. You see, in imitating others who are imitating Christ, you are imitating Christ.

Here’s what I think this looks like: we need to find at least one person who’s more spiritually mature—someone who thinks biblically, someone who sets their minds on Christ—and then we watch, and we listen to how they view and engage the world around them; what they read, what they talk about, what music they listen to, how they process difficult things, what they value, what they love, and so on, and so on. Now, I’m not saying you need to adopt every preference of theirs, but I am saying be a student - learn.

Pursue Obedience, Together

Friends, this is some serious homework. We’re commanded to: think about Christ-exalting things (v.8) and to practice this (v.9). And listen, God in His grace has determined that these commands should be worked out together. The command in verse 6 to “let your requests be made known to God” was singular (makes sense). And so I figured the commands in these verses (vv.8-9) would be singular too, but they’re not! They’re plural. Now that may just seem like geeky grammar, but there’s a massive implication here for us. Brothers and sisters, the grace that God wants to give to us – to put off anxious conspiratorial thinking and to put on Christ-exalting thinking – is by telling us that these commands are to be worked out in community. Listen, God doesn’t want us to go about transforming our thought life alone. We need each other! God’s grace is found in our being called to do this together.

Now, our American sense of independence and self-reliance runs deep, and maybe you’ve been taught that getting outside help is a sign of weakness, but nothing could be further from the truth. Biblical Counselor Paul Tripp well says, "We weren't created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So, we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources God has given us."[1]

You see, we were created to need outside help, and this need wasn’t a result of the Fall, but of Creation. First and foremost, we were created to need outside “vertical help” from God. And, even before the Fall, God said that we needed “horizontal help” from each other (Gen. 2:18). We were designed and created to need, pursue, and receive help from one another. In other words, to resist help, is to act counter to God’s creation and will only lead to self-destructiveness. But to pursue and receive help is to be like Jesus, the true and better Adam. So, part of the grace that God wants to give us to help us in our intentional pursuit of Christ-like thinking and practice is found in receiving help from the community of believers that we have been lovingly placed in. Brothers and sisters pursue obedience to Paul’s commands, and do it together.

The Promise of God’s Presence

At the end of verse 9, we’re promised that as we do these things, “the God of peace will be with you.” The promise of God’s presence is experienced by those who turn way from anxious thinking and think in Christ-exalting ways.

Listen, it is not as though God is not with us, He is (remember the end of verse 5)! God will never leave us, nor forsake us, but when we are anxious, we're not enjoying the experience of His presence, nor the fruit of His presence...peace. In moments of crushing anxiety, God might as well be on the other side of the universe. As I've already said, in a symptom of our unstable thinking, we create a fantasy world full of anxious conspiracies that amount to untruths and a rejection of God. It's in these moments that we're not resting in the truth and comfort of His presence and nearness.

This is why Paul's counsel to anxious people is a call to think differently and the promise for those who do is, "the God of peace will be with you.” In other words, God’s presence is experienced by those who turn away from their anxious thinking and turn to Christ-exalting thinking. This really comes full circle with where Paul started in verse 5b, with the Lord’s nearness. Anxious people like us need to rest in this truth, and what’s more, as we do we'll experience the fruit of God's presence, peace! In Isaiah 26:3 we read, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." This was clearly a truth that Paul understood well.

One of the most sweet and precious promises that God makes to His people is that, He will be with us, that He will never leave us, nor forsake us. Friends, in Jesus, this is a promise that is assured, now and forever more. Now that is good news for anxious people!

In the next and final post of this series, I’ll show you at a high-level how I “use” this passage practically to counsel myself and others.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 in this series.

Blog adapted from Replacing Anxiety with God's Peace & His Presence

[1] Tripp, Paul David. Whiter than Snow - Meditations on Sin and Mercy. Crossway Books, 2008. 147

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Replacing Anxiety with God's Peace & His Presence | Part 4

Practical Homework

We have been looking at Paul’s counsel to anxious people in Philippians 4:6-9. In this passage, he prescribes two antidotes for anxiety: prayer and deep meditation on Christ-exalting things. In addition to the antidotes, Paul makes clear that God makes promises to those who take the medicine: the experience of God’s peace and the experience of God’s presence. Over the course of the last three posts (covering Phil. 4:5b-7), we’ve looked at Paul's motivation to obey the commands in verse 6, the first antidote of prayer, and the promise of experiencing God’s peace for those who turn away from anxiety and turn to God by faith in prayer. Now, Paul’s second antidote for anxiety is found in our next verses (Phil. 4:8-9).

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

In these verses, Paul teaches us that the promise of God’s presence is experienced by those who turn away from anxiety and think in Christ-exalting ways. As we pray to God and experience His peace (that surpasses all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus) and our anxieties are alleviated, we’re able to start thinking in clearer ways. So, like any good counselor, Paul gives anxious conspiracy theorists like us practical homework.

What we’re seeing here is Paul’s concept of “put off” and “put on” that he often uses throughout his letters. You see, it’s not enough to just “put off” anxious thinking, we must also replace that kind of thinking (“put on”) with Christ-exalting thinking. So, Paul helpfully lets us know what that looks like.

Here are how these verses work: first, Paul exhorts us (it’s really a command) to intentionally think in specific Christ-exalting ways and then second, he exhorts us to put into practice Christ-exalting thinking by following godly examples of this kind of thinking. In this post we’ll look at what we’re to think about and then in the next post we’ll consider Paul’s exhortation for us to put it into practice.

Before we begin, you might be thinking, "I'm still wildly anxious and I don't think I can get my head around better thoughts." If that's you, let me tell you how I work through 5b-9 (and know that this is how I "use" this passage; this is my practice, not a principle), I work through verses 5b-7 until the peace of God makes some kind of breakthrough in my heart and mind. Meaning, I will not move onto (as it were) the directions in verses 8-9 until I feel like 5b-7 has had an effect on my soul and I am experiencing the peace of God. So, if that's you with that statement above, what might be best, is for you to go back through the first three posts and be there for a bit. That said, there is grace to move forward with putting off anxious thinking and putting on Christ-exalting thinking. So, with that, let's dig in.

Think About Christ-Exalting Things

Paul’s list in verse 8 of what to think about, is laid out very intentionally. There are six specific virtues that start with the phrase “whatever is…”. They describe what we should be dwelling on. And then there’s the last two phrases that start with “if there is…”. These are the Christ-exalting things that the six virtues describe, and these are the things that we should ultimately be filling our minds with.

Just a word or two about each of the six virtues. [1]

1) “Whatever is true”
Thinking those things that are real, and genuine, and accurate vs. those things that are false, a lie, or an assumption. In other words, we should not jump to conclusions, let our emotions run wild, or fill our thoughts with our fears. Rather, our thinking must be in alignment with, and subordinate to, the truth of God’s word. Whatever our situation is, the Christ-exalting truth we must preach to ourselves is that this is part of God’s eternal plan, He is in perfect control and will provide for all of our needs, He is using this for our good and out of love for us, and that our Savior, who suffered for us and was raised in victory and glory, now lives within us empowering us along the way.

2) “Whatever is honorable”
Thinking those things that are noble and dignified vs. those things that are demeaning. In other words, our thinking must be on things that pull us up and not down; those things that are Christ-honoring.

3) “Whatever is just”
Thinking those things that are defined as righteous and just by God, not by the culture around us our own sinful tendencies. In other words, our thinking must be in conformity to the just and righteous standards of our just and righteous God as revealed in the Bible, not on what our own sliding-scale of morality is willing to excuse or justify or what seems to be fair or just to us or those around us. Especially when we are anxious about how someone is treating us or may treat us, we need to remember that God gave us grace when we didn’t deserve it, and we need to extend that grace to others.

4) “Whatever is pure”
Thinking those things that are holy, and innocent, and unstained vs. those things that are corrupt, and filthy, and evil. This is the opposite of thinking that “the end justifies the means” or that we need to “take matters into our own hands.”

5) “Whatever is lovely”
Thinking those things that are ethically attractive and beautiful and admirable. It’s the very opposite of those things that are ethically crude and ugly – such as anger, bitterness, callousness, or indifference.

6) “Whatever is commendable”
Thinking those things that are highly regarded and well-spoken of vs. those things that give offense. In other words, our thinking must be filled with whatever is well spoken of by God and whatever is highly regarded in His eyes. If we’d be ashamed to think it, do it, or say it with Jesus next to us, it is not “commendable”.

These six specific virtues should describe what we fill our minds with as we seek to turn away from anxious thoughts and put on Christ-exalting things. But, Paul’s not finished! Unlike the previous virtues that are very distinct (“whatever is _____”, “whatever is _____”), Paul gives two final over-arching phrases that work together to guide us in how to pursue Christ-exalting thinking. Let’s take a closer look.

I hate to say it, but the ESV just isn’t helpful here. Just about every other popular translation gets it better. There is supposed to be an “and” that joins the two phrases. Some translations even put dashes around these statements to mark them off as a unit. Here is the NASB, “if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise…”. Here is why this is important, if something is truly morally excellent it is worthy of praise and if something is worthy of praise it must be morally excellent.

And listen, there’s no question in Paul’s mind that these kinds of things exist. There are excellent and praise-worthy things in this world that, though imperfect, point to and magnify the excellency and praise-worthiness of Christ!

Intentionally Think About Christ-Exalting Things

If we stop and think about it, this paints a picture of our Lord Jesus and the way he thought. Constantly and consistently, in every circumstance and at every point, Jesus’ thoughts could be described as true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. He always had his mind wrapped around things that were morally excellent and worthy of praise. And the command here is for us to intentionally think about these things; not the conspiracy theories that we can be tempted to delve into when anxious.

Listen, passivity will not work here. The drift is never towards Christ-exalting thinking, but always away from it. In other words, in the midst of angst, the natural tendency won’t be to think in true and pure ways, but the pull will be to think in conspiratorial ways—those ways that “feel” true but are actually just assumptions. In our flesh, we are prone to worry about the perceived reality of the present and its potential effect of the future, rather than dealing with what is true in the present. Brothers and sisters, we must, by His grace and fueled with prayer and dependence, supernaturally and intentionally meditate on Christ-exalting things and thereby rest in the nearness and all-surpassing peace of our Lord and Savior. No matter the real or perceived dangers or wounds we may face, as believers in Christ, we are (now and forever!) in the embrace of our loving Savior, the Prince of Peace.

Next Up: Philippians 4:8-9 | Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 in this series.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 in this series.

Blog adapted from Replacing Anxiety with God's Peace & His Presence

[1] Thoughts on the list below are adapted from Philippians For You. 200-202.