Find Rest in an Anxious World

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Find Rest in an Anxious World,” part I of Game Changers. The video is also available to you here.)

You know what a game-changing moment is, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re in a board room, if you’re sitting around the table with your family, or in the living room with your small group. Or maybe you’ve had one of those experiences in a locker room or on a court or a field when someone said the right thing. Where someone has just kind of spoken or given you the right direction, the right play. Who’s coached you or said the profound words that you needed to hear that have just... reminded you. Of who you are. Why you’re here. And what you’re supposed to do.

And friends, that’s what the Scriptures are. They’re like God’s gift to us. And in this series, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna look through the Bible. Because it’s filled with game-changing moments. Opportunities where God has whispered to poets and prophets and preachers, and where they have declared God’s truth to a church or to a people or to a certain time that has absolutely transformed them.

This is what I think are those absolute game-changing moments. And what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna look, over these next few weeks, about five truths that can transform your life, straight from Scripture.

Now, to kind of jump in to what we’re gonna be looking at for week one, I gotta tell you, two summers ago, I had the chance to speak at Sandblast—our summer camp for high school students. Now, I wasn’t able to be there in person because we were teaching on the weekend, and it was a Saturday-night service. And so what they asked me to do was to make a video. And I thought about doing something kind of unique. I just started off by asking questions. And if any student agreed with the question, I asked them to stand up and find somebody else in the room who agreed with it, go give them a high five, and then find their seat.

And so first question was a dumb question. But something like, “How many of you like Just Bieber?” And, you know, a third of the room stood up. And they found someone, high fived, and then sat down. And then I asked, “How many of you, your parents are either separated or divorced?” Some students stood up. Found each other. Sat down.

Then I asked, “How many of you wrestle with an addiction?” Some students stood up. High fives. And then in my notes, I didn’t have this question, but as I was doing this video, I had this prompting, just to ask, “How many of you find yourselves in this past year overwhelmed with anxiety?”

And what I heard from text messages that when this question went out, every student stood up. And leaders stood up. And, all of a sudden, it was like, woah. Every student’s wrestling with this.

About three months ago, we did a church-wide survey. We asked you. I read every comment. Our executive team went through every ounce of data in detail that was in that survey. And one of the questions we asked: “What are you struggling with? What are you wrestling with?”

What was the number one? Anxiety. Anxiety.

And something inside me just broke. Cause I remember what it was like to be overwhelmed with the power of anxiety. Or it felt like the pressure and the world was caving in. And I felt like, internally, I was fracturing and splintering.

You know what’s fascinating? Is the word anxiety and worry in the New Testament, it’s this word, like, merimnao. And it literally is two words that are brought together. One’s a verb. And one’s a noun. They’re brought together. And it’s these two words—a divided mind. Anxiety is when our minds and our hearts and our lives become quite divided.

But divided from what?

See, God wants us, every one of us in this room, every one of us watching, to live fully present. Here. In the now. Right now. But it’s difficult. And, for many of us, we struggle. And where anxiety begins to divide us is to pull us out of the present and bring us back to the past or create all of these what-if scenarios about what tomorrow will be. And it divides us.

And so, for many of us, we really struggle to live fully present. And we jump on our phones for distraction. We find ourselves just divided all of the time. And when that happens, it affects our relationships. It affects our relationships with God. It affects our relationships with others. And we find ourselves just connected more to the past or more towards worrying about tomorrow than being present with God in the here and now.

But thanks be to God... He gave us a biblical truth that can overcome anxiety. And I know this because when I found myself overwhelmed with anxiety almost fifteen years ago, I went and spent time with a mentor. And he told me. He said, “You know what? Anxiety’s gonna be this fracturing and splintering of your internal world. This is what the enemy wants. But I’m going to teach you how you can fight for rest... in this anxious world by looking at one passage of Scripture.”

It comes from Philippians chapter 4. If you have a Bible, you can turn with me there. And I want you to know that this passage of Scripture, according to kindle, is the most highlighted passage in all of the Scriptures. People just turn to this verse. And I believe that this verse, these few verses, lay out a way that you can fight for rest in an anxious world.

Let’s start in verse 4 of chapter 4. Paul writes these words:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Now, Paul, man, he had a difficult life. Especially when he said yes to Jesus. I mean, he was shipwrecked. He was beaten. He went often without food. When he’d speak, they’d rip him down from the stage. They wanted to beat him and stone him. I mean, he had a difficult time. But here’s one thing that was true about Paul:

His joy level was contagious. And he didn’t let any circumstance or situation affect that joy level. He had this joy. He wanted to fight for it. He wanted to be someone who just always had this contagious sense of joy. Because of what God had done.

I think, sometimes, we think about joy. Maybe we think about it during Christmas. Maybe we think about it, but it sometimes loses its deeply personal meaning for us. And when I hear that, Paul write those words—“Rejoice in the Lord always. I’ll say it again: Rejoice!”—it can sometimes feel a little bit distant.

And so, for me, any time I think about joy, I wanna make it as personal as possible. Rejoice in the Lord’s... goodness. Rejoice in the Lord’s... grace. Rejoice in the Lord’s... mercy. Always. But I even wanna take it even farther than that. I wanna rejoice in the Lord’s goodness for me. Always. I wanna rejoice in the Lord’s grace for me... always. I wanna remember back to the most broken parts of my story and how God set me free. I wanna remember the times when I was chained and enslaved to certain aspects of sin, to having no direction, everything was about me, and God set me free.

And when I go back to my own depravity, and I remember God’s gift of grace and freedom, something begins to lift inside of me. When you make joy deeply personal, you’ll feel it getting higher and higher and higher.

You know, last weekend was a big weekend for our church. And after I got done with this service, I got in the car, I drove home, I picked up my son, and then I picked up two other fourth graders, and we drove to Grand Rapids to go to a concert. Probably not the wisest decision.

But we went to this concert. And these fourth graders knew every word of every song. They love this artist. And they have no rhythm. They were dancing as free as possible. Very embarrassing. But so hilarious. So beautiful. There was so much joy in them. And I was just watching them. And they were jumping around. They were singing. They were dancing.

And then, on the drive home, I said, “Tell me about the experience.”

They were like, “It was so fun. Playing our favorite songs. It was so great.”

And I just kept talking. And I kept hearing about this joy. But you know, the truth is, that joy was gonna fade.

And I want you to know that Paul understood a joy that would never fade. And so I began to tell these students—my son and his friends—I just began to say, “Hey, there is a joy... that you will discover... that wants to be there to transform you from the inside out. A joy that doesn’t fade. And that is Christ.

And, friends, this is the beauty... this is the beauty of what’s accessible for you. And I just have to ask you, what’s your joy level today? Do you allow other circumstances to kind of suffocate or choke out your joy? But Paul would say, “Friends, rejoice in the Lord.” Not occasionally. Not sometimes. Not when everything just goes your way. No, rejoice in the Lord always.

And if you were going to... fight for rest in an anxious world... the first thing you must do... is rejoice always. Rejoice always.

Look at verse 5. It says this:

Let your gentleness be evident to all. [For] [t]he Lord is near.

Paul says that when your joy is high, there’s gonna be something that happens within you. You see, all of us, we want to be in control, don’t we? One of the greatest things that we can do is learn to almost surrender the control. Give it back to God. And when we have that joy for what He’s done for us, something happens in our countenance. We become more gentle towards others. People sense something in us because we recognize God is at work. And we recognize that the Lord is near.

But if you’re like me, there are times that you just forget that God is here. You forget that God is near. You forget to have your eyes and your ears open to what God wants to prompt and what God wants to whisper. And maybe you know this. I wake up super early. At about 5:45 a.m. most mornings, I’m walking around this nature preserve by my house. And I love it cause nobody’s out. It’s really quiet. But deer go out for food at sunrise and sunset. And I love to see wild animals. And I love to see deer.

And every morning, when I’m walking, I typically see two to five deer. And I’m always looking for it cause I know that they’re near. And sometimes I’ll be walking, and I’ll hear something, and I’ll look up, and I’m like, oh, there it is. There it is.

 Once, I saw a little baby doe just starting to walk. And I was like, oh, so adorable.

 Once, I saw a few of like a family of them together.

Recently, I was walking, and I heard something, and I looked up, and I saw this buck. And I was like, it’s not moving. But I feel like I should go... as close as possible to it. And I just kept walking out into the field. And it just stayed put like I was a shining bright light, I don’t know. And I just kept walking out to it.

I got about ten feet from this massive buck. And I just was like, I have no idea what I’m gonna do. What I’m gonna say. All these old like hymns and verses are going through my mind like, you know, but I was so fascinated. I got a little bit closer. It took off running. Whatever. But like it’s, what happened, though, for me was this.

There was an expectation every morning that I’m gonna see... a deer. And I felt like God was saying, “Do you have that same expectation to see me at work? To see what I am stirring around you?” And if you are gonna fight for rest in an anxious world, you have to rejoice always. But number two, you have to earnestly seek the Lord, for He is near. He’s with you in the difficult conversations. He’s with you when the enemy wants you to go to the past or begin to fixate over the future. He is with you, and you have to have the eyes and the ears to see that the Lord is near.

Let me ask you... do you forget that? Do you lose sight of that? Do you neglect God’s presence being around you? Do you just go through your day going from point A to point B, trying to go as quick as humanly possible, busy busy busy, go go go go go, that you miss out on God being near and for and with you at all times?

And the people who find rest, who fight for rest in an anxious world... they’re earnestly seeking. They’re convinced that their life is better in the presence of God. What about you?

Friends, let me tell you, David would say, “There’s nothing better than being in the presence of God.” He’d rather have nothing else but to have an awareness that he was in the God’s presence. And when you have that awareness, man, you find your spirit lifting and anxiety losing its grip on your heart and on your mind.

Look what it says in verse 6:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

So let’s just talk for a second. “Do not be anxious about anything.” What is anxiety

I think that anxiety’s twofold. One, it is unresolved conflict. Maybe you have unresolved relational conflict with some people in your life. And it’s just there. And it’s just... getting after your heart. And it’s getting after your mind.

Maybe you have unresolved conflict for what you think... your life should be. And, all of a sudden, those shoulds just keep coming into your mind and into your heart. And it just creates... oh, I’m not doing good enough. I’m just not doing good enough. And, all of a sudden, this unresolved conflict begins to just suffocate your soul.

But also, I think, anxiety is unresolved guilt.

Maybe, in the past, you can say, “I messed up.” But the enemy wants to say, “No, no. You are a mess up.” You might have had something happen in the past where you made a bad decision. But the enemy goes, “No, no, you didn’t make a bad decision. It’s because you are bad, you made that decision.” And, all of a sudden, this guilt begins to just come around us and imprison us... and we find ourselves not in the present, free and alive in Christ, but drifting to the past.

And Paul’s really, really clear. He says, you know what you need to do? Do not be anxious about anything. Don’t be anxious about the past. I mean, Paul had a past. He was a murderer. He had all of this pride. He imprisoned Christ followers. I’m sure he felt the guilt. But he was adamant: “Do not be anxious about anything. But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And I wanna show you. This is what I do in my journal. Because, as I was fighting for rest in an anxious world, my mentor told me: “You know what you need to do? You need to identify the problem.” Every one of you, when you feel the anxiety come, identify the problem. But then don’t stop there. Also claim a biblical promise. You’ve got the problem. You’ve got the biblical promise. And thirdly, very important, remember a season or a time where God prevailed in your life.

And so, in my journal, I have these specific prayers where I identify my anxious problem. Where I name a biblical promise—maybe a passage from Zephaniah, or a passage from Philippians, and I remember a time where God’s truth prevailed in my life. And, you know what? I don’t just do this once a day. To be honest, there are some days... where, in my journal, I’m coming out of a meeting, walking into my office, walking on that worship trail, walking on that nature preserve, and I am just offering up petition and prayer after prayer, because I take those words so seriously: “Don’t be anxious about anything.” Keep giving it to God.

And you know how many times you pray?

As often as necessary.

You know how often you give up the requests to God?

As much as you need to.

God loves... your voice. Your prayer request, your anxiety, your moments where you declare how the enemy’s trying to get a foothold in your heart and in your mind, when you offer those up to God, God never goes, “You’re bothering Me.” God goes, “Thank you for trusting me.”

If you look at 1 Peter 5:17... Peter writes, “Cast all your anxiety on him.” Why? “Because he cares for you.” The God of all creation. The most powerful being ever... is deeply personal. And if He were here, He would hold His hands on your shoulders, and He would look you in the eyes, and He’d say, “I care for you. I care for everything about you. I care about the good. I care about the low times. I care about it all. Give it to Me. Trust Me.”

But here’s the thing. I meet so many Christ followers... who just pray before a meal. Or pray before bed. Or pray before a big decision. But the onslaught of anxiety that comes at them? They don’t offer that up. And, really, I feel like they do something... that I think just feels a little bit odd to me.

This is an anchor... made in Fenton, Michigan. Now, what an anchor does. You lower it from your boat. Hopefully, it gets some ground and gets some kind of positioning in the rocks or down at the floor of the sea. And no matter if the wind picks up, no matter if the waves pick up, the boat is gonna be sturdy. It’s gonna be secure. But here’s what I watch so many Christ followers do. You know where they place their anchor? In their anxiety. They’re in the present moment, right here, but their anxiety is back in the past. And they’re dividing themselves going, “You know what? I’m just, I’m just bad. God couldn’t use me. God couldn’t do something with me. And with my life. And with my story.” And they’re trying to live a fruit-filled, Spirit-led life, and it’s so difficult, but their anchor is in their anxiety.

What about you?

And you know what Hebrews says? Hebrews says that we as the church, “We have this hope [that is] an anchor for [our] soul, [that is] firm and secure.” This anchor is Christ. And when we have the chance to put all of our anxiety, all of our goodness, all of our brokenness, all of our sin, all of our struggle, to that anchor, it’s not going anywhere. It is firm and secure!

Do you believe that?

Friends... if you are gonna fight for rest in an anxious world, you have to rejoice always. Number two, you have to earnestly seek, for the Lord is near. Number three, you have to surrender your concerns. All of them. Paul will say, “Pray without ceasing.” Relationally, throughout your day, surrender the problems. Remember the promises. Remember the times where God prevailed. Surrender those concerns. Wave that white flag that you can’t do it on your own. And in that, watch God do something.

And for some of you, you might be sitting here going, “Steve, I don’t have a ton of stories of God prevailing.” Well, do what I did. Steal other people’s stories. I steal, when I hear an inspiring story from this community, I add it to my prayer all the time. All the time because it lifts my spirits. It keeps my joy level high. It reminds me God is near, God is at work with people in this church. And when I surrender those concerns, I’m like, “God, help me have that same kind of testimony and experience.”

But there’s another thing that happens. When you surrender those concerns, God does something for us. Look what it says in verse 7:

And the peace of God, [the shalom of God,] which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Something happens when you surrender those concerns—it’s as if God opens up the floodgates and the faucet of His shalom and peace that transcends all human understanding. And it doesn’t make sense... unless you’ve experienced it.

It doesn’t make sense unless you’ve had those moments where you were so filled with anxious thoughts... and, all of a sudden, God’s peace rushed in. And you felt that Spirit... taking up residence and pushing all of the past and all of the guilt and all of the conflict out. And God reminding you of His goodness and His love for you.

This is what God wants to do. But I also want you to know, if you’re gonna fight for rest in an anxious world... Paul says there’s something that we must do. Look what it says in verse 8:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Couple of years ago, I had the privilege to go up to the top of an air-traffic-control tower. And I stood up there, and I watched as all of these planes began to communicate with the tower. And the captains were asking for clearance to land. And the air-traffic controller said, “You are free to land. You are free to land.” He told a couple to just keep, make another lap, get in line. Some he would say, “You can—free to take off.” And I just began seeing this beautiful progression of this air-traffic controller controlling who got to land... at this airport

I had been reading Philippians and studying it and, all of a sudden, it was as if God whispered and prompted to me... “Isn’t it amazing... that you... are an air-traffic-control tower for your brain and for your heart? And, all throughout your day, there are these anxious thoughts that are come into your mind flight pattern, and the truth is you give it clearance to land in your heart. You give the kind of clearance: ‘Oh, fear of the future—land in my heart.’ ‘Fear of... security—land in my heart.’ ‘Fear of what’s happening in our world—land in our heart.’ ‘Fear of what’s happening with my kids, I hope they’re protect—land in my heart.’ You give all of this... permission... to land. In. Your. Heart.”

We can watch. We can see. We can experience... so much. But I began to realize what I fill my brain with and what I fill my heart with—what I give permission to land matters. It matters. And it, hear what Paul is saying, “Finally, brothers and sisters, fixate, give permission on the things that are true and right and noble and good and admirable—the most excellent and worthy of things. Let them land in your heart. Let them land in your mind.” And when that happens... you know what you’re doing? You’re pushing anxiety away because you’re fixated on the goodness of God.

Friends, what are you letting land in your mind? What are you letting land in your heart? Because God wants to pour out all of His shalom, all of His peace, but, sometimes, we’re not receiving that cause we’re like, I just need this to land. And then we create stories and narratives... we distance ourselves from facts. And we interpret and perceive and make up characters and storylines. And then we look at our watch, and an hour of our day has gone. And we feel tense. And our blood pressure... has just sky rocketed. And we feel like the world is caving in. And, friends, anxiety is winning. And Paul would just say, “What are you thinking about?”

The fourth way, if you are gonna fight for rest in an anxious world... you really have to wrestle, what are you thinking about? You gotta think about what’s true and what’s right and what’s noble and what’s admirable and what’s good. Let that land in your heart. Let that land in your mind.

So just in recap. We can fight for rest. We can experience rest in an anxious world by doing these four things. Number one, rejoice always. Let me ask you again, how’s your joy level? Are you blaming it on other people? Take ownership of it for yourself today. Make it deeply personal—how God rescued you, redeemed you, saved you. Given you spiritual gifts. When you start to count your blessings... something happens within you.

Two, earnestly seek. The Lord is always near. The Lord is always close. Allow your eyes, your ears, your heart, your mind to be open to what God wants to stir in you. Don’t let the voices of the enemy try and steal, kill, and destroy the good things that God wants to give you.

And three, surrender. What if our church was known... as the kind of community that had the utmost trust in the Father? That we could surrender our prayer requests, our anxiety, our fears... we would petition God—that’s such a strong word... like: “God, please! God, help! God, please! Take this.” If we would surrender those concerns, something would happen within us.

And if we... stopped fixating and filling our mind and our heart with stories and things that are destructive. May we think about the things... that are of God. Of truth. Of glory. Of goodness. And you will see... that your spirit and your countenance will find the rest that God wants to give you. Not back then. And not there. But right here, right now. Don’t you want that?

Friends, it’s an absolute game changer. Anxiety wants to win. The enemy wants to divide you. The enemy does not want you to be fully present. But when you live this out... when you declare it, when you believe it, when you own it, when you lean into it... changes. It changes you. It changes the relationships and the people and the ways that you interact. It changes you.

And here’s what I want us to do in this series. This might be a little old school, but I’m okay with that. I’m amazed at how I can ask my son, even in fourth grade, does he know a song? And he knows every lyric to the song. And then... I can ask... friends... myself... random stats... about a basketball player, and I can name ‘em.

But, somehow, we’ve almost lost the art of memorizing Scripture. And I wanna just challenge you. That during this series, I’m gonna give you a verse each week. I’m gonna ask that you would just, for a week, commit that prayer, if you want it to be a game changer for you, to memory.

And so the passage of Scripture that I’d love for us to memorize this week is Philippians 4:6. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” What if we just knew that? I think something would happen within us. You in for this? Alright.