David Jeremiah - Overcoming Anxiety with Peace
"Stand therefore, having shod your feet," now listen to this, "with the preparation of the gospel of peace". Say it with me. "The gospel of peace". The New Living Translation renders this verse: "For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared". The word "peace," believe it or not, occurs over 400 times in the Bible. And basically, there are two kinds of peace that the Bible describes. First of all, there's what we might call peace with God and secondly, what the Bible refers to as the peace of God. Peace with God, peace of God.
Now, let's talk about the first one. The Bible teaches that when you try to live your life outside of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ you can never achieve a deep peace in your life. Everyone is aware of this cosmic discomfort to some degree. But when we come to Jesus Christ and put our trust in him, here's what the Bible says about us. Listen to this. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ". What that means is when we become a Christian the hostility between God and us goes away. You say, "Well, I'm not hostile to God". Well, I hate to tell you this but God's hostile to you because of your rebellion against him and his plan for your life.
And when you come and submit yourself to God and you accept his plan for your life, especially a relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ, the hostility, the barrier, the closed fist that we often have toward God, ends up going away and all of a sudden that feeling of being at odds with God is evaporated and now you know you're not at odds with God, you're in fellowship with God. If you struggle with anxiety, life can seem like a battle. But I want you to know that God understands the extent of your worry and, because of the gospel of peace, the one thing you don't have to fear if you know him, is losing his love. Whatever goes on in your life, if you know Jesus Christ he will be there for you and he will be the backdrop to what's happening in your life.
You know, it's such a struggle when you have good friends, sometimes even family members who are going through stuff and they know what they should know but they don't do what they know. And you watch them struggling with their problems and their issues and trying to sort them out and here's God, he's there and they know he's there but they put him over here and they don't acknowledge him. And they keep cycling all of these problems trying to figure them out in their own strength. When the one who could solve the problems is right there and they just ignore his presence in their life. I don't wanna spend a lot of time on this 'cause all of you know about this peace with God. I hope if you don't have peace with God you'll make sure before this day is over you bow your head and ask Jesus Christ to come into your life and make that relationship with God secure. The most often thing said to me after a person becomes a Christian, you know what it is? "Dr. Jeremiah, I just felt like somebody lifted a ton off of my shoulders". What is that? That's the barrier between you and God being torn down so that now, through Jesus, you have a relationship with the Lord.
Now, that's what we know. But here's what we need to know. There's peace with God and then there's the peace of God. On more than one occasion, Jesus told his disciples that there's a peace available to them and to us that is capable of calming their hearts no matter what's going on in their life, no matter what the storm might be. Let me just give you two of those promises. John 14:27, Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world do I give it to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid". And later on in the same book he said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world". You know, I know that a lot of us, we do this when trouble comes, do you ever pray this prayer: "Lord, please make this go away. Please make this go away". Or, "Lord, I don't know what to do about this problem. Would you just resolve this because I don't know what to do"?
I've been praying that prayer for well over 50 years and I'm gonna tell you what my score is. It's 50 to 0. God does not do that. God allows these problems in our lives and then he orchestrates the circumstances so that he can show us his strength in the midst of it. God's purpose in your life and in mine, is not to make all our trouble go away, but to show us that in the midst of our trouble, and in the midst of our stress, and in the midst of our anxiety, he is enough. And when we find that out, we are so rich. We could get up every day with confidence, amen? But we can say, "I don't know what's gonna happen today but here's what I know. My God is enough". Yeah, and I've fallen in love with this little song by Jo Dee Messina called "My God is Bigger Than This". And every time I think of something in my life that's challenging I just sing that little song, "My God is bigger than this". And he is. But let me ask you a question. How do you find that out unless you have trouble in your life? God allows trouble in our lives to show us how strong he is in the midst of it all.
So here we are, all of us, probably somewhere along the continuum and we know that we're living a life of anxiety that is not the life God wants us to live. So I wanna give you some strategies today for peace to place in your heart where anxiety now resides. I'm gonna ask you five questions. I'm gonna use the five interrogatives that journalists always use: how, what, who, where, and when. And each of these is a strategy that you should mark down in your heart. Number one, here's the question: "How are you praying"? There are two passages in the Bible that help us with this particular problem in our lives. One is Philippians 4 and the other's Matthew chapter 6. I would call these the central passages in the Bible on anxiety. Philippians 4:6-7: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus," Philippians 4:6-7. In this passage, the word "anxious" literally means to be pulled in two different directions. It means to have an inward war going on inside, a battle going on in your inner spirit, pulling you apart.
Someone has said, "If it's big enough to worry about it's big enough to pray about". And let me tell you what I have learned in my own personal life and from the Scripture. When I'm facing stress and turbulence in my life, there are two kinds of prayer that are helpful that often get overlooked in most discussions of prayer. The first one is progressive prayer and the second is proactive prayer. So let's take them one at a time. What is progressive prayer? Well, let me just say when we're under pressure, what do we do? We run to the Lord, we rush into his presence, and we dump our list of stuff on him without even saying, "Hello". We say, "God, I need this, this, this, and this, and I need it now and tomorrow and the next day and if you could get it ahead of time, that would be great. It'd even be better". But real prayer is a lifestyle of love for God. And rushing into his presence with our laundry list of needs without pausing to truly focus on him can depress us more than if we hadn't ever prayed at all. Because if we talk to God and all we talk to him about are our problems and we don't see him high and lifted up in our worship, all we're doing is rehearsing our problems and driving them deeper inside and prayer is not a help, it's a hindrance to our issues.
I've discovered that when I am under pressure, it's easy for me to skip right to my issues and forget about the God to whom I am praying. But when I pray and I worship God, here's what happens. God grows in my life until my problems are put into perspective. If I only give God my problems, all I got is me and my problems. But when I go to God first, I've got my problems, I've got God, and I've got me. That's the first thing. Number two, I like to call this proactive prayer. I learned this about prayer. I never saw it mentioned in another book and maybe it is in a book I haven't read. But it should be in the books 'cause it's in The Book. We usually treat prayer as remedial. By that I mean we pray when we have a need. We pray when we're in trouble. We pray when we find ourselves in a spot we don't know what to do. We're so desperate. How many times people have said to me, "Dr. Jeremiah, I've tried everything. All I got left is prayer". And I often say, "Well, why would you put prayer at the bottom of the list when it should be at the top of the list? I mean, why don't you go there first"? But we don't do that often, do we?
Listen to what Jesus said in Luke 18:1. He said, "We ought always to pray and not lose heart". He didn't say we ought always to pray after we lose heart. He said, "We ought always to pray and not lose heart". So every day we should start and kind of look over the day and say, "Lord God, I'm gonna be here today and here today and here today and I pray for your strength to be the person of God I should be. Help me to bring the influence of Jesus into this situation". Or, "I'm headed to the doctor today, Lord. I don't know what the news is gonna be. But I know you're sufficient and I pray for strength". You pray proactively. Don't pray after it happens. Pray before it happens, amen? All right, so now we got this prayer thing done, all right? How are you praying?
That's the first thing. Number two: "What are you thinking"? In Philippians 4 Paul wrote, "Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things". That's in the same passage where you find the instruction about prayer. Now, with this list Paul is telling us exactly and specifically what we're to think on, making it clear that we get to direct our thoughts. "Oh," you say, "Pastor, I can't direct my thoughts. They just pop into my head". Well, the Bible wouldn't tell us to direct our thoughts if it were not possible. Our thought life is supposed to be positive and uplifting and redemptive because our thought life is the launching pad for our outward life. If you want your mind to be free of anxiety, make determined definite choices as to what you allow into it. And I cannot stress this enough. You are the guardian of your mind.
And I could give you all kinds of practical illustrations about turn off the television. I keep looking for a channel where something's worth watching and I haven't found it yet. I mean, in our city we got, like, hundreds of channels. I've told my wife more than once, "Isn't it a pity that we got all these channels and when you wanna watch something that's uplifting and positive, you can't find one blessed thing". That's the world we live in. So what does that mean? I'm not gonna give you the statistics of how many hours we sit in front of that stupid box but I'm gonna tell you it's too many. Learn the power of shutting off because all that is, it's dragging all the negative stuff of the world right into your house and then right into your mind. And it's pretty hard to overcome that. I mean, the political wars and the political fighting and the nastiness of the political arena on both sides is just so discouraging. You've got to get away from that. You've got to get away from always stuffing your mind with the ugliness of the world in which you live and you have to be proactive about getting the right stuff in your mind. It is not gonna come by itself. Learn to rest your thoughts on the Almighty.
Here's a great verse that most of us know: Isaiah 26:3: "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You". First question: How are you praying. Second question: What are you thinking? Third question: Who are you following? To overcome anxiety you can't just think about what is good. You also have to begin to live it out and often that means you need a mentor or someone that you can depend on to help you. Maybe you're one of those people who's a worrier. Get a friend that you meet for coffee. Join a Small Group at your church of people you really trust. Pick up and read an encouraging book about someone, maybe even the apostle, who learned how to hand their anxious cares over to the Lord. Let God's peace in their lives influence the anxiety in your life. We learn from others, don't we? Always reading a book. Are you always reading a book? I've got two books to read right now. I'm gonna get to 'em before this week is over. These books are meant to help me, to encourage me. You're never too old to learn from others how to do life better, amen?
So how are you praying? What are you thinking? Who are you following? Here's the fourth one: where are you living? We've seen how, what, and who. Now, it's time to examine where. Where do your thoughts live? Where are you living? I'll tell you there's only three possibilities. You're either living in the past, you're living in the future, or you're living in the present. Jesus said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble". Think about it. The past exists only as mere memory. The future exists only in the imagination. Only the present exists in true reality. So why do we ruin the only moment of existence we have by pulling trouble from non-existent places like the past and the future? Here's what happens. When you borrow trouble from the future, now you got double trouble. If you live in the past and you live in the future, you're allowing two thieves to rob your life. But if you live in the present, the Bible says that God is sufficient for every day. There's a wonderful verse in Deuteronomy 33:25. Here's what it says: "As your days, so shall your strength be".
I love that verse. That means, Lord, I don't know what's gonna happen on Wednesday or Thursday. I got this and that and all that but all I know is this: for this day I got the strength you want me to have. As my days, so shall my strength be. I live on that. I mean, I've got so much stuff going on in my life right now. If I wanted to sit back and worry, I could be a professional worrier. I could get awards but I chose not to do that. Here's what I've learned. I don't know how God's gonna deal with tomorrow but I know he's sufficient for today, and I'm gonna rest in the promise that he has always kept. He's never ever out-promised himself. So how are you praying? What are you thinking? Who are you following? Where are you living? And finally, when will you find peace?
You remember the graphic photo of the Napalm girl from the Vietnam War? Remember that? It's a painful picture to see. It's a naked nine-year-old girl running down a dirty street with her arms flapping, face twisted in horror. Other children are running with her and behind them are billowing clouds of napalm wafting toward them and burning their skin. That girl's name is Kim Phuc Phan Thi and she was caught in a South Vietnamese bombing raid of a route used by the Viet Cong rebels. And the photographer who took that photo was a guy named Nick Ut, put down his camera which he had instinctively picked up and quickly transported that little girl to a hospital and saved her life. Here's the rest of the story. Kim endured decades of physical suffering. For many years she prayed to the gods her family traditional religion had taught her. She prayed for healing and no answers came. Her dream was to become a doctor and she actually began studies in that field but the world knew her in a different way and her government forced her to leave school and be available to speak and tour.
Devastated and desperate, seeking answers, she went to Saigon Central Library and she started pulling Vietnamese books of religion off the shelves, one by one. And the stack in front of her contained a copy of the New Testament. After thumbing through several books, she opened the New Testament and began to read in the Gospels. And she was gripped by the sufferings of Christ as he bore our sins on the cross. Shortly afterward, on a Christmas Eve in 1982, Kim gave her life to Christ at a worship service. The message that day was about the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. She wrote later: "How desperately I needed peace. How ready I was for love and joy. I had so much hatred in my heart, so much bitterness. I wanted to let go of all my pain. I wanted to pursue life instead of holding fast to the fantasies of death. I wanted this Jesus. So when the pastor finished speaking I stood up, stepped into the aisle, made my way to the front of the sanctuary and I said, 'Yes,' to Jesus Christ. And there in a small church in Vietnam, mere miles from the street where my journey had begun amid the chaos of war, on the night before the world would celebrate the birth of the Messiah, I invited Jesus Christ into my heart. When I woke up that Christmas morning," she said, "I experienced the kind of healing that can only come from God. I was finally at peace".
Many years later, Kim married and emigrated to Canada. She reconnected to the photographer whom she calls Uncle Nick and they talk every week. Today, Kim's life's purpose is to heal others through the love and peace of Christ. Most remarkably, Kim ultimately forgave everyone who had harmed her. She rose above her physical and emotional scars and made a choice to embrace the hope of salvation through forgiveness. She understood that unless she could forgive, she could not grow closer to Christ or bring others into his fold.
So the question is, when will you find peace? When will you make the how, what, who, where of his peace your priorities? Look at how you're praying, what you're thinking, who you're following, where your thoughts are living. When you embrace these steps, let the Lord fill your overcomer's heart with his peace. Here's the verse that is my prayer as we close this session: "Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way," 2 Thessalonians 3:16.