There are certain commands in scripture which, to my shame, I treat more as suggestions than commands. Sort of like Good Housekeeping-esque tips for better living, which fit right in next to articles like, “45 Tips To Lose That Stubborn Belly Fat,” and, “How To Keep Those Pesky Avocados Fresh.”
(Side note: Is it just me or do avocados have a shelf life of approximately six seconds?)
One of those commands is Paul’s exhortation to, “Be anxious for nothing.”
The surrounding verses, which are both staggeringly comforting and incredibly challenging, say:
Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Anxious For Nothing? How Is That Possible?
On the surface, this seems like one of those, “Surely, you can’t be serious,” kind of commands.
I mean, anxious for nothing? For NOTHING? In many ways, life is a giant, mottled gray tapestry of worries, anxieties, struggles, and fears.
Will I have enough to pay the bills?
Will my child recover from this sickness?
Will I have enough time to get all my work done and still spend time with the family?
Will I need to take care of my parents?
You get the point.
To say that there are lot of opportunities to be anxious and worried is like saying Michael Bay likes the occasional explosion or people on the Keto diet like telling you that they’re on the diet. Life is absolutely full of temptations to be anxious.
That’s why when Paul says, “Do not be anxious for anything,” my response is often, “Surely, you can’t be serious.”
And yet, Paul (and the Lord) is very serious when he says, “Be anxious for nothing.”
Anxiety, fear, and worry are no small things in God’s eyes. When we’re anxious, we are, in essence, saying that we don’t believe God is able to take care of us. We’re saying that God isn’t powerful or caring enough to meet all our needs and sustain us through all our trials.
We’re like the Israelites immediately after God freed them from the Egyptians and brought them to the Red Sea. As the Egyptians were bearing down on them, they said:
They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?
Even though the Israelites had witnessed God’s staggering power and relentless love, they doubted his care. This sent them into a spiral of crushing worry and anxiety.
Of course, this leads to the obvious question: given how many anxieties we face, how can we possibly be anxious for nothing?
Be Anxious For Nothing Through Prayer and Supplication
Paul doesn’t call us to some sort of stoic, what will be will be, approach to anxiety. It’s not about keeping calm and carrying on, all the while munching on biscuits slathered in marmite (or whatever it is Brits like to eat).
Instead, Paul presents two solutions that enable us to be anxious for nothing: prayer and supplication.
I have to admit that, at least on the surface, this solution seems a tad…I don’t know…simple.
I mean, we all know that prayer is important and that we’re supposed to constantly present our requests to God.
But, come on.
Be anxious for nothing?
Isn’t something more needed than simple prayer and supplication? To quote the brilliant theologian Taylor Swift, “Bandaids won’t fix bullet holes.”
Surely, the bullet holes of anxiety require a bit more than simple prayer.
Again and again in scripture, the cure for worry and anxiety is going to God in prayer. Peter says, “…[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” How do we cast our crushing cares and fears and anxieties upon the Lord? How do we unburden ourselves to the point where we aren’t anxious about anything?
By laying our heavy burdens upon the back of the one who rules and reigns over all things. By bringing all of our fears and worries to the Lord and laying them at his feet.
There’s only one person capable of bearing the burdens presented each day, and it’s not us.
Jesus puts it this way:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:31-33).
Jesus commands us not to be anxious and instead tells us to direct our attention and action to seeking God’s kingdom. One of the primary ways that we seek God’s kingdom is through prayer and supplication.
Prayer isn’t a last-ditch resort for when the pressure cooker (or Instapot) is cranked up to 11.
Prayer is a divine invitation from the omnipotent God – the one who sustains all things, the one who keeps the planets from careening into each other, the one who keeps our hearts from blundering into cardiac arrest – to unburden ourselves.
To bring all our cares and anxieties and fears to the King of Kings and lay them at his feet.
Prayer is a summons from God to be anxious for nothing.
Prayer is saying to God, “Lord, I am too weak and fragile and scared and unsophisticated to figure everything out. I simply can’t handle all this. I can’t sustain myself, bear my burdens, or be the problem solver. I. Need. You.”
In his outstanding book A Praying Life, Paul Miller puts it this way:
I love that little phrase, “…the eternal God scrubs floors.”
There is no request or anxiety or need to small (or large) to present to the Lord. He is a good, gracious Father who delights to take care of his children.
My daughter, Ella, has the somewhat-obnoxious habit of constantly asking for things, even if we just gave her something. If she had cake for dessert, she wants cookies for second dessert. If we just bought her new shoes, she asks for new boots too.
And I’m not always patient or gracious with her. Sometimes I just get plain annoyed.
But I would NEVER want her to stop asking me for things. I’m her dad, and few things make me happier than blessing her. Few things give me more pleasure than meeting her little, 8-year old needs. And if that’s my sinful, grumpy, knock-it-off attitude, imagine what God’s attitude is.
How do we be anxious for nothing? We bring every need and worry and anxiety to our Father and lay it at his feet.
But there’s one more thing.
Be Anxious For Nothing Through Faith
There is one more thing required in order to be anxious for nothing. One more ingredient to throw in the “peace that passes understanding” recipe.
That ingredient is faith.
It’s not enough to simply pray to God. If we’re truly going to be anxious for nothing, our prayers must be intertwined with faith.
Faith in God’s promises to always provide.
Faith in God’s good, generous character.
Faith in God’s steadfast love, which will never leave or forsake us.
Faith in God’s ability to answer every prayer.
Prayer without faith is like a car without gasoline. It won’t get you anywhere. Frankly, praying without faith is insulting to God.
It’s like when my kids preface a request with, “You’re probably going to say no.” It makes me sad when they say that (unless they’re asking for something truly outlandish, like being able to draw on my car with permanent marker). I love blessing my kids, and when their assumption is that I’ll say, “No,” it hurts.
In James 5:15, when describing the elders of a church praying for a sick person, he says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”
It’s the prayer of faith that prompts God to heal a person. It’s the prayer of faith that moves God to meet every need. It’s the prayer of faith that…
…restores a wayward child.
…opens the door for a new job.
…enables you to serve in ways that you don’t like.
When prayer and faith are knit together, God moves and we are able to be anxious for nothing.
In his book Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, Ed Welch says:
Yes, the command to not be anxious or fearful seems overwhelming. Impossible. Unrealistic.
But if God commands it, he also empowers us to obey.
Life is too complicated and frustrating and confusing to navigate on our own. The burdens are too heavy for us to bear.
The command to be anxious for nothing is really a sweet invitation wrapped in a command. It’s God saying, “Don’t be silly and try to handle all this on your own. Let me take care of the details. I’ve got this.”