By Keith Simon
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7
This verse is often awarded the title “The Most Highlighted Bible Verse on Kindle.” Cue applause. But maybe it’s not a shock that in an anxious age people would turn to a promise about divine peace. Even in the good times, human beings worry. Now, in the days of “The Virus,” worry is all consuming.
Harvard psychologist and researcher Daniel Gilbert opens his best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness arguing that every professor, and by extension every person, needs to finish “The Sentence” which begins with these eight words:
“The human is the only animal that ________.”
How did Gilbert finish “The Sentence”? What is the defining feature of our humanity? Gilbert, a secular psychologist, provides an insightful answer:
“The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future …
[Human beings] think about the future in a way that no other animal can, does, or ever has, and this simple … ordinary act is the defining feature of our humanity.”
The average adult spends 12% of the day thinking about the future. That’s roughly one out of every eight hours.
And that brings us back to worry.
One of the chief drivers of worry is uncertainty about the future. Will I have a job next week? Will this relationship work out? Will I always be stuck in this city? We feel pretty confident that if we knew what was going to happen, we could adjust, come up with a plan, be in control, feel better. It’s the unknown that drives us crazy.
Professor Gilbert pointed to an experiment where some subjects were told they would be intensely shocked 20 times. The researchers told a second group that they would receive three strong shocks and 17 mild ones, but they wouldn’t know when the intense shocks would come. The results? Subjects in the second group sweated more and experienced faster heart rates. Uncertainty fueled their discomfort.
Another study showed that colostomy patients who knew that their colostomies would be permanent were happier six months after their procedures than those who were told there might be a chance of reversing their colostomies. Once again, uncertainty led to unhappiness.
I think we are beginning to see why a Bible verse about how to replace anxiety with peace receives annual awards as the most highlighted part of Scripture.
Personally, I am walking into an important meeting today and I’m not sure how it’s going to go. I’m going to help make decisions today about how to re-open the church in a world where the news changes daily if not hourly. I’m sure that your day holds even more difficult and anxiety-inducing unknowns.
But I am trusting you, O Lord,Psalm 31:14-15a
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
My future is unknown to me but not to God.
My life is not the product of random chance or other people’s choices or even my best laid plans. My future is in God’s hands. The all wise, all knowing, all good, all powerful God who loves me holds my future in his hands.
And I wouldn’t want it anywhere else.
I know the God who knows my unknowable future. With him there is no uncertainty. I don’t know the future, but I know his character. I don’t know what will happen, but I know he’s never failed me. I don’t know that my plan is every going to come to fruition, but I know his plan is better than mine.
This peace that transcends all understanding that Philippians 4 promises isn’t dependent on me knowing what’s going to happen in my life. It isn’t dependent on my life plan working out the way I think is best.
The peace that transcends all understanding comes from knowing the God who holds my life in his hands and trusting that his hands are the safest place for it.
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