For weeks, I couldn’t sleep through the night. I went to bed, woke up at 3 a.m. and stared at the ceiling. I tried counting sheep. I tried reading my Bible. I tried saying my prayers. Nothing worked. Every night was another sleepless carbon copy of the night before.
Then I began to look for a root cause in my behavior. This led me down a familiar path. Like a slow leak on drywall, I discovered my sleepless nights were a byproduct of a larger problem.
It began with the rapid and ever-changing circumstances in our world. Then it was compounded by situations in my life and the lives of those I love. Gradually, I began to entertain unrelenting “what ifs” until I was steeped in full-blown anxiety.
What if things don’t work out?
What if the worst happens?
What if the situation never changes?
I wanted to give every difficult circumstance a happy ending, but the problems I saw were beyond my control. The outcome of these mammoth-sized issues depended on God alone. This is where I struggled: perpetually agonizing over circumstances I could not change.
As a result, I opened the door of my heart wide enough for anxiety to walk right in and get comfortable. My inability to sleep through the night directly correlated to my anxious thoughts.
This is exactly what the Apostle Paul commanded us not to do in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
In the Greek, the word for “anxious” translates to “distracted,” further illustrating the power of anxious thoughts. Anxiety magnifies our problems and minimizes our view of God. It prevents us from seeing God’s power and sovereignty in the midst of our circumstances.
Paul, who had many things to be anxious about, was essentially waving a caution flag because he knew anxiety could take us down a dangerous path leading to fear, doubt and despair. When we are anxious, our minds are monopolized with worry instead of consumed with God and what He is able to do.
Paul tells us the way to combat anxiety is to first make a conscious choice not to be anxious. This is easier said than done. It requires us to face every uncontrollable circumstance and possible outcome with confidence that God knows what He’s doing. Here we are forced not to just read Scripture but anchor ourselves in it. This means I have a choice to believe God is sovereign and always has a plan, even if the outcome is not what I desire.
The next thing Paul says to do is pray, petition and thank God for the things we are anxious about. Although I did resort to prayer, my prayers were simply reworded worries. After I presented my request to God in prayer, my fears continued to weigh on my heart and mind. The type of praying, petitioning and thanking Paul referrs to involves relinquishing our will for God’s.
I believe God wants us to ask for what we desire while trusting He ultimately knows best. Paul could pray in thanksgiving because he learned how to surrender to God’s perfect will over his desires.
When we choose to do this, we can experience the peace Paul describes in Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV).
As we pray, petition and thank God, we are able to close the door on anxiety and open the door to peace. This peace allows us to focus on God rather than worry about the future. By choosing not to be anxious, we discover peace that is not dependent on controlled outcomes but comes from the God who controls all things.
This is the peace I am learning to intentionally embrace. Although the world, my circumstances and the lives of those I love may not change, I am learning to trust God with what I cannot control, challenge my “what ifs” and sleep through the night.
Dear God, when I am overwhelmed by things I cannot control, help me place my trust in You. Remind me You are sovereign and in control of all things. Help me to believe Your ways are good and You have a plan, even if it is not the outcome I desire. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
By: Kia Stephens