Shape Your Worries into Prayers

As we began the Fall church season together with our theme, “Joyfully together” we have been walking through what is often called one of the apostle Paul’s most joyful letters. We can especially hear that in this passage, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!” But if there is one thing I will always remember from my New Testament professor Frances Taylor Gench it is that if Paul is telling the congregations NOT to do something, most often it is because they are already doing it and he is giving them advice and encouragement. So if he is telling the church to be of one mind, it is because there is disagreement going on, if he is telling the church not to worry, it is because they are already worrying!

We know there is conflict going on between two of the church leaders in Philippi and that these conflicts were a big enough concern for Paul to bring it to the attention of the whole congregation through a letter read during worship! Paul is in prison and their local leaders were fighting (reasons #1 & 2 to worry)! The beliefs and way of life they were giving their lives to were the same that got Paul throw in jail, maybe they would be thrown in jail too (reason #3)! Disapproval and persecution from the Roman Empire (reason #4). But don’t worry Paul says, just pray and God’s peace will guard you. Easier said than done right?

We have many worries in our lives today too, don’t we? Worries about work, school, family, health, money, relationships, terrorism, politics. Worries about whether we are living the Christian life, raising our children right or if we are being a good enough parent, friend, child, student, grandparent, or employee. The list goes on.

In her latest book, Shauna Niequist writes about her journey toward a life filled with less anxiety and more connection, meaning and peace. She writes, “In many ways, I loved this life–loved my husband, adored my kids, was so thankful to be a writer. But it’s like I was pulling a little red wagon, and as I pulled it along, I filled it so full that I could hardly keep pulling. That red wagon was my life, and the weight of pulling it was destroying me. I was aware that I was missing the very things I so longed for: connection, meaning, peace. But there was something that kept driving me forward–a set of beliefs and instincts that kept me pushing, pushing, pushing even as I was longing to rest.”

What worries you? What fills the wagon of your life so full that you struggle to experience joy and peace or that it prevents you from being present to God and others around you?

(A youth shares her worries about her last year of high school, moving out of her childhood home and starting college.)

(A child shares her worries about timed tests at school and about when her friends share negative comments about other friends to her.)

(An adult shares his worries about aging members who live in nursing homes and worries about physical and mental abilities that decline with age.)

(An adult shares his worries about finances and whether or not he has enough saved for his children’s education and his retirement.)

We each carry burdens, anxiety, and worries. Sometimes we even carry worries for others and the world. Sometimes our lives are full of important and good things, but we are running around so busy, worried and distracted that we don’t even have time to pause and “rejoice!” or to feel the God of peace around us.

With our wagons full and new worries being added every day, we can become weighed down and distracted by our worries. Worries keep us in the future or in the past but out of the present moment where God is trying to meet us. They cloud our vision from seeing, as Todd mentioned last week, the surpassing value of knowing that Christ is Lord and Savior and that it’s his love that defines us. They inhibit us from living in community as God has called us to- sharing our joys and sorrows, focusing on what Christ has taught us, & struggling, rejoicing, serving and worshiping together. But even with this wagon full of worries there is good news- the Lord is near!

I love the way the Message Bible puts verses 4-7 in chapter 4 of Philippians,

“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in (God)! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. (God) could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Let your petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers. This is a powerful image.

Paul says these words to the early church and to us as the body of Christ today, not because after praying our prayers will be instantly answered in the exact way we imagined, but because prayer puts God back at the center of our lives and helps us see that we are not meant to do life on our own. Our wagons are full, but without prayer, without God and without the body of Christ it is like trying to pull the wagon full of worries and all the pieces of life on your own. It’s exhausting, lonely, anxiety-producing, self-centered and anything but joyful.

We are meant to share these worries and struggles and joys of our lives with God and as a community. In fact, all of Paul’s commands to the church in Philippi in chapter four are in plural form. The rejoicing, prayer, thoughts and actions learned from Paul and Christ were meant to be shared and practiced together.

It is a much different image and feeling to bring the contents of our wagon to God and to a community where burdens are shared and joys celebrated. It is as we do this that we are opened to God’s peace that passes all understanding, a peace that is present in but not dependent on our life circumstances but on what God has already accomplished for us in Christ. It does not mean that everything in our lives is perfect or that every moment is reason for celebration, but in prayer and in community we are reminded that the Lord is near!

So friends, let your praises and petitions shape your worries into prayers. It only takes a few small words, then pause to let God speak. Let Christ displace worries from the center of your life and replace them with peace, joy and communion with God and one another. There will be days when one of us just can’t hold it together, when we can’t see how God could possibly be bringing everything together for good. But together, in community and in prayer we are reminded that God is always near and has promised an all-encompassing wholeness and peace. Through turning our worries into prayers here together, through sharing our joys and struggles, maybe we are a just a little bit closer to discovering what it could mean to be joyfully together as God’s beloved children.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Allysen Schaaf
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, GA
September 4, 2016