I remember speaking with a friend about Paul's statement in Philippians 4, "do not be anxious about anything". He had asked his Minister what he thought it meant. My friend told me that the Minister replied after a long pause, "I think it means, 'do not be anxious about anything' ".
As someone who suffers from his fair share of anxiety, I hoped to gain some helpful insight to a verse that I had memorized as a young Christian. I was a little deflated hoping that there might be some things I could stress over. Either that, or I might get some amazing insight into how I could become a picture of tranquility. Paul's statement is couched in a context where he encourages his readers to pray in every situation, giving thanks to God, with the promise of the peace of God guarding the heart and mind "in Christ Jesus".
However, as a Christian in the workplace, I've often wondered if I've exemplified the quality of peace, particularly at a time when workplace stress is a huge social issue. Last month the Sydney Morning Herald reported that mental illness is costing employers $10.9 billion per year in Australia. The report quoted research that men in their 50's were most likely to make a claim for mental illness and that male suicide rates were five times that of female suicide rates.
Another study conducted by the Australian Psychological Society stated that Australians were reporting higher levels of stress and distress in 2013 than in the previous two years, with one in seven Australians reporting depressive symptoms in the severe to extremely severe range.
This is a reality that is reaching deeply into the lives of Christians as well. With changing work patterns, including the casualisation of the workplace, the death of industries such as local automotive manufacturing and the extension of the aged pension, vocational stress is not likely to subside.
So, how relevant is Paul's statement to us today? Without trivializing anyone's particular anxieties, I suggest it is a statement that needs to be burned on the hearts of all Christians. At its centre is the call to rely more fully, more intimately and more consistently on a God who delights in fellowship with us - fellowship that is borne in difficulty, pain and sorrow as much as in happiness and success. It is a call to simple faith in our Father who wishes to impart a peace to us that this world cannot give, nor understand (see also Jesus' words in John 14:27).
Let us pray regularly in our workplaces that God would give us the faith to trust in him to handle all our anxieties and in so doing be the kind of people our colleagues want to work with.