Refresh & Restore — 4/30/2020

Philippians 4:4-9 —
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

           I’ve got to give a disclaimer for today’s devotion: it’s beneficial for me. I’ve probably said before that writing these devotions helps me before it helps anyone else, but, today, it’s especially true. My mind is a mess, and I’m neck deep in depression, or a “funk” – whatever you want to call it, I’m in it.

            This is not to say that I have it bad or that I am trying to draw attention to myself when the plight of many, many others is far worse than mine. But many find themselves feeling the same way and much worse – not just in times of social distancing and isolation, all the time.

            So, today, we will look at what God’s Word offers us[1], and there we can find some peace of mind.

            If there is anyone who knows what it’s like to struggle, it’s Paul. He was in a Roman prison awaiting execution as he wrote the letter to the Philippians, yet it is often described as an epistle of joy.

           Here, again, it is important to understand that joy and happiness are not synonyms. So, when Paul tells the church at Philippi to rejoice in verse 9, he has something much bigger for them. Rejoice here is “not a happiness that depends on circumstances but a deep contentment that is in the Lord”[2]. Happiness is fleeting and dependent on so many things outside of our control, but finding that deep rooted contentment in the Lord is eternal.

           He also urges them to let their “reasonableness” be known. This word can also be translated as “gentleness” or a “gentle spirit”. This, along with rejoicing, reminds us of who we are supposed to be – and most importantly whose we are! This is especially important because the “Lord is at hand”. 

           This is not a threat to produce fear in us; it’s a reason to rejoice – our Savior is coming! I love the way that James puts this in James 5:8b: “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand”. Our rejoicing and reasonableness are earmarks of a heart that is rooted in one’s identity in Christ.

           This next part is one that I find myself reading often when faced with anxiety. It seems like a nearly impossible command: “do not be anxious about anything”. Anything? Doesn’t he know about ___? To understand what this means for us, we need to grasp the context of this command.

           Paul’s command here is rooted in Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25):

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about the body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

           I cannot speak for everyone, but my anxiety is often rooted in the lack of control I feel in life situations. There are times where it is brought on by a chemical imbalance in my brain, but the anxieties themselves are real and my own. Jesus’ urging is for us to combat the things that we do not have control over by trusting in the Sovereign God who has power over everything that is yet stoops to care about our everyday lives.

           You see, it is from this mindset that Paul makes his case. Let’s look at the whole command in verse 6: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication[3] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” This becomes less about the anxiety that plagues us and more about the way that we can combat it by letting our “requests be made known to God”. This goes back to the command to “rejoice” – to find that deep-rooted contentment in Christ. Here, it is the trust and faith that is rooted in the action of prayer. Almighty God wants us to talk to Him, and He cares what we have to say. When we give our anxieties over to Him, we do not have to worry about them because He has this in His control. That’s where the peace Paul talks about comes into play.

           It’s important to note that this commandment has an addendum: “with thanksgiving”. Other than that one Thursday in November, this is something that gives us trouble. Big John said something about getting out of a funk that stands out in my mind here:

“Lift up a prayer. Say ‘thanks’ to God. Develop and cultivate a grateful heart…. …[T]he way of getting out [of a funk, depression, or whatever] is purposefully looking into things and saying ‘thank you anyway’, just ‘thank you anyway’.”

           That not only echoes what Paul is saying here, but it speaks to the influence of God’s Word in our lives.

           Paul follows that command with a result in verse 7: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. That peace is based on the confidence that God is not only able to take care of us but especially in the fact that He is willing to take care of us. That’s good news. When we learn – note that I say learn and understand that it is not necessarily an overnight process – to rely fully upon God, our anxieties are traded for His peace, and Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 14:27 move from being a hope to a reality:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

            Just because I am moving more quickly through the final section does not belittle its importance. It builds on the previous paragraph. Paul goes through a list of things that we should “think about” (v. 8); we should think on things that are “true”, “honorable”, “just”, “pure”, “lovely”, “commendable”, “excellen[t]”, and “worthy of praise”. Rather than breaking these “things” academically, let me introduce you to the One that embodies them all – Jesus! We should set our mind on Him (Colossians 3:2)! We should think on Him!

            Setting one’s mind on something is a powerful tool. I love that I get to work in the same building as Candice. This keeps me focused on how I need to be genuine and carry myself appropriately. Setting my mind on this helps me remember who I am. Having Keri be able to come to our classrooms when she gets off of the bus does the same thing. If I do not have my mind set where it needs to, my school kiddos would quickly tell Keri – and most assuredly Candice – that I’m a fraud! In the same way, this mindset exposes our faith in Christ. We are to set our minds on Him so that the manner of our life reflects that faith.

            Does that mean that anxiety will automatically cease? No. But it gives us something to practice. Literally, Paul tells the church at Philippi, and thereby us, to “practice these things” (v. 9) – the things that we have “learned”, “received”, and “heard” in the Word of God. The word translated “practice” here refers to things that we do continually, repeatedly, or habitually. So, this is what we need to do: continually, repeatedly, habitually rejoice in, put our trust in, pray to, and think on Jesus. And in doing so, we can trust God in His Word when He says through Paul: “the God of peace will be with you” (v. 9).

            Thank you for reading today and being a part of my meeting up with “the God of peace”. This is a little picture into the way that this part of my walk with Him works – seeking Him in His Word in whatever situation and always finding Him there. I pray that this is true in your life as well!

[1] This does not negate the need of prescription depression medication nor does it mean that such things and counseling are not necessary. This is not a prescription but an invitation to seek the “God of peace” to help us with the prevalent mental struggles associated with this current time.

[2] ESV Study Bible

[3] Supplication is “to make known one’s particular need” or to “petition [God] for oneself” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: NT).

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