OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
If you’ve watched a handful of movies, you’ve witnessed the happily ever after trope. Whether the audience is told the protagonist lived happily ever after or the final scene makes this obvious, this is a common element in film. The villain is defeated, the conflict resolved, and the good guys win. Cinderella gets Prince Charming, He who shall not be named is killed, America wins the war, and there is peace in the kingdom. Something about triumph, justice, and a happy ending resonates with the audience. I believe this is because people watch movies to escape reality. They witness and feel something (even though it’s fiction) different from the world they experience. The movies tell us peace comes when the bad stuff ends.
Many of us are pursuing peace and we’re frantically waiting for the bad stuff to end so we can possess it. We desperately want our circumstances and feelings to change. I’m not aware of any movie about a man who was imprisoned for doing what was right and completely content about the entire ordeal. Paul wrote what might be the most practical portion of scripture on peace and contentment from within a jail cell. I don’t believe he was pacing his cell, awaiting his sentencing. In fact, what we see in Paul’s formula for peace is not a hope or even a prayer for circumstances to change but a call to change ourselves in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Peace is an antonym of worry. When our minds and lives are dominated by worry, we will not have peace. Paul promises the peace of God and the God of peace. He uses six imperatives (one is repeated) to bring the believer into a new way of thinking and thus a new way of living.
First, if we hope to change the way we think and live, we need to begin rejoicing. This seems like unhelpful advice when walking through difficult seasons. The lie we commonly believe tells us we have nothing to rejoice in. Everything has gone wrong and things will never change. Paul clarifies the object of our rejoicing, the Lord. When we rejoice in the Lord instead of our circumstances, we always have a reason to rejoice. God has never failed us. He will never change. He is working in our lives. He sent His Son to die for us and secure our eternity. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. We must begin to find joy in something regularly. Rejoicing in the Lord is the correct starting place. Paul believed this was worth repeating.
LET YOUR GENTLE SPIRIT BE MADE KNOWN
The Greek word used here for gentle carries the concept of yielding to others. We must let our gentleness be made known to all men. We should be kind, forgiving, and patient with others. We should reject our angry responses. According to Paul, no one can be excluded from this treatment. Being loved, being shown kindness, and being respected by others are not prerequisites for our gentleness. Regardless of how we’re treated, this must be our mindset. Our treatment of others should be impacted by the imminent return of Christ. This urgency should cause us to overlook ourselves in favor of being a witness for Christ and serving others.
BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING
We should not be anxious about one thing in our lives. Don’t worry about anything. When we worry about something, we’re doing something wrong. If we’re anxious about something, we have the wrong response to our circumstances and we will not find peace. Most engage in worry due to circumstances but the frequency of worry can also come from spiritual attacks and even our genetic makeup. Sometimes Satan tempts us to doubt God’s control or goodness. Other times, some of us are acting according to our brain chemistry and temperament. Regardless of the cause of your anxiety, you’re called to do something about it.
LET YOUR REQUESTS BE MADE KNOWN TO GOD
God does not permit us to worry about anything. Instead He commands us to let our requests be made known to Him in everything. Worry about nothing. Pray about everything. Whether it be heartfelt prayer for an urgent need or a prayer for daily provisions, we should pray. We should pray with thanksgiving. Our prayer time shouldn’t be dominated with our list of demands. Even asking God for things should be in a spirit of gratitude for what He’s already done.
Jesus reminds us in Matthew six that God knows what we need before we ask. We are not letting our requests be made known to God to catch Him up to speed on our lives or to give Him some special insight. This act of prayer sees us laying our requests at His feet. We are giving Him what we need and trusting Him to act according to God’s will. We are leaving these requests (and our worries) with Him. I also find it interesting that only after considering God and His goodness and others do we turn to consider our own needs. Pursuing peace entails letting go of ourselves.
After a short list of commands, Paul gives a promise. The peace of God that we will struggle to understand will guard our hearts and minds. We struggle to comprehend God’s peace because it comes despite our circumstances. We believe peace equals the absence of anything bad, but God’s peace doesn’t work that way. We struggle to understand God’s peace because it is unlike anything we can experience in this world. This peace stands guard like a faithful soldier, protecting our hearts and our minds.
DWELL ON THESE THINGS
We must draw a distinction between what we’re afraid of and what we worry about. We’re always afraid of the things we worry about, but we don’t always worry about the things we’re afraid of. I believe I have a rational fear of heights (what good reason do humans have to be up high?), but I don’t walk around worrying that I will somehow end up on the top of a really tall building. What our mind dwells on creates the distinction between fear and worry. We will never find peace while dwelling on the wrong things. He gives a long list of Christian virtues which can serve as a test for our thoughts. If you’re dwelling on something, see if it makes this list. If it doesn’t, it has to go. These virtues describe the things that are good in every area of life and are deserving of human praise. These provide parameters for our thoughts.
PRACTICE THESE THINGS
Right thinking always leads to right living. We will find help in striving to emulate what we have learned from and observed in godly examples. A Christ-honoring mindset will not co-exist with sinful behavior. Our pursuit of peace will prove futile if we’re not also concerned with affecting our actions. Paul has already promised the peace of God, now He promises the presence of the peace giver. God and His peace will walk in fellowship with us. We will know and experience the peace of God.
WEEKLY SCRIPTURE MEMORY VERSE:
Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
In what ways can I rejoice in the Lord today?
Has my worry affected the way I treat other people? Have I even considered others?
What am I anxious about? Take a moment and ask God to work in this situation. Leave this worry with Him, trusting Him to take care of it today.
What can I dwell on instead of the things I’m worried about?
Who can I emulate? How do they live?