What you have learnede and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9
What do you set your mind on? Not too long ago I wrote about the distractions that filled my week and kept my mind on 50 million things. This week, I realized that my attention easily drifts to the news feed that travels across the front screen of my phone. There is no doubt that tracking the hurricanes, the President's opinions and other's responses, North Korea and the bombing in England are important news. After reading about such devastating and awful things, what do you do? Do you just blow it off? Do you let the sadness overwhelm you? Do you think things are hopeless? Do you get mad at God? Are you frustrated with world leadership?
I’ve been studying Philippians 4:4-9, I realized, the author Paul was outlining how to think and respond in difficult times. By the time Philippians was written, Paul was in prison in Rome. Things were looking desperate for the early church. Roman Emperor Nero had persecuted many Christians.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” The first thing Paul said in this passage is rejoice. How would you define "Rejoice?” Be happy? Be joyful? The key understanding to this word is the "re" part. "Re" means to bring something back or to do it again. Like "remind" means to bring something to mind again and "renew" means to make new again. To rejoice means to bring back the joy that one experienced in Christ. Paul isn't saying to rejoice about bad things happening to other people. (We are encouraged to “consider it all joy” when we are personally suffering and going through hard times but reading the newspaper and watching awful things on the news, and worrying about a nuclear threat is not the same as actually having your house flood, living through a terrorist attack or being persecuted).
Floods on the other side of the country, North Korea having nuclear bombs and terrorist bombs in the London Underground are bad. We aren’t told to rejoice about bad things, that is heartless, In this verse, Rejoice means to remember the joys that God has brought into your life up to this point. Experience again the joy of salvation, the joy of new life in Christ, the joy of answered prayers, the joy of healing, the joy of good gifts and the joy of knowing God's character that He is loving, sovereign, just and good. Much of what I hear about on the news is out of my control. Rather than rejoicing, many people start worrying. Worrying often provides a false sense of control. Our minds fixate on the problem. Paul is telling us to first focus on God by rejoicing.
Here’s a way to apply this short verse, next time you hear news that is scary, difficult or overwhelming; stop and rejoice. Stop the worry, anxiety and your desire to fix things, and take a minute to rejoice.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; Next Paul says that our reasonableness should be evident to all. We should not overreact. As this verse reminds us Jesus is near. We aren't on our own. The NIV translates this word as gentleness. The concept behind this word has to do with justice and fairness. We should be gentle in the sense of "relaxing overly strict standards." Rather than being judgmental, we need to realize the Spirit of the law rather than being tied to literal interpretation. Jesus modeled this when he healed on the Sabbath.
Once you have rejoiced, made a decision to be reasonable and not overreact, remembered that Jesus is near, we then are told not to be anxious but to pray. I have to admit- I often jump to this point. When I am worried, I start with prayer but instead of being reminded of the joy God has brought to my life, being reasonable and being grounded in the knowledge that Jesus is near - I am anxious and my prayers are all about what I want rather than filled with peace. However, if we follow the pattern in Philippians 4 something amazing will happen. "7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Here’s a way to check to see if you are not being anxious and are being reasonable and rejoicing – you will have peace after you pray. God’s peace will keep and protect you from worry and anxiety.
Paul is not saying that times won't be hard. Often we can't change our circumstances and we have little influence over much of the horrible things that make the news but we do have control over our minds. We have a choice regarding what we think about. 8Finally, 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.
Are you thinking about what is true? Focus on God and His truth. What actually is, not your imagination. Going down the mental path of all the horrible things that could possibly happen- isn't the truth. Don't let your imagination and attributions distort your reality.. Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life. Think about him.
Are you thinking about what is honorable? Honorable things have value and are deeply respected. Don't focus on the negative. Pray about it and let it go.
Are you thinking about things that are right? “Right” in Biblical terms is not a political word or even about not being wrong. Right has to do with things that are righteous and aligned with God and His will.
Are you thinking about things that are lovely? Lovely in this verse is a funny word - it doesn't mean pretty or beautiful. It means pleasing, acceptable and worthy of personal affection. Lovely things are valuable and are worth the effort to embrace. They build up your relationships. By this definition my kids and husband and friends are lovely. They take work but are so worth the effort.
Are you thinking about things that are commendable? The word commendable always makes me think about people getting official commendations from a public official for serving their town or country with dignity and valor. Another word for this is praise worthy. Commendable actions should inspire all of us to do more to bless others.
Are you thinking about things that are excellent? The underlying meaning of this word relates to virtuous. It has to do with moral excellence, goodness and virtue. I have to admit much of what catches my eyes on my news feed has to do with people’s poor choices, scandals, petty disagreements and trivial discussions of celebrity’s lives.
Are you thinking about things that are worthy of praise? Too often I spend time thinking about the negative rather than the positive. Negative headlines catch my eye. It takes work to focus on the items worthy of praise in the news and even more effort to notice praiseworthy things that my kids and husband do. I need to focus on the positive things in our country, community and especially in my family. Then I need to make an effort to actually praise and encourage my kids, husband and community members when they do things that praiseworthy.
If we take these ideas and put them into practice, the peace of God will be with us. Whenever I see the word “practice” in the Bible, it gives me hope. It means I don’t have to do it perfectly, but if I keep trying, I will get better over time.
Bad news all around us can be overwhelming. Phillipians 4:4-9 provides a practical way to overcome anxiety and worry with peace.
1. Think about something that you really have no control over but it sticks in your mind and stresses you out.
2. Shift your mind to rejoice over great joys God has already brought into your life.
3. Be reasonable and remember Jesus is near.
4. Chose not to be anxious.
5. Pray and make your requests known to God. Intercession is a form of prayer that aligns your requests with God’s will.
6. Once you have prayed, choose to think about things that are true, right, honorable, lovely, pure, commendable, excellence and worthy of praise. If we don’t fill our minds with good stuff, worry and fear will creep right back in and we will be back where we started.
7. Put this into practice. This is a new way of thinking. We won’t be perfect but every time we make a choice to rejoice, chose not to be anxious, choose to think about good stuff instead of garbage, and Wil focus on the positive rather than the negative we will be blessed with peace.
If you decide to try this- let me know how it goes. This week, I am going to really try rejoicing first before I pray and to try to think about things that are worthy of praise rather than being critical.