Years ago there was a commercial showing a woman who was stressed, taking care of the house, children, pets, work, and in her frustration cries out, “Calgon take me away!” Do you remember this vintage commercial? According to the ad, to get rid of your stress and anxiety, all you had to do was buy their brand of soap, and poof, the stresses would simply float away. Are you wishing you had some Calgon right now?
This summer we have been working through a sermon series in church on the book of Philippians, an incredible letter of comfort, encouragement, and joy. On Sunday we looked at a topic that affects us all: anxiety. The message touched a nerve as many came up afterward to share personal moments of this inner tension. We all face stress and anxiety: a job interview, getting married, stuck in traffic, having a baby, at work, or facing a serious health issue. Because we live in a fallen world, life is filled with anxiety. Due to the response as well as timeliness of the topic, I thought it might be an encouragement to share some of the thoughts from this message.
I do not remember where I heard this particular definition of anxiety, but it certainly grabbed my attention. The writer described it as, “Anticipating the future in the worst possible way, and freaking out about it!” Is this you? I have been there many times! Paul knew a thing or two about anxiety and stress. Here is a man who had been a Christian for several years at the time of writing this letter to the Philippian church; he had been shipwrecked, beaten, left for dead, and now as he pens this letter he is sitting in prison. Talk about stress! He planted this church as a mission start some eleven years prior, and thus has a close relationship with the people. He saw the church as one of his beloved spiritual children. As Paul sits in jail he begins to hear reports of a brewing tension between Eudia and Syntyche, two highly influential women in Philippi. Honestly, we do not know a lot about these women or what the tension was about. We do know that many came to faith in Jesus Christ through their ministry (some argue they were deaconesses), so you can imagine that this conflict was causing tension and growing factions. Paul’s plea was for unity, that they “have the same mind.” Listen to Paul’s words in this storming moment:
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:2-3)
Paul is certainly aware of the quarrel, notice his response: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4) Notice what Paul does not say. He does not say freak out about it, blog about it, PM about it, send nasty emails about it, or gossip about it with a friend. His answer is clear: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Maybe you are thinking, Really Paul, rejoice? Even when life is slamming me in the face? You don’t know what’s on my plate right now? I think Paul knew we would ask, so he was clear about this, and says it twice, “Again I say, rejoice!”
How do you deal with anxiety? If left unchecked, anxiety can not only wreak havoc on our life physically, but spiritually as well. Anxiety and worry is a subtle distrust of God. When we worry, we are saying, in essence, that we do not trust God to provide. More and more, if we continue to live in this place, instead of God informing our decisions we allow our anxiety, fear, or worry to become lord. The solution for Paul is prayer: “By prayer & petition I bring it all before God.” No request is too big or too small for Him to handle. For Paul, anxiety led to prayer, which led to peace with God, all grounded upon a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Joy and peace are linked. The source of this joy is found in the Lord thru the presence and work of Holy Spirit.
Is there an anxious moment looming before you? As we reflect on Paul’s words to the Philippian church, there are three thoughts for consideration: First of all, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is my focus more on the circumstance or on Jesus?” It is easy to react to the moment before us: to fly off the handle, to say something we later regret, or to write an email we wish we could take back. We can become so consumed with a situation we lose sight of the bigger picture. God has promised us His presence in every part of life (Col 3:15; Mt 28:20).
Second, as we have anxious moments, choose to worry about nothing. As a pastor, you just know that when you preach on certain topics it is going to be that kind of week. This past week certainly lived up to the expectation. We had just received new phones in the office, but they were cutting out on people in the middle of a conversation. It was not all bad, one of the calls was a telemarketer. Also, my computer decided it did not want to play nice and said it was connected to the internet yet I was not able to gain access. Mike, my hero, came to my rescue (Thanks Mike)! There were several “don’t talk to me” moments. At one point, I did not know if we would have a bulletin for Sunday. I was ready to do a hymn-sing for church. Then in a moment, I felt convicted as I reflected on the words Paul spoke to the Philippian church:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6)
Whenever you face worry or anxiety, Philippians 4 is a great place to camp out and make a home. Through this chapter we are reminded that living in Jesus brings about joy (v.4), thankfulness (v.5), and peace (v.6).
Lastly, as we face anxiousness, it is an opportunity to focus on what matters most: making disciples. Ask yourself, “What am I here for?” The answer to this question points us to our ultimate purpose, lifting us out of our temporal anxiety to something bigger. Bottom line, God has gathered us together as a church and people for the purpose of making disciples. This core truth is grounded in our missional intent as a church to “gather, grow, and go”. At the end of the day, what matters most is whose names are written in the book of life?
We can learn a lot from Paul. At Redeemer, God is turning the page toward a brand new chapter in His story for this place. As this page turns, it is a chapter involving children, families, college students, and all generations of people coming together under one roof to worship the living God. Yes, this could be a time of anxiety, but it all depends on how you look at it. Thus, it is important to remember why we are here and our call to make disciples.
Redeemer was built on the shoulders of a pioneer spirit. A few faithful men and women from Immanuel thought, “There’s a part of Rolla who don’t know Jesus yet.” From there, they began talking about starting a mission plant on the outskirts of town. Soon a location for worship was found at the Rolla Lion’s Den. Fitting, huh? Each week these pioneers set-up and tore-down for worship. Each week there was a growing excitement that filled the air as people invited their friends, family, and neighbors to try out a new church called Redeemer. From there the church birthed and lived thru years of growth, facility expansion, and dreaming. There were moments of struggle as the church was hit by lightning, vandalism, and just where does that “mystery door” in the narthex lead? There have been Baptisms, Confirmations, marriages, and deaths. The church has been shepherded by several faithful men of God: Pastor Lueb, Weinkauf, Wittmaier, and Kuhlman.
Since Redeemer’s birth, I am sure there have been anxious moments from time to time. But through it all, on each page of Redeemer’s story, the Holy Spirit has been at work to draw us together around the cross, His Word, and Sacraments, all with the purpose of pointing us toward posturing His mission (Mt 28:18-20). Throughout our 35 plus years as a community of faith, people have come and gone, yet one thing has remained constant: God’s love and faithfulness to us as His people. It is a call to gather as the Body of believers, grow in His Word, and go make disciples.
Yes, this is a beautiful story, but it is more than a story it is HISstory which is not yet complete. There are new chapters being written before our very eyes. God is preparing us for a new chapter. There will be awkward moments, to be sure, but through each step we pray that God would be glorified! After all, “It is not we who seek the way, but the Way which seeks us.” (Dag Hammarskjold) God is seeking us out, turning the page to a wonderfully, brilliant new chapter, the Word made flesh living in us to tell the old, old story to a new generation.
Time to pioneer up!