Combating Anxiety: A Thanksgiving Message


By Ryan Itzel

          Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The extra time with family, counting the blessings of the past year, catching up with people whom you have not seen for months, and of course the food is something I dream of all year long! Yet this Thanksgiving will look different for everyone. The time to take the load off from daily life will not quite be like it was last year. The time with friends and family will be more limited, and for many, certain loved ones are no longer here. The threat of COVID-19 seems ever present, and there is no reason to wonder why anxiety seems to rule the day. But does this coming Thursday need to be remembered as Anxiety Day for years to come? The Word of God gives answers for battling the anxious thoughts that plague our daily lives.

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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Explanation

          I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the words, “that’s easy for you to say when you are not going through my situation.” These are words that I have uttered myself when people have tried to comfort me in times of pain. While that may be true in certain instances, it can never be said of God and His Word. The Holy Scriptures are sufficient, authoritative, and completely inerrant in all matters. Thus, they are able to address and bring comfort in our most difficult situation, with truth.

Sometimes perspective goes a long way. These famous words from Philippians 4 were written by the apostle Paul to the church of Philippi, and they were not written at a time when he had everything going his way. A brief look at the life of Paul reveals that he did not have an easy life (2 Corinthians 11:22-28; Acts 9:15). When Paul wrote this, he was in prison (Philippians 1:12-14). He endured beatings, imprisonments, rejections, and was often forsaken by those who were close to him (2 Timothy 4:9). If anyone could speak from personal experience about anxiety, it was Paul (2 Corinthians 11:28). And through the difficulty of his imprisonment, the Holy Spirit worked through him to write these beautiful words.

Be anxious for nothing seems like an obvious statement. “You are anxious? Then just stop being anxious!” There is, however, more to it than just that. He tells us to not be anxious for anything. This means that in whatever we face, there is nothing that warrants a response of anxiety (i.e. worry based in circumstances), specifically considering the truth and power of God’s character and Word. Paul is not just telling us what to do, but he gives us clear reasons why and how we can not be anxious. Paul does not provide ideas centered on the building of self-esteem. Rather he points to the God given avenue to request help: Paul’s answer to the struggle of anxiety is prayer.

The Reformation Study Bible says this of Paul’s comments on prayer, “the cluster of words shows what importance he attaches to the practice of prayer.”[1] What this means is that the words prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and requests are not words defining different kind of prayers, but rather they point to the necessity of prayer in the fight against anxiety. John MacArthur details the solution for anxiety with prayer in these words:

People become worried, anxious, and fearful because they do not trust in God’s wisdom, power, or goodness. They fear that God is not wise enough, strong enough, or good enough to prevent disaster. It may be that this sinful doubt is because their knowledge of Him is faulty, or that sin in their lives has crippled their faith. Thankful prayer brings release from fear and worry, because it affirms God’s sovereign control over every circumstance, and that His purpose is the believer’s good (Rom. 8:28).[2]

Prayer returns the focus of the believer where it ought to always be, on the character and promises of the eternal God.

               But what does all of this have to do with the being thankful? I’m glad you asked! Notice that right in the middle of Paul’s exhortation to pray amid anxious situations, he tells us that our requests should be made with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, or gratitude, is the expression of “thanks in response to blessings.”[3] That is, to turn our gaze from the present difficulty to the past work of God. The Psalmist says, “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” When troubles come we must be sure to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness in the past, knowing that He will be faithful again today, no matter the outcome (Deut. 6:12). Dennis Johnson says it well,

Notice the ingredient of “thanksgiving” that is to be blended with our requests. Gratitude preserves our prayers from going sour with complaint or degenerating into a list of self-centered demands. Thanksgiving is the natural response to a generous gift, freely bestowed.[4]

There is no greater gift than the gift we have already received: salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. Since we have peace with God (Romans 5:1), we can now enjoy the peace of God (Philippians 4:7). This is worthy of infinite thankfulness!

Exhortation

          Often passages like this are acknowledged for their truth, yet the significance of the truth told does not take root in our lives (of this I am guilty as well). Simple agreement to the text without being changed by the text is not God’s desire. Paul continues by telling us what thanksgiving saturated prayer and trust in God should produce. The peace of God is not circumstantial; thus, it cannot be driven out by trouble.  The peace of God is steadfast for the God in whom we trust is immovable, sovereign, and accomplishes all His purposes (Isaiah 46:8-11). The CSB Study Bible puts it this way, “In response, the peace of God brings power to endure. The peace surpasses knowledge, calming a troubling situation when explanations fail. Further, peace guards by keeping anxieties from hearts (choices) and minds (attitudes).”[5]  

          Don’t succumb to anxiety this Thanksgiving. Put your hope in God alone. Remember the faithfulness of God from the beginning of time, know that He does not change, and praise Him for all that He has done! Let us consider the depths of the assurance and confidence these truths afford those who are His. After all, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).



[1] R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2115.

[2] John F. MacArthur Jr., Philippians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 283.

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Gratitude,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 900.

[4] Dennis E. Johnson, Philippians, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, 1st ed., Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 269.

[5] Richard R. Melick Jr., “Philippians,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1888–1889.

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