06-02-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
Today we come full circle—back to where we began our study in Philippians: God’s work within—we have supernatural, Holy Spirit power at work in our lives.
When we come to grips with this fact, it will transform the way we deal with the difficult, challenging circumstances of life. When we begin to grasp the significance of having the Holy Spirit empower us, it will give us a whole new outlook and perspective.
Phil 4:4-7 (NIV) 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Here is one of the great promises found in the Word of God—peace that “transcends all understanding,” meaning no one can explain it. It’s a peace that doesn’t make sense; it’s irrational. When all indications are that we should freak out and panic, somehow in spite of our problems, we are calm. Confident. A more contemporary way of saying it “transcends” or “surpasses” might be to say it’s a peace that will “blow your mind.” It’s incredible, unbelievable.
So, what does this incredible peace do? It will guard your heart and mind. “Guard” is a military term. Used a couple of ways in the ancient world: (1) for a siege, when an army would surround a city so no one inside could escape or (2) when an army would protect its city so an enemy could not get in.
If you think of your innermost being as a walled city, there are good things within that you can’t afford to escape—faith and trust in God, confidence in the Lord, encouragement and blessings. When the enemy comes against you, you don’t want to see your faith slipping through the walls and high-tailing it over the hills. God’s peace will guard against that from happening.
At the same time, God’s peace will guard against bad things breaking through the wall—things like fear, despair, hopelessness—all sorts of negative thoughts that will attack your faith and undermine your life with God.
God’s peace guards against both bad things slipping in and good things slipping away. God’s amazing, incredible, unimaginable peace will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. And when I say “hearts and minds,” it might be good to think of how other versions express it: “it will guard your thoughts and emotions” (GW) or “this peace will control the way you think and feel” (CEV).
So how do we move from worry to peace? Paul lists several practical steps to overcoming worry. Some have to do with our attitude…what we focus on—the climate or atmosphere where we live. Others deal with our behavior…the things we choose to do, the actions we take.
1. Rejoice (v 4). This should be the atmosphere of your life. Rejoicing should be the air that we breathe. What kind of atmosphere do you breathe? Do you live downwind from a factory pumping poison, toxic fumes into the air? I’m not talking about actual physical air; I’m talking about your spiritual environment. Living in a joyful atmosphere is healthier than living in a polluted atmosphere of despair.
Put another way: our bodies are designed to breathe air. Our respiratory system has lungs to pull oxygen out of the air, attach it to the red blood cells, and send it to all parts of the body. Lungs work fine breathing air. They do not, however, work in water. If you’re under water for some time, you will drown. If you’re going to be under water, you need a snorkle or an oxygen tank—otherwise, you drown.
Maybe you feel like you are drowning in sadness. Swept away by tragedies or troubles. Some people feel overwhelmed…inundated by problems, loss, set-backs, failures. They are drowning in depression. What we need is an oxygen tank—something that will help us survive in the flood of trouble.
Rejoicing is like oxygen to the soul! How do I know this? Because of what comes next…
2. Rejoice in the Lord… (v 4). In a messed up life flooded by stress and trouble, Jesus is like fresh air for the soul!
You don’t have to rejoice about your problems. Nor do you have to get rid of your troubles in order to be happy. This verse is simply saying that you can have Jesus even in the midst of a flood of trouble.
3. Rejoice always… (v 4). This is possible only if Jesus is with us. “Rejoice always” means we can rejoice in difficult, challenging times as well as the fun times. We can rejoice despite our problems. We can rejoice on a spiritual level no matter what the circumstances, no matter how dark the night. Jesus is our lifeline, our flotation device, our oxygen tank—when we’re overwhelmed by a flood of trouble.
4. Don’t worry about anything (v 6). Worry can suffocate you! It can suck the air out of your life. It is an oppressive, dominating thing. In fact…
The word “worry” comes from Old English wyrgan, meaning “to strangle, to choke” with the idea of “to twist or bend.” Originally used to describe an attack by an animal—biting or tearing with the teeth, shaking something: the dog was worrying an old shoe. So the word came to mean “to harass…to annoy, pester, bother” and later “to feel troubled, uneasy…anxious.” Imagine the “jaws” of worry, shaking your peace of mind, strangling your thoughts, choking your life.
Worry: troubled thoughts; imagining the worst that could happen; questioning all the “What ifs…” until it crowds out regular thinking. You can’t relax or enjoy life because you’re twisted up in knots. Your stomach churns. You feel upset…or get ulcers…or break out. Your physical health is affected by the turmoil within.
But then Paul says “don’t worry”! Don’t be anxious. Stop it! Get a grip! Every time a worrisome thought invades your mind and starts to shake your peace, you have a choice to make. You can give up like a small rabbit in the fox’s mouth and let it shake you to death. Or you can fight back.
You may be thinking, Yeah, that’s easy enough to say, but how? How can I fight back?
I’m glad you asked. One version (MSG) says: “Instead of worrying, pray.” One song says, “Why worry when you can pray?” But many of us live as though we sang, “Why pray when you can worry?” So the next thing we must do is…
5. Pray (v 6). Worry is going to come. It’s part of the human condition. We’re wired to be careful. To be cautious. And of course, fear (in small doses) keeps up safe. We don’t take unnecessary risks. I didn’t lean over the edge of the Grand Canyon because I have this need to feel safe. I don’t drive through red lights because it’s safer to wait for the green.
But when worry grabs us by the throat and consumes our lives, threatening to strangle or suffocate us, then we need to get control over it. And Paul says the way to do that is to pray!
We connect with God by prayer—when we ask God to come into our situation, when we ask for God’s strength and power, prayer is like a pipeline of power!
Prayer confronts worry head-on. When we pray, we replace fear with faith. If your glass is full of worry and fear, then there’s no room for faith and prayer. If all you can think about is defeat, then you won’t have any room in your glass for victory.
If your heart and your mind are full of worry, you push it out by bringing faith in. Fill your heart and mind with God—trusting him for every situation. The more full of God you are, the more you are filled with his power—and the less room there will be for worry and anxiety.
Learning to take control over worry and anxiety opens the door to God’s promise: A peace that will guard your emotions (heart) and your thoughts (mind)—doing these things opens the door to God’s peace.
Here’s the thing: When the God of peace is with you, you also have the God of power with you. If you tap into God’s power, you tap into God’s peace! Your boat can be in a storm, but Jesus is in your boat!
Did you hear some of the network news interviews with teachers in Moore, OK? They gathered their elementary students together in bathrooms and closets as the tornado was bearing down on them. One of them said to the newscaster, “I know we’re not supposed to pray in school, but I was praying.”
Another teacher was asked what she did when the tornado hit her school. “I shouted,” she said. “What did you shout?” asked the interviewer. “I shouted, ‘In God’s name, go away!’”
They held a gathering in town later where some kids performed songs they sang in the midst of the storm—songs like “Jesus loves me…”
When you’re in a storm you don’t want an atheist singing for you. What’s an atheist going to sing? Akuna Matata? Don’t worry, be happy? God’s promise means we can sing that simple child’s song:
Who’s in the middle of the dark? God is. I’m not afraid ’cause God is in the dark.
Who’s in the middle of the storm? God is. I’m not afraid ’cause God is in the storm.
God’s in the middle of the dark; God’s in the middle of the storm; I’m not afraid of anything ’cause God is in my heart!
It’s just like the video we saw a bit ago: We will not be afraid. When the storms come, when the wind howls, when the lightning flashes, we have peace because God is present in the storm. That video described what happened in Moore, OK.
When we pray for God’s presence, God is big enough to fill the space! If it’s filled with God, there’s no room left for junk thoughts or negative attitudes to crowd in and twist us up with worry and anxiety! Let the Holy Spirit fill your head and your heart with good things—like gratitude for all God has done, which is the next step toward peace.
6. Be thankful (v 6).
As you give thanks for God’s blessings, as you celebrate the things God has done, as you recognize God’s powerful presence—as you do those things, the space in your head and heart will fill up with hope and faith and confidence.
In verses 8-9 we see that an attitude of thanksgiving is only one of many things that will open our lives to the peace of God: things that are true, excellent, admirable, noble, pure, right, holy, honorable, respectable, proper…and so on.
Bottom line: the more full of God you are, the less room there will be for fear and worry and anxiety. The more you have God at work within you, the less you will have to worry about. Peace comes when we pray; peace comes when we are thankful; and God’s power comes when we have peace.
MSG (6-7): Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Now, just to be clear, this doesn’t mean that everything will necessarily go the way you want! Sometimes bad things happen to good people. But even then, we can have a peace that replaces worry and anxiety. Even when things don’t turn out the way we’d like them to, we don’t have to worry.
Prayer doesn’t always remove the problem. But the promise here is about peace even in the midst of trouble. It’s about guarding hearts and minds. It’s not about a problem-free, sterile existence.
Worry is a state of mind, but prayer can lead to a change of mind—a change in thinking—peace despite the circumstances.
When you pray, you might not always get what you want—but you will always get what you need. Our part is to trust God, to ask for his help, to keep our hearts and our thoughts in the right place. God’s part is to take care of what we need.
(Phil 4:19) And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Sometimes God will change the circumstances. Sometimes God will change you. God may not always remove the wind or the storm right away, but he will always be with you…and he will give you peace. So Paul could write to the Philippians and say:
(Phil 4:11-13) I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Have you learned to be content? Whatever the circumstances? Contentment is related to peace. You can’t be at peace unless you’ve learned to be content no matter what happens. I think the “Serenity” prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr is an appropriate prayer for just about every situation in life:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as [Jesus] did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that [you] will make all things right if I surrender to [your] will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with [you] Forever in the next. Amen.—Reinhold Niebuhr
“Serenity” is simply another word for “peace.” When we pray for serenity or peace in the midst of the storm, we know we’re praying for one of God’s great promises. It is God’s will that his peace will guard your heart and your mind…that worry, fear, and anxiety would be replaced by his peace.
Are you going through a storm? Do you need peace?