And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7
While we’re on this whole anxiety thing that Paul identifies, let’s talk about habits for a minute. I have some bad ones. When I’m tired and I’m trying to get work done late at night (Bad Habit #1), I tend to snack (Bad Habit #2) on junk food, especially things that are salty or sweet, or both, like Peanut Butter (Bad Habit #3). As we rewind the film on this vicious cycle and watch it together, you might be asking the question: Why don’t you just go to bed when you’re tired?
If it were only that simple.
If Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, were joining us, he would say that what we’re watching here is the classic habit loop. There’s a CUE (I’m tired) followed by a ROUTINE (grab a knife and eat some Jiff Creamy) and then a REWARD (tasty PB and little sugar jolt).
What does this have to do with anxiety or prayer for that matter?
Let’s start with the CUE. This is whatever causes you to worry and be anxious. Maybe it’s the threat of the virus or losing your job.
Next comes the ROUTINE. This is whatever you do to process the pain of whatever causes you to worry and be anxious. Your routine might be to eat a bag of chips or walk five miles (I’ve done both, sometimes in the same night.)
Then comes the REWARD. This is the pleasure that you get from the chips or the relief that you experience from the walk.
Are you still with me?
Now let’s look at what Paul is trying to tell this fledgling church that is struggling to get their footing.
CUE. You have reason to worry. The Roman authorities have put me in jail and may kill me. The same could happen to you.
ROUTINE. Here’s where the change needs to happen. You can’t just stop worrying, no matter how hard you try. You have to change your routine. You have to replace the old routine with the new one. Instead of processing your worry with more worry, or dulling the pain of worry with whatever your own bag of chips is, pray. Give your worry to God.
REWARD. You will receive God’s peace. He will guard your heart and your mind in the midst of this crazy time.
Here’s where Jesus comes in. And here’s where this process of replacing our routines becomes more than psychology, more than replacing chips with carrots.
Jesus has been through it all. Before he went to the Cross, he felt the weight of what was to come. He went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He took three of his closest friends with him to pray with him. But they were too exhausted, and they fell asleep. He processed his emotional pain with his Father, alone, in prayer. He asked, “Is there any other way?” He was in such anguish that drops of blood fell to the ground with his sweat and tears.
“Not my will, but yours.” Jesus concluded.
My friends, Jesus understands pain, worry, and isolation. He went through the worst of it because He loves you. He’s ready to hear from you.
Lord, Here is my worry. Here is my pain. I trust you with what I cannot control.
Read Psalm 139