Can We Really "Not Be Anxious about Anything"?

Heather Adams
| Contributing Writer
2020
19 May
Nervous woman biting her nails

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6).

The Apostle Paul's instruction to live free of anxiety sounds wonderful, but his original readers may have wondered if that was truly possible. Many Christians are asking that same question today. After all, life is full of troubling situations, and we as humans tend to view anxiety as a reasonable response when they arise.

Philippians 4:6 offers a better way to handle our cares. The main point of this verse is to release concerns quickly and continually to God. While that might be simple to understand, it can be difficult to do. But Paul promised that if we can learn and practice this skill, we'll experience more peace and joy every day.

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Nervous woman biting her nails

What Does “Do Not Be Anxious about Anything” Mean?

The intended audience for this letter was the church in Philippi. Paul felt a great kinship with this congregation, as they had shared in his ministry over a period of years. The Apostle was aware that his imprisonment looked like a disheartening setback, so he intentionally focused on joy throughout the letter:

  • He prayed with joy for "all God's holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi…". (1:4)
  • He rejoiced that "in every way" Christ is being preached. (1:18)
  • He pleaded for the church members to be one in spirit and mind. (2:2)
  • He called for Christ's followers to rejoice. (3:1, 4:4)

Another of Paul's themes here is that maturing in the faith shows honor to God. He gave some examples of how to live that out: growing in character, living in a Christ-like way, being unified with brothers and sisters, and seeking the good of others. Verse 5 of chapter 4, "The Lord is near," is a figure of speech Paul uses to encourage the church to live in anticipation of Christ's return.

Verse 6 becomes a lesson about keeping our joy in the midst of difficulties. Paul clearly set the goal - "Do not be anxious about anything." Then, he explained what to do instead "in every situation." His approach includes four elements: prayer, petition, thanksgiving and presenting. Doing this, Paul promised, would have positive effects on the emotional, mental and spiritual health of a person.

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Nervous woman biting her nails

How Different Translations Help Us Understand Better

Looking at different translations of a verse is often enlightening. Many versions of 4:6 echo and confirm each other, but a few stand out in wording or phrasing.

"Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done" (New Living Translation).

The wording of the last phrase is a reminder to keep God's past answers to prayer in mind as we lift up new requests. That will build our confidence in His faithfulness, and strengthen the habit of running to Him.

"Be anxious in nothing, but in everything by tefillah and by techinnah with hodayah, let your requests be made known before Hashem…" (Orthodox Jewish Bible).

The definitions of Hebrew terms used here add depth to the overall message. "Tefillah" (to think, entreat and intercede) implies that we can pray for others as well as ourselves, spreading the blessing. "Techinnah" (supplication for favor) stresses the humble posture we are to have as we approach God, while "hodayah" means a large expression of thanksgiving. Brought together, these describe a generous, passionate, and potentially joyful time of prayer.

"Be ye nothing busy, but in all prayer and beseeching, with doing of thankings, be your askings known at God" (Wycliff Bible).

To busy ourselves is to stay occupied and engaged with something. That could be a good thing, but in this case it suggests how we often become focused on taking care of our issues and needs ourselves. But again, Paul suggests that lifting prayers upward can be the antidote to a self-centered mindset.

"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" (The Message, v.6-7).

The Message expands the original text by explaining some practical steps to employ Paul's practice of prayer. Just reading the description of how our thoughts and attitudes will be changed can generate a sense of peace.

"Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God" (Amplified Bible).

This translation clarifies some of Paul's words without taking anything away from his message. We are called to pray every time we feel a burden, and it's important to be specific in those prayers. It builds our trust in God, and will show us later how He has provided. 

The Matthew Henry Concordance likens the first phrase to Jesus' words in Matthew 6:25, where he tells his disciples, "...do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear." Henry comments, "Be careful for nothing, so as by your care to distrust God, and unfit yourselves from his service."

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Nervous woman biting her nails

History, Context, and Authorship of Philippians

Philippians is one of several letters, called epistles, written to new churches that had been started in Asia minor. Those epistles account for 21 of the 27 books in the New Testament. Written to teach and encourage church members, some of them addressed questions or problems a particular church was having. Paul's style was to weave together a mix of logical arguments and impassioned pleas, with the goal of convincing his readers of God's truths.

The city of Philippi was located in the region of Macedonia, in Southeast Europe. The church was established during his second missionary journey to the area in around 50 AD. It was the first Christian church founded in Europe. The congregation members became faithful supporters of Paul, in both monetary and practical ways. 

Philippians was composed in approximately 61 AD while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Epaphroditus, a member of the church at Philippi, had just delivered a monetary gift from the church to the Apostle. The letter was meant to express his thanks, and to encourage the members to stay unified in following Christ.

Authorship of Philippians is attributed to Paul, who was most likely assisted by his companion Timothy. As a young man in Tarsus, Paul was, in his own words, "in regard to the law a Pharisee", and he was well known for his zealous persecution of Christians. But on a trip to Damascus one day, Paul was struck by a vision of Christ, convicted of his misguided behavior, and set on a new path. From that moment on, he dedicated his life to Christ, bringing the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection to both Jews and Gentiles. 

Paul often used his own story as a way to show God's mercy and grace. One such passage in Philippians explains the change in his heart this way:

"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7-8).

Three extensive missionary trips took Paul to local cities and far reaching lands, where he preached and planted churches. He endured many hardships along the way, including floggings, shipwrecks and imprisonment, twice in Rome. The Emperor Nero ordered his execution around 67 AD. But the churches he started, (at least 14 according to most experts) as well as the ministers he trained up, continued and built upon his life’s' work. 

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Nervous woman biting her nails

What Should We Do When We Feel Anxious?

Three separate but related actions are mentioned in verse 4 that suggest how we can deal with anxious thoughts.

"...by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving…"

  1. Prayer - giving worship to the Lord for who He is and what He has done
  2. Petition - directly asking God to help in His way and timing
  3. Thanksgiving - expressing humble gratitude for the kindness He has shown

Paul knows that incorporating all of these will soften the believer's heart, and align it more closely with God. The result of coming to God this way is the creation of a wonderful worship cycle between us and God: seeking Him, calling out to Him in trust, asking Him to meet our needs, confidently watching for Him, and praising Him for His provision.

How Can We Trust That God Will Take Care of Our Worries?

Trusting in God begins with knowing Him. Spending time in Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, reveals God's character and how He has worked on behalf of His people. We can see God's promises and how He has fulfilled them, and that He is unchanging. As we gain knowledge, our foundation of faith strengthens.

Next comes making a personal connection to what we've learned. Making note of what God has done for us and those around us awakens our spirit. We realize He is still active, bringing about good for those that love Him. As we count the blessings we've already received, our fear of not being taken care of is replaced with expectancy of being provided for. 

Being "anxious for nothing" isn't a one-time change, but a series of decisions we make. In fact, Philippians 4:6 is actually part of a lifestyle that Paul was offering his readers. Trusting God in every situation shifts our worry into worship. We can then devote our energy to the things and people of God, experiencing His joy and passing it forward to others as we go.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Anastasiia Stiahailo


Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby! You can connect with her on her website: heatheradamsworshipwalk.com


Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby! You can connect with her on her website: heatheradamsworshipwalk.com


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