Man, it’s been cold! (Even my Canadian half agrees.) Yesterday afternoon, the windchill dipped to -32° F in Lafayette. At times like these, I’m super grateful for my winter coat. I feel like I just stepped into an Abrams tank when I wear it—it’s big, bulky, and warm like a toaster oven. I’m even able to wear a t-shirt underneath it and not be cold. Actually, as I’m writing this, I’m squashed into the backseat of a car behind my two brothers as we drive through the state of Pennsylvania on the way to spending Christmas at my parents’ house in New Jersey. You know it’s been cold out when you stop at a gas station along the Pennsylvania turnpike, the windchill is 4° F, and it feels positively tropical.
Even before this cold snap, icy weather has been on my mind. It all began about a month ago when we were studying the book of Philippians in our Greek class at seminary. As we were going through the fourth chapter, God reminded me again of how fresh and unique his Word is. In verses 6-7, Paul writes:
Do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.
The Roman empire was a rougher place than you and I are used to here in the modern West. Robbers were a real danger for someone traveling between cities (2 Corinthians 11:26). Happily, the citizens of Philippi were safe from harm because their town was protected by a garrison of Roman soldiers. They understood the comfort and assurance of being under guard.
As I try to recast that imagery of peril and protection into contemporary terms, I keep coming back to the concept of a frozen wasteland. That’s what the Indiana countryside is at this time of year. You wouldn’t want to get caught outside overnight; rescuers would find you frozen to the ground the next morning! We’re very careful to stay indoors in this sort of weather.
What we’re not so careful about is avoiding another sort of wasteland. Paul identifies this wasteland when he tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything”—or even more accurately, “Stop being anxious about anything!” People struggled with anxiety two thousand years ago just as much as they do now. The Philippians had plenty of reasons to be anxious; they faced frightening opponents to their faith ( 1:28 ) and needed Paul’s reassurance that God would provide for their financial needs (4:19).
However, Paul extended his command beyond just these particular dangers. “Stop being anxious about anything,” he wrote them. Paul understood that anxiety does not come from our circumstances. We fool ourselves into thinking that. If only I could find a job, or if only I could find a spouse, or if only I could pass this test, then I would be worry-free. This verse exposes the lies which we tell ourselves; the fact is, anxiety emerges from our attitude, not our circumstances. This is why two people, facing very similar challenges, can respond in such different ways. One may fret about what the future holds, while the other may confidently rest in God’s sovereignty and goodness. The difference is not circumstances but attitude; a person who clings to an anxious attitude will always find something to be anxious about.
So what’s your attitude like? Do you insist on remaining out in the winter wasteland of anxiety? Do you insist on trying to bear all the burdens of an unknown future on your own shoulders? Remember that anxiety is not merely a bad habit but a sin. It means you don’t trust the Lord to take care of your needs (Matthew 6:25-34). Moreover, it’s a manifestation of pride. In 1 Peter 5:6-7, we are told that humbling ourselves means casting our anxieties on God because he cares for us. How long will you insist that you are perfectly fine out in the cold, hunkered down to hide from the biting wind? Do you find yourself trying to block out the pain and trouble with the narcotic of TV, video games, music, excessive Internet usage, endless socializing, or (my favorite escape) daydreaming? Do you borrow a page from Hindu religious practice and turn to yoga as a false cure? Do you throw yourself into exercise and sports as a way to release the tension? Do you indulge in “comfort food” to boost your spirits?
We’re so good (sorta) at coping with anxiety, worry, and stress, but God is so good at curing us of them. Don’t stay out in the cold. You’re miserable out there. Humble yourself and come on in where it’s warm. More on that tomorrow.