A Word for the Worrier

Series: Preacher: Date: February 24, 2001 Scripture Reference: Philippians 4:1-9

1 – Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

2 – I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.

3 – Yes, and I ask you, [Syzygus]…loyal yoke fellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 – Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

5 – Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

7 – And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.

9 – Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

In John 8:34 Jesus warned us about one of the greatest dangers of sin when He said, Everyone who sins is a SLAVE to sin.And you know, these days it’s easy to see the truth of that warning because people areENSLAVED BY or ADDICTED TO a number of sinful behaviors. Some are ensnared by drugs or alcohol or tobacco. I’ve read a lot recently about others who struggle with gambling or sexual addictions. I’ve even heard of people having an uncontrollable urge to OVER-DO things like shopping or exercise. Medical experts tell us that some people are addicted to UNDER-eating while others are hooked on OVER-eating, and SOME of you may struggle with one or more of these behaviors. But there is ANOTHER ADDICTION out there that ALL OF US wrestle with each and every day. I’m referring to uncontrollable WORRY. I mean if I were to take a survey this morning and ask any of you who were WORRIED about something right now to raise your hands, I think the vote would be unanimous.

ALL of us struggle with worry. We worry about our kids wondering if they will turn out right. We worry about our bills-in fact we have calculators in our minds constantly running to see how we can get enough income to match our outgo! We worry about our health…we worry about our sermons-at least I do-ALL OF US WORRY!

Now the trouble with WORRY is that, at first glance it doesn’t seem all that harmful. We may know down inside that worry is not particularly good for us, but we assume that it can’t possibly be as bad as some have made it out to be. This however is a very hazardous misconception to embrace…because worry can be a very damaging thing…it has the power to stifle our joy and increase our stress like nothing else can. Before we know it, worry warps our perception of everything and turns us into worry warts, constantly fretting over this or that. This reminds me of a satirical article written years ago by Barry Siegel for the Los Angeles Timeentitled,World May End With A Splash.Listen to what Siegel said,

Alarmists, WORRYING about such matters as nuclear holocaust and pesticide poisoning, may be overlooking much more dire catastrophes. Consider what some scientists predict; If everyone keeps stacking NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICS in garages and attics instead of throwing them away, the magazine’s weight will sink the continent 100 feet some time soon and we will all be inundated by the oceans. If the number of microscope specimen slides submitted to one St. Louis Hospital laboratory continues to increase at its current rate, that metropolis will be buried under 3 feet of glass by the year 2024.

If beach goers keep returning home with as much sand clinging to them as they do now, 80 percent of the country’s coastline will disappear in 10 years. It has also been reported that pickles cause cancer, wars, communism, airline tragedies, auto accidents and crime waves. You see, about 99.9% of cancer victims had eaten pickles some time in their lives…so have 100% of all soldiers, 96.8% of communist sympathizers and 99.7% of those involved in car and air accidents. Moreover those born in 1839 who ate pickles have since suffered a 100% mortality rate…and rats force-fed 20 pounds of pickles a day for a month ended up with bulging abdomens and loss of appetite.

We chuckle…but worry really is no laughing matter. It is the most efficient thief of the joy and freedom Jesus promised His followers. As it says in Proverbs 12:25, An anxious heart weighs a man down.Now, the word worryliterally means to be pulled in opposite directions.And I can appreciate that definition because that’s the way worry works. Our hopes pull us one way and our fears pull us the other. This definition makes even more sense when we realize that we get our English wordworryfrom the German wordwurgen,which means, to strangle or to choke.Have you ever felt like your worries were CHOKING the life out of you?

Jesus used this word picture to describe worry when he told the parable of the sower. Remember?

In Mark 4 He was talking about a farmer sowing seed…comparing it to the way different people respond when they hear the Gospel and He said that, the seed sown among the thorns represents, …the ones who have heard the word, [BUT] the WORRIES of the world….CHOKE the word and it becomes unfruitful.Jesus knew that worry is a dangerous thing because it throttles our thinking…it chokes His truth out of us…and makes us unable to bear fruit in His kingdom.

I have counted and in our text this morning Paul refers to PEACE, the absence of worry, 3 times.

And he does this because in this portion of Philippians he cites four principles that will help any disciple to kick the worry habit…Four things that we have to get right in life if we are to be free of worry and experience the peace that God promises. Let’s look at them together this morning. First of all, Paul reminds us that if we are to defeat worry we must have…


You see, one of our biggest sources of anxiety is rocky relationships with others. I mean, it’s next to impossible to have peace if we are in disagreement with friends or family. The whole situation is constantly on our minds. If you’ve ever had an argument with your spouse or a close friend then you know just how true this is. Well in the church in Philippi, there were apparently two women who were not in right relationship with one another. And their quarrel was destroying the peace of the entire church. Paul takes part of his letter, Paul to urge these women to put aside their partisan quarrel and cultivate a spirit of gentleness and kindness toward each other. Their names were Euodia and Syntyche and this one verse in the Bible-verse 2-is the only time they are mentioned in all of Scripture. Paul says, I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord…I beg them to get along!Think about it. Euodia and Syntyche’s entire lives have been summed up by this one verse, which is pretty tragic. I would be very embarrassed if I were in their shoes. But it makes you think, if your life were to be summed up in one sentence what would it be?

Now, I don’t know what Euodia and Syntyche quarreled about. Maybe they argued about whose name was weirder or harder to pronounce. But many Christians tend to be like these two. We fight and argue over lots of things. And sadly enough the things we quarrel about are often things that are very trivial. Benjamin P. Browne tells about a wealthy man in New England who built a beautiful colonial church building as a family memorial. Everything about the building was top notch…including the kitchen. After the church was dedicated, some of the women decided they wanted to add an electric potato peeler to the kitchen equipment. The device would wash, scrub, and peel potatoes in much less time than doing it by hand required. But there were some other women who objected to the newfangled gadget.

You see, they had been peeling potatoes the old way for years, enjoying long hours of pleasant gossip as they worked and they saw the modern gadget as a threat to their long-held tradition. Well, partisan groups soon developed throughout the church. One group was determined to have the new potato peeler, and the other group was determined there would be no new potato peeler in their beautiful kitchen. Soon the husbands were involved, and before long, the entire church membership was divided into the PRO-potato parer party and the ANTI-potato parer party. The pastor of the church became greatly depressed over the situation. He considered resigning and said,

“When I get up to preach on Sunday, there before me are the two parties bristling with belligerency. Their minds are so concentrated on this quarrel that I cannot get through to them with any spiritual message. The potato parer is ‘all in all’ to them. I can no longer preach the gospel and be heard in such an atmosphere.”

It is sad, but Christians have been known to argue about some very silly things. I had no trouble finding true stories to illustrate this fact.

Now, Euodia and Syntyche had not always argued. At one time Paul says they had …contended at his side in the cause of the Gospel.Before this confrontation these two women had cooperated-working with Paul. Remember, the church at Philippi initially began with a woman’s prayer meeting. There’s a good chance that Euodia and Syntyche were part of that original group. Perhaps their homes were two of the places in which the house congregations of Philippi STILL met. I’m saying there is every reason to believe that Euodia and Syntyche were devout sincere women who had the best interests of the gospel at heart.

This should help us to see that common faith in Christ and common desire to serve the Lord does not necessarily prevent us from having differences with each other. Sometimes very sincere people who love God and His work can disagree and sometimes do so disagreeably. I also want us to note that when Paul heard of this quarrel in the church at Philippi, he took it very seriously.

He mobilized all the resources of the church to mend this rift in their fellowship. In verse 3 he asked Clement and Syzygus to help mend this breach. Apparently Paul thought no effort was too great to maintain the peace of the church. And he was right, because a quarreling church is not really a church at all…it is a church in which Christ has been shut out and to which He cannot gain access. You see, no person can be at peace with God and in conflict with his fellow man at the same time.

I also want you to see that Paul urges Euodia and Syntyche to be of one mind (to agree)IN THE LORD.I think he is inferring here that it is often very tough to get along. Many times agreeing with one another is so difficult that it requires supernatural strength. And so Paul urges these two ladies to tap into that POWER source and agree IN THE LORD. This reminds me of the old story of the aggressive vacuum-cleaner salesman who decided to make some calls along a country road. He knocked on the door of one house and the lady of the house opened the door. Before she could say anything, he rushed into the house and emptied a bucket of dirt on her floor.

Then he said, Ma’am, this is the finest vacuum cleaner ever made. It is so powerful it almost sucks up the carpet. If this vacuum cleaner does not pick up every bit of that dirt…I will EAT IT WITH A SPOON!Well, when he said that the woman turned and left the room without a word. The salesman said, Lady, where are you going?She replied,To get a spoon. We ain’t got no electricity in this house!

One thing Paul is saying here is that if we want to experience peace, we need to remember that Jesus is the power source behind our ability to be in right relationship to one another. A commitment to His purposes is the common ground on which we base all our relationships. If we are to be free of worry, we must obey the command of Romans 12:16-18 and, Live in harmony with one another….If it is possible, as far as it depends [on each of us we must], live at peace with everyone.Remember, issues do not make quarrels-people do.

And then, the second worry-defeating principle that Paul mentions here has to do with…

2. …right THINKING.

You see, Paul was wise enough to know that our thought lives are very important when it comes to worry, since what we think about, we end up doing.Remember the old poem?

“Sow a thought, reap an action….Sow an action, reap a habit.

Sow a habit, reap a character….Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

As Proverbs 4:23 says, we must, …be careful what we think, because our thoughts run our life.

You know, my laptop computer has a 10 gigabyte hard drive. It can hold hundreds of sermons. But that is nothing compared to the capacity of my mind. It is an incredibly powerful storage device. Some scientists estimate that our brains hold 100 trillion thoughts. We remember virtually every thought we have ever thought. To illustrate this truth I’m going to quote the first half of three 20 year old commercials and you complete them.

  • Winston tastes good…..like cigarette should.
  • Plop plop fizz fizz….oh what a relief it is! Alka Seltzer
  • You can trust your car….to the man who wears the star. TEXACO

We’ve got some old people here this morning! But this shows the importance of thinking rightly-of watching what we input into these amazing minds God has given us. Because, if you put it in your mind, it will stay there. And often minds filled with worry and anxiety are the results of dwelling on the wrong things…because wrong thinking leads to wrong feeling and before long we are strangled by worry. We need to understand that thoughts are real and powerful, even though they cannot be seen, weighed, or measured. To be free of worry one thing we must do is follow Paul’s guidance and,…take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. (II Corinthians 10:5 )

Now, all of us have heard of and maybe even practiced counting sheep to deal with insomnia. If you’re like me you did this because you thought the serene pastoral setting through which the wooly creatures escaped was what relieved tension and led to sleep. But this week I read of two Harvard psychologists who studied the matter and have concluded that the mental landscape has nothing to do with it. It is a matter of brain activity.

You see, the right side of the brain controls imagery and the left side rational thought. So VISUALIZING SHEEP prevents the right hemisphere of the brain from producing anxiety-producing imagery. COUNTING keeps the left hemisphere from straying into anxiety-producing thought. By keeping both sides of our brains busy, we drown out anxiety-producing visions and thoughts and thus we are able to fall asleep. Well, two thousand years earlier God inspired Paul to write down this same principle in this text.

When we are faced by a worrying situation we are to choose to REFOCUS OUR MINDS…we are to put them to work contemplating Who God is-and what He can do. Isaiah 26:3 promises that God …will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on Him.In verse 8 of our text Paul tells us how to do that by spelling out the things we OUGHT to THINK on as Christians.

A. First of all…he says we should THINK about things that are TRUE.

Years ago, Dr. Walter Cavert did a study of the things we worry about. He discovered that: 40% of the things we worry about never happen. 30% of our worries concern the past. 12% of our worries are needless worries about our health.10% of our worries are insignificant or petty concerns. This leaves only 8% of our worries as being legitimate troubles. So if you’re going to worry about something, make sure it is true. This reminds me of another poem:

  • He worried about the weather, He worried about his health,
  • He worried about his business, He worried about his wealth.
  • She worried about the children, She worried about her clothes
  • She worried about the neighbors. She worried about her woes
  • They worried about their taxes, They worried about their pets
  • They worried about their future, They worried about their debts
  • They worried, still they worried, They worried, but alas
  • They worried about a lot of things…That did not come to pass.

As Jesus said in John 8:44, Satan is a liar and one of his most affective weapons is to corrupt our minds with his lies…making us worry about things that are not factual.

B. In verse 8 Paul also says RIGHT THINKING involves dwelling on whatever is honest and just…

…perfect things that are worthy of respect…things that are right, pure, lovely or radiant and of good report…things that possess virtue and praise.

In other words we are to focus our mind on only the best thoughts-things that are fit for God’s ears. Paul was alluding to this principle in Romans 12:2 where it says, Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.It is interesting to see that Psalm 19:7-9 …parallels these things Paul lists in verse 8. It says, The Law of the Lord is PERFECT, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are RIGHT, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are RADIANT giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is PURE enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are SURE and altogether RIGHTEOUS.This tells us that the Christian who fills his heart and mind with God’s Word will have a built-in radarfor detecting and filtering out wrong thoughts. One result of daily meditation on the Word of God is a renewed mind…a mind that thinks right.

C. And then….please note that Paul mentions another thing we must dwell on. In verse 4, he infers that we should fill our minds with optimistic thoughts….things that bring us joy.

Remember? Paul says, Rejoice! And again I say rejoice!Now, the word, rejoiceis in the imperative form here. It is a command. So, to ignore this directive is disobedience. It would be inaccurate to say that we can’t approach life with a joyful attitude. God would not have asked this of us if it were not in the realm of possibility. Attitude is a choice. An optimistic spirit, can be and should be cultivated. So, right thinking involves choosing the right attitude and in this text we are commanded to replace worry with joy…to choose to look at the bright side…the sunny side of life. I think this involves spending time enjoying the release of humor because joyous laughter is like throwing a bucket of water on a fire. It destroys worry and fear.

The next time you feel burdened with life’s worries try applying this principle. Loosen up and find something to laugh about. Stop reading only the grim sections of the newspaper. Watch less televison and start reading more books that bring a smile instead of a frown. Feed your mind more uplifting thought food.Throughout my life I have met and continue to meet Christians who have ignored this scriptural truth and instead have made it their life’s goal to find something wrong with everything. It is almost as if they feel that spiritual maturity is found in the ability to find fault…to be negative. Well, if you meet anyone like that and they refuse to listen to reason stay away from them. Surround yourself with optimistic people….Christian friends who look at life through Christ’s eyes…Have fun-laugh-together.

This past week at the National Pastors Conference they began most sessions with Christian comedians like Bob Stromberg or the improv group known as CPR. I must admit. This was one of my favorite parts of the conference…one of the most refreshing. Fred Allen, one of the humorists of yesteryear, used to say that it was bad to suppress your laughter because when you do, it goes down and spreads your hips. Maybe that explains those extra pounds that many of us carry around. Remember, Solomon wisely said that A joyful heart is good medicine.(Proverbs 17:22 ) And it is. Did you know that laughter actually does work like a medicine in our systems?

It exercises our lungs and stimulates our circulation. It takes our minds off our troubles and massages our emotions. Laughter decreases tension. When we laugh a sort of temporary anesthesia is released within us that blocks the pain as our attention is diverted. It is one of the healthiest exercises we can enjoy. It literally brings healing.

Do you remember NORMAN COUSINS’ remarkable experience? In his book, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, he tells about his battle with an incurable disease and the pain he endured as his body’s collagen was deteriorating. That, by the way, is the fibrous material that holds the body’s cells together. In Cousins’ own words, he was coming unstuck. He decided to take matters into his own hands and treat himself (with the docs approval) by

1 – Taking vitamins,

2 – eating only healthy food, and

3 – undergoing laugh therapy by watching old, funny Marx Brothers movies, clips from Candid Camera, and cartoons-anything that would make him laugh.

He found that if he laughed hard for ten minutes straight, he could enjoy about two hours of relief from pain. To his doctor’s amazement Cousins eventually recovered. He lived many years beyond anyone’s expectations. Such is the power of JOY.

Now, all this is not a naive behavior for the believer. It’s not ignoring the bad in the world. No, it is simply remembering that God is in control. Joy is the experience-based knowledge that even bad things can turn out for our good with God at the helm. You see actually, worry is assuming responsibility that God never intended us to have. We can rest and laugh and be joyful with the knowledge…the faith…that He is in control.

Pessimism — or worry — is really playing God. It’s trying to control the uncontrollable. I mean think of it. Worry is worthless. It can’t change the past or control the future. It can only mess up the RIGHT NOW. This is why Jesus said, Don’t worry about anything. Trust God for everything.(Matthew 6:25,34 ) Our minds are like huge television screens that are always running. We cannot turn them off but we can change channels. We can choose to dwell on things that are true and right and admiral and lovely and excellent and pure and praiseworthy and JOYFUL. If we want to be free from worry we must learn to do so.

And then in verses 6-7 Paul suggests a third antidote to worry…

3. …right PRAYING…

He says, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In these verses Paul touches on the basic aspects of prayer: petition, which is asking God to help with our needs or those of others andthanksgiving, which involves praising God for His aid.And…right praying involves all of these things. You know, I have found that if I have a worry…something that really concerns me…it helps if I share it with someone who loves me. When I do this, it is as if that worry, that burden were lightened because I know the person who loves me makes my burdens their own and in so doing helps me bear them.

Well that principle is especially seen in sharing our worries with God. I never leave His presence without feeling better about my situation because I know that what concerns me concerns Him. I Peter 5:7 says, Cast ALL your cares upon Him-GOD-because you are His personal concern.(Phillips) As Christians we must allow anxiety to become a cue for prayer. Just as Pavlov’s dogs became conditioned to salivate for dinner every time they heard the bell, we must let our anxieties and worries become a cue for us to run into God’s presence. Our first reaction to bad news ought to be to get alone with God.

We must begin our prayer time with adoration and praise. This allows us to see His greatness and majesty. You see, when we stop worrying long enough to realize that God is bigger than our problems we feel better. Then, after a time of praise we can then honestly and earnestly share with Him our needs and concerns.

I have found that the more specific I am. I mean the more genuine I am in sharing my needs, the greater the peace I experience. Remember Paul advises us to pray about EVERYTHING…big and small. We conclude our prayer time with a period of thanking God…sharing with Him our appreciation of Who He is and all He does for us. When we do all this-when we pray right-Paul says thepeace of God will guard our hearts and minds.Now remember, Paul was chained to a Roman soldier as he wrote these words…guarded day and night. Perhaps this is what inspired this word picture of God standing guard over us. I love Ralph Spaulding Cushman’s poem about prayer and its effect on worry.

“I met my God in the morning…When my day was at its best,

And His presence came like sunrise, Like a glory in my breast.

All day long the Presence lingered, All day long He stayed with me,

And we sailed in perfect calmness…O’er a very troubled sea.

Other ships were blown and battered, other ships were sore distressed,

But the winds that seemed to drive them…Brought to us a peace and rest

Then I thought of other mornings…With a keen remorse of mind,

When I too had loosed the moorings…With the Presence left behind.

So I think I know the secret…Learned from many a troubled way:

You must seek Him in the morning…If you want Him through the Day.”

Before we leave this point I feel the need to remind you that the main reason prayer helps is not that our requests are granted but that by praying we spend time with God and in that relationship we are changed. We cease being worriers and become trusters. Frederick Robertson writes,

The object of prayer is not the success of its petition nor is its rejection a proof of failure. Christ’s petition was not gratified yet He was the One well-beloved by His Father.

All prayer is to change the human will into submission to the Divine will, to pray as Jesus did, ‘as Thou wilt…’

Practically then, I say, pray as He did until prayer makes you cease praying…until prayer makes you forget your own wish and leave it or merge it in God’s will.

So, in this portion of Philippians Paul says that there are several antidotes to worry…right relationships, right thinking, right praying. And then in verse 9 he lists one final way to defeat anxiety…

4. ….right LIVING.

He says, Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-PUT INTO PRACTICE. And the God of peace will be with you.

You see, many of us spend too much time stewing and not enough doing. Paul knew that one key to peace is to DO…to put into practice the principles of God’s word. As James 1:2 says, we must …be DOERS of the word and not hearers only.A little girls’ brother built a trap to catch birds. She loved birds and was worried about what would happen to them. So this is what she did. She prayed that God would not let her brother catch any birds in his trap. Then she went out and kicked the trap to pieces! She learned the secret of dealing with worry is often DOING something about it. When we are walking with God — living and behaving in ways that please Him-we experience the peace He promises. But…when we are not walking with God…when our actions are sinful we lose that peace.

This morning, you may feel God leading you to DO something-to put your faith into practice. Perhaps He is leading you to join this church. Maybe at this moment you are involved in a quarrel with someone…a friend…or family member…and today God has taught you the importance of getting that relationship right. Perhaps you feel the need to renew your commitment to Jesus’ lordship by asking Him to extend His rule even into your thought life.

Perhaps you see the need to dwell on the greatness of God and learn to laugh more-to be more joyful as a Christian. You may see that your worries are what they are because you haven’t embraced the practice of prayer as you should. Or maybe this morning you are here and you don’t know Jesus personally. You have never met the Prince of Peace and you hunger for that relationship that we have spoken of. That is one relationship that you MUST get right. And I would love to tell you how you can do that and in so doing experience a peace that passes understanding.

Any decision you have to make we invite you to do publically by walking forward as we stand now and sing.

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