"How to Get from Anxiety to Contentment, Joy, and Peace"
July 27, 2008 Php 4(4-13)
There are many things that cause us anxiety in life. In school we can be anxious about whether we'll pass. Then some worry whether they'll find someone to marry. When a couple is ready to have a baby they're naturally anxious and excited about the delivery. Then after children come along, there are even more things to be anxious about!
Soon after her sixteenth birthday, an anxious father took his daughter to the department of motor vehicles for a driving test. He watched her drive off with the test officer and then began pacing nervously back and forth. The desk clerk watched him for awhile, and then said, "Don't be nervous about her passing. It's after she passes that you can begin pacing the floor!"
The apostle Paul encountered many difficulties in his life that would have made any person anxious. At the time he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi, he was in custody in Rome, awaiting trial on charges that might cost him his life. Yet this letter to the Philippians is one that rings most clearly with the note of joy. How could that be?!
Today as we conclude by looking at the fourth chapter, we find he shares nine qualities of the Christian life that, together, depict the peace and joy we can have in knowing God as our protector and Jesus as our Saviour.
Intangible Unending Joy
Chapter 3 began, "Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!" Then it's as if Paul paused to warn us against things that might interfere with that joy - for example, trusting in our own righteousness like the circumcision advocates, or wasting life by copying those whose 'god is their stomach'. Here in chapter 4 Paul returns to this thought, v4: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Hear how he repeats it for emphasis. Real lasting joy isn't to be found in temporal things of this life that pass away; true joy that doesn't disappoint comes from finding our satisfaction, our delight, in God alone, whom we can savour and relish for eternity. "Rejoice in the Lord always."
Psalm 32 talks about the blessing that's experienced by those whose sins are forgiven. When the Psalmist was rebellious, reluctant to acknowledge his disobedience, he felt his strength being sapped away and had much groaning. "Many are the woes of the wicked." (Ps 32:10) But when he confessed his sin, God forgave his wrongs and lifted the weight of his guilt. The Psalm concludes with a phrase that echoes Paul's: "Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!" (Ps 32:11) If we haven't been experiencing much joy in the Lord lately, perhaps we need to revisit our compliance with His teaching; confess and He will forgive, and restore your joy in knowing Him.
Another source of joy that is rooted eternally for Paul is found in v1 - there he refers to the Philippian believers as 'brothers...whom I love and long for, my JOY and crown..." Paul didn't treasure any earthly possessions, but found delight in the souls saved through his ministry - friends he'd keep on seeing in heaven. Not even conviction and death could interfere with that sort of joy. So Paul's joy was intangible - in the Lord not disintegrating earthly things; and it was eternal - treasuring people and relationships that would not end with the grave.
Agreeability: People-skills & Sensitivity
A significant cause of stress or anxiety is friction between people. And yes, that can happen even in church - for church folk aren't yet made perfect, and even the most impassioned disciples can have disagreements. In vv2-3 we see Paul address a current situation, calling Christians at Philippi to be agreeable and learn to get along. "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow [addressing an unnamed church overseer now], help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel..." We're not told what the issue was, but for some reason these two ladies were not 'seeing eye-to-eye', and this could be causing division and hurting the church. The verb behind 'agree with each other' is one we've seen already several times in this book, to 'think' or 'have the same mind'. Paul urges them to 'get on the same page' and get beyond their differences. He also calls on the church overseer to help the gals sort out the problem. So Christians, conscious of belonging to Jesus - being "in the Lord" - can make it their goal to come a mutual understanding, get beyond bickering and at least develop a consensus, understanding and appreciating the other person's point of view.
V5 states, "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." We're not boss - He is! Recognizing that should put a check on our dominance. Rather than insisting on 'my way or the highway', we can be sensitive to others, looking for ways to accommodate or compromise, developing valuable people-skills. That's a biggee employers are looking for nowadays - employees who can get along, work well as a team, co-operate to accomplish a task.
Peter Meiderlin summed up an approach to church controversy in the Lutheran era about the year 1620 that has been applied in other conflicts since; he advised, "in essentials, Unity; in non-essentials, Liberty; and in both, Charity."
Christians find help with anxiety in knowing and trusting an Almighty God who's got everything ultimately under control. When we entrust our worries to Him, that takes the pressure off. 1Peter 5:7 is a favourite promise: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." We find Paul saying something similar here in v6: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." The verb tense here - present imperative - gives more the emphasis, "Stop being anxious / troubled with cares." Upload them instead by prayer, telling God all your troubles. This is a healthy dependence (later we'll talk about the Christian's independence as well). Note it's not just a panicky pouring-out of requests, but thanksgiving is mixed in even with the prayers detailing the distress. So a believer can enjoy a sort of prayerful carefree-ness.
Fourth, a deep sense of peace follows on the heels of uploading our anxieties by prayer. V7 (here's another one worth committing to memory!), "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." New Living Translation puts it, "You will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand." It surpasses or overtops our 'nous', our mind, our faculty of reasoning / perceiving / judging / determining. A fellow Christian may make a choice which seems foolish or impractical or not very sensible, but if they sense God's peace in that direction, we have to respect that and allow the Lord some room to work it out as He leads.
That last phrase is laden with meaning - "will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus". The verb means 'to protect by a military guard / garrison'; remember Paul's accompanied by if not actually chained to a Roman soldier 24/7 as he writes. As surely as 'Corporal Rupertus' was guarding Paul from escape and from possible attackers, God's peace can protect and steer us. Robertson comments, "God's peace as a sentinel mounts guard over our lives."
Discipline concerning your attention is another skill which can spare a Christian from stress and grief. In v8 Paul lists a whole bunch of positive descriptors that we do well to set as filtering criteria to limit what's allowed into our lives. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things."
I call this 'selective squelch': on a radio if you turn down the 'squelch' knob you hear a lot of unintelligible noise between stations. If you turn up the 'squelch' after a certain point all is quiet because the low-level noise is filtered out; then all you hear as you tune is the station that has strength - clear, noise-free. In this verse Paul's addressing what we "think about", what we give our concentration and attention to, what we dwell on. We are responsible to God for what we think about, daydream or fantasize over. God's word "judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Heb 4:12); the Lord "searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts" (1Chron 28:9). So here Paul supplies some filters we can use to screen out what might be damaging. Try these out next time you have the remote in your hands. Is it true? Is it noble / honourable? Is it right/just? Is it pure / sacred? Is it lovely / pleasing? Is it admirable / "of good report"? What about the friends you hang out with - does that describe the level of their conversation? The Lord challenges us to be selective about what we allow into our heads.
Sixth is another one that depends a lot on who we hang around with - mentorability. Study v9, Paul instructs - "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." Paul had mentored those in the church at Philippi for some time. He wasn't afraid they would copy some bad habits from him - he lived in such a commendable, exemplary way he had not the slightest qualm about suggesting they copy and apply what they'd seen him doing.
We may have 'buddies' or peers that are fun to hang around with - but do we have 'mentors'? People who are a step or two ahead of us in the Christian walk that we can look up to and try to emulate - let their good qualities start to 'rub off' on us, just because we get together often enough? So we glean the Bible for heroes like Daniel and Deborah, Nehemiah and Mary (Martha's sister)? Copying the godly helps us be less anxious, because we're developing habits that please the Lord and result in good fruit eventually.
Back in the depression years of last century, hard-pressed people learned what they called 'the art of making-do'. It was hard to survive, but most did - they managed, they adjusted, they coped. One wonders today how well we would cope if there were some catastrophe and we were deprived of electricity, gasoline, and communications for an extended period.
Whereas in v6 Paul indicated his DEpendence on God, always presenting his requests, in vv11-12a he shows a healthy INdependence from needing much from other people. He says, "...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." Paul downsized his expectations so he wasn't disappointed if he had to miss a meal or go without sleep or even be beat up by persecutors. He says he learned to be 'content' - self-sufficient, independent of external circumstances, resourceful and self-reliant. No support from a church gift this month? Not a problem; Paul stayed up later and worked on weaving another camel-hair tent to sell. No cozy inn to stay at while he was travelling from one outpost to another? No problem; Paul wrapped his cloak about himself tightly and slept out under the stars. He 'managed'. And with that came a freedom from dependence on patrons or geographic locations - Paul made himself entirely at the Lord's disposal to carry the good news about Jesus anywhere, anytime. So a Christian does well to be content, sufficient in their own resources.
A Puritan sat down to his meal and found that he had only a little bread and some water. His response was to exclaim, "What? All this and Jesus Christ, too!" Contentment comes when we have a correct perspective on life.
Paul had a 'secret UPS' - not some kind of courier service! UPS here means "Uninterruptible Power Supply", or as Wikipedia describes it - "a device which maintains a continuous supply of electric power to connected equipment by supplying power from a separate source when utility power is not available." If the power is cut off during a storm, you don't suddenly lose that valuable document you were working on: the UPS kicks in and supplies power long enough for you to save your document and turn off in a reasonable amount of time.
What was Paul's UPS? V12 leads into 13, "I have learned the secret of being content...[what's that?] I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Or, "I have strength for all things through Christ who strengthens [en-dynamoes] me." Paul might say today Jesus is my 'charger' - not just a UPS but standby generator, an emergency power supply all-in-one! The Greek verb means 'to pour power into one'. Paul discovered when he was in God's will and human resources failed, the Lord somehow came through in the crunch to accomplish His purpose.
Philippians 4:13 was the theme verse for this week's Vacation Bible School put on by the churches in our community. The Bible story on the last day featured Paul's shipwreck in Acts 27. Although the sailors refused to listen to Paul's advice and the ship was driven way off course by a dangerous 'north-easter', and the ship drifted for many days then got pounded to pieces in a gale, all 276 lives on the ship were saved! Jesus gave Paul strength to cope with any circumstance.
The final quality Paul talks about in this passage that helps us be free from anxiety is in vv14-19. He recalls how the church at Philippi is the only one that has repeatedly sent him support - a couple of times in Thessalonica, again in Corinth, and now in Rome. In 18 Paul describes their gifts as "a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God." Although Paul was pretty self-sufficient and able to 'do without', he also showed grace in receiving - appreciating a gift when he got it, and warmly thanking the contributor. So he can say in v14, "it was good of you to share in my troubles." The gifts were proof he wasn't alone in this gospel-spreading project.
These gifts weren't easy for the church at Philippi to give; their economy was in much worse shape than ours! Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul describes it this way (remember Philippi is in Macedonia): "...we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability." (2Cor 8:1ff) One gets the feeling the Philippian's gifts resulted in them 'doing without' very significantly; they were in 'extreme poverty' but they still managed to send a generous gift. Again and again. That's based in "the grace that God has given".
These poor people could give so sacrificially because they already knew the truth of v19: "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Where's the real wealth, the endless storehouse? God's 'glorious riches' in Jesus. He waits to supply our needs when we're heeding Him and about His business. Confidence in His supply washes away anxiety about how things will work out.
Forgot an Important Resource
"Rejoice in the Lord!" Here's a 'think-outside-the-box' story that may help us remember next time we're facing what seems to be an insurmountable problem that we can still enjoy peace and contentment rather than anxiety, if we call God our Father.
A young boy was doing his best to lift a rock that was too large for someone his size. He grunted and puffed as he tried various methods for lifting the rock. But, in spite of all his efforts, the rock wouldn't budge. His father walked by and, after watching his son's struggle, asked if he was having trouble. The boy answered, "Yes, I've tried everything, and it won't move." The father replied, "Are you sure you have tried every possibility, that you have used every resource at your disposal?" The boy looked up with frustration and exhaustion filling his face and grunted out a "Yes!" With kindness, the father bent over and softly said, "No, my son, you haven't. You haven't asked for my help."
How often are we like the little boy, struggling with our problems but unable to solve them--because we haven't asked for our Father's help. Let's pray.