“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
Breaking Out of the Doldrums, by Randall D. Kittle
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When great sailing ships ruled the seas discovering new lands, the brave men who sailed them faced many dangers such as hurricanes, scurvy, and pirates. One of the dangers they feared the most was having their ships becalmed in the doldrums. The doldrums is a geographical region around the equator known for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sailing ships there for periods of days or weeks.  Many a great sailing vessel that entered these waters found their sails hanging limp and lifeless. These stalled ships would have to implement strict rationing as they tried to survive day after day of no wind and a perfectly flat ocean. The famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner tells the sad tale of one such ship, “A ship becalmed in the doldrums, day after day, day after day, … stuck, no breath no motion, as idle as a painted ship, upon a painted ocean.”

This can happen to believers as well as ships. We can find that the spiritual wind has gone out of our sails and we’re left languishing in lethargy. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever found yourself unmotivated to read your Bible? Have you ever felt too tired to pray? Have you ever felt like skipping church to watch TV or do some work around the house? What I’m really asking is, “Have you ever found yourself complacent and stalled in your spiritual growth?” We probably all have at one time or another.

Do you know the primary cause of arrested spiritual growth? If you answered sin, you are correct. But it’s not just any sin; there is one particular sin that produces lethargy … 
anxiety. Anxiety produces fear, doubt, uncertainty, stress, and hopelessness. It freezes our faith and leaves us stranded in spiritual apathy.

Since anxiety stunts our spiritual growth, the apostle Paul admonishes us, “
Be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). Is Paul kidding us … be anxious for nothing? Surely, he doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth being anxious about. Our society is so fast paced and high strung that all of us, to varying degrees, struggle with anxiety. In this day and age, anxiety is something we have come to expect and accept as part of life. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. While anxiety may be natural for most people, it shouldn’t be for us as believers.  

This command not to be anxious didn’t merely come from the concerned heart of Paul. It is the Lord’s instructions to all who would follow Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded us,
“… do not worry about your life … do not worry … do not worry” (Matthew 6:25–34). Everything the Lord tells us is important, but anything He says to us three times must be critically important. For Christians, it is vital we heed His command and don’t allow anxiety a foothold in our lives.

Concerned or Anxious?
We must be careful to make the distinction between being anxious and being concerned. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we should be apathetic. It is important to give our earthly responsibilities due attention. We should concern ourselves with many things: looking after those who are sick, providing for those we love, feeding the poor, and sharing the gospel with unbelievers to name a few. The difficulty is when we allow our concerns to escalate into harmful anxiety. Excessive concern reveals that we have not yet grasped that God has everything under control. Anxiety reveals our desire to be master of our life rather than a trusting servant of our Lord.

How do we know when we have crossed the line from concern to anxiety?
Anxiety pulls you away from spiritual things while true concern will draw you closer to God. When you find yourself concerned, are you driven to read God’s Word for direction or is reading the Bible the farthest thing from your mind? When the concerns of life start stacking up, are you driven to prayer or do you find yourself too tired to pray?

You may look at your circumstances and feel you have good reason to be anxious. You might be anxious over a serious health problem, a financial setback, or the serious difficulties experienced by someone you love. But we are instructed to,
“Be anxious for nothing.”

Perhaps no one in the Bible is more qualified to tell us to
“Be anxious for nothing,” than the apostle Paul. Remember that he is writing this letter from jail (see Philippians 1:13). It is the imprisoned Paul awaiting execution who declares, “Be anxious for nothing.” Imprisonment, however, is just the tip of the iceberg for Paul. He reports of being “beaten times without number … Five times I received 39 lashes. … Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked … I have been through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:23–27). Through all of this, he was able to remain fixed upon God instead of frazzled with worry.

Prayer is the Antidote
But how was Paul able to close the door on anxiety when going through such trials? The answer is quite simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple nonetheless. Look at how Paul finishes his exhortation not to be anxious, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). In the Greek, we cannot fail to see what Paul is saying here. Paul uses three different Greek words for prayer here as his solution for anxiety. We could responsibly translate the verse this way, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and prayer with thanksgiving, pray some more.” Prayer is the antidote to anxiety! 

Paul insists that we offer our prayer
“with thanksgiving.” Surely what Paul has in mind here is recalling God’s goodness and faithfulness to us in the past in order to protect us from worrying about the future. By encouraging us to “present our requests to God,” Paul is essentially telling us to “get off our chest” whatever is troubling us — to tell God what is causing us to be anxious. You may be troubled by many things — your work, your marriage, your children, your future, money, or habitual sins. God invites you to remember His faithfulness and place these difficulties in His hands.

God’s Promise
What does God promise to do for us when we do this? Paul doesn’t say we will necessarily receive the things we ask for. You might expect Paul to say, “let your requests be made known to God and He will fulfill your requests.” But instead, he says, “let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).
God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, but He does promise to give His supernatural peace to those who share their burdens with Him. For those who cling to God instead of allowing the cares of life to overwhelm them, God promises the peace of His presence — a peace that is deeper than the situation they find themselves facing and can protect them from a life of worry and spiritual stagnation.

Your anxieties may be as simple as getting to church on time or as complex as dealing with the death or illness of a loved one. No matter what they might be, God’s presence can see you through. His love can provide peace in the most terrible of times. If you tend to get anxious, let me encourage you today to cast your cares upon the Lord. God may not make your
circumstances better, but He will make you better.

Let me encourage you to be anxious for nothing, and turn your concerns into prayers. Remember God’s past faithfulness and tell Him everything that is troubling you. If you will, I can promise you from the authority of Scripture that you will experience
“the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). The peace of His presence will remove the weight of any worry and keep your spiritual sails filled and your life moving forward on the spiritual journey God has for you.

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