“A common thief may be lurking around your heart and mind right now. It goes by the name ‘Anxiety,’ and it wants to rob you of your rejoicing. Today’s sermon will consider a security system that Paul sets up, seeking to guard against this intruder.”
That was the summary blurb I offered for a sermon I preached on Philippians 4:6-7. Someone said it sounded like a movie trailer. Touche.
Still, the text itself tightly unfolds how God’s people should “not be anxious about anything.” While the entire transcript of that sermon will not fit here, I can relay reflections that move the exhortation forward.
Notably for myself, these two verses were the ones I chose to study for my first-ever sermon delivery in 1991. That year teemed with challenges inside and out.
Far away, as the Gulf War rumbled, I found myself transitioning into a new city, navigating a new pile of graduate studies, all while 600 miles away from my newly engaged bride-to-be.
The self-inflicted irony was not lost on me: At this time, I chose to preach against anxiety, even as I experienced the grips of anxiety.
If you know anything about the angst of anxiety, its ways of worry, you know how the stomach churns as the mind gears up and then grinds down, seeking resolution within a restless circumstance. The sensation behaves suspiciously like fear — of something.
How do I look? What do others think of me? What does the future hold? Has my past ruined my present? What will the test results reveal?
What’s up with my kids? What’s up with my car? Can life get more chaotic? As internal anxiety inquiries escalate, you may feel a need to control what’s happening rather than trusting the Christ of heaven.
Obviously, I survived that sermon and that season of “angst-xiety.”
But fast forward with me to 1997 when, as a newly-minted minister, I found myself preaching through the entire Book of Philippians.
As I returned to these two verses, I spotted a newspaper headline that announced, “Worker Anxiety: Employees face new bosses, benefit changes, layoff threats.”
Since people in my church would surely relate, I sensed here a timely segue and sermon application ripped from the headlines.
But as it turned out, later that same day, I received a phone call from my wife saying that her father had died very unexpectedly. In that moment, my local headline shifted to personal heartache. Loss, grief, ambiguity, and pain crept in; while lurking in the shadows, a thief prowled, one whose purpose was to steal joy.
In a circumstance like this, how is a child of God supposed to resist anxiety and express rejoicing?
Since I see that my column space is about to run out, I will look to revisit this subject at a later date. In the meantime, reread these two verses, and seek to find in them a divinely inspired way to secure the peace of God, that is revealed.
The Rev. Craig Davis is minister at Grace United Reformed Church in Kennewick. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.