In Philippians 4, Paul offers a positive strategy for dealing with worry. Since worry is a prideful way of thinking that you have more control over life and its circumstances than you actually do, the strategy is the release of humility.
As Martin Luther put it, with characteristic punch: “Pray, and let God worry.”
When someone says, “Please pray for me,” they are not saying “let’s have lunch sometime.” They are issuing an invitation into their lives and their humanity- and often with some urgency. And worry is not a substitute for prayer. Worry is a starting place, but not a staying place. Worry invites me into prayer. As a staying place, worry can be self-indulgent, paralysing, draining, and controlling. When I take worry into prayer, it doesn’t disappear, but it becomes smaller.
We can pray. That’s our part in the plan. Worry divides the mind. Prayer concentrates it. “We tend to be preoccupied by our problems when we have a heightened sense of vulnerability and a diminished sense of power. Today, see each problem as an invitation to prayer.” ( John Ortberg)
“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” (Phil 4:6,7)
The frame of prayer is laid out quite clearly: “petitions and praises.” The first simply means the acknowledgement of need, and the expression of faith-filled requests. The second means the expression of gratitude and the offering of thanksgiving. And this too is faith-filled and trusting. What He says He will do, He will do. It is my part to sort through the issues, work calmly, with all the intelligence I can muster, and lay it all out before my Father, and then leave it with him.
I used to have a boss who said that. I would bring an issue to him, and he would say, “Leave it with me.” It didn’t mean, “Don’t bother me.” Neither did it mean, “Your concerns are not worth considering.” On the contrary, it meant that I had done the right thing, as an employee, and had taken the problem to the place where it could now be dealt with properly. And it would be “actioned.” What a great word. Action would be consequent upon request.
But Paul doesn’t leave it there. He wants to conclude this section by talking about the one who prays. How do you get to be someone who is not tossed and bothered by all the bits and pieces of life? How do you become someone who is comfortable in their own skin, and who exudes peace and calm and clarity of thinking?
His answer is to do a character sketch of the one who has learnt to shape his worries into prayers. Paul describes someone who has learnt to live in the confident assurance that the things he has left with God will stay there, and that God will sort it out and see it through.
And, primarily, the one who experiences this assurance is one who has learnt to think differently from the “normal” ways of the world.
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Phil 4:8.9)
It’s a specific call to bring your thought-life into line with the character of God as a way of dealing with the ruinous grooves of worry and anxiety.
Although it’s natural and can be healthy to self-reflect, reflection becomes problematic when it’s negative, excessive, and repetitive. Rumination is a kind of negative thinking in which we get mentally stuck and keep spinning our wheels without making progress, like a car stuck in the mud. Rumination can make you more and more anxious as you keep thinking of more and more negative outcomes that could possibly happen.
Overthinking is when you go over and over different choices in your mind, trying to imagine every possible outcome and everything that could happen in the future, to make sure you make the perfect choice. Your focus is on avoiding mistakes and risk. The problem with overthinking is that it’s an attempt to control what isn’t controllable.
Cynical hostility is a way of thinking and reacting that is characterised by angry mistrust of other people. You see other people as threats. They may cheat you, take advantage, let you down, deceive you, or otherwise cause you harm. Cynical hostility involves interpreting other people’s behaviour in the worst ways. You may think the driver ahead of you is being deliberately slow to frustrate you, or that a friend has an ulterior motive. Cynical hostility can ruin your relationships and increase your blood pressure.
What do you do? You fill your mind with the best; you consider the things that are “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious.”
“Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realised. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
This is a helpful conclusion. It contains the things that we do ourselves and the things that God does for us. We work in tandem.
But as for me and you, the way is pretty simple. Fill your mind with the goodness of God. If you’re not happy, then something is wrong. A person comes into the world as a happy being, yet over time, the happiness fades away and they find themselves in this bubble of anxiety and misery all the time. And it’s a comfortable place to stay, so they end up hanging out in this bubble for years and years before it suddenly dawns on them that life is meant to be happy. And, it is. It’s just that they’re too busy getting caught up in worry and stress to notice that life is magnificent and beautiful. Being alive is good. Being alive should already make you happy.
Shape every worry into a prayer because praying is faith, It is faith that God hears, that God is in control and that God answers.