Don’t Worry; Be Happy! The Battle for Peace of Mind!

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.

Rejoice

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.”
Philippians 1:13,18-21

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!”
Philippians 4:4

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),
with thanksgiving,
continue to make your wants known to God.”
Philippians 4:6

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.”
Philippians 4:7

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.

Thinking

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].”
Philippians 4:8

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.

Practice

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.”
Philippians 4:9

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.

Free from all Fear! Psalm 34 – Is Fearless Living Possible?

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in North America. For many people, living free from fear is an unrealistic expectation. Is fearless living possible? What would it look like? In Psalm 34, David hands us the key to overcoming all fear.

Believe it or not, there are more than one hundred phobias people experience. Many we can easily relate to: acrophobia (the fear of heights), ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes), mysophobia (the fear of germs, and arachnophobia (the fear of spiders).

Several years ago my daughter-in-law took possession of an inlaid willow frame I had made. She wanted to use it for a mirror. Since we had an unused large mirror, we both proceeded to the basement to cut it to the appropriate size. The first edge cut perfectly! As I was gently under-tapping the second cut, she frantically swung her arms in a wide flailing motion sending the mirror and tools flying through the air. A spider had appeared! She panicked!  The mirror shattered against the far wall. I laughed! (Sorry to the rest of you arachnophobics, I couldn’t help it!)

Fear can sometimes cause us do unusual things.

Positive Fear

Fear can be positive. In fact, it is essential to our survival! Fear warns us of impending danger. A certain amount of fear increases adrenaline flow helping us perform demanding tasks better.

I read once that Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper: “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before and he died a very rich man.” The obituary should have been for his brother, but in error Alfred’s name appeared instead. Alfred was afraid this would indeed be the assessment of his life so he initiated the Nobel Peace Prize, the award for those who foster peace! Fear led Alfred Nobel to rewrite his life’s work!

God Uses Cowards

There are 365 bible references encouraging us, to be courageous. One for every day of the year! The bible is full of accounts of God’s ability to use even the fearful, however.

  • Gideon is found hiding in a winepress, afraid of the Midianites (Judges 6,7)
  • Moses afraid of his own people and Pharoah was unwilling to obey God without help. (Exodus 3 & 4)
  • Ninety year old Sarah, fearful of promises long delayed lied to God about laughing at the news that she would conceive a child. (Genesis 18)
  • Jonah was afraid God would be merciful, so he ran from his assignment. (Jonah 1 & 2)

There were just as many who missed their opportunity because of their phobias:

  • Ten out of twelve scouts sent to explore Canaan infected the camp with fear of giants and strong cities. (Numbers 13 & 14)
  • The rich young ruler, afraid of losing his wealth and comfortable lifestyle, refused to follow Jesus (Luke 18:18-23)

Do Not Worry

Jesus encouraged the people,

” … do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink
or about your body, what you will wear …
Look at the birds of the air;
they do not sow or store away in barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not much more valuable than they?
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes?
See how the flowers of the field grow.
They do not labor or spin.
… not even Solomon in all his splendor
was dressed like one of these.
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field,
… will he not much more clothe you
— you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’
or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ …
your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
Matthew 6:25-33

For the majority of the world’s population concern for the basic essentials of life is constantly present! The wealthy minority worry about protecting their possessions, a secure retirement, the next vacation, and pursuing dreams.  Many in Jesus’ audience were struggling daily for survival.

Jesus frames this passage with wisdom,

” … store up for yourselves treasures in heaven
seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow …”
Matthew 6:20 & 34

All sufficiency is in God alone. He can and does give us the ability to create wealth and wisdom to know how to use it, but ultimately everything is His and comes from Him.

Free from all fear!

David’s words echo the thought,

Lord! I’m bursting with joy over what you’ve done for me!
My lips are full of perpetual praise.
I’m boasting of you and all your works,
so let all who are discouraged take heart.
Join me, everyone! Let’s praise the Lord together.
… make him famous!
Let’s make his name glorious to all.
Listen to my testimony: I cried to God in my distress
and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears!
Psalm 34:1-4

When did David write such joy filled praise? When he was afraid!

To escape from Saul’s death threats David ran toward Achish king of Gath. Because David was famous for his military exploits, hiding wasn’t easy!

“David …  was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath.
So he pretended to be insane in their presence;
and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman …”
1 Samuel 21:12,13

The Right Fear

In the midst of justifiable fear, David “sought the LORD.” Relief came! Courage was restored! He was courageous not because he chose to be brave, but rather because he sought God in the midst of his fear.

As a matter of fact, David recognized how deficient his courage was,

“This poor man called, and the LORD heard him:
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps around those
who fear him, and he delivers them.”
Psalm 34:6,7

The LORD, Jehovah, the self-existent, all powerful, eternal God is big enough to wipe away all fear and circle his trembling ones with protection. In Him is unrattled security!

The Human Factor

Let’s be honest, being afraid is something we all face. In agreeing with David’s assessment of our “poor” condition, we rightly position ourselves before God who fiercely defends, protects and supplies us with needed courage.

Fear the LORD, you his holy people
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”
Psalm 34:9-10

Jesus said it this way: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.”

When fear is centred in God alone, there indeed is freedom. Fearless living is possible after all!

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Further Reading:

The Righteous are as Bold as a Lion – Survive and Thrive

Never! 8 Things God Will Never Do