Virtually every news story relates in some way to the effects of COVID-19. The news feels suffocating. The death numbers mount and positive tests accelerate. CNN reported in mid-April that for every positive case, there are thirty-five Americans who have lost their jobs, while many more have been restricted to work from home. No one could have dreamed being denied their most common freedoms. The most unnerving is that we don’t know when this nightmare will end.
It’s not surprising then, that another widespread virus has swept the nation, infecting more than even COVID-19. That virus is named: Worry. Worry comes in multiple strains, with symptoms ranging from low-level to excessive. A positive test for Worry is at best joy-threatening, and at worst, debilitating. Thankfully, there is an accessible and affordable vaccine.
A Spirit-led Vaccine
The Apostle Paul penned his famous words, “don’t worry about anything” in his letter to the Philippians. His words were in response to a rift between two important members, Euodia and Syntyche, whose conflict threatened the well-being of the Philippi church. Paul’s famous words, however, addressed those who were peripherally impacted by the conflict, because he knew their Spirit-led response would not only help reconcile the two, but it was the immunity boost for each believer’s spiritual and emotional health.
The Lord is at hand; 6 do not worry 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 (Philippians 4:5-7)
We worry when we are anxious or fretful about a situation. Excessive worry causes our body and mind to fixate on “what might happen.” Medical research1 has shown chronic worrying can affect one’s daily life: appetite, relationships, sleep, and job performance are all impacted.
Negative coping often seeks relief in harmful lifestyle habits, such as: overeating, substance addictions, or chronic withdrawal. People with high anxiety have difficulty shaking their worries. When that happens, they may experience actual physical symptoms.
So, while you take precautions to guard against catching COVID-19, what precautions are you taking to guard against worry? It’s not a matter of just not being anxious. We have to replace that natural anxiety with something better. Paul says you must guard your heart (seat of emotions) and your mind (what you think and dwell on), and he offers a practical prevention plan: prayer and gratitude.
Pray About . . . Everything
Paul says talk to God by prayer. So what should we be talking to God about? Everything. Whatever is a concern to us is a concern to God. There is nothing too small and nothing too large. Even our sinful thoughts should be presented to God as we ask God to redirect our mind and thoughts in the right direction (2 Cor. 10:5-6).
Our emotional and spiritual health is dependent on applying this spirit-led vaccine of prayer. But first let me share two motivations that don’t benefit us when we talk to God:
We don’t pray to impress God. There is nothing we can say or how we say it that will impress God. In fact, Jesus says we are to pray to God like a child. Jesus is the first one to pray saying, “Abba Father.” Abba is Aramaic for a term a little child uses to speak to their daddy. God responds when we speak from our heart and not by the fancy words we choose to use.
We don’t pray to inform God. You can’t tell God a thing He doesn’t already know. So, if we don’t pray to impress or inform God why then do we pray?
We pray to invite God into our lives. When we pray we experience:
- Relationship – We become workers together with what God is doing around us and with those things that concern us. He could do it without us, but we could never do it without Him! What a glory that God allows us the privilege of doing itwith Him when we pray!
- Spiritual Growth – Have you ever prayed and then began asking yourself, why do I want this? Is this a selfish request? What might God want? We develop discipline staying power, and faith when we pray.
- Dependency – God doesn’t want us to live life independent of Him. He wants us to experience dependency. And when we pray, it’s the greatest expression of dependence (“cast your anxiety on Him who cares for you” – 1 Peter 5:7).
Thank God . . . in Everything
Paul is not saying that we are thankful for everything that happens to us. Many things happen that God grieves over (Gen. 6:6; Psa. 95:10; Isa. 63:7-10; 53:3-10). This is not our home. Sin has made this world “out of whack.”—both the sin we do, and the sin done to us. Even creation itself was marred by the fall (Romans 8:19-22). Natural disasters, plagues, and disease are part of this worldly order, never to be experienced in the heavenly order. But when we give thanks, God will meet us in our deepest pain and loss.
My father died of a heart attack at age 71. It was a stressful situation and my mother relied on me to handle the family affairs and arrangements. Six months later, my mother had a brain aneurism. For a week she was in the intensive care unit and the doctors were sure she would not make it. On the second day, it hit me. I broke down in tears with the weight of losing my father and now the looming thought of losing my mother—it was too much to bear. Through my tears, I found myself saying…thank you, Lord. Thank you that I am not alone. Thank you for my mother and family. Thank you that you are in control. God miraculously healed my mother. The surgeons sent teams of doctors into see this miracle. Amazingly, she would live 24 more years with no ill effects. She wasn’t healed because I said thank you. But my soul was healed!
Paul reminds us that we can be thankful for the steadfastness of God toward us, despite our circumstances. We are not alone because God is there (Isaiah 41:10). He can strengthen, encourage, and sustain us for what is needed. Even Jesus applied the vaccine of thankfulness in the face of death.
Jesus demonstrated a heart of thankfulness the night that he knew he was going to be betrayed. In front of the betrayer himself, Jesus took the bread and the cup, lifted it high, and gave thanks to the Lord. Knowing what awaited him the next day, how could he do that? Because He knew that He wasn’t alone and that God was bigger than the circumstances he faced.
COVID-19 is no small matter. But worry only makes matters worse. Just as we guard our physical bodies, we must guard our heart and mind. And when we do, our spirit-led vaccine, the peace of God, will provide the protection that we need. As Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”