Jimmy had worked for his company over five years. For the first two years, he had a supervisor who complimented him on his strong work ethic and high production for the department. Then, this supervisor was transferred and Jimmy found his new boss liked to “motivate” through criticism. Jimmy endured the constant nit-picking, figuring that this supervisor would eventually leave as well. For some reason, the supervisor has not left.
After this, Jimmy dreaded going into work. He didn’t just resent the criticisms, but the entire atmosphere of the department. Since his supervisor was critical of everyone, all of the employees were on edge. Few of them wanted to work there and they often took it out on each other by sniping and back-biting.
Let’s analyze this a moment. Jimmy has a need to see his job as important and his role as valuable to the company. But the reality of his situation is much harder. He cannot quit this job; in today’s economic climate, few people can just switch jobs because they don’t like them. He has spoken to his boss’s boss who refuses to correct the critical supervisor. As a result of feeling stuck in this bad job, he has migraine headaches frequently and has trouble concentrating. This has negatively impacted his marriage and many of his friendships.
Let’s leave Jimmy for a second and look at the Scripture we ended the last article with: Philippians 4:6-7:
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 NIV)
First, when the Apostle Paul says “do not be anxious”, this is a verb tense in Greek which means “Do not continue to be anxious“. He is forbidding the continuance of anxiety. He is not condemning all anxiousness. That would be unrealistic. We feel what we feel.
Second, Paul really does mean “every” situation. He is counseling us to begin a habit of bringing all of life’s turns in the road before God for His input.
What is the problem Paul is addressing? When we face moments of emotional overload, we often blame the current situation. But Paul doesn’t see that as the main problem. Our anxiety is the obstacle. We realize this when Paul offers the alternative: “Present your requests to God … and the peace of God…will guard your hearts”.
Look at that phrase, “guard your hearts”. This is a military term. It acknowledges that our inner man, the place where we make choices, is the seat of the most potential failure. If, in that place, we allow anxiety to fester, this causes more problems than the outward problem itself.
In Jimmy’s case, he never got over his supervisor’s critical attitude. Twice he ended up in the hospital. After three years of carrying his anxiety home with him, his wife had enough of it all and left him. He blamed his work situation for both results, but his boss didn’t force him to carry his problems home. His boss didn’t tense up his muscles for him. He wanted to blame it all on him, but that just took away Jimmy’s responsibility in the mess.
Our life stresses are caused by the difference between our “Ideal World” and our “Real World”. When our perceived needs are not met to our satisfaction, we compare how life is going with how we want it to go. The difference between the two, when it gets too big, leads to many problems.
Most people assume that it is ridiculous to think we shouldn’t feel stress in a hard life situation. But that is not true. You can put 100 people through the same difficulties and though most will react in ways that make things worse, not everyone does. Read the book “Unbroken” by Louis Zamperini, where he endured more war-related hardship than almost any other person and he came out the other side as a dynamic and helpful man. Along the way, however, he almost fell apart through alcoholism and hatred. His inner turmoil hurt him much more than being at sea for 60 days or from 2 years in a brutal concentration camp.
During his drunken binges and angry outbursts, Louis met God and God changed his life. He began to give over his hatred and hurt to God and God replaced it with Joy and Love. This is why Philippians 4 talks about presenting our requests to God. It is not the answer to prayer we need but the relationship we find when we come to God in our hurt.
Jimmy met with Christian friends after his wife left and they showed him how to talk and listen to God. God led him to forgive his boss and have empathy for him. He began to treat other employees the way he wanted to be treated and single-handedly he brought a better attitude into the office. As he did this, his headaches left and he felt peace again. He was becoming the person he wanted his supervisor to be. God helped him to pray for the people who had hurt him and to treat them better than they treated him. After six months of this, he was promoted to a supervisory position in another department.
His wife noticed the difference and agreed to give their marriage another try. They are still together.
Today, Jimmy realizes that his biggest problem was in his own heart. He had allowed the difference between his ideal world and real world to get too far apart. Whenever this happens, go to God and get his insights.
There are two ways to close the gap. First, let go of some of the ideals you have wanted. God can help you do this. Then seek to live in such a way that your real world comes closer to your needs. God helped Jimmy become a different person in the office. That is why he enjoyed it more.
The second critical step is to realize that our answer to prayer often involves us doing something. When Peter came to Jesus with a need to pay taxes (and he didn’t have the money), Jesus didn’t hand him the money. He told him to go fishing and look in the mouth of the first fish he caught. There was a coin worth enough to pay for both their taxes.
Peter was a fisherman; he could do fishing. In my mind, Jesus is telling us to do what we know how to do and then let God work the miracles. We can make our real world different by doing the next thing God shows us and counting on God to do what only God can do.
Are you willing to be the one who closes the gap between the real world and the ideal world? God will show you how to do it if you ask him and wait for his Holy Spirit insight.