Reframe – Panic & Peace

Rev. Donnell T. Wyche – September 20, 2020

You are wrapping up your shopping, but you can’t find the little person you came with. They aren’t responding to your calls. You start to panic. Something happened to them. Someone kidnapped them. Your worst fears are being realized. Panic.

You draft a frustrated email to your supervisor. You put down all your complaints, concerns, and issues. You figured you would edit it before sending it. But you press the wrong key-combination, and you just dressed down your boss. Panic.

You are out of work. You manage every dollar you have. You get a notice from your bank that your account is overdraft. You still need to get your medications and some groceries. Panic.

You are driving. You see those blue and red lights in your rearview. You assume you are about to get pulled over. Panic.

Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi closes with

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. 9Whatever 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.

Are these just pithy platitudes?

Empty words?

Impossible words?

Or, are these the words of life?

Paul is someone who is acquainted with struggle, hardship, financial shortfalls, beatings, imprisonment, and threat. He is also someone who has had over 35 years of interacting with God and God’s people. He’s seen God show up in miraculous ways, both in his life and in the lives of others. He had also confronted his shortcoming, his regret, his pain, and suffering. So, when he encourages us in Philippians 4:4 to rejoice, this isn’t a band-aid for hardship: just rejoice, and ignore the situation you’re in. What’s causing you to panic.

Instead, Paul has tapped into something real–something enduring. He’s been imprisoned, miraculously freed, shipwrecked, and saved, he’s been attacked by a mob. He was blind and healed. He’s seen God bring the dead back to life. You might say he’s seen it all. Yet, he has been arrested and is in custody again–this time under house arrest. Paul would have a lot to fear, to be anxious about, but rather than panic, he’s inviting us to join him in knowing that God is near.

I think Paul has learned how to trust God with everything. In encouraging us not to be anxious, Paul isn’t saying there’s nothing to worry about or that the things we worry about aren’t important. Instead, he invites us to look at what worries us in light of our proximity and relationship to God. It’s an echo of Matthew 6,

Look at the birds of the air; are you not much more valuable than they?

It’s the lesser to greater again, you matter to God. Anxiety is about the future. More specifically, it’s about your fears and worry about the future. Did you note that Paul does not say, do not fear? Fear is supposed to be a servant, never a master. Fear can illuminate what we are holding onto, if you will, what we are refusing to surrender to God. I am afraid that I’m all alone. I’m afraid that I will fail. I’m afraid people will not respect me. I am afraid…

But Paul and Jesus remind us that if we matter to God what is there to be anxious about?

But this is hard.

I remember the first phone call I received when a client couldn’t connect to their church database application. I may have mentioned in the past that I own and operate a small software development company. At the time of this failure there were hundreds of users who could access their information. The problem occurred when a backup failed to be completed. It crashed the entire system. I remember being at a breakfast meeting. I couldn’t eat. I was immediately sick to my stomach. There were all these people who had trusted me with their data. They were paying me to ensure they could access this information. I remember getting on the phone with technical support. They couldn’t fix the problem because they had to call technical support themselves. So I had to wait. I had to wait with my fears that everything was lost. I had to wait with my fears that I would lose their respect. These follow pastors and churches would never talk to me again. I had to deal with my panic which was wreaking havoc with my body, increasing my heart rate and blood pressure. I remember thinking that if this problem wasn’t resolved, it would be easier to be dead than to deal the consequences of this failure.

I remember praying.

I prayed the Lord’s Prayer.

I prayed the Jesus Prayer.

I prayed the Prayer of Jabez.

I tried centering prayer.

I tried silence and solitude.

I tried to go for a walk to calm down.

As the day turned into night, and I entered the second day of the outage, I remember reaching out to a spiritual director friend for tips to help me calm down and find peace. What they recommended didn’t work.

I tried praying and fasting.

Friends, as I write this all of the pain and panic of that situation returned. I can feel the anxiety creeping up and down my arms.

I was stuck.

So hearing Paul say,

6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

All I could think is what does this mean because it doesn’t mean what I thought, or what I hoped it did. It didn’t mean that if I found the right mixture of thanksgivings, prayer, and petition that I would somehow unlock the special peace power that I needed.

I quickly realized that the only way out of this hardship, pain, and suffering was through.

After two and half days, the database server gave up trying to backup and was able to be restarted. None of the data was lost. None of my clients fired me. They weren’t even mad. I didn’t die.

This taught me something. It taught me to reframe my thinking. It taught me that no matter the situation. No matter the issue. No matter what we are facing. We do not do it alone.

God is near.

And if God is near, what is there to be anxious about?

There are a few reflections I would like to share with you as you face your personal situations that cause anxiety.

First, hold on to the joy to be found in God (Philippians 4:4). There is something powerful in knowing that God is good. This knowledge of the goodness of God coupled with testimony, either your personal testimony or the testimony of others, reminds you that whatever is happening is not the end of the story. It’s this picture that Jesus gives us in John 10:27-30.

27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Fathers hand. 30I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

We don’t rejoice in spite of our circumstances, or even through gritted teeth, rather that we rejoice in all the goodness that is found in God. This can seem impossible as we face hardship. But there’s an invitation from Paul to fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1) and fix your eyes on Jesus” (12:2). God is good. God is kind. God is loving, merciful, and full of forgiveness. God faithfulness never fails.

Second, hold on to the nearness of God (Philippians 4:5). At the heart of the gospel is the news that God in Jesus is near. We do not serve or worship a distant, disinterested, aloof deity; instead, we worship someone who became one of us. Whatever we go through, Jesus reminds us that God is near. God is as close to us as our next breath.

Third, hold on to thankfulness with prayer (Philippians 4:6). When we are facing hardship, we are encouraged to pray. We are invited to take everything to God in prayer. Everything. As we pray, we surrender our worries and believe that we matter to God. Finally, we give thanks to God for God’s goodness, and God’s presence.

The peace that will guard our hearts and mind is a gift from God. It’s not a magical incantation that suddenly makes all things right. It’s a peace that pushes the limits of our imaginations. It’s a peace that allows us endure what worries us. It’s a reassurance that allows us to hear God saying to us: I love you. There is real strength, or what Pastor Sam called, spiritual grit, in knowing that we are loved. And that we are loved by God.

Here’s something to try this week.

When you are feeling anxious try this:

There are over 90 passages in scripture that say “do not fear” or “fear not” or some other combination. If you were to explore these passages you would discover that they say something like, “do not be afraid because” and then God makes some promise or reveals a truth.

Because I am with you. Because I have called you. Because I know you. Because I love you. It’s conditional, God says, do not fear because.

Do not fear, for I myself will help you… Isaiah 41:14

But the Lord said to him, Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” Judges 6:23

Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkeys colt.” John 12:15

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you” Isaiah 43:5

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Genesis 15:1

And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear. Haggai 2:5

What if you practiced reframing when you are afraid of….

I am afraid that I will be rejected.

And then you rewrote the fear in light of God’s invitation to surrender your fears.

I will not fear because God accepts me, delights in me, dances over me?

Then say that a couple of times:

I will not fear because God accepts me.

Picture God saying those words just to you.

Finally, ask yourself what’s in the way of you truly believing what God is saying to you – if you find a barrier, confess that to God, and say your “because” statement again.