Paul described the Philippian believers as being filled with an abundance of joy in spite of suffering from a “great ordeal of affliction” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). Christian joy transcends the sorrows of this present age.
Anxiety provoking events are challenges to joy. As Paul was writing to the Philippian church he was imprisoned. This certainly provoked anxiety among his brothers and sisters at Philippi (1:7). The Philippian congregation suffered from the selfish ambition and self interest of toxic leaders within the church (1:17; 2:21) and from opposition, suffering, conflict without the church (1:28-30; 3:2). A beloved church leader was “sick to the point of death” (2:26-30).
Anxiety is an alarm mechanism that alerts us to potential danger. Anxiety provokes positive change if we have the ability to manage or tolerate differences. However, anxiety prevents positive change if we are too reactive. There are two types of anxiety. First, there is acute anxiety which is generated by a crisis and is temporary. This is normal.
Second, there is chronic anxiety which is habitual and structured into life. Chronically anxious persons are governed by instinct rather than insight. They react emotionally and violently. They can be very willful, that is, everything must be according to their way. Chronically anxious persons suffer from a low pain threshold and must have immediate relief. They are self adsorbed and suffer from a sense of victimization. Their chronic anxiety often alienates them from family and friends. We must recognize that “habitual chronic anxiety” may be due to genetics, bio-chemical issues, and life experiences. In many of these cases chronic anxiety becomes compounded. Chronic anxiety is a disorder and the remedy must be spiritual, medical, and psychological. The problem is that chronically anxious persons usually can’t recognize their toxic behaviors; and because they have a low threshold for pain they instinctively react with anger if a friend or family member tries to point out their toxic behavior.
Joy is God’s remedy for anxiety. “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22) and joy is a source of great strength during times of great anxiety (Nehemiah 8:10). Paul exhorted,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
We should not live in denial. Our sorrows are real. Often, even as we smile we suffer from anxiety (Proverbs 14:13). However, even as we live in a age of sorrow, God has given to us the Holy Spirit who fills us with love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22-23). The Christian walk is not defined by our sorrows, but by the abundance of joy. G K Chesterton said,
“Man is more himself… when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial… joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.”
As we suffer from anxiety and sorrow we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As we pray the peace of God will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). We must learn to “dwell” on the good things (Philippians 4:8). The mind is healed and sanctified through prayer and thanksgiving; through meditation; and through spiritual discipline. Paul said, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Many who suffer from habituated chronic anxiety can learn and practice spiritual disciplines that allow the fruit of the Holy Spirit to flourish in their lives. In Paul, the Philippian believers could see an example of one in whom sorrow was superficial and the joy of the Lord was abundant. Sometimes, if we are to be healed of our chronic anxiety we must have a non-anxious person to guide us, someone stronger and wiser, someone we can trust and respect.
Contributed by: Dr. Daniel Tomberlin @ dantomberlin.net