Our First Priority
Many in our nation are worried. To be sure, there is reason to be concerned. During the last four weeks, 22 million Americans have been furloughed or laid off. Our nation hasn’t seen this type of unemployment since the Great depression of the 1930s.
A recent Harris Poll revealed the coronavirus pandemic is causing nearly 9 in 10 Americans to feel anxious about money. The respondents were asked what the top five things were causing the most financial stress. Having enough money saved was primary, with 41% saying they were worried about their emergency savings and 23 % citing retirement. Bills also weighed heavily on their minds, with 48% responding they were worried about paying them.
These numbers suggest that many in the Christian community are likely to be worried about their finances during this crisis. Some of you reading this may have been laid off or have had your hours reduced at work. Maybe you are a small business owner that has been required to “shut your doors” to curb the pandemic. My heart and prayers are with you. The concern and suffering from this event are real, and not to be trivialized.
However, I have discovered God has much to say about trusting Him and overcoming worry through all of life’s circumstances. I’ve personally learned these truths through study of His Word and applying biblical truth when it seemed the darkest in my life. With assurance, I can tell you God is always with us, His presence will always comfort and guide us, and He will always sustain us through this or any trial.
One of the principles I have learned is to ensure that our priorities in life are correct. Before I continue, this article is adapted from my book, Fulfill Your Dreams, chapter seven Worry-Free Living. More about this book on my website bobsawvelle.com
Pursue God First
Maintaining correct priorities positions you to remain in God’s peace. Focusing on the wrong priorities in life is a primary reason why so many people are consumed with worry and fear.
In Matthew 6, Jesus described the benefits of right priorities:
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you (Matt. 6:31-33 NKJV).
Jesus states clearly to make the pursuit of God and His kingdom values our primary quest in life, and God, in turn, promises to abundantly provide for our material needs. Simply stated: seek God first, not security or even the answers to your problems.
Most people, including Christians, are seeking security in the things of this world rather than in the Creator of this world.
Right now, world systems are being shaken. But God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed! In fact, of the increase of His government and kingdom there is no end (Isa. 9:6-7). From eternity, He is the everlasting God (Psalm 90:2).
Jesus promised us that He and the Father would make their home in and with those who believed in and followed Him, through the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-21). Think about this: the everlasting God, the Creator of the universe, dwells with us—this is cause for great joy and confidence through all of life’s trials. He gives us His peace, which transcends worldly security and comfort—or instability (John 14:27).
Answers to questions and strategies in life are discovered through intimate relationship and friendship with God—the everlasting God! Much of our anxiety and worry in life is caused by planning without God.
We look at the natural circumstances we are facing, and apart from a renewed mind that embraces God’s perspective, we estimate that there is no hope in our situation. For example, former slaves do not overcome walled cities. Five loaves and two fish do not feed thousands. With human reasoning, the lost are lost, the sick are sick, and the dead are dead. We look at society and world problems and rationalize that change is impossible; yet renewed perspective understands that it is the power of the Gospel that changes lives, cities, and nations.
Matthew 6:25 states,
Therefore I tell you, stop being perpetually uneasy [anxious and worried] about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; or about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life greater [in quality] than food, and the body [far above and more excellent] than clothing? (AMPCE)
Continual anxiousness and worry consume us when we have the wrong set of priorities in life. God’s peace and rest is given to those who have fallen in love with Jesus and have allowed the pursuit of Him and His kingdom to be their first priority in life.
Learning to remain in God’s peace and rest does not mean that you do not go to school, work jobs or establish careers. It means that while pursuing careers, family, and normal life, you are pursuing Jesus and the culture of His kingdom foremost in all that you do.
You learn to trust and rest in His promises, nature, and the presence of God while living in an earthly realm. Communing with the Holy Spirit and abiding in His presence releases the very peace and joy of Christ that guards your heart and faith despite the hardships in life. You can endure the storms because the Prince of Peace is with you. He still calms the stormy seas.
The book of Proverbs provides sound advice regarding anxious thoughts:
All the days of the desponding and afflicted are made evil [by anxious thoughts and forebodings], but he who has a glad heart has a continual feast [regardless of circumstances] (Prov. 15:15 AMPCE).
Do not muse about forebodings, what could happen or go wrong in the future; they are evil in nature. The writer of Psalms reasserts this truth about worry:
Do not fret—it only causes harm” (Psalm 37:8b).
The enemy wants to bring you into an agreement with fear, keeping you in worry and anxiety instead of the peace and joy of Christ.
Cast Your Care
Peter provides a practical approach to living worry-free. In 1 Peter 5:7 (CEB), he explained that we should “throw all your anxiety onto him, because he cares about you.”
Peter clearly tells us how we are to deal with each day’s worries—throw them all on the Lord who cares for you compassionately.
The English word “throw,” or in other translations “cast,” is derived from the Greek word epiriptō which implies a forceful, even violent approach to dealing with your anxiety and worry. Epiriptō refers to throwing, hurling, arising, sending, striking, and driving out—both of these are forceful terms.
Peter, being a fisherman, was well acquainted with epiriptō. To “throw” or “cast” fishing nets, fishermen had to use forceful effort to place the heavy nets strategically into the water. Your cares and anxiety weigh you down; you must be intentional to throw or place your care on the Lord. The word epiriptō also means “to cause responsibility for something to be upon someone— ‘to put responsibility on, to make responsible for.’” 
In other words, Peter is instructing us to put the responsibility of our cares and concerns upon Jesus. Refuse to live under the weight of burdens that were not intended for you and allow Jesus to help you carry the concerns and worries of this life!
Honestly, like most people, learning how to throw my cares upon Jesus and allowing Him to help with life’s heavy burdens has been challenging for me at times. My rational mind, and perhaps yours, has a tough time simply trusting God and resting in Him.
God knows this, which is why He instructs us to allow our thinking to be transformed in order that we may “see” and “understand” from His perspective (Rom. 12:2). It takes time, but God is patient through the process of changing your reasoning. Learn how to surrender to the Word and Spirit to bring about the changes in your thinking. Living in His peace and rest is priceless—it is worth the time it takes for the Holy Spirit to transform you.
Living Free of Worry and Fear
One of my favorite books in the New Testament is Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It’s Paul’s joy letter. He uses the words “joy” or “rejoicing” fifteen times in this short book. In chapter four, he develops an understanding of how to pray effectively and abide in God’s peace and joy while waiting for answered prayer. Here are some key steps Paul outlines in the book of Philippians to remain in God’s peace and joy, free of worry and fear.
1. Pray with Thanksgiving
The first step to living free of anxiety and fear is not to worry, but instead learn how to pray with thanksgiving from a posture of belief and trust. Paul tells the Philippian believers,
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NLT)
As I shared last week, worry causes stress and fear. Your body can process small amounts of stress; however, excessive stress—whether real or perceived—can create emotional, mental, and physical problems. Proverbs tells us, “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body…” (Prov. 14:30 NLT). Conversely, a heart filled with worry and fear can open the door to health issues.
Prolonged stress depletes your immune system. Stress hinders your ability to emotionally process the demands of life and weakens your body. Stress can create unhealthy fear and phobias. Fear can cause you to panic and freeze in crisis! Unresolved stress and fear hinder you from living in God’s peace.
In her book Who Switched Off My Brain?, Dr. Caroline Leaf, cognitive neuroscience researcher, states that 87% of the illnesses plaguing people today are a direct result of their negative thought life. Her research indicates “toxic emotions can cause migraines, hypertension, strokes, cancer, skin problems, diabetes, infections, and allergies.” 
She concludes our thoughts affect us physically and emotionally. Her studies indicate fear triggers 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates thirty different hormones and neurotransmitters. 
Prayer is communion with God. For the Christian, prayer should be as normal as breathing. Your life is in Christ, united together with Him, and the Holy Spirit is daily leading and guiding you as you walk with Jesus. Thus, prayer should be normal conversation with your best friend. You rest in Him through prayer, releasing worry and receiving His peace.
Prayer promises to bring you into a place of rest and peace. You are to give thanks through the trials, not just when they are over. Your circumstances are not the problem; it is your perception of them that is the problem. How you react will affect whether you abide in His peace and how soon you realize answered prayer.
You cannot control the outcome of prayer, but you can control how you respond to the situation as well as how you love others. When you allow worry and fear to consume you, the flow of God’s love through you to others is hindered. Each of us should be a representation of God’s love, peace, and joy to the world.
Prayer with thanksgiving is an expression of confident faith in God. Faith is the assurance that what God promised will be realized, and peace is the fruit of knowing that God has heard and will answer you. Peace is an imparted grace that empowers you to walk confidently through the storms of life, knowing God is in control. It guards your heart against worry and fear.
As His representative here on earth, you are God’s delegated authority—your prayers bring the realm of His kingdom to earth. The Church, the followers of Jesus, is called to bring His secrets and His justice to earth.
We eagerly anticipate the return of Christ, but the answer to the world’s problems is the Church arising into her destiny and calling. Twentieth-century missionary and healing minister John Lake stated, “The Church has been negligent of one thing…she has not prayed the power of God out of heaven!” Our world needs a confident praying Church in this hour! When God’s people pray from a posture of peace, heaven’s authority infuses earth to calm fearful hearts.
2. Remain in Christ
The second step to living free from worry and fear is learning how to remain in Jesus (Phil. 4:7). He is the vine; we are the branches. We are to abide in Him just like a branch gleans from a vine or tree. Apart from Him, we can do nothing and anything less than fully living in Christ is weak faith. Deeper trust develops through spending time with God in worship, prayer and the reading of His word. All fruitfulness in life and ministry flows from your intimacy with God. Learning how to pursue and remain in the presence of God is vital to abiding in His peace.
Jesus is the friend who is closer than a brother, and He said the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be our comforter, helper, and friend. We often make living in Christ complicated, but it is about the value we place on our relationship with Him.
I will invest my time, energy, and money into what I value—including relationships. I highly value my relationship with Jesus, and love to spend time in His presence; not for what I can just get out of the relationship, but because I love Him. Therefore, I spend time with God through worship, prayer, studying His word, and serving others. Do you deeply value your relationship with Jesus, investing your time, energy, and money with God?
The dividend of your invested relationship with God is a mature and confident faith, a faith that is at rest in the circumstances of life. Like any relationship worth investing in, it develops over time and exhibits love, trust, and rest. Ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit renews your mind to who you are in Christ and the truth of God’s promises in His word.
From a place of abiding in Christ’s love, faith springs from the heart as a passionate response to the Lover of your soul. It is not developed through intellectual understanding, but through intimacy as your heart is set ablaze and renewed by God’s love for you. Your renewed heart and mind create a place for faith to operate from God’s perspective, in which nothing is impossible. This is the faith realm where peace and rest abide, free of worry and fear.
3. Fix Your Thoughts on Things Above
Focus your thoughts on what is true, right, and pure. Paul stated,
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8-9 NLT).
In other words, you must refocus your thinking from negativity (worry, fear, etc.) toward positivity (faith, hope, love). We become what we gaze upon. Keep your focus on Jesus, on His nature and character, and you will become more like Him and remain in His rest and peace.
Changing the way you think will help maintain both emotional and physical health. Our world is full of negative news and circumstances, but you can refuse to focus on negativity.
An unhealthy obsession with what is wrong in your life or the world around you will separate you from God’s peace. An unrenewed mind will focus on worry—the root is fear. Train your mind to evaluate honestly what you are thinking about. Learn how to identify the fears in your heart that cause worry.
God’s Word is truth. It guides, it directs, it is a weapon, and it builds your faith. God’s word will counter fear. The Bible is full of God’s promises, like blank checks waiting to be written against the bank of heaven. Learn how to focus on the truth of God’s promises rather than the negative reports and circumstances that come against you. As you pray and meditate on His word, your faith and confidence in God will grow.
4. Rejoice in the Lord
Lastly, learn to rejoice in God. Paul wrote,
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! (Phil. 4:4 NLT).
Paul told the Philippians to rejoice always because he knew the truth about how powerful joy and rejoicing are for the believer. Joy is not just a characteristic of kingdom life; it is a powerful spiritual force (Rom. 14:17). It was joy that gave Jesus the ability to endure the cross and its suffering for all of humanity (Heb. 12:2). Joy is an antidote to worry and fear!
Joy flows from your relationship with Christ, not from your external circumstances. Joy is an enduring spiritual reality of God’s kingdom that will sustain you through challenging times. It is a characteristic entirely different from happiness. While happiness depends on “happenings” and can be fleeting when circumstances change, peace and joy flow from your relationship with God. When you are truly abiding in Christ, His peace and joy remain constant.
Your ability to rejoice in all circumstances will safeguard your faith. God is always good, but suffering is part of your Christian walk. Difficult events happen in life, and many times you have no control over them. However, you do have control over how you react.
Remember, God works everything for your good. Maintaining a right perspective on problems and suffering will keep you in a place of peace, full of God’s joy despite hardships and setbacks.
Paul modeled the importance of always rejoicing in the Lord, even in difficult circumstances. In Acts 16, we read that Paul and Silas were wrongly imprisoned in Philippi. At midnight, they chose to pray and praise God during this impossible situation. Despite their hardship, their worship and joy in Christ positioned them for a miracle. God suddenly sent an earthquake that shook the prison, broke everyone’s chains, and opened the prison doors. They were delivered, and the Philippian jailer and his household came to Jesus that night.
Later, in Paul’s letter to the Philippian Christians, he encouraged them to rejoice in Christ.
Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith (Phil 3:1 NLT).
His words are just as true for us today. Whatever happens, rejoice in the Lord. Never lose your praise and never lose hope. It may be midnight, but God specializes in suddenlies!
Paul learned that he could be content despite circumstances (Phil. 4:11-12) and find real joy by focusing all his attention and energy on knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8) and obeying Him (Phil. 3:12-13). Paul learned the truth of Psalm 16:11: “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” Real joy is in your union with Jesus—abiding in His presence daily. Remember, your circumstances are not the problem; it is your perception of them that is the problem. Keep your focus on Jesus and let the joy of the Lord be your strength (Neh. 8:10).
The more you are in love with Jesus, the easier it is to rejoice always. When Jesus is your closest friend, His joy will have no limitations in your life. Genuine faith knows that God holds everything in His hands. You are His beloved, and He has your best interest in mind. A close relationship with Jesus will keep you in His peace, free of worry and fear. Trust Him continually and learn to rejoice in Him always.
For a more in-depth look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message, “Our First Priority”: