"Do not be anxious about anything" sounds like one of the most useless pieces of advice ever written. It also sounds like a throw away lyric from a Bob Marley song: "Don't worry; be happy..." In times like these, anxiety is unavoidable and telling ourselves to not be anxious is like telling ourselves to not think about an elephant. Almost as soon as you try to stop worrying, you start thinking about all the things you're worried about and then you worry about the fact you're worrying and you're in a worse position than when you started.
But Paul is not Bob Marley. He is not telling the church to stop being anxious; he is telling them what they should do with their anxiety: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6) Prayer is an act of surrender. It is a confession that we are not in control. And, in light of the global coronavirus pandemic, it seems fairly obvious that we are not. But, as with rejoicing (which again Paul mentions here), we do have control over some things. We cannot control the feeling of anxiety, but we can control what we do with it.
The invitation in this verse is the invitation to come to our loving, heavenly Father - the one who loves us and wants what's best for us, who hurts when we hurt, and cries when we cries - and say, Dad, I'm feeling pretty stressed out right now.
My lovely 4 year old, Sarah, has just learned to lie, and we're been having lots of conversations about what lying is and why we don't do it. Part of it, I've tried to explain to her, is about trust. I want her to trust me. I want her to know that no matter what has happened, what she has done or not done, she can come and talk to me. I want Sarah to know that she can come to me with whatever worry she's got, whatever mistake she's made, and hand it over to me so that we can work our way through it together.
God is like that: "present your requests" to him. Hand them over. Give them to him as gifts. Lay them down at his feet and leave them there so that you can work through them together instead of trying to carry them on your own.
I am a stress-head. Most people probably know this about me. Not being anxious is pretty much at the top of my list of things I am really really bad at. But this verse in an invitation from God to trust him - to place into his hands everything that makes me feel anxious: my Nan's health, whether or not the shops have any pasta (and what on earth my fussy children will live off if we can't eat pasta), whether the NHS can cope with the current level of need, the families in our community who will be forced further down into poverty, how to create some kind of structure and routine to get me through the next few weeks with my kids, those that I know who are sick, those who are know that are struggling financially because they have been laid off and their income has disappeared over night...
The list is endless. But God is bigger than our fears. He has an endless capacity for carrying our anxieties. So let us hand them over this morning as an act of trust and an act of surrender.