Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.
Sermon By Rev. Dr. Howard John-Wesley
I have been meditating on a sermon I heard on YouTube on September 5, 2021. The sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Howard John-Wesley, Senior Pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church, located at 301 S Alfred Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. His sermon was titled "Be Anxious for Nothing" based on Paul's words in Philippians 4:6.
I listened to the sermon first for my own edification. I was so touched by the powerful message that I listened to it a second time and took dictation so I could summarize the sermon and share the pastor's words with others.
The sermon on Sunday was the first in a series for the month of September. Dr. Wesley kicked off the series by teaching about anxiety and explaining why Paul encouraged the early Christians in Philippi not to be anxious.
In his introduction, the pastor said the world will never be the same again after the pandemic we have been experiencing for more than a year. COVID-19 has caused many people to be anxious about what will happen next. Therefore, there has been an increase in medication for anxiety.
Diazepam prescriptions increased about 31 percent during the pandemic. More people have been treated for anxiety than ever before. The slightest thing surrounding the pandemic causes anxiety. Anxiety about the pandemic was placed on things that were already causing anxiety, such as finances, failed relationships, wayward children, health issues, jobs, and our unknown future. Anything can trigger and cause anxiety.
Dr. Wesley's Definition of "Anxiety"
Wesley defined anxiety this way:
"Anxiety is a present stress caused by the fear of an unrealized future."
Anxiety occurs when something happens in your life that causes you to wonder and worry about the future outcome.
Anxiety begins when something happens that causes you to look into the future and wonder how things will turn out. Anxiety is literally when you are sitting in "now" but you are worried about "then." It is when you are in the present moment, but something has happened that made you wonder what the next moment will be like.
For many people, that only happens in some special moments, moments of crisis, moments of new opportunities, moments of bad decisions, moments of threats, moments of a new diagnosis. For some people, it could be something as simple as waking up in the morning and beginning to wonder and worry what the day is going to be like. For some people, it happens all the time.
Steps of Anxiety
You focus on, wonder about, and worry about the future.
You begin to imagine all the possible outcomes and your mind focuses on the worst-case scenario and the most negative and the most damaging possibility.
You tell yourself the worst-case scenario is the only possible outcome.
You begin to respond and react as if it is happening right now even though you know it isn't. You feel the threat and respond as if you are or in imminent danger right now even though it is in an unrealized imagined future. You begin to have psychosomatic experiences. What's in your mind causes your body to react. Your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure rises, you get chills, you have cold sweats, you get an upset stomach because your body is responding to a threat that isn't even real.
Anxiety can be mild and momentarily that can be dismissed easily, or it could be severe, intense, excessive, inescapable, and persistent. Most therapists diagnose that as severe anxiety.
It was at this point in the sermon that he shared a personal testimony about his own severe anxiety that resulted in him taking a sabbatical. Wesley said he used meditation and Paul's words, "Be anxious for nothing" to help him through severe anxiety without having to be prescribed medication.
He also mentioned words from Matthew and Luke that helped him through his anxiety. He mentioned Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapters 5 through 7 and Luke Chapter 12 when Jesus taught not to be fearful, worried, or anxious. Jesus commanded us to fight anxiety in our lives. "Don't worry about tomorrow. Don't worry about what you will eat or drink or wear." Don't be fearful of your enemies. The Lord is on your side. Jesus tells Martha she was anxious about too many things (Luke 10:41).
Paul was writing to the early Christians in Philippi and at that time Paul was in prison. The early Christians were experiencing persecution from non-Christian religious sources. In Paul's absence, the early Christians were dealing with some persecution from five sources: the Jews, the Judaizers, the Libertines, the Gnostics, and the Pneumatics. Paul became concerned that the church at Philippi had begun to become anxious. Therefore, he tells them, "Be anxious for nothing."
Even though Paul wrote this to the early Christians in Philippi over 2,000 years ago, he discerned that we would be dealing with anxiety today. In other words, anxiety has been around as long as humans have. It was a real problem in Paul's day just as it is today.
According to the pastor, "Anxiety is prevalent and predominant in all society. It is nothing new and did not just show up during the pandemic." Paul addressed the encouragement to Christians because he recognized that discipleship does not grant immunity from anxiety.
You can walk by faith and still be anxious. You can confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and still feel some anxiety every now and then. You can memorize the entire Bible from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21 and still be anxious. No matter what title is in front of your name, you can still be anxious. You can pray grace over every bite of food you eat and still have anxiety. You can anoint yourself with oil and be as greasy as a thigh from Church's Chicken, but you will still have some anxiety in your life. Being a Christian does not grant you immunity from being anxious.
Anxiety is Not a Sin
Dr. Wesley says, "Anxiety is not what God wants in our lives." He added that he has come to two biblical conclusions about anxiety, about worry, and about focusing on the future.
1. Anxiety is not a sin. It doesn't mean something is wrong with your faith. It doesn't mean you don't trust God. It is a natural human response.
2. Living in anxiety is not God's will for our lives. It is one thing to feel anxious, but it is another thing to live in it. God wants us to be victorious over anxiety. It is normal to feel it, but God doesn't want us to be dominated by it.
Wesley reminded his listeners of what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus went to pray before going to the cross. At first, in His humanity, He was grieved. He was anxious. He prayed until drops of sweat fell from His forehead like blood (Luke 22:44). Wesley suggested that Jesus was having a psychosomatic response about what He would face by dying on the cross. Jesus' body was responding to His humanity.
After that experience, Jesus was ready to go to the cross, to fulfill His purpose for coming to the earth. Jesus was anxious, but He overcame it and accepted what He had come to earth to do.
Anxiety Can Become a Demon
Anxiety is not a sin, but it can become a demon. Anxiety opens the door for sinful behavior. Anxiety threatens the abundant life Christ died for us to have. Anxiety is contrary to the peace of God. Paul says, "Don't be anxious for nothing because the peace of God will guard your heart and mind."
The purpose of the peace of God will guard you against anxiety, guard you against destroying your life, guard you against sinful behavior. You can't live in both. It is either anxiety or the peace of God.
Pastor Wesley closed his sermon by giving four reasons he believes anxiety is not God's will for our lives.
1. Anxiety is a spirit that can easily become a demon. A spirit tries to influence your thinking and change how you see things. A demon tries to possess you and take over every ounce of your life. You try to fight a spirit. Demons you try to function with. Anxiety is a spirit that can quickly become a demon.
2. Anxiety opens doors for demons and addictions. The devil presents options and opportunities for you to deal with anxiety in ways that do not honor God. Those options include alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, bad eating habits, unhealthy and unwise spending.
3. Anxiety threatens the abundant life Jesus died for you to live in. Anxiety is a direct threat to the abundant life you should live in. John 10:10 says, "The thief comes but to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly."
Most people think that abundant life is only reserved for those in heaven. Wesley says he believes that abundant life should be had while here on earth. He made it clear that he was not talking about an abundance of material things. Rather, it is living a joyful, a peaceful life and a happy life, a fulfilled life, a purposeful life, a sowing life, a receiving life, and being in good health.
Our abundant life is not just reserved for us when we get to heaven. He concluded that thought by saying he believes an abundant life is for the "here" and "now."
As I listened to Dr. Wesley's sermon, I felt as though he was speaking directly to me. I have experienced anxiety to some degree most of my life. It has been like I have been waiting for "the other shoe to drop." However, most of the time it never did. I have focused on the worst-case scenario that never happened.
I intend to watch the remaining sermons in the series during the month of September. Feel free to view the video above and watch the remaining sermons in the series on Facebook as well.
- 4 Ways to Be Anxious For Nothing
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6 how to be anxious for nothing.