Do not be anxious about anything, 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. 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. Phil. 4:6-8 (ESV)
When I was 13-years old the surgeon told my mom that I needed knee surgery to repair torn cartilage. Over the next month, my stomach knotted up every time I thought about the date on the calendar approaching. Lots of things caused my anxiety. The fear of the unknown, the fear of being put to sleep, and a million other what-ifs.
The morning before my procedure I lay bed sick to my stomach and feeling unable to get up, get dressed and proceed with the day. My aunt came in to encourage me. She read Philippians 4:6-8.
She prayed and told me if I prayed and trusted God enough he would give me peace. I thanked her and told her it helped.
But it didn’t.
I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I thought it was me. I must not have enough faith. Or I was praying wrong. I prayed on the way to the hospital. I prayed in the waiting room. I prayed on the gurney heading to surgery. The fear didn’t leave until the nurse told me to count backward and I fell asleep.
I prayed. I praised. God help me not be anxious. Thank you for this surgery that will make my knee better. And then I tried to solve the problem. What if it hurts? What if I don’t wake up? What if my gown pops open in the back and everyone sees my tushy?
Through the years, I began to cringe when I heard those verses.
They didn’t work for me. No matter how hard I prayed, the peace eluded me.
I thought it was a formula.
Prayer + Praise = no anxiety
I wanted God to either zap my emotions away like bug zapper or change all my circumstances to be rainbows and butterflies. I wanted God to help me. To do it my way. I would tell him what I needed and want him to jump in and help, kind of like a 50/50 thing—with me in charge.
But that’s not how it works. Philippians 4:6-8 isn’t a formula, it’s a relationship. When I recognize I can’t do it on my own and ask God to take charge of my mind relaxes because I recognize I’m not in control of the outcome anymore.
4 Steps to peace
I can’t. God can. Help me, God.
- Prayer and petition (vs 6) – Instead of praying, “God help me,” prayer shifts to, “I can’t. God can. Help me, God.” I recognize God is powerful enough, loving enough, and good enough to handle this situation. This is not my problem to solve. I can’t control the situation or other people. Instead of trying to do it my way, I release control.
- Thanksgiving (vs 6) – My mind wants to work overtime when I have a problem. Instead of trying to quiet my mind, I shift those hyperreactive thoughts from trying to solve problems that are not solvable at that moment to praise and thanksgiving. I take comfort in no matter what happens, God will be with me. I will never be alone. He will give me the strength to walk through it.
- Guard my heart and mind, not live in my understanding (vs 7) – I recognize my understanding is limited and allow God’s understanding to replace mine. My version of reality is often an illusion and not actually reality. When I release control to God and focus on His characteristics and not the situation, my heart and mind are cushioned in truth.
- Think truth (vs 8) – Our thoughts are wiggly things. We can feel all settled when we are praying and moments later be living out the worst case in our imaginations. That’s why this verse gives eight things we are to think about (truth, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy). That’s a lot of thinking about who God is, and not thinking about what may be/might/could happen. Thinking truth is a lot of work. Our brains want to puzzle over and try and solve our problems. They don’t want to rest in truth. But in truth, we find true peace.
There were some glitches the day I had knee surgery. A nasty nurse made my mom stay in the waiting room and left me alone to wait for the surgery. My knee swelled and had subsequent pain due to a reaction to the ice packs. And during recovery balanced my crutches and pulled a boot on with a mouse in the toe.
Life isn’t perfect. Things will go wrong. There’s nothing I could have done ahead of time to prevent any of the complications. (Except shake out my boot before putting my foot in it. Which I now do on a consistent basis.) In the difficult moments, God promises to always be with us. We are never alone. Instead of trying to control every possible outcome, we can trust our faithful creator, thank him for who he is and zap away negative emotions by only thinking on things that are true. Not what could be or could have been.
Stress happens between reality and what we want reality to be. What is one thing that is stressing you out today? What steps can you take to settle your heart and mind on truth?