Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 23, 2015

Expectation and Anxiety

(Below are a few notes and quotes from yesterday’s sermon on Philippians 4:4-7)

C.S. Lewis has a great analogy that talks about the power of expectations. He writes:

If you’re shown a hotel room you’ve been told is the Honeymoon Suite, your expectations will be high. If there’s no plush carpet, spa and champagne, you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’ve been told before the door opens that it’s a jail cell, you’ll be delighted to find even modest comforts.”

As Christians I think we are often taught to expect “the honeymoon suite,” when it comes to life.  Upon conversion to Christ many of us expect that problems should subside and blessing should abound.  Yet, as we step through the doorway of life we all discover, in one way or another, that the journey of faith does not exempt us from heartbreak and hardship.

Having the wrong expectations actually makes things worse.  Timothy Keller writes:

The fact is, a lot of Christians are cast down all the time because they don’t expect the attacks on their peace and joy that are inevitable. At least a half of being upset is the frustration that says “It’s not supposed to be like this,” because we don’t have proper expectations.

The biblical story, however, reminds us that we are to anticipate hardship and struggle on the journey of faith. The Israelites were homeless for 40 years, Jesus went to the cross, and the early church faced persecution.

When a solider heads into battle there is nothing gained by lowering their expectation of conflict. They are better served by being prepared for the battle.  That is why both Jesus and Paul are very honest with the people under their care.  Jesus tells his disciples to expect hardship, saying, “in this world you will have trouble.”  Paul spends a lot of time equipping congregations to deal with their anxiety in the face of persecution.

In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul equips this particular group of believers with some specific practices that help them respond to the anxiety of being under persecution.  He invites them to reframe their perspective through praise, cultivate gentleness through an awareness of God’s presence, and bring their anxiety before God in prayer.

Paul suggests that we need to come back to these practices regularly because they are not our default position.  “Rejoice in the Lord, always,” he says.  This speaks to the issue of expectation again.   I often approach issues like anxiety as if I should be able to conquer it once and for all and then move on. “Ok, I’ve dealt with anxiety, lets move on to the next thing.” However,  I’m starting to realize that this battle with anxiety and fear is going to be ongoing. I ought not to be discouraged, then, when anxiety continues to creep back into my heart.  I should expect to have to bring it before God every day, and on some days every hour! Douglas Steere puts it this way:

Expect dryness.fathertime-1-1257525 Expect vacillation of purpose.  If you would stop drifting and live intentionally, you must, of course, renew your purpose daily. Since you are not an angel but a man, you will run down daily and like a clock must be rewound. Establish a daily habit of opening yourself for renewal.

Paul ends his passage by reminding us what we can expect as Christians.  While we are not exempt from hardship and harm, we can step into life with the hope that God will sustain us with a peace that transcends understanding.   Notice that this peace is not contingent on our external circumstances. We will face difficulty along the way, but we are sustained by the hope that God is still at work in the midst of this.  When we bring our anxiety before him his peace will stand guard over our hearts and mind.

Dallas Willard speaks about this transformation of expectation when he says, “Irredeemable harm does not befall those who willingly live in the hands of God. What an astonishing reality.”  Yes we will face harm, but it will never be without the hope of redemption.  When we have this expectation, “We cease living on the edge and wondering, “will God do what I want?” [because] pain will not turn to bitterness or disappointment to paralysis.”

We live, then, at the intersection of reality and hope.  “In this world you will have trouble,” says Jesus, “but take heart I have overcome the world.”

 

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Responses

  1. The sermon last Sunday was so helpful and practical for my current struggles with worry and anxiousness and the desire for more peace. Thank you for sharing these notes on Intersect. Your work is appreciated.


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