In the sermon on February 23, 2020, we remembered Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the time called Lent. “Ash Wednesday falls on the first day of Lent which is the forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. This year it falls on February 26.”
At the end of the sermon, I challenged us all. “It is a common thing during the season of Lent to give something up for those 40 days. The aim of those forty days is to be closer to God. I have some suggestions to accomplish that. Give up thirty minutes a day to spend time with God in prayer and reading the Bible. Pick a Book of the Bible like John and read it slowly and prayerfully over this time.
Or, here’s the big one, pick a sin. Any sin you may be struggling with. Selfishness, hate of a person or race, anger, addictions both physical or psychological, judgment, pride, fear, worry, lust, envy, take your pick. We all have them. Prayerfully pick one that really needs to get laid down. Each day pray to God for help to remove it from your life. Remember, you have that sin because somehow it makes you enjoy it. Watch sin. It’s sly.”
So, I chose the big one. The sin I knew was long overdue for me to lay down. Worry.
According to WEBMD, worrying too much can trigger your nervous system to release “stress hormones” that speed up your heart rate and breathing, raise your blood sugar, and send more blood to your arms and legs. Over time, this can affect your heart, blood vessels, muscles, and other systems. It can be serious if you already have breathing problems linked to asthma, lung disease, or other conditions. If it sticks around long enough, something as small as a nagging concern in the back of your mind can affect your heart. It can make you more likely to have high blood pressure, a heart attack, or a stroke. If that happens over and over, your blood vessels may get inflamed, which can lead to hardened artery walls, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and other problems too lengthy to list or even think about. It can make it harder for you to fend off the flu, herpes, shingles, and other viruses. Okay, enough. You get the idea. It was time to for me to stop worrying.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, and the subsequent panic buying, fear, and uncertainty we’re seeing all around us, it is even a greater challenge not to allow our concerns to become worries and develop into out of control fear.
Philippians 4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“ Do not be anxious about anything.” So, how do we do that? How do we control anxiety and worry in the face of a real, actual threat?
Isn’t it appropriate to worry or experience a bit of anxiety when there is a genuine and real threat we’re facing? Facing a global pandemic like COVID-19, there are some very genuine reasons to be concerned and to take precautions.
However, there’s a difference between legitimate concerns and unfounded worries. Concern about a problem leads us to look into the issue and formulate a plan of action. Paul was “deeply concerned” for the progress of the gospel and condition of the individual churches he had founded, and at times, lost sleep over them. (2 Cor. 11:28). 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Worry on the other hand, is the result of “over-thinking” that problem, and then behaving based on our fears rather than rational thought. Haven’t we seen that in the last couple of weeks? The panic buying (toilet paper initially). That is the reaction to FEAR. And it’s a bit ridiculous! Jesus put it like this, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” [Matt. 6:27]. You can’t! Who wants to live a life controlled by fear and anxiety? There are people who have conditions that are related to continual anxieties, fears, and phobias. We don’t have to live in the grip of fear.
We either trust God or we don’t. By worrying, we are looking away from God and looking to our own abilities to deal with a problem. Not a good plan! We need to have a quiet mind and a calm heart when dealing with a threatening situation, or when facing highly stressful events.
Paul follows that command of “do not be anxious about anything,” immediately with how we do that: Prayer! But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. God, who is always near, invites us to bring our concerns, cares, and worries to Him, because He cares for us.
Paul doesn’t tell us just to pray, but to do so with “thanksgiving.” How do we have an attitude of thanksgiving when we’re facing some serious stuff? It’s all about faith; that calm and quiet assurance that God is near, God is involved, and God cares about us. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? You go to God in prayer. When facing a threat, problem, or situation that is beyond our ability, we turn to the Lord with joy and thanksgiving. Prayer offered with thanksgiving brings that calm assurance.
During our current global issues with this pandemic, or with any other stressful, harassing, threatening, or difficult situation, let’s ask the question, “WHAT” should I pray for?
I think whenever we come up against anything that is overwhelming we need to pray for wisdom. James reminds us, “5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5. The wisdom to have a calm and proper perspective.
Pray for peace. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:7. During a challenge or threat, pray for peace, the peace of God which is beyond our own understanding.
How do you stop legitimate concerns from becoming worry and anxiety? How do you keep potential fears in check? Pray for the peace of God that controls our hearts and minds!
In verse 8, Paul states, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Paul tells the believers of Philippi some things to think about. The list is very positive, meant to elevate us to “count our blessings.”
Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise – think about these things.
We give thanks for the many lives, possibly the life of a loved one or our own, we have all saved by staying at home and social distancing.
We give thanks for all those putting a massive effort into combatting the virus through caring for victims and working towards the development of a vaccine.
We give thanks for all the medical personnel, first responders and police officers for continuing to serve and protect to save lives and keep us all safe.
We give thanks for all those who are donating their time and dollars to the food pantries to make sure their neighbors don’t go hungry and to the school district workers who make and deliver food to their student’s homes.
We give thanks to the teachers who are making every effort to continue educating our children through whatever means they can.
We give thanks that China’s quarantine has saved more than 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere. Not only have similar effects been reported across Italy, the canals and waterways of Venice are reportedly cleaner than ever with the waters shining crystal clear in the absence of diesel-powered boats and gondoliers.
We give thanks that in the Punjab region of India, the Himalayas can be seen for the first time in decades due to reduced levels of pollution since India’s Covid-19 lockdown.
We give thanks that a 99-year-old English World War II veteran has been walking laps around his back garden and has raised over $33.7 million for the health service workers, NHS Charities Together, since April 6.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
So, I want to leave you with some bad news and some good news – which do you want first? Okay, the bad news: We cannot control the evils and horrors of this world. They are a part of this corrupted planet, and we are subject to the man-made evils that exist here. Now for the good news! This is not our home – we’re just “a passin’ through”. Jesus reminded us of this in John 16:33, “In the world, you will have tribulation.” We are not exempt from the bad stuff in this world. We are in the world, but not of it. And yet, God is with us in this place. Jesus tells us some of the same things that Paul does here. These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. [John 16:33]. Yes, there are trials and tribulations in the world. Yes, there are conflicts, challenges, threats, and stressful situations in this world too. But in Jesus, there is peace! Peace that passes understanding; that promise of peace from the One who can still the Storm!
Heavenly Father, we look out at the situation in the world; far too big for us to handle on our own. Help us not to allow fear, worry, and anxiety to reign in our hearts and minds. Bless us with a measure of your wisdom to see us through the decisions we make. Help us to face the challenges before us with Your perspective. Let your promise of a peace that passes understanding fill us. In this world of panic that surrounds us, let us be the light on the hill – that light that attracts others to a saving knowledge of Jesus. So, that they too might know your peace, your assurance, from the virus at hand. In Jesus name, Amen.