A beloved relative is dying before your eyes; the syncopation of an EKG monitor punctuates each heartbeat—beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . It’s not the sound of hospital equipment, however, that is dragging your soul into despair; it’s the thoughts and emotions swirling within.
Beautiful memories from the past, tender and most lovely, stand in contrast to the cold, sterile confines of a deathbed. You try to apply your faith in God’s providence, but the torrent of emotions rains down mercilessly upon you. You feel hopeless.
Such an experience can be replicated in a thousand different scenarios. We’ve all been there at some point. Some of us live there. You understand quite well the concept of Philippians 4: think on things that are praiseworthy and true, with prayer and supplication, shunning worry in favor of thanksgiving, and God’s inscrutable peace will guard your heart. Indeed, this is a precious promise that is altogether true. But in some moments of crisis, you find yourself so exceedingly distracted that you feel unable to control your thoughts and thus incapable of finding peace. What then?
The Essential Problem
The Lord of glory unifies creation under the reign of Christ in the Holy Spirit’s bond of peace. The devil, on the other hand, comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He divides and conquers. It is a strategy that has been around since the fall. The Son of Man sows good seed into His field, producing a harvest of righteousness and peace that redounds to God’s glory; the devil sows weeds that threaten to choke it out. Such is the pattern. The Father extends His hand to subdue and redeem the chaotic creation; sin manufactures more and more chaos.
When the chaos of sin engages one’s soul, anxiety naturally follows. The word translated “anxious” in Philippians 4:6 comes from the Greek word merimnaō. Based on its use in various contexts, it seems to gather meaning from the words merizō, “to divide,” and nous, “mind.” This divided mind is the unhappy condition of the man whom the Apostle James describes as “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). Such instability routinely focuses on the object of anxiety to the exclusion of God. In such moments, the sick feeling in our stomach and shortness of breath in our chest confirm that flaming darts have pierced our spiritual armor. We’ve been hit, and we are in trouble.
We inherit some of our emotional instability or double-mindedness from previous generations. Because human society concentrates its attention below the horizon—in the cacophony of human affairs without reference to God—our thoughts and emotions are vulnerable to disorientation. This has been the case from time immemorial, reaching back to Hellenistic culture, which said, “Know thyself”; to the Romans, who said, “Rule thyself”; to Buddhists, who say, “Annihilate thyself”; to Islam, which says, “Submit thyself”; and to modern New Age religion, which is concerned to “love thyself.” Jesus, however, says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).