When is the last time you freaked out and went postal? Did you lay on the horn of your car because you are the only person who can drive? Did you have breakdown because your friend betrayed you? Did no lose it when yet again you had more bills to pay than money to pay with? If so, then you will enjoy Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermon on Philippians 4:2-9 where he gives us the rebels guide to joy in anxiety based upon the writings of the apostle Paul who was sitting in a jail cell suffering and facing the prospect of being metaphysically challenged, aka dead for those of you who did not go to college.
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
You are listening to Philippians, “A Rebel’s Guide to Joy” – a teaching series by Pastor Mark Driscoll. The following is a presentation of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. For more audio and video content, visit marshillchurch.org.
Pastor Mark Driscoll: So I’ll go ahead and pray. This week, I’ve actually got a ton of content for you. I’m really excited about it and I hope it is beneficial as we do deal with “The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Anxiety”. Next week, we finish the book of Philippians. I hope, trust, pray you enjoyed it. For me, honestly, it’s been a wonderful study and I’ve deeply appreciated the book in every way. And today I believe there are some real practical things that I trust God would use to be a personal encouragement to you, so I appreciate you joining us and hope it’s beneficial. We’ll pray and get to work.
Father, we begin by noting this issue of anxiety, that because we are sinners in a fallen and sinful and cursed world, there is a lot of reason for anxiety, for fear, for panic, for stress, for concern. And God, it is my prayer tonight that as we study scripture, we would learn about you – that Lord Jesus, you would become the one who intercedes, not only between us and the Father, but also between us and our circumstances, so that we might respond instead of react, that we might live in such a way that would honor you and would allow us to have joy. For that to happen, we ask that the scriptures would be made known to us and that the Holy Spirit would illuminate our understanding and empower our living as we ask this in Jesus’ good name. Amen.
I’ll set up the story for you in Philippians 4. The story is this: Paul has been a Christian for about 30 years. About 11 years prior, he planted a church in Philippi. He hadn’t been there in about four years. He’s had a rough go – been shipwrecked, beaten, homeless, left for dead adrift on the open sea. At this point in the story, he finds himself in prison facing the prospect of execution and his life is really complicated. And amazingly enough, though he’s been gone from the church for four years and he’s in prison, bad news from the church comes to him. It’s amazing how quickly bad Christian news spreads to this day all around the world. I mean it’s unbelievable. And so Paul, sitting in jail, writes a letter to his friends at the church at Philippi and he deals with two issues. The first being some division among leaders in their church, and the second being the anxiety that the people are feeling about controversy that is swirling around the division with two leaders in the church.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that this is incredibly timely for Mars Hill Church. And so we’ll deal with the first issue of division. Let me set it up this way – that God’s people are to have unity. There are some reasons for that. One, the Lord Jesus prayed that we would be unified repeatedly in places like John 17. “Father, my prayer is that they would be one as we are one.”
Secondly, Paul commands unity throughout The New Testament. We’ll see that in Chapter 4, verse 3 of Philippians today.
Thirdly, among leaders – and there are two leaders in Philippians 4 today that do not have unity. They have disunity and division. Among leaders, unity is incredibly important because people follow leaders, and if leaders aren’t unified, then people aren’t unified, and the division between two leaders actually is much bigger than just the leaders. It includes many people. And what I’ve found historically, and particularly recently, is when there is conflict among leaders, people tend not to vote based upon the facts. They tend to vote with their friends. “I like this person, so I’m taking their side.” Or, “This person has served me, so I will take their side.” Or, “I know them better, so I will take their side.”
So what starts out as a personal conflict, quickly becomes a divisive church issue. That happens in Philippians 4. So unity is important at the top with senior leadership, all the way down, so that there can be unity in the church.
Additionally, forth reason why unity’s important, is that unity allows us to keep focusing on Jesus and people – loving Jesus, growing in Jesus, introducing new people to Jesus, helping people who do know Jesus grow in Jesus. What happens when there is division instead of unity, the subject changes about “Have you heard this? Here’s the latest gossip. So and so says this, and so and so responded this way. How do you think this will play out? And, “This is my opinion about this and I think this is my perspective on that.” And, “So and so has their feelings hurt and I heard that someone was crying.” And, “Did you read the blog and did you see the press release?” And, “Oh my goodness, it was on the news.”
This is my last month. And all of a sudden, the issue of Jesus and people really gets distracted unless there’s unity around the person in the work of Jesus. And so as Christians, we know that unity’s incredibly important for a variety of both theological and practical issues. Then the issue is, well what is unity? We have to define that so we can work toward it. If we don’t have a working definition of unity, then we can’t work toward it. And unity is gained slowly and it’s lost quickly, which is why defining unity is important so that we can work through unity and we can continually build it. So I give this definition often to our pastors and use this as a point of teaching. I’ll share it with you.
We define unity in four ways – theological, relational, missiologically and philosophically. The first is theologically. We have come to agree on what we will fight over or about or for and what we won’t fight over, about or for. Okay? Theologically, we’ve decided we believe in the Bible, the trinity – one God, three persons – Jesus is God, born of a virgin, lived without sin and died on a cross, rose. He’s the only way to salvation. We’re sinners. Hell is hot. Forever’s a long time. And you should have a good sense of humor. Like there’s things that we’re gonna fight for and we think they’re very important. Other things – the rapture, the age of the earth, home schooling, private schooling, public schooling, democrat, republican, speaking in tongues – we’ll agree to disagree agreeably. We’re not gonna fight over that. You know, the earth didn’t come with a born on date like a Budweiser, so we don’t know how old it is. We could argue. That would be cute. We could discuss. But at any point we declare war on each other and there’s a body count, we’ve probably made a big mistake, because we’re supposed to fight for things that matter, but we’re not supposed to fight over everything.
Second way we define unity, in addition to theological, is philosophical, and that’s often times style. Like if you come here and you say, “Hey, where’s the hand bell choir?” There isn’t one. There never will be. “Hey, I like a big choir. I think rock music’s of the devil.” You’ve apparently got the wrong address. If you showed up and wanted to know why I’m not in a robe wearing a collar, unless it was sort of a Jedi version – that I’d actually pray about. But if that’s your thing, sort of high church liturgy, that’s not our thing. We’re just not that way. Doesn’t mean that the churches that are that way are wrong, but you might fit a little better in that church. If you want to go to a church that’s all republicans or all democrats or all single people or all married people, well we have a little bit of diversity here. What we believe is in a very healthy way to where we can dialog things and learn and grow together, and our style as well is indicative of some of our beliefs, and sometimes people divide over style. I’ve heard some people show up and say, “I can’t believe Mark tells jokes. Religion is very serious.” And we think you’re very funny. I mean that’s what we think. “You must be joking.”
We have a certain style, so it’s theological. It’s also philosophical – our style. It’s also relational – nice to each other, respectful, cordial, kind, friendly. “Hi, how ya doing?” Warm, family like.
And fourthly, it’s missiological. “What are we doing?” Some people are single issue voters. All they care about is one thing. That’s it. Here’s our one thing – Jesus. That’s what we really care about. At the end of the day, we want people to meet Jesus, grow in Jesus, be like Jesus, worship Jesus, follow Jesus, obey Jesus, die, be with Jesus, resurrect with Jesus and live forever with Jesus. That’s what we’re into. The rest is secondary. Not unimportant, but secondary. For some people though it’s primary. They’re single issue voters. “The church exists for my mission, for my cause, for my political party, for my ideology, for my theological tradition, and I’m gonna declare war.” No, no, no. At the top of the flag is the name Jesus. Every other flag flies under that flag. Whatever your issue is, it’s secondary, because our mission is people and Jesus. If at any point we lose sight of that, we’ll have division. We’ll have division theologically, philosophically, relationally or missiologically.
And if we’re gonna work for unity, we have to work on all those fronts so that it’s legitimate, healthy, God honoring, life changing, kingdom building unity that we’re pressing toward. There are causes however that undermined unity – pride, sin. Sometimes it’s obvious, like sexual sin or stealing money. Sometimes it’s more subtle, like jealousy or bitterness. My campus, my department, my friends, my cause, my perspective, my ideology, is way more important than anyone else’s?
Sometimes as well, division is caused by heresy false teaching. Sometimes legalism – you’re the person who makes a lot of rules, judges everyone by the rules, shows up with a white and black striped shirt and a whistle. You’re that person – very religious. Sometimes a cause of division can include this confusion between what is a primary and a secondary issue. Very, very, very dangerous to take something that is of secondary importance and break fellowship over it.
And lastly, one of the reasons for division is simply distrust. What happens in a church of our size, the bigger we get, the more we have to trust one another and fellow leaders. We just have to.
Somebody asked me recently, “How many services do you have?” I said, “I think we have like 14.” They said, “How many elders do you have?” I said, “I think we have like 30.” He said, “How many campuses do you have?” I said, “I think we’re working on like 6.” He said, “How many people are on the payroll?” I said, “I think it’s around 100.” He said, “How come you don’t know?” I said, “Because it changes every 15 minutes.” It changes all the time. There’s always new campuses, new services, new leaders, new programs, new ministries, new ideas. Things are changing. And you know what? I trust the people. I trust the pastors and the deacons and the members and the leaders and the campuses and the departments. And if I don’t, then this church can’t work. We all have to trust. We all have to trust. Mars Hill is so big and so spread and so diverse and so complicated, that we need to trust that the people who have come through membership that have been tested and approved and appointed as leaders are doing their job. And if not, there is a way to bring them to accountability. We do track performance and have metrics, and so we have to trust. But when there’s not trust – I mean how many of you have had a relationship that just doesn’t have trust? Your motives are always second guessed? Someone’s always suspicious? You always need to check in? You always need to justify yourself? You can never answer enough questions? There’s never going to be a point where they just say, “Look, I trust you. Do what you need to do.”
In a church of our size, everything rises or falls on the issue of trust. It’s true of every church, but in a church of our size, it’s more important than ever. Now that being said, these issues of unity are incredibly important, and unity, like I said, is gained slowly and lost quickly. And sometimes it happens primarily among the leaders to where leaders have conflict and it severs people into teams and factions throughout the whole church. That’s exactly what’s going on in Philippians Chapter 4. There are two leaders who have a conflict. It’s now enveloped the whole church. It’s a point of division. It’s gone all the way to Paul’s jail cell, and now he has to write a portion of the Bible to deal with it.
Picking up in Chapter 4, verse 2. Here’s what he has to say. “I entreat Euodia” – that’s a woman – “and I entreat Syntyche” – that’s another woman – “to agree in the Lord.” Apparently they don’t agree on something. “Yes, I ask you also, true companion,” – this is going to be a mediator; probably an elder or pastor – “help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Two women. Their names are given because apparently it’s become such a big issue, everybody knows who it is. Some questions: are these woman Christian or non-Christian? They’re Christian. Their names are written in the book of life. That’s the invitee list to heaven. They’re Christians.
Are these brand new Christians or probably mature Christians? Well, they’re probably mature Christians, because he says that they have contended with him at his side for the cause of the gospel. What that means is, these women are known leaders in the church. They have had fruitful ministry. They’ve been used of God. They are very helpful to Paul and to the Lord Jesus.
There’s a debate in our day. Should women be in ministry? Which is kind of the wrong question. If a woman has a gift and loves Jesus, she’s in ministry. She’s serving, loving Jesus and serving and loving people. These women are in ministry. It doesn’t say they’re pastors. That’s reserved for men. 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, “But they’re leaders.” My guess is, these are female deacons who love Jesus and have significant ministry. Whether or not they’re paid, we don’t know. We don’t know.
So they are Christians actively involved in ministry, which means even among people who are Christians in leadership that God has used in a significant way, even those people can have great conflict that leads to division in a whole church, and sometimes it does start at the senior levels of leadership.
Next question – does he mention any false teaching that they are promulgating any heretical doctrine? No.
Now Paul’s not a coward. If you’re teaching false doctrine, he’ll let you know. You can read Galatians for example. It’s just one big skating rebuke to false teachers. “You’re from the devil and you’re going to hell.” It’s pretty clear.
Here he doesn’t mention any false doctrine. There doesn’t appear to be heresy. You say, “Well what is the issue then? Is it sin, immorality? Does he mention any misconduct?” No. He tells the Corinthians, “Hey, tell that one guy to stop sleeping with his mom.”
So when there is something going on, Paul’s not shy about pointing it out. He doesn’t mention sin. He doesn’t mention heresy. Then the question that all the commentators wrestle over is, “Well what’s the reason that they have this division?” The answer is, “It doesn’t matter.” If it did matter, the Bible would tell us. But it doesn’t tell us because it doesn’t matter. Sometimes the issue really isn’t a big deal, or sometimes the issue isn’t the issue. The division is the bigger issue. I don’t know what the issue was. Maybe they had new bylaws. Maybe somebody was opposed to the Belltown campus. Maybe somebody just took a pay cut. Maybe somebody was leading the worship team, Euodia and then Syntyche, took over and then she had to sing backup and she’s all bent out of shape and blogged about it, and then other people commented about it. Then they sent a press release to the stranger, and then the Seattle Times called and then Komo 4 got involved, and next thing you know, it was Mars Hill Church Philippi. I don’t know. Right?
This is my life by the way. My phone rings two to three times every day by the local media asking this question – “Hey, is there anything terrible at Mars Hill we can put on the front page?”
“No, but thanks for checking. There’s always hope. It’s early in the day.”
We don’t know what the issue is, but we do know that it had become a point of division, and so here’s what Paul says. “They need a mediator.” So he appoints this person, probably a pastor, to get in the middle. Now let me tell you this, this is what Jesus does. We’ve sinned against God. Our relationship with God is separated, divided. We’re distant from God and there’s conflict because of sin. Jesus comes as God who becomes a man, lives without sin, dies in our place paying our penalty for our sin, rises for our salvation. If we trust in him, we’re reconnected to God. God then is mediated in relationship to us through Jesus. That’s what it says. I think it’s 1 Timothy 2:15. Working off of memory. There’s one mediator between man and God – the man Christ Jesus. He mediates the relationship between us and God the Father.
Sometimes on the earth, we also need a mediator to do a little bit of the work that’s a little bit like Jesus. You try to work it out, you try to talk it out, you try to sort it out, and it gets worse. The more you talk, the worse it gets. The more the gossip, the hurt, the bitterness, the frustration, the division, and so you bring in a mediator – a Godly third party. Maybe this is a community group leader, Godly person who loves the Lord, an older Christian couple, biblical councilor, deacon, pastor, whatever it is. The two sides who can’t agree have to agree on two things. One, we will meet. Sometimes people refuse to meet. They refuse to even work toward unity. Secondly, when we meet, we will submit ourselves to the mediator and we’ll let that person call the balls and strikes and see what is true, what is false. But the mediator then needs to hear both sides. This is what happens in Proverbs. Proverbs says, “Everyone seems right ‘til the other side of the case is heard.”
Some of you learned this with your parents. You’re growing up. You’ve got a brother or sister. You know if you run to them first, tell the story, your brother or sister will get a spanking. But if they go first, you’ll get a spanking. You know it’s not about the truth. You know it’s about who tells the story first and tells the details in such a way that are advantageous to them, you wicked little kid. That’s how you do it, right?
And this is true. I learned this early on in ministry. One of my early on counseling appointments, a woman came in and said, “Pastor Mark, my husband, he grabbed my wrist and he was being violent.” I said, “Oh no. That can’t happen.” I bring him in. I said, “Did you grab your wife’s wrist?” “Yes. She came at me with a steak knife.” Oh, that’s a variable that she conveniently neglected. That changes the story. At that point I wouldn’t say, “How dare you grab your wife’s wrist.” I’m like, “Good thing you got her wrist, otherwise she would have got your vein, artery. I mean you would have bled out and I’d be preaching your funeral.”
So we do tend to omit certain facts. What that means is for you, never come to a conclusion until you’ve heard both sides. That’s a good mediator.
How many of you are married? Both of you? Good. For those of you who are married, sometimes you’ll need a mediator. You can’t agree. The more you talk about it, the longer you sleep on the couch. It doesn’t fix anything. You’re saying, “We’ve talked about it. We’ve prayed about it. We’ve argued about it. They quoted Leviticus. I’ve quoted Philippians. We didn’t get anywhere.” Mediator. Sit down, hand him a whistle, striped shirt. Let them make the call. Sometimes you’ve got to do this with your friends. Sometimes you’ve got to do this with fellow Christians. That’s what Paul says. Bring in a mediator to do a little bit of the work of Jesus to try to get the truth to sort this out.
Now so far, they haven’t worked it out, and the result is that people in the church are very anxious. There is great anxiety. People are stressed out. They’re freaking out. And this issue of anxiety, if you’ll go with me for a moment on a bit of an excurses, is so important today in our culture. The Bible is written by God. It is perfect. The result is that it is always timely because it’s timeless. And in being timeless, it tends to address timeless human issues, conditions and needs. So even though they were living 2000 years ago in a foreign culture, Rome, they’re dealing with the same things we are. They’re responding in the same ways we do, and they have the same need that we have, and so this issue of anxiety is incredibly important culturally.
I’ll give you some examples. Time magazine had a cover story a few years ago, “Understanding Anxiety”. What I find so curious about that is that it’s such a significant cultural issue that Time magazine devotes an entire issue to the issue of anxiety.
I’ll give you a few more statistics culturally. They will come from this study, called the “Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders”. It’s a study commissioned by the ADAA and base on data gathered by the association and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Here’s what they found. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health illness in the United States of America. Number one, with 40 million people.
Think about that. 40 million people. 18.1 percent of the adult U.S. population over the age of 18 affected. Here’s what it also found – anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost 1/3 of the $148 billion total mental health bill for the United States of America. I mean this is epidemic. It means that a huge number of people who even hear this sermon are suffering with anxiety, struggling from anxiety.
In addition, people with anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor, and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than non-sufferers. The point – life causes anxiety. It was true 2000 years ago. It’s just as true today.
So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll answer two questions and then we’ll look at a biblical solution. The first is, what causes anxiety? And two, how do you know that you’re living in a condition of anxiety?”
First, what causes anxiety? Let me define anxiety for you in the non-clinical, non-technical way. Non-clichnical way. I just made up a new word. In the non-clichnical way, this is anxiety: anxiety is anticipating the future in the worst possible scenario and freaking out about it. That’s my non-clichnical definition of anxiety. That means that you think you’re a prophet, but you’re a prophet of doom, and usually you’re a false prophet. “It’s gonna be bad. It’s gonna be really bad. It could go this way. It could go that way. They can say this. This can happen. I can respond in this way.” And you freak out, which means one of two things. It becomes a self-fulfilling negative prophecy and you make it happen. “No one’s gonna like me. No one’s gonna love me. No one’s gonna be there for me and no one’s gonna care about me.”
People are like, “Yeah, you kind of forced us into that by freaking out.”
Or you wear yourself out so when you do get to that point of anxiety, you’re so freaked out that you lost your head and you don’t know what to do. This is different. Anxiety is different than anticipation. Anticipation is about a future good. And sometimes you have the same symptoms. Your blood pressure’s up. You’re on. You’re excited. You can’t sleep. But it’s a good thing, like the night before your wedding. You’re like, “Woo hoo hoo hoo! I’m thinking about it! I’m anxious. I can’t sleep.” We wouldn’t rebuke you for that, right? We would say that’s anticipation. Good. You’re babies gonna be born. Anticipation, you’re excited. Maybe some of your symptoms are similar to anxiety, but it’s not negative. It’s positive. It’s not doom. It’s expectation.
Here are some causes of anxiety: constant noise, iPods, urban density, constant noise, traffic. How many of you go “Amen”? Traffic causes anxiety. How many of you don’t like to drive ‘cause no one else knows how to drive? They don’t. Two things I would think would help: one, IQ test with a driver’s test. Two, license plate is your cell phone number so that, “Hi, you’re an idiot! Pull over! Get a bus pass!” Just something to pray about.
Another reason – fractured family systems. Your parents are driving you nuts. Your brothers and sisters are driving you nuts. The family’s crazy. It’s holidays. Your grandpa’s dead. You miss him. It’s holidays. You know you’ve got to go to have dinner with your Uncle Johnny. He’s gonna put a Santa hat on, get drunk, not find his pants. It’s gonna be horrible.
Disconnection from meaningful community – no friends, no relationship. You’re lonely, isolated.
Financial pains. You long for the day when you rise to the level of broke. “If I could just get up to broke, that would be awesome.”
Electricity in the 24 hour lifestyle – always working, coming, going. It’s not like the rhythm of creation where the sun goes down and you go to bed. Constant interruption by technology – Blackberry, cell phone, ringing, dinging, alarms, shaking, horrible, demonic, evil, corrupted. How many of you check your email all the time, even though no one emails you? Stressful.
You work too much. The average American works 50 hours a week. 25 years ago it was 40 hours a week. The only nation on earth that works as much as us is Japan. Some of you’ve got temporary jobs. You don’t know when it’s gonna end. You can get canned. You could lose your benefits. You’re stressed out because there’s gonna be an end. You don’t know when it is.
Additionally, success sometimes is more anxiety causing than failure. When you fail, people rub you back, make you muffins and feel bad. When you succeed, they criticize you and shoot you.
How many of you have gotten a raise? You get fired, people are like, “I am so sorry. I think you did a great job. That’s not fair.” You get a raise, they’re like, “You know, you are not very good at your job. I should have got the raise. You’re an idiot. I make you look good. You should split it with me.” Bang, bang, bang.
Sometimes success is the worst, right? You want to get married. You’re stressed out. You get married. You’re stressed out. You want to have a kid. You’re stressed out. You can’t have a kid. You have a kid. The kid stresses you out. You’re wondering, “Why did I not stay single? Now I’m freaking out.”
Sometimes success is as hard as failure to deal with, and sometimes it’s strained personal relationships. People are freaking you out. And sometimes when they’re your friends or your family or your co-workers, your Christian brothers and sisters, or your roommate, that’s the worst because you can’t get rid of them. They’re stuck in your life. It’s a constant source of anxiety like a rock in your shoe.
How do you know you’re stressed? Here’s what the experts say. Number one, you pastor Mars Hill Church. That was number one on their list. Number two, unusual mood swings. No reason, you’re crying. You’re a huge man crying for no reason. “Why are you crying?” “I don’t know. I just need a good cry.” Wow, something is wrong.
Anger. You’re angry all the time or you’re just depressed.
Exhaustion. You’re just emotionally done.
How about this one? I get a nervous eye twitch. It looks like I’m hitting on people. I know it’s gonna end up in the news eventually. “Pastor Mark is a habitual flirter.” No he’s not. He’s stressed out over the budget, so he does this all the time. He doesn’t mean to, but he can’t stop winking and he says sorry. So I’m probably gonna have to go with a pirate eye patch until we pull out of the budget crunch.
Fragmentation. This is where your mind goes everywhere and is making sense with nothing. How many of you have had that? You’re like, “Oh man, I’m going crazy. I don’t know what I’m thinking about, but I can’t stop thinking about it.” It doesn’t make any sense.
How about this one? Dissociation or checking out. “Hey, hey, hey, hey, you paying attention?” “No, not since the 70’s. Is that a problem? I gave up.”
Canker sores. A buddy of mine gets canker sores when he’s stressed out and he looks in the mirror and he sees the canker sores and then he feels self-conscious about the canker sores. Then he gets more canker sores and then I see him and I make fun of him and then he gets more stressed out about the canker sores and he gets more canker sores. One day I’m gonna see him and he’s gonna be a big canker sore with a hat and shoes.
Some people, when they have anxiety, they have paranoia and suspicion. Some of you are like, “What does that mean?” It means you. That’s what it means. You can tell this around the holidays. Like for example, a lady gets a gift from a boy – a man; a young man – “The last guy who gave me a gift broke my heart and dumped me. Is that what you’re planning on doing with this Christmas present?” Paranoia and suspicion.
Weight gain – “Wow, my pants have shrunk.” Not really. Or weight loss – “I need to get some suspenders. I can’t start or stop eating.” Moments of panic, panic attacks, feeling overwhelmed, freaking out.
How about this? Fantasizing about dying. “I want to die.” Or running away – “I want to leave.” Here’s the Christian version – rapture. That’s the Christian version. “Oh, I don’t want to kill myself, I just want a rapture. That’s all I want.”
Fight or flight cycles. “I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna go to bed. I’m gonna go to bed.” And sometimes in the same ten minute cycle.
Insomnia. You can’t fall asleep. You feel dumb because a mattress doesn’t even come with an instruction manual. It’s such a simple thing. You can’t sleep. You’re just laying there. “I can’t sleep and I’m stressed out about the fact that I can’t sleep, and now tomorrow I’m gonna be tired and I’m stressed out about all the fatigue that’s gonna affect my day.” Or you fall asleep and then you wake up and you can’t get back to sleep because you’re freaking out about something that you can’t control.
You’re all like, “Hey, that’s convicting. Next one.”
Too frequent use or abuse of alcohol and tobacco. Self medicating, right? “Are you in a community group?” “Yeah, I’ve got Johnnie Walker and Jose Cuervo and Jim Beam, and we’re all in a group. We meet every night. We sort of recap the day. The next morning I hang out with Pepto-Bismol. We’re buddies.”
High blood pressure. Comfort foods packed with sugar and carbohydrates and starches – why your glucose levels are always high. You’re always freaked out. Your body’s trying to recalibrate itself.
How about this – general irritability? My wife recently bought me a shirt that says “Grumpy”. That’s a clue.
How about this one – reckless driving? “Errr, errrr. Honk, honk, honk, honk, honk!” It’s a competition, right, man? Women are like, “Why do you drive like that?” “I want to win.” “Win what?”
Change in sexual desire. Very into it. Very not into it. Increased temptation sexually.
How about this – health related issues? Irritable bowel syndrome. I know a lot of pastors that struggle with that. You won’t read it on their blog, but they do. I mean what they tell me, it’s not good.
Headaches, heart trouble, chronic sickness, stomach problems, ulcers. All of these, anxiety related.
A victim mentality: “The whole world’s against me. I’m all by myself. Woe is me.” Eeyore, Puddleglum – you’re that guy.
Shopping sprees and unnecessary spending. How many of you do that? You’re freaking out. You start spending money. “I need more Chias. I need more Chia Pets. I need more. I feel lonely.” You spend money on stuff you don’t need, to buy things you don’t like, to impress people you don’t even care about. I mean it’s just weird.
A couple more possibly. Relies on caffeine to self medicate. Have you noticed that? Have you ever been to a coffee shop and they’re like, “I’ll take a bucket of coffee with crack and crank and methamphetamines, and I’ll take an eight ball in there and some speed and whipped cream. And can you make the whipped cream look like a leaf. Can you do that?” What the heck. It’s crazy. “Can I get that with an angioplasty? Can I get that?” I mean it’s crazy.
Have you seen the size of the energy drinks? Have you seen them? You need a truck to take one home from 7-Eleven. If you drop it in your car, it’ll blow the leap springs. I see people drinking these. “I was anxious! Now I’m anxious and really excited! Well that helped.”
And some people then, they just reach the point where family, friends, relationships, co-workers – just a burden. “You want to hang out?” “No.” “You want to be my friend?” “No.” “Hey dad, can we snuggle?” “No.” “Shut-up. I hate you. You’re all evil. Leave me alone.” Now you wouldn’t say that, but that’s what you’re feeling.
How many of you – you don’t have to raise your hand. You can if you want. You’re stresses, you’re freaked out, you’re anxious. This is you.
If you read Time magazine, they’ll say, “Here’s what you need: behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, anti-depressants, minor tranquilizers, exercise and alternative treatments like yoga, aromatherapy and acupuncture.”
I don’t know about you, that just stresses me out. Put your heel behind your head, smell something that’s lemony while somebody sticks you with a needle. Like if I’m not stresses, that’ll do it. That’ll do it right there.
There are lots of answers for your anxiety. One is to preach it out publically and put it on YouTube so people can blog about it and feel normal about themselves in comparison to you.
Now the other way to deal with it, you can actually read your Bible. And I’m not saying that all medication is bad and that some people don’t have real chemical or hormonal or biological problems, but the issue is, does God have anything to say about the condition of anxiety for those of us who are facing anxious circumstances? For those of us who have anxious responses, does the Bible say anything? It just does right here in Philippians Chapter 4.
You notice I went full circle. See, we’re right back to the Bible. You’re welcome.
Philippians 4, verse 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always;” – some of you are like, “That can’t be what it means in the Greek. Always seems like a lot. Rejoice in the Lord on Saturday. That must be what it means in the Greek.”. No, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Some of you are like, “Are you sure that’s what it means?” He says, “Again I will say, Rejoice.” He knew you would ask that question, so he said it twice. “Let your reasonableness” – some of your translations will say “gentleness” – “be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be” – what? – “do not be anxious about” – what’s the word? – “anything,” – that’s a lot. Don’t ever be anxious about anything. “What if I have a good reason?” You don’t.
Some of you say, “He doesn’t understand. I have a terrible commute. I work in a cubicle. I can’t even watch The Office ‘cause it’s not funny. It’s too close to home. He doesn’t understand.”
He’s in prison looking at dying. He gets it. He totally gets it.
“But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything praise worthy, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these” – ongoing, habitual, spiritual discipline lifestyle. It’ll help reduce your anxiety, and when anxiety comes, it will have you habituated to respond to Jesus, not your circumstances, so that you are responding and not reacting. It’s a lifestyle issue. Too many people only start practicing this kind of discipline lifestyle when it’s freak out time. It’s better to get anxiety minimized and get responses to anxiety incorporated into lifestyle in advance. That’s what he’s saying. “And the God of peace will be with you.”
Here’s what he doesn’t say, “Freak out! Blog about it!” Right? “Leave nasty voicemails. Cuss somebody out. Load your gun. Blame it on somebody else.” He doesn’t do that.
Recently we had some issues in Mars Hill Church, not unlike this. Here’s what people did. Unbelievable. Sent out press releases against their own church that they’re a member of. The media’s calling, “Why are people sending out press releases against you?” “I don’t know. Who are they?” “Well they’re your people.” “Really? Really? We have a media campaign against ourselves? That’s interesting. I’ll call you back in a minute. I’ve got to punch myself in the mouth while I’m at it.” I mean it’s just weird. Open up our member site to all kinds of other media outlets, like the stranger, which is just so you know, kind of on a different mission than we are. And we love ‘em and pray for ‘em, but we kind of have different objectives. If you’ve read the classified, our objectives are different than theirs. Just freaking out. Emails and fighting and arguing and blogging and contacting me and stressed out. Paul doesn’t say any of that.
And what happens is this – when we face anxious circumstances, sometimes we give ourselves permission to do Godless things, myself included. Any of you ever sent that email in the moment of anxiety and then thought, “Man, I wish I had a string on that. I shouldn’t have said that.”? Any of you left that voicemail and as soon as you hang up, the Holy Spirit shows up and you’re like, “Oh man, I broke half the commandments in one voicemail. That was not good.”? But what could happen if we respond to our anxiety and we respond out of our anxiety and we allow our anxiety to roll over us as God? That’s the issue.
Here’s the issue, friends. Anxiety is a sin to be repented of. That’s what he’s saying. Some of you think that anxiety is a condition to be managed. It’s not. It’s a sin to be repented of. And because Jesus died for sin, those of us who are Christian can put sin to death. So we don’t manage anxiety, we kill it. We put it to death continually.
If you think anxiety is in control functionally, you’re stating that anxiety is God. Anxiety is in charge of your life, not Jesus. Anxiety is in charge of your emotions, not Jesus. Anxiety is in charge of your wellbeing and your health and your relationships and your attitude and your words and your deeds and your motives, because anxiety is in charge. “Anxiety is the Lord.” Anxiety rules over you and you’re just a victim. That’s not true. Jesus is God. Jesus is Lord.
You need to always be mindful to repent of anxiety as a sin, not respond to anxiety as a victim. Between the cause of your anxiousness and your response must be Jesus, the real God, so that instead of responding to the cause for your anxiousness, you respond to Jesus. That doesn’t mean you ignore problems. This doesn’t mean that you overlook real difficult circumstance. This doesn’t mean that everything’s perfect. But it does mean that there will continually be an opportunity for you to respond anxiously or respond out of your relationship with Jesus. There’s two choices. And some of you would say, “But I freaked out ‘cause the circumstances were overwhelming.” And I would say, “You need to ask yourself, ‘Did it help? Does it work?’ Do you grow and love joy, peace, patient, kindness, goodness and gentleness and self control? Are you growing to be more like Jesus? Are you introducing others to Jesus? Are you helping others to grow in Jesus? Are you building unity in your relationships? Are you building unity in our church? Is it helping? Is it working?”
See when Paul says these things, he does so out of a heart of love knowing that a life lived in anxiousness in response to circumstance, with anxiety being the sovereign Lord God who rules over us, is a miserable life. Hurts you physically. You suffer. Hurts you spiritually. You suffer. Hurts you emotionally. You suffer. Hurts you mentally. You suffer. Hurts you relationally. You suffer. And 40 million Americans do.
Anxiety is a sin to be repented of. It is not a condition to be managed. Anxiety is a false God that is not to be worshiped. There are circumstances that we can respond to. But if we have between us and our circumstances Jesus, our response will be different. Our attitude will be different. Our tone will be different. Our words will be different. Our deeds will be different. Our response will be more out of our relationship with Jesus than our circumstances.
He gives us nine disciplines – practices. He says to practice these things. First, anchor your joy in Jesus, not your circumstances. Your circumstances change. Jesus doesn’t. Your circumstances always have some degree of negative. Jesus is always good. Your circumstances, if they are the determination of whether you’re happy or sad, will rule over you. And in this, you can always find a reason to rejoice in the Lord. He said, “We should rejoice in the Lord always.” Now what this isn’t – this isn’t rejoicing in your circumstances. It’s rejoicing through your circumstances because you have Jesus. If you are sick, you don’t rejoice in sickness. You rejoice in the fact that God is with you in the sickness revealing Jesus to you, helping you be more like him. And even if you should die, you will be with him forever. There’s always a reason to rejoice.
Friends, in every circumstance, there’s two things you can look at – reasons to complain or reasons to rejoice. You can always complain because there’ll be a reason. Likewise, you can always rejoice, because God is always good.
I’ll give you an example. Pastor Bill, he’s a pastor here. His wife Jeannie’s dying of cancer. I showed you her video some weeks ago. You could still pray for her. She’s come home. There’s nothing they can do. The cancer’s taken over her body. Apart from a miracle, the anticipation is it will be absolutely unlikely that she will even be here for Christmas. Pastor Bill is looking at burying his wife for Christmas. Should he rejoice in her cancer and suffering and death? No, he loves his wife. Should he lose all hope and be anxious and respond to the cancer instead of Jesus? No, because cancer and anxiety is not God. Jesus is.
He sent an interesting email this week to us elders and he gave us the reasons that he was rejoicing. He rejoiced that his wife loves Jesus. He rejoiced that his wife’s suffering one way or another would come to an end. He rejoiced that on the other side of the grave, Jesus was waiting for his wife and that he and his kids as Christians one day would see her on the other side of the grave. He was rejoicing that in their time in the hospital that they were able to talk to nurses and fellow patients and doctors about Jesus. They were rejoicing that as people brought meals and served them, their non-Christian neighbors started asking, “How did you get such a great support network?” and their answer was, “You know, we’re part of a Christian church, and God’s people take care of each other.” And he was rejoicing in this fact – that God had given him the ability to care for his wife to a depth and degree that he had never experienced. He has to give her medications every day. She hallucinates. He has to help her to the restroom. She’s racked with constant pain. As he was escorting her to the restroom, she looked at him and said, “I never knew you had this much caring in you.” And he said, “You know what? I rejoice that the Lord has given me this much love and compassion to serve my wife. I rejoice that I get to serve her right to the very end. I rejoice that I get to be with her. I rejoice that I get to look after her. I rejoice that I get to tend to her needs.”
People will tell you, “You need food, water, air and shelter to live.” You know what you also need? Hope. Without hope, you’re just as dead as if you had no food, water, air or shelter.
Rejoicing cultivates a heart of hope. That’s what it does. “God, you are good. God, you’re at work. God, you’re teaching me things. God, you’re revealing yourself. God, I have reasons for joy. God, I’m gonna rejoice.” And if you don’t, you lose hope. You become depressed, despondent, isolated. Some people even become suicidal. Life gets very dark.
Secondly, respond reasonably. Some of your translations will say “gently”. When we are very emotional, when we are freaking out, when we are anxious, when we are stressed, we have a tendency to be very unreasonable – to demand things of people that are totally unreasonable.
We had it recently in a go around, we had some people say, “We demand that all the members of the church be at all the elder’s meetings.” We have 2,000 members. We’d have to rent Key Arena. The answer was, “I’m fine with that.” “Well are you gonna pay it?” I mean a meeting with – can you have a meeting with 2,000 people? No, you’ve got to trust. It’s unreasonable. “We demand to know everything about everything!” God’s the only one who knows everything about everything.
When you’re anxious, when you’re freaking out, when you’re stressed out, are you reasonable? How many of you know that person and live with that person, you’re married to that person, divorced that person, who is totally unreasonable when stressed out? They make demands that are crazy. And when you try to reason with them, they are completely out of their mind.
Some of your translations say “gentle”. I don’t know about you, when I’m stressed out, my first default is usually not gentle. When you’re freaking out, you usually don’t sit on your hands and say, “You know, I was meditating on Lamentations today, and I just – I feel like – I feel like being gentle.”
This is a miracle. This is a God thing. This is God and you being in relationship to where you don’t respond to the anxiousness. You respond to the Lord Jesus who comes between you and the circumstance, or the conflict or the pain or the hurt or the loss or the morning or the weeping, and then Jesus mediates and you respond to Jesus with gentleness and reasonableness. It’s a miracle. This isn’t something you naturally have in yourself.
Thirdly, know that Jesus is always with you. That’s what he says. “The Lord is close.” Jesus said he would never leave you, nor forsake you. When you’re stressed out, freaked out, anxious, particularly because of personal conflict with family, friends, co-workers, fellow Christians, you could feel very isolated, very alone, very abandoned. Jesus is alive. Jesus is your high priest. Jesus is there to intercede for you. Jesus is with you. I promise you that. Don’t forget that. Jesus is there.
His next point is, that as a result of that, you should pray. You should pray. He says, “In prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” That’s talking to Jesus.
Some of you were trained that prayer is very road, very formal. I would say that prayer is very conversational, very informal, very relational. It doesn’t need to be irreverent in any way, but it need also not be impersonal.
Some of you don’t want to talk to Jesus about the things that you’re freaking out about ‘cause you think he’ll be disappointed. I want to tell you something he already knows. It’s not like you go to Jesus and say, “Okay, here’s what I’m thinking.” He’s like, “I had no idea. That just totally caught me off guard.” He knows, so you can talk to him. And what he says is, to talk to Jesus, pray it out until the peace of God comes, until the anxiety lifts.
Who are you first inclined to contact when you are facing anxiety? Do you have a friend that you call because they always take your side? You’ve got this mutual sin support system? “I sinned. Call you. You say I’m cool. You sin. You call me. I say you’re cool. That’s what we do.” Do you have those? Is your first inclination to fire off a nasty email, gossip, back bite, get bitter, leave a nasty voicemail, start writing hate mail, blog about it? Your first inclination should be to talk to Jesus. The first person you need to talk to in the situation of anxiety is always Jesus. The first person you’ve got to talk to. Some of you say, “How long do I got to talk to him?” Talk to him until it’s better. Not that the circumstances are better, but your heart is, your attitude is, your motives are, your emotions are, your words and your deeds are better. This may take years. There are some things you may need to really pray out because you are really mastered by the false God of anxiety.
I’ll tell you what I do. I prayer walk in the woods, because I like to pray out loud and I’m not a guy who could sit in a lotus position all day drinking decaf tea looking like some holy man from the far east. I’m not that guy. Shocking, I know, but I’m not that guy. So me, I can’t just sit there all day. I have to go for a prayer walk. I’m a mover, so I go out in the woods ‘cause I can’t prayer walk in my neighborhood, otherwise I’m that guy walking around the neighborhood, “Jesus, I’m freaking out again! You’re driving me crazy! Jesus, I don’t know what to do! Jesus, are you coming back anytime soon, or am I gonna have to hang in there?” You know, if you’re that guy walking around the neighborhood, next thing you know you’re like, “Hey, how come my coat has no sleeves? What happened?” – you be that guy. People think you lost it. If you’re in the woods, nobody’s there. Just you and Jesus. Talk out loud, walk, work it out.
I sometimes take hours and hours of hikes in the woods. I’m such a freak, I actually have a little chair I throw on my back and it folds up, and if I see somewhere nice, I’ll just sit there and pray. And then I’ll walk to somewhere else and pray. And I’ll keep walking and praying. And sometimes literally I’ll walk and pray a whole day just to work something out to work out the anxiety. And you know what? I’ve never regretted it, ‘cause then I’m not saying and doing things that I regret. And I’ve done that a lot. It’s an immaturity in my own character that I’m habitually repenting of. Respond to Jesus, not the circumstances.
Choose to be anxious in nothing. Nothing. Nothing. You have to choose not to be anxious. Do you know that you can choose not to be anxious? Do you know that you can decide, “Lord Jesus, I’m gonna talk to you, be with you, think of you, work it out with you, and I choose not to be anxious. I choose not to freak out. I choose not to be stressed. I’m not going to ignore it. I’m not going to diminish it. I’m not going to pretend that things are great. I’m also not going to let one thing ruin everything.”?
“Meditate”, he says in verse 8, “mentally.” You’ve got to stay sharp. You’ve got to stay clear. You’ve got to stay focused on Jesus.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
You know what? When you’re feeling anxiety come upon you, it’s so easy not to think about scripture. That’s ultimately where you get those thoughts that he mentions – to not think about God, but to become absolutely consumed with the conflict, the person, the circumstance, to lose sight of everything. Ask yourself questions like, “Lord God, am I thinking about what is true, or am I believing lies from Satan or people who are manipulating me, trying to pull me into a conflict, trying to get me to take their side, only letting me hear one side of the case? And is what I am responding to true? Am I acting in a way that is honorable? Were I on CNN with Larry King retelling my actions, would I be ashamed or would I be glad?”
“Whatever is just,” – “Am I acting the way that is just or unjust? Am I seeking vengeance or reconciliation?” – “whatever is pure,” – “Are my motives pure? Are my words and thoughts pure? Are my actions and reactions pure? Is my heart pure? Do I have any burden to bear in this situation? Is it partly my fault?” – “whatever is lovely,” – “Are my thoughts beautiful? Are my words beautiful? My attitude beautiful? My prayer life beautiful? My emotional life beautiful? My witness to others beautiful? Is it lovely or ugly?” – “whatever is commendable,” – would mature Christians say, “You know what? I see change in you,” or is it reprehensible? “You always go this. You always freak out. You’re totally self-righteous. You blame others. You go into total despair. You lose hope. You lose sight. You don’t even know what’s going on. You don’t even know what you’re talking about. How come you’re always like this?” Are you acting in a way that is commendable or reprehensible?
He goes on, “If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Think about Jesus. Think about scripture. Think about how you are to respond instead of react so that you might rejoice instead of have anxiety. And what could happen is in the middle of anxiety, we use our anxiety as a blank check to say and do whatever we want. We start thinking about things we shouldn’t. We start doing things we shouldn’t. We start saying things we shouldn’t, and we excuse it saying, “But I had a good reason because this really angered me, stressed me out, freaked me out, caused me anxiety, therefore I’m off the hook.” You’re never off the hook. You’re never off the hook. Your response is your responsibility. That’s the truth.
Last three: Number seven – live according to your theology, not your anxiety. That’s what he says. If you believe God is good, act like it. If you believe God’s sovereign, act like it. If you believe God works out all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose, act like it. If you believe that there is always something that you can rejoice in, act like it. If you believe in the middle of every circumstance, there’s a way for you to grow closer to Jesus, then act like it.
Number nine – or eight rather – plug into the church. Euodia and Syntyche are fighting. He doesn’t write them each a personal letter. He writes a letter to the church. He calls in a mediator from the church. You and I can not, will not, overcome anxiety or any other habitual sin to grow in joy and rejoicing apart from meaningful Christian community. Good brothers and sisters, Bible studies, accountable relationships – we call them community groups. One out of three tenders of this church is in a community group.
Let me tell you this, you will diminish your anxiety by walking in community. And when anxious moments come, that community will help to save you from yourself. They’ll speak truth to you, love you, support you, rebuke you, encourage you, comfort you, walk with you, and if needed, stand against you. We would encourage you all, become members of the church, plug into a community group, pursue meaningful, ongoing, accountable relationship, not just with people who agree with you on everything. Not just people who cover your sin, will you cover theirs? Not just people who always take the same side in every issue, but people who are willing to speak truth into your life and to cause you to constantly examine your motives. Hugely important. Too many people only pursue that after they’ve blown everything. They’re depressed. They’re suicidal. They’re getting divorced. It’s all fallen apart. They run in and say, “Help!” Well we want to help, but it is so much wiser to begin before crisis.
And lastly, accept the peace of God. Through Jesus taking away our sin, we have peace with God. Furthermore, we have peace from God.
What he says is this: if you live a certain discipline lifestyle doing these things, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will be given to you as a gift. It won’t make any sense that you’re not freaking out, because you should be freaking out. It won’t make any sense that you’re not stressed and anxious when previously you should and would have been stressed and anxious. There is an opportunity for new life in Jesus that includes better physical health, better mental health, better emotional health, better spiritual health, better relational health. That’s what Jesus called life and having it to the full. That’s what we want for you.
Paul writes this because he loves his people. I tell you because I love you. And I would say in closing that there have been times in my life, I totally regret them, when I have responded in such a way as to treat anxiety as God instead of Jesus. And I’ve sinned in my attitudes and my deeds. My health has suffered. My relationships have suffered. My marriage has suffered. My intimacy with Jesus has suffered. My witness to the world has suffered. My leadership of you has suffered. And the times when I have practiced what Paul instructs, it works. It actually works. My health is better. My mind is better. My heart is better. My words are better. My tone is better. My attitude is better. My love for people is greater. My service of people is more affective and I don’t have the same regrets that I would otherwise. So that’s what we want for you – life with Jesus as your God. Not anxiety. A life of rejoicing, instead of a life that is spent in habitual unrepentant sin of anxiety.
We’re gonna close by having the campus pastors call you to response. But the first thing we’re gonna do is share a biography. We try to give you some historical story to exemplify these principles. I know I’ve went long and I appreciate you guys hanging in there. There’s a lot of content here and I want you to really meditate on it and take it to heart. Next time you’re stressed out, difficult circumstance, go to Philippians 4. Remember Philippians 4. Read Philippians 4. Memorize Philippians 4. Meditate on Philippians 4. Practice Philippians 4. Receive the peace of God as his promise through the lifestyle in Philippians 4.
This man, Isaac Watts, sang a great song called “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”. We’ll share his story and then give you an opportunity to respond to Jesus.
Narrator: Isaac Watts was born in South Hampton, England, in 1674. Watts’s father loved Jesus, but was not a member of the Church of England, the Anglicans. A treason is offense in those days. They were called non-conformists – were dissenters for their desire to establish independent congregations free from the government regulation of theology and corporate worship. Dissenters were persecuted for this, and Watt’s father was jailed numerous times. By many accounts, he was in prison when Isaac was born.
Watts was an exceptionally bright child who took to books and reading at a very early age. While most kids were playing games in the yard, Isaac learned Latin at age four, Greek by nine and Hebrew by age 13. He was offered an Oxford education by a wealthy benefactor, but attendance was strictly limited to Angligents, so he declined. Instead, he went to a college for dissenters. Watts graduated from college with honors at age 19 and he returned home to South Hampton.
Isaac often complained to his father about the dismal, dispassionate singing at their home church. In the Protestant reformation, Luther encouraged the singing of original hymns and corporate worship, but Calvin restricted music to the singing of the psalms.
The Church of England, as well as most of the congregations of that day, aligned themselves with Calvin on this issue, despite scriptures exhortation to speak to one another in psalms, as well as hymns in spiritual songs.
Watts took issue with this, and he and his father argued about it regularly. After a particularly heated debate between the two of them, Isaac’s father challenged him to do something about it and write a hymn for their church. He published his first book of hymns in 1707 and they spread like wildfire through Europe and eventually the new world. As the hymns of Isaac Watts spread, it ignited an increasingly contentious debate over the use of original songs versus scripture in gathered worship.
Before he knew it, Watts had critics all over the world. He was accused of compromising the truth of scripture for the sake of creativity and art. His songs were mockingly referred to as wymns instead of hymns. Some even accused him of arrogantly thinking he was King David himself. Watts responded saying, “I am fully persuaded that the Jewish psalm book was never designed to be the only psalter for the Christian church. And if one could pray to God spontaneously and in the words not exactly scripture, why was it any different to sing so?”
Watts held his ground, but the constant conflict and anxiety wore him down over the years. In 1712, he broke both physically and emotionally, and even tried to step down from his pastoral position. However, his congregation would not have it and hired an associate to preach while he took some much needed time off.
Isaac continued to struggle under the weight of this conflict, but he pressed through it to continue to write and preach. He even had a stroke in 1739 leaving him unable to write, but he hired a secretary and dictated many more books, poems and hymns. Today we still sing his songs, such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, “Joy to the World”, and “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”.
The tradition of originally songwriting to the glory of God for the use of his people continues on ‘til this day in large part because of the work begun by Isaac Watts. When faced with continuous conflict and anxiety, he did not wither and retreat, but relentlessly held fast to Jesus as his savior, hope and refuge. In the words of one of his lesser known hymns, “Oh God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, in our eternal home.”
Male: As you’re ready, please stand with us and sing to our mighty Lord.
[Singing of hymn]