If you’re like me a “Don’t worry; be happy!” admonition isn’t exactly effective. The battle for peace of mind can’t be minimized. The struggle many people at times face is significant and life altering, causing emotions to sway like a skyscraper during an earthquake.
Sometimes even temporary issues can send one into extreme frustration or anxiety, whether the pivot point is a serious health problem, financial crisis, relational issues, or any number of other life events large and small. Paul challenged the Corinthians to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor:10:5)
That sounds like attempting to have a dozen toddlers sit still for a photo. Toddlers don’t stay still and neither do my thoughts or over-active imagination.
Nonetheless, God places on us the full responsibility for the thoughts we choose to dwell on. So how can we and do we win this battle for a mind at peace? Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us groping for our own solutions to this immense problem.
When hope seems lost and expectation for improvements buried and gone, the command to rejoice sounds cruel at best. Unless of course, the one giving the instruction was himself familiar with facing life and death situations.
“I am in chains for Christ . . .
and will continue to rejoice . . .
I eagerly expect and hope that
I will in no way be ashamed,
but will have sufficient courage
so that now as always Christ
will be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Maybe that is sufficient evidence to heed the advice of Paul whose struggle, pain and loss far exceed our own. When the chips are down and all natural support is stripped away, he concludes that everything apart from Christ is “garbage.” (3:8) In essence, he reminds us all that life is short and eternity is long.
Paul sets the context for his encouragement just before reminding us all that the “Lord is near!” When we sense that deliverance is close at hand, we have the capacity to endure much more than we previously thought possible.
“Rejoice in the Lord always
[delight, gladden yourselves in Him];
again I say, Rejoice!”
Don’t Worry; Be Happy
Paul, through personal example, demonstrates the possibility of maintaining joy in difficult situations. Then he adds to his clear command to rejoice, another, “Don’t worry!” During less intense problems it’s perhaps easier to find something to be grateful for and happy about, but when you’re facing foreclosure, your marriage is heading to divorce court, or the illness is diagnosed as terminal, “Don’t worry; be happy” sounds empty and unrealistic.
“Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything,
but in every circumstance and in everything,
by prayer and petition (definite requests),
continue to make your wants known to God.”
Gradually, I’m beginning to understand Paul’s admonition. Prayer changes everything, starting with me and my perspective. Thankfulness perhaps improves the nature of our thoughts and emotions more than any other quality. Jesus encouraged his listeners that God knows and loves each of us so much that He even knows how many hairs we have on our heads. (Luke 7) Apparently, that’s about 150,000 hairs per person. Then He says,
“Don’t be afraid; you are worth more. . .”
When you consider there are about 1 billion trillion stars in the known universe and God has each one not just numbered but named, we understand how great God is and how much He really does care. (Ps 147:4) Suddenly, I view God and my life from a new context.
It is only as I fully know my need, that I come to know the goodness and greatness of my God. Maybe, “Don’t worry; be happy” isn’t such a far stretch after all.
Peace in the Storm
As I take those things that rob me of joy and shadow me with fear, placing them in prayer before God, peace becomes possible.
“And God’s peace [shall be yours,
that tranquil state of a soul assured
of the salvation through Christ,
and so fearing nothing from God
and being content with its earthly lot
of whatever sort that is, that peace]
which transcends all understanding shall garrison
and mount guard over your
hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
I’m beginning to see the strategy for winning this battle over depression and anxiety. I’m not sure about anyone else, but for me, the decades long struggle with mental illness proved to be largely a spiritual issue. I can say, at least in part, that I’ve been transformed by the renewing of my mind, aligning it to who God is and what He declares. (Rom 12:2)
Though once impossible, now “Don’t worry; be happy!” is completely attainable.
For a brain like mine that was once deeply rutted with “stinking-thinking,” rerouting thought patterns has taken persistence and time. That’s why Paul continues his exhortation,
“. . . whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence
and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable,
whatever is kind and winsome and gracious,
if there is any virtue and excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think on and weigh and take account of
these things [fix your minds on them].”
My thoughts are becoming increasingly a more accurate reflection of this description. At times, however, it is downright scary how ragged, selfish, and putrid any random thought rolling through my head might be. But just imagine! Imagine how different life would be if every thought was taken captive and aligned with Christ through this short, albeit challenging, list.
If I stop reading here, however, I will miss the mark. “Don’t worry; be happy!” will remain an elusive impossibility. To embed these truths deeply in my life, they must be practiced.
“Practice what you have learned
and received and heard and seen in me,
model your way of living on it,
and the God of peace
(of untroubled, undisturbed well-being)
will be yours.”
Reading our Bibles and knowing the truth begins the process but will leave us lacking if we settle for knowledge alone. Winning the battle for the mind takes effort — a praying and petitioning God kind of effort, plus diligently censoring our thought life kind of effort. When we willingly practice and model what we have learned, that process continues until radical mind-renewing, mind-healing transformation occurs.
Jehovah Shalom, the God of Peace, remains untroubled and undisturbed. He grants us His perfect peace that supernaturally garrisons and guards our hearts and minds. Then, through Christ, “Don’t worry; be happy!” becomes a daily reality and peace truly does win.