In Chapter 4 of Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gives us basically an anti-anxiety list of things to think about. I’ll say up front that this is not medical advice, and if you need medical advice and care, please do see your healthcare professional. Yet, here’s what Paul places at the top of his Top 8 Favorite Things to Not Be Anxious:
“And finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true… think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 (NIV) (ellipses mine)
So. When we’re anxious, in order to not be anxious, Paul instructs, “present your requests to God,” “with thanksgiving” (from Philippians 4:6b NIV) – and think about “whatever is true.”
But what IS true?
Dictionary.com gives the definition of the word “true” as:
“being in accordance with the actual state or conditions; conforming to reality or fact; not false: a true story.”
Now, Paul is writing about God and His relationship to us through Christ Jesus. He prefaces his list with, in Philippians 4:5b (NIV), “The Lord is near.” Then in verse 7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We might react by asking, wait, is this true? Are these things reality or fact? Is this all in accordance with the dictionary-definition of a true story?
When we’re anxious and can’t see or hear clearly, it sure is hard to accept as fact that a physically invisible and physically inaudible God is actually nearby. When we can’t think straight because we’re so worried, it sure is hard to believe that His peace is actually guarding anything.
And when the wide world offers so many other, seemingly concrete – and seemingly easy – options for dealing with feeling anxious, how can go along with what seems hard to accept and hard to believe? How can we know that Paul is really telling the truth?
What is “truth” in the Biblical sense?
As Christians, we’re called to look to God’s Word for our first and highest definitions. So let’s look to the first languages that the Bible was written in for some definitions.
In Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, the word for “truth” is “emeth.” According to gotquestions.org, one meaning of this word is “constancy,” and that’s the one I’d like to focus on in this article.
In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word for “truth” is “aletheia.” Gotquestions.org gives the meaning, “what can’t be hidden.” I’d like to focus on here on this meaning.
OK, fine, Coco, you say. These definitions are nice – and true. But, so what? How will all this help me to not be anxious?
My true story about financial anxiety
The summer before the pandemic, I resigned from my department chair position and started a coaching business with zero knowledge about business. That business tanked in the first few months of the shutdown.
Meanwhile, the shutdown quite literally shut down all film and TV productions, so my husband had no work for 6 months.
We couldn’t make rent.
We racked up a $40K debt in rent arrears, and lived in day-to-day real terror of getting kicked out onto the streets of Los Angeles with our 2 teenage boys, one of whom has Type 1 diabetes and relies on refrigerated insulin to stay alive.
To say I was anxious – there’s an understatement.
All that time, I was still a non-believer. I tried every New Age-y, Law-of-this-or-that, woo-woo-y, Power-of-something-or-other out there. Nothing helped. Of course. Our situation got worse. It seemed that only the kindness and pity of our building’s management team kept us in our apartment that we love.
And my anxiety defined my “constancy” and “what couldn’t be hidden.” My reality.
What I finally, desperately started thinking about
After a full year of this, and still in a constant state of anxiety, our youngest son, then 13, started reading the Bible on his own, and he soon expressed his desire to get baptized. And so began my simultaneous search for Christ after almost 30 years of turning my back on God.
We found a wonderful Bible-based church, CityLight LA, and I began studying the Bible voraciously. When I first came upon this passage from Philippians, I was stunned. And as I let it sink it for the first time ever, I was overcome with a strange, unexplainable sense of peace about our finances.
I wondered what would happen if I read through this passage everyday. Would I again feel this almost-bizarre feeling that everything would somehow be OK?
I tried it. And that’s exactly what kept happening every single time. And just as Paul described, it “transcended all understanding.”
He seemed to be telling me some kind of truth.
I found that, despite reading this passage each day, I couldn’t perfectly memorize the words or correctly recall the book-chapter-verse numbers – not the way my son could. So I simply kept looking at the words and letting them – and God’s inexplicable peace – wash over me.
Our back rent was still unpaid, but somehow, I knew God’s peace.
And I came to know His… “constancy.” Ah, there’s that deep meaning of the Hebrew word for truth.
God may be constant. But I’m not necessarily consistent. I try – but I’m more persistent. You know when life gets in the way? Your kid has to stay home sick from school, and it throws your whole day… your tire pressure light comes on, and you have to find a gas station with an air pump that takes bank cards… then at the end of the day, you realize you didn’t read anything from the Bible or you didn’t even say a quick prayer of thanks or… help? Yeah, that’s what started happening.
Sometimes I would go days and days without reviewing this passage. Maybe I would read other passages. But I was slipping on this one. And many days my financial anxiety slipped back into my life.
Then one of my clients, a long-time Christian, sent me a birthday present – a mug with sweet little flowers and Philippians 4:8 on it. I placed it in my little “nook” on the kitchen counter where I am absolutely sure to see it – AND READ IT – every single day, multiple times each day. Which I have done ever since.
This verse became “what couldn’t be hidden.” The Greek “aletheia.”
And I actually memorized it! True story!
But what is a true thing to think about?
And now for the giant leap.
If it is true that by following Paul’s instructions we can release our anxious feelings and exchange them for the peace of God…
And if the first thing to think about on Paul’s list is “whatever is true” –
Well, then, what is a true thing to think about?
Reflective Response: An approach to think about whatever is true
After being so persistent that I can finally describe myself as consistent, the Holy Spirit has shown me something – or rather, someone – to think about, when I think about whatever is true:
Someone who IS absolute Truth. Ahem, *Christ Jesus.*
But I imagine it would be better for you to come to such a place of thinking, through your own experience, rather than simply taking my word for it.
So here’s a list of my 3 favorite steps to take, to help you to think about whatever is true… and be guided to your own conclusion through the Holy Spirit:
- Put Philippians 4:8 (whichever version you prefer) in the places you already look at throughout each day. For example:
- Take a screenshot of the verse on your phone, and make it your lock screen wallpaper.
- Print it out on nice paper, frame it in a simple frame, and hang it in your bathroom – or simply tape the paper onto your mirror.
- Hand-write it on a sticky note, and tuck it in front of your bank debit card in your wallet.
- Purchase a mug with that verse, and keep it on your kitchen counter; or buy a simple bracelet with that verse, and wear it.
- Do 2 or more of these things if you can!
- Ponder when you read Phil 4:8.
- No matter what, stop for 30 seconds to read through it every time your eyes fall upon it.
- Allow one thing that is true to you in that moment, to enter into your head and/or heart.
- Propose to the Holy Spirit.
- In other words, ask the Holy Spirit for discernment by asking, “Is that thing truly true according to God?”
And be prepared for some truthful answers!
And BTW, after much prayer and much leaning into Philippians 4:5-8 as well as other parts of His Word, God took care of our $40K in back rent, almost entirely in one fell swoop. But that is a true story for another article…