Often times after I preach, I feel there are things that I haven’t said as well as I should have. I preached a sermon on December 9th, 2018 on the Advent of Peace. After speaking with my wife, I feel that there is a level of nuance in speaking about anxiety that I could have touched on with a little more depth.
I understand that many people, my wife included, have struggled with anxiety at very acute and even clinically significant levels. For those people, passages like Philippians 4:6-9, can actually be quite frustrating, because it can seem like they can pray and pray and pray for peace, but never feel His peace.
My encouragement for those who feel like this is as follows:
1) It’s helpful to recognize that the brokenness in the world not only refers to the physical and external, but also the emotional and internal. Brokenness can and does affect the very mind with which we would hope to feel peace. For example, we have heard of instances where people get into a bad car accident with severe head trauma, and it seems like they come out of it a different person mentally. Their minds have been literally impacted in a way that their patterns of thinking are necessarily altered. In addition, some people have gone through such traumatic events in their life, that their patterns of thinking are altered and broken (PTSD for example). In these circumstances, fighting for peace seems an even more arduous endeavor, because not only are you fighting against more typical day-to-day worries, but you are also fighting against a mind that simply does not work the way it ought to. Just as the physical body that is broken sometimes needs aid in the form of medicine and physical therapy, a mind that is broken may also benefit from medicine and mental therapy.
2) Secondly, I want to encourage you to think less in terms of how you “feel” peace and more in terms of your confidence of God’s presence with you in a sea of unrest. Peace is less of an emotion and more an act of the will (I would say the same with hope, joy, and love). Paul says in Colossians 3:15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”, implying that we have a choice in how much space we give to peace in our hearts. In Philippians 4:6-9, God’s promise, if we pray and “practice these things” is not that we will “feel” at rest, but rather that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” and “the God of peace will be with you”. The peace that we can start to have today is maybe better said as a willful confidence of God’s presence with us, to protect us and keep us from anything that would come between Him and us. I believe that as we practice speaking these truths to ourselves and seeking God in prayer, that God will answer by giving us an increasing confidence that He is our comfort even in the midst of anxiety and other types of mental anguish.
3) Thirdly, I want to encourage you to hope in a God who has promised to get rid of all brokenness everywhere, once and for all. Anxiety is NOT your eternal destiny. Depression is NOT your eternal destiny. Mental anguish is NOT your eternal destiny. When Jesus comes again “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” All suffering, including anxiety, depression, and mental anguish, is temporary and passing away. Jesus encourages you to take heart, because He has overcome the world.
4) Lastly, I want to encourage you to fight for peace in the context of community. The scriptures tell us that we are the body of Christ and individually members of it, and that the Spirit has given each of us gifts for the common good (see 1 Cor 12). No one person has been given all the gifts, and therefore in order to experience the fullness of God’s gifts to us, we need to be in community. As believers we are never intended to follow Jesus as individuals. Most of God’s promises and commands are given to a community of believers, namely the church, to work these things out. This very post comes from the context in being in community with my wife who pointed out that there were some additional things that I could have said to be helpful. Please open yourself up to both knowing others and being known by others. Please open yourself to loving others and being loved by others. I think you will find others that have struggled in very similar ways to how you struggle, and can encourage and empathize with you as you seek the Lord’s help together.
Grace and Peace,