Just after instructing us to rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4), Paul wrote in verse 6, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Worry is a kill-joy. It specializes in worst case scenarios when God promises us best case scenarios:
1. He has already rescued us from the worst, which is eternal Hell;
2. Even if something horrible happens, He will use it for our eternal good (Romans 8:28);
3. Often bad things do not happen and our worry proves groundless;
4. Whether or not bad things happen, our worry generates no positive change, and in fact, can cause me great harm;
5. The cause for all our worries—sin and the Curse—is temporary, and will soon be behind us. Forever.
Hence the command to rejoice is not mere positive thinking—we have every reason to rejoice.
Paul continued in verse 7, “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 your minds in Christ Jesus.” Instead of worrying, we’re to take our concerns to God, choosing to thank Him as we do—for His goodness, His sovereignty and His promises to work everything for good.
In verse 8 Paul said: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Thought is a choice. We often imagine, “I have no control over what I think about.” Martin Luther is credited with responding, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” What we choose to think about becomes our master.
Some believers become obsessed with everything that’s wrong with the world. We are continually bombarded by “news” (sometimes more sensational than informative) that dwells on the sufferings, tragedies and crises of life. It is easy for this unceasing avalanche of “bad news” to bury the Good News.
I do not favor living in a cave, denying suffering and trying to be “blissfully ignorant” of the world’s woes. Rather, Paul said, we are to focus our thoughts on the true eternal realities God affirms, that better empower us to rejoice.
Remembering God’s presence, praying and feeding our thoughts with good things that honor our King—these will increase our joy while starving our anxiety.
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.