Peace or Relief?

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. (Phil 4:6-7, NASB)

In Philippians 4 there is a wonderful explanation by the apostle Paul for how to handle anxiety.  Paul describes a way to engage God that results in a powerful peace, guarding our minds and hearts from anxiety.  I have become increasingly curious over the last twenty years of my counselling work as to why Christians are not experiencing a more complete resolution of their anxieties.  I do observe that many Christians find relief as they present their requests to God (Phil 4:6), and their minds and hearts are truly settled in a clear and noticeable way.  But for many the relief doesn’t last.  In just a few days the same anxiety is back again with all of its previous power to disrupt sleep, disturb concentration and strain relationships. That result does not seem to square with Paul’s awesome description of God’s guarding peace.  Paul says God’s peace is so effective that it is literally incomprehensible.  Offers like that ought not to go unused!  Why are many of us not receiving a more profound level of resolved anxiety?  Surely God’s guarding is not puny; surely his peace is not thin.

And then it hit me.  His “guards” are not proverbial ninety-eight pound weaklings.  God’s guards will get the job done… if we let them.  As I continued to observe people’s struggles to find peace I perceived a confusion between peace and relief.

The act of unburdening our hearts with God, with someone who both cares and who is able to effectively intervene in our lives, is to experience definite relief.  But upon scrutiny we can see that the relief dissipates when we resume our anxious thinking.  We take back the job that God wanted for himself – to bear our worrisome thoughts.  Different reasons can be at play here – our desire for control, our lack of trust, the comfort of familiar routines, etc.  Whatever the reason, it interferes with the transaction of peace.  For peace to be received, we need to leave our anxieties with God.  Stop thinking about them.  Don’t take them back.  Taking them back is no less than back seat driving, a hole in the fabric of our trust in God.

The description in Phil 4:6-7 is about making an exchange – our anxieties for God’s peace.  If God doesn’t get our anxious thoughts, we don’t get the receipt of God’s peace.  That is such a painful consequence of my desire to be a back seat driver.  Any other anxiety backseat drivers out there?  May I encourage you to let God keep your anxieties?  Will you settle for the temporary relief of sharing your anxieties with God and then gathering them up to re-process again yourself?  Or will you take the entire offer of God’s glorious peace, complete with “anxiety guard” that prevents anxiety from disturbing your peace?

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