Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Anxiety

Room, in our home

In Philippians 4 Paul commands Jesus-followers to “be anxious about nothing.” (v. 6) 

The biblical Greek word for ‘anxious’ is often used in contexts where persecution is happening. For example, in Matthew 10:19, Jesus counsels his disciples: “When they arrest you, do not be anxious about what to say or how to say it.”

When Paul counsels the Philippians to not be anxious, it’s not like he’s sitting on the beach savoring a latte. He’s in prison! The context is: persecution. The Philippian Jesus-followers were suffering under opposition from their pagan neighbors, like Paul and Silas suffered when among them (Acts 16:19-24; Phil 1:28-30).

I know what anxiety is. I have experienced in in troubling times. How realistic is it to be told "Be anxious for nothing?"

Paul's answer, emerging out of his experience, is found in his rich, ongoing prayer life. He writes:


Do not be anxious about anything, 
but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, 
present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6-7

Paul's praying life is a deep vein of gold producing spiritual wealth and wellness. His praying life was ongoing. Paul prays, as was his habit, unceasingly.

Following Henri Nouwen, I have a proof that a praying life dispels anxiety. (See Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal.) It's this. When I don't pray, I am more easily filled with anxiety. But as I have a praying life, God meets with me. In the act of praying I encounter caregiving from the Great Physician. (Nouwen experienced not praying as intensifying anxiety. This does not logically imply that the source of one's anxiety is prayerlessness, any more than thinking the cause of an infection is the lack of antibiotics.)


In everyday prayer-conferencing with God I present my requests to him. I lay my burdens before him (See 1 Peter 5:7). I have a Father God who loves me, in whom I trust. Where there is trust, there is neither worry nor anxiety. A person with a praying life grows in trust and diminishes in anxiety. A praying person discovers that trust and anxiety are inversely proportionate. 

Paul writes that our prayers should be accompanied “with thanksgiving.” Ben Witherington writes: “Paul believes there is much to be said for praying in the right spirit or frame of mind.” This is significant for the Roman Philippians, since pagan prayers did not include thanksgiving. Roman prayers were often fearful, bargaining prayers, not based on a relationship with some god.

Witherington adds: “Prayer with the attitude of thanksgiving is a stress-buster.” John Wesley said that  thanksgiving is the surest evidence of a soul free from anxiety.


Paul's antidote for worry and anxiety is: praying, with thanksgiving.


(I recognize that there are clinical, neurophysical conditions that cause anxiety and fear. The antidote for such conditions may be medications. But even when medications stabilize a person's emotions, issues of trust may remain. Medication will not fully help a person when the only chair they have keeps breaking, but it may help them access the spiritual help they need.

Note: if you have severe anxiety I recommend two things:

1) Praying, and having people pray for you. 
2) Seeing a physician who is skilled in treating you physically. 

Combine spiritual intervention with medical intervention. [Thank you S.K. for the clarification.])

***

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I will then co-write our book on Relationships