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It has been said that “imagination” is the 21st-century equivalent to the scriptural word “heart,” the center of emotion and intellect in biblical physiology. That may well be true, for many times it is my imagination that causes me to run aground in this following life. As if there were not enough stressful events going on in the world around me, I waste my time pushing past the present and into “what if” territory. Dr. Winfred Neely, with the help of the Apostle Paul, offers words for the worry epidemic that plagues our anxious world.
Ironically, for those who believingly follow Jesus Christ, worry goes beyond the vexing footfalls of a sleep thief, and stomps into the room as a perplexing theological ogre, for if I believe in the sovereignty of God, the burning question is: Can God be counted on to protect me and the people I love from harm?
Obviously bad things happen to good people on this broken ground, and we wonder How to Overcome Worry when so often the ways of God are “shrouded in mystery.” “Anxiety can reside in virtually every nook and cranny of human experience,” and yet the Apostle’s directive in Philippians 4 is clear:
6 Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.
Paul had every reason to worry. He was writing from prison, and the Roman Empire was in the grip of the sadistic (and probably insane) Emperor Nero — an unlikely source of justice. Did Paul have the ability to simply turn his worries off like a faucet? Was he living on an ethereal, apostolic plane, completely indifferent to his surroundings?
Dr. Neely defines Paul’s use of the word “anxious” as “concern turned inward and deformed, divorced from the grace of God and rooted in unhealthy fear.” He offers the encouraging insight that it is possible to be deeply engaged with the people and events of our lives and yet to be free from the vice of habitual worry.
If you struggle with worrying, you will also benefit (as I have) from these practical principles for experiencing the peace of God:
*** It goes without saying (nonetheless, I will say it) that clinical anxiety is a medical condition and if you suffer from this affliction, the advice offered in this book will not be relevant to that specific situation. Dr. Neely is concerned with “anxiety as worry rooted in unbelief.” ***
“God is commanding us to look to Him instead of turning from Him.
Armed with the truth that anxiety is a choice, we conquer worry by taking everything to the Lord in prayer.
If Paul’s insistence that prayer is the antidote to worry seems like thin gruel and weak coffee to me, then I must examine my understanding and experience of prayer and the presence of God. This 1961 quote from A.W. Tozer is true of my 2017 heart:
“Where sacred writers saw God, we see laws of nature. Their world was fully populated; ours is all but empty. Their world was alive and personal; ours is impersonal and dead. God ruled their world; ours is ruled by the laws of nature, and we are always once removed from the presence of God.”
“Paul uses different terms for the different aspects of conversing with God.”
The words “supplication,” “thanksgiving,” and “requests” reveal facets of prayer that get at our neediness, the recognition that God has worked and will continue to work on our behalf, and that a right response to anxiety is to identify the thing we need and to take that need to God in prayer. Dr. Neely examines the “asking, seeking and knocking” life as a condition of continuous and habitual expectation of answers and intervention from God. It is a precious reminder that we bring our anxieties to God because we live in company with Him — not because He needs information (or my advice on how to solve the problem!).
“Worry is overcome by expecting peace from God.”
I will admit that I would prefer to get peace from circumstances that suit me: a car that never needs repair, a calendar with no surprise entries, and a family that is not subject to any distressing events. Instead, Paul points to a subversive way of life that short circuits my preoccupation with circumstances. He did not wish away his prison cell as a condition for experiencing the peace of God, but saw the anxiety-inducing circumstance of imprisonment as a teachable moment in the school of trust. He took from God a variety of peace that is not available elsewhere and which flows from the very character of God Himself:
“Since God is omnipotent, His peace is an all-powerful peace. Since God is eternal, His peace is without beginning or end. Since God is infinite, His peace is limitless. Since God is holy, His peace is pure.”
Peace is an “apologetic.”
Trusting God in spite of anxiety-laced circumstances puts the power of God on display. This in itself is a huge motivation to live in light of the truth of Philippians 4:6,7, and the practical truth offered in How to Overcome Worry is neither new nor earth-shattering. Dr. Neely prescribes active meditation upon the truth of God’s Word so that it penetrates our mind and our emotions (and I would add: our imagination!). Instead of shoving aside troubling thoughts with a scroll through Facebook or a comforting snack, what would happen if we consciously placed those thoughts before God and put ourselves at His disposal? Is it possible that we, like the Apostle Paul, would find His grace to be sufficient, if our worst case scenario came true?
How to Overcome Worry is not, in itself, a solution to the problem of anxiety in the life of the believer, but it is a helpful signpost, pointing the way to the promises of Scripture which are based upon the character of God. It is a counter-cultural call to the peace that comes with both the acceptance of present circumstances and trust for a future that lies in the hands of a sovereign God.
This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”