Posted by: Mike Willoughby | April 13, 2010

Forest for the Trees

I can’t see the forest for the trees!  Perhaps you’ve heard this idiomatic saying or even said it yourself at some point.  It basically means I’m focusing too much on details – particularly on detailed problems – and I’m missing the larger perspective. 

A few weeks ago, in my How Are You Series I wrote about the difference between happiness and joy.  I believe happiness is an emotion that comes and goes unpredictably as the events of life unfold while joy is a spiritual state that is a gift of God’s Spirit and reflects the condition of your spiritual tank.  I referenced Philippians 4:11-13 in that article to illustrate that it was possible to have joy and contentment in life even at times when happiness is not possible.  However, I have to admit that even though I recognize consistent joy is possible and Paul seems to have found the secret to sustained joy in his life, I am all too frequently missing joy and contentment in my life.  I believe Paul gives me a clue how I can fall out of joy in this same passage in Philippians chapter four and it’s the old forest and trees problem.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:4-7

Notice this passage begins with a well-known encouragement to rejoice in the Lord and ends with the promise of the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds.  What a comforting passage about the joy and peace of the Lord.  However, buried in the middle of this comforting scripture is a gotcha!  Verse 6 tells us, “do not be anxious.”  Why would Paul slide this little reminder in the middle of this passage on joy and peace?  Because anxiety is the enemy of peace and joy!  Anxiety will destroy the joy in your life.  More often than not, when the joy has left my life, it is because I have allowed anxiety to attack and destroy my joy and then peace walks out the door behind joy. 

What is the frequent source of anxiety in my life?  Not seeing the forest for the trees!  Jesus himself tells me in Matthew 6:25-33:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Unfortunately, I frequently forget this promise from Jesus concerning the protection and providence of God and I begin worrying about all the little ankle-biters in my life and in the process, I lose all my Godly perspective.  It’s not that the ankle-biters can be ignored – they demand attention.  Problems must be confronted and solved.  Paychecks must be earned.  Food must be put on the table and the children need shoes on their feet.  God is not telling me to ignore my responsibilities or pretend that preparations and planning are unnecessary.  The message is, “don’t be consumed by the problems in your life so that worry and concern dominate you and kill your joy.  Furthermore, don’t forget that you aren’t in control of even the next minute of your life and therefore your anxiety is useless and unproductive.”

I want to be able to see the forest all the time.  I want to maintain the Godly perspective that reminds me God is in control and He loves me and protects me.  How can I maintain that Godly perspective?  Paul answers the question in verse 6.  He doesn’t just throw a wrench in the middle of the joy and peace passage, he also provides the solution for the problem.  He writes, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  When the ankle-biters start to get to me, I need to remember two things.  First, turn over my problems to God.  Only through his power will I ever enjoy any victories in my life.  Second, I need to remember to always give thanks for the blessings God has given me.  When comparing the little complications of life to the amazing blessings God has showered down on me, my problems shrink down to nothing and my anxieties tend to fade away.  A thankful heart is the cure for many ills.

This week join me in combating the forest for the trees syndrome by turning things over to God.  It is my prayer that you will have joy and peace in your life as a result.

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!


  1. Thanks Mike. I needed this reminder.

  2. Wow, another great post! You definitely stepped on my toes with this one; thanks for the reminder!

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