It Takes a Congregation
Note: This Saturday I will be presenting at the CCEF National Conference on “The Anatomy of Anxiety: God’s Prescription for Victory In Anxiety.” This week I’m sharing some excerpts. For Excerpt One read: The Anatomy of Anxiety. For Excerpt Two read: Facing Anxiety Face-to-Face with Christ. For Excerpt Three read: Guard Your Relationship to God.
Commit to Mature Relationships with God’s People
The Apostle Paul’s solution to anxiety is not simply to exhort, “Stop being anxious!” He doesn’t practice the infamous Bob Newhart style of counseling: “Stop it! Just stop it!” Paul is not solution-focused. He’s SOUL-u-tion focused! To address anxiety we have to relate face-to-face with Christ.
We also have to relate face-to-face with the Body of Christ. True ministry is soul-to-soul ministry. We discover this biblical reality as we travel back in the larger context of Philippians. Paul saturates his brief letter with one-another connections: 1:4-5, 7-8, 27-28, 2:1-5, 19-24; 3:17; 4:1-3. Since mature love casts out fear, we need mature relationships with our brothers and sisters to fight anxiety.
Live the Truth in Love: Spiritual Friends
Paul floods the immediate context of Philippians 4:6 with a social/relational focus:
• Therefore my brothers (4:1)
• You whom I love and long for (4:1)
• Stand firm in the Lord, dear friends (4:1)
• I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other (4:2)
• Loyal friends, help these women who have contended at my side (4:3)
• Along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers (4:3)
Paul’s biblical counsel for victory in anxiety involves standing firm in community—with brothers and sisters in Christ, with dear spiritual friends.
“Loyal friends” (or “yokefellows”) is used only this one time in the Bible. It means to be united by a relational bond as close as family. It pictures comrades, partners, loyal spiritual friends. A band of brothers. Sisters in the Spirit. “Fellow workers” is sun athleo: athletes together! Teammates.
It’s not, “Take two verses and call me in the morning.” It’s, “Travel with a few safe spiritual friends morning, noon, and night.” It’s, “Cultivate a band of brothers, a sorority of sisters, a team of spiritual athletes, a family of spiritual friends.” Victory in anxiety comes in community.
Speak the Truth in Love: Spiritual Conversations
What sort of spiritual relationships and conversations can spiritual brothers and sisters engage in to experience joint victory in anxiety? Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9-10 points the way toward how we apply the gospel to intimidating situations, terrifying opposition, and overwhelming feelings.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-10).
Ministry is not only love or only truth. It’s both/and: speaking the truth in love we grow up in Christ (Eph. 4:15-15). From Paul’s letter to the Philippians and his other epistles, we can summarize a four-fold “GPS”—God’s Positioning Scripture—regarding how to speak gospel truth in love.
GPS # 1: Empathy—“It’s Terrifying to Experience Anxiety”
Before we invite our anxious friends to listen to God’s story of faith, we must listen well to their story of fear. We must sense what it is like to live in a perpetual state of stuck vigilance—the frightening world where every little thing startles me and every little concern consumes me.
In working with Mike, I first wanted to compassionately identify with him as he described his story of being stuck in a perpetual state of alarm. I wanted to feel what he felt (Romans 12:15). I wanted to “climb in the casket” with him. I glean that phrase from Paul’s description of his struggles in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond dour ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we felt the sentence of death…”
GPS # 2: Encouragement—“It’s Possible to Experience Peace Even When You Feel Worried”
Of course, we don’t want to stay in the casket! Paul didn’t. “…but this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9b). We not only climb in the casket, we also celebrate the empty tomb!
Yes, we listen compassionately to our friend’s story of fear, but we also join them in listening courageously to God’s story of bold trust and brave sentry duty. We explore with them biblical realities like those we are learning as we probe Philippians.
GPS # 3: Exposure—“It’s Horrible to Self-Protect, but Amazing to Be Forgiven”
Yes, we need to empathize and encourage. However, since our fallen response to anxiety includes self-protection rather than trusting God’s protection and protecting others, we also need to expose sinful self-protection. And, we need to expose God’s forgiving grace and His accepting heart.
Before it went off the air, I used to love the TV show Monk. Detective Adrian Monk struggles with OCD and a multitude of phobias. He has a very sweet assistant, Natalie. As much as I loved the show and liked the character Monk, it drove me crazy the way he mistreated Natalie by only thinking of himself. Monk’s friends and therapist enabled him (in the bad sense of that word) by never or rarely confronting him with the self-centered side of his response to his fears. While the feeling or experience of anxiety may not be under our direct control, how we respond to it is something for which we are accountable.
GPS # 4—Empowerment—“It’s Supernatural to Trust and Defend”
Every once in a while Detective Adrian Monk did something brave, something courageous that protected Natalie or his other friends and co-workers. It seemed almost miraculous. And, really it is. It is not natural for any of us to care about others. It is supernatural.
How does someone who is terrified of life begin to trust God and defend others? How do they, how do we, learn to tap into Christ’s resurrection power (Phil. 3:10) to overpower fear with faith, hope, love, and peace? Through empowering conversations where we help others to apply gospel truth to their daily lives. I recall one empowering conversation with Mike that jump-started the change process in his life.
“Mike, I greatly respect the depth of your repentance over your self-protection. And I respect the way you’re tapping into Christ’s power. It’s exciting for me to see you use your ‘hyper-vigilance’ not in a self-centered way, but in an other-centered way. I know that it’s exhausting to always feel like you’re on sentinel duty. But even in your exhaustion you turned your well-tuned radar toward guarding the garden when you graciously but firmly care-fronted your pastor about the way he was relating to the Board….”
Applying the Gospel to Daily Life
• As you struggle against anxiety, who are your spiritual teammates? Do you have a band of spiritual brothers, a sorority of spiritual sisters who fight with you?