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. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Life carries with it many things, events, people, and circumstances that entrap us in a great deal of time spent in fretful or worrisome behavior. Paul’s writing to the Philippian believers – a city of Romans located in mountains of what we now know as Greece. Philippi did not have a local church – there was no established synagogue for the believers in that community. They met in the homes of believers near the waterfront. Several of the women of the community “hosted” the church meetings in their home; one of which was Lydia. She was known for her large household and dealings in luxury fabrics of the day. The town was filled with unbelieving soldiers of the region – all of whom despised the believers who had embraced the teachings of Jesus and the Jew alike. In the midst of this type of resistance, Paul found a group of women he commends for opening their homes, supporting his work of spreading the gospel, and creating an opportunity for others to come to know Christ.
Paul was imprisoned in Rome for the charges of disturbing the peace. He is still detained under house arrest and could be in that state for up to two years. He relied on the believers in the churches he had visited and founded to continue to send support for him as he awaited his trial. Those in house arrest were not supported by the local government, but had to provide for their every need. In the trying times of detainment, Paul writes to these believing Philippian men and women - don’t fret or worry. His circumstances could have caused him much despair and challenged the very core of his beliefs – yet he continued on in his passionate pursuit of reaching unbelievers for Christ.
Fretting and worrying carry some similar meanings, but each has a meaning uniquely their own. We will examine their meanings. To fret means:
To cause yourself or another to suffer emotional strain – to stretch to the maximum or to injure by overuse, misuse or excessive pressure – there is a sense of force being exerted from the outside, deeply affecting the emotional center of the inside. The pressure can be so significant that it leads to a constricting feeling or pressure.
To eat or gnaw into – fretful behavior has an effect of eating away at the core of our being. It results in emotional distress that affects the very tissues of our body.
To rub, chafe, agitate, or ripple – this is probably one of the most significant views of fretting that we can take away. It causes a rippling effect – one internalized thought, action, or behavior leads to the next. It is as though a quiet pond of still waters is disturbed by the small stone tossed into its center – causing ripples of water to emit from the center of the disturbance, affecting over and over that which surrounds the core of the disturbance. Fretting carries the potential of affecting over and over, and into areas once undisturbed.
To make by wearing away – eroding force that leaves that which was touched changed forever, never to bear the same image again. Fretfulness erodes at the peace of our soul, tearing at the assurance of our beliefs.
Worry has a similar meaning with just a little different twist:
To choke or strangle – that is what worry does to us – it makes us feel like we cannot breathe, like everything that gives us stability in life is just closing in on us, cutting off our life’s breath.
To harass by tearing, biting, or snapping at the throat – in the animal kingdom, the throat is the place of submission or the place of dominion. Animals who want to show they are dominant over another will often “go for the jugular”, attacking the throat of their victim or the one they want to prove they are superior to. Worry places us in a position of submission to that which is getting all of our attention at that moment.
To touch or disturb something repeatedly – coming back over and over to what should probably be left alone anyway. We have a tendency in life to carry forward thoughts that give us much anxiety, rehearsing them repeatedly. Each time we rehearse the thought, it grows in its intensity and its effect over us is intensified.
To assail with rough or aggressive attack or treatment – the word assail carries the meaning of violent blows or words. Worrisome behavior literally assails our inner strength, peace and assurance. It is an aggressive foe that we need to be continuously on guard against.
To subject to persistent or nagging attention or effort – similar to the behavior of being fretful about something, in worry, we have a thought “nagging” at the core of our thoughts, just present enough to “draw us in” and get us thinking in that negative direction once again. Along with this effect, worry has the ability to afflict us with mental distress or agitation of spirit and body. That continual afflicting process soon erodes us in our inner man.
Paul offers a solution – instead of worrisome or fretful behavior…pray. Plain and simple – pray. Rather than expressing it or implying it in our attitude, act on the alternate to this type of behavior - substitute something in its place – prayer. We often allow worry or fretting to have their “wearing” effect long before we let prayer have its “resting” effect. We choose to dwell on the negative thoughts that are niggling in the back of our minds and they soon consume our attention. Paul offers that we are to turn our worries and frets into prayer – simple discussion with God about that which is consuming our attention. Tomorrow, we will discover what Paul describes as the power of prayer. Until then, let God identify what is at the back of your mind - niggling there. Then, in quiet surrender to his touch, begin to let him into those areas of worry. He has great things in store for you.