There are lots of things we can do ourselves.
Looking at adverts and television programmes we see that there are many craft companies which specialise in selling products to people who want to make things themselves.
Their adverts and catch phrases make it sound easy to complete the projects.
Anyone can do it is a favourite slogan.
Just follow the instructions.
Anyone who has tried to assemble something bought from IKEA by following the instructions, usually loosely translated from Chinese, will know that it isn’t always that easy.
When you read this passage from Philippians, telling you not to worry about anything I wouldn’t think that it helps a lot when you are reading those instructions for the flat-pack wardrobe you have just bought.
Those of you who partake in fitness regimes, not me I hasten to add, may be able to psych yourselves up to complete just a few more press-ups.
I may have a few talents but I am not great on fixing things around the house.
If the toilet doesn’t work, or the electrics fail beyond re-setting the trip-switch on the fuse board my motto is
“Call somebody who knows what they are doing!”
In some ways, Paul’s message echoes Jesus’ own teachings in Matthew 6 where we find the words,
Do not worry about anything.
Your Father knows what you want etcetera.
This church building, like most, occasionally requires building work.
Could I do that?
It would be humanly possible, I suppose, with special knowledge and lots of trial and error.
In theory I might be able to do it but it would be more efficient and safer for all of us if we decide to hire professional builders from the start.
It is important to recognize when we have come to the end of our natural human abilities and need help from others.
Get someone in.
That is the motto that needs to replace “Let’s have a go!” when it comes to the freedom from anxiety Paul is talking about in Philippians 4.
I need help!
Generally I am fairly laid back most of the time but I can’t totally stop worrying about things.
I don’t think that’s possible, advisable or a safe things to do.
A degree of anxiety is important to have.
A degree of anxiety is what drives us especially in exams and it also prevents us doing dangerous things.
It is passages like this one in Paul’s letter to Philippi that have been used to drive religious sects such as Christian scientists and those that tell it’s adherents that it is safe to put your hands among venomous snakes because if you ask, God will protect you.
This attitude is both stupid and a wrong use of the Bible.
It would be nice to be self -sufficient but I’m not and therefore,
“I need to call somebody.”
Paul wrote to the Philippians to tell them who to call.
Immediately after telling them not to worry about anything, he told them it couldn’t be achieved by human endeavour.
Peace was a gift from God that was accessed through prayer.
It is possible to overcome anxiety in many areas of life by various methods such as yoga or mindfulness for example but the only way to bring peace to the soul is through God.
Perhaps it would have been better if Paul had reversed the order of this verse.
“By prayer with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and you will receive the gift of not worrying about anything.”
Maybe he could have gone on to explain things a little more fully.
Maybe something like:
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding is guarding your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus right now.
Whether you feel this at an emotional level or not, this is the truth.
So get in the habit of prayer, and you will come more and more into contact with this gift of peace.
Do not beat yourself up that you have anxious thoughts.
This is our common human tendency.
Do not suppose, like the Stoics, that you can banish anxiety through self-mastery and be indifferent to the ups and downs of life.
Only the Peace of God in Jesus Christ can master your anxieties.”
But, sadly, he didn’t write any of that.
This is the peace of God Paul proposes as an alternative to anxiety.
The Philippians are not called to imitate the peace of Christ, but to accept the gift of that peace being offered to them by the Grace of God, accessed through the habit of prayer.
I always get a bit twitchy when I hear the word prayer.
I am reminded of Richard Holloway, Bishop of Edinburgh at the end of the 20th century, who was asked at a conference,
“Bishop, do you pray?”
His reply was, “No.”
After a long palpable silence he explained.
“If I had answered yes, you would have assumed that I pray the same way as you do, which may not be the case.”
To many, prayer is asking God for things.
For others it may be reading the Bible, contemplation or just being quiet in the park.
I think Paul was saying that prayer is dwelling on God and relying on the power of God.
By all means let our motto be,
Let’s do this!”
But it is not a good motto if we take it as a call to banish our anxieties by sheer will power.
“Let’s do this!” is a good motto if we think of it as God working through us in spite of our anxieties.
God of peace, may we rejoice in you always,
being gentle to everyone,
May your strength keep us from being anxious.
Help us to let your peace guard our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.