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We have many reasons to be feeling down these days. The income tax season is approaching with all its hassles, worries, and puzzles. Inflation is stretching everyone’s budget, we wonder what will happen in Ukraine and in our relationship with China. The COVID effects are still with some, some are still sick. We have questions about medical experts and why this medicine or that has become a political issue. Lots of causes for concern.
Paul, one of our greatest examples and proponents of the Christian life, said “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4: 6 NIV). Can we take him seriously? Maybe so, but it’s a good idea to think out a few things about this statement.
First, when Paul wrote that letter to the Philippians, he was in prison. Scholars have various views about where Paul was imprisoned. Ephesus? Rome? Whatever the case, prison isn’t the good life, and yet the letter Paul writes to the Christians is joyful, from beginning to end. Christians were being persecuted at this time, and yet in the midst of all this Paul could express joy. And this wasn’t some empty “think positively” thing. He was clearly speaking from his heart.
Listen to Paul himself and take it as his word to you. I think you’ll find what he says encouraging, this time from the (slightly adjusted) KJV: “Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers [yes, sisters too], whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think on these things. What you have learned, received, heard, and seen in me, do. And the God of peace shall be with you” (Phil 4: 6-9)
I’ve been thinking about the impact of love, and how biblical love isn’t so much a feeling as an action. Notice that Paul finishes off here by one little word of command: What you’re learned, received, heard, and seen in me, do.
He’s saying, Don’t just think about these things. Do them! When he tells the Philippians to put into action what they’ve gotten from him, he’s not recommending that they get thrown into prison. His exhortation is more like, Cultivate a joyful attitude, be thankful. We have a God who listens to our requests! What’s more, God acts on them. The joyful attitude Paul oddly says we’re to do, when it is expressed in action toward others impacts our own worries and also theirs. Think about the most positive person you know. Doesn’t time spent with him or her lift your spirit? I think Paul’s advice is headed in that direction.
Notice that Paul’s prescription for peace starts with thanksgiving. I’ve found that determining to focus on things I’m thankful for counteracts worries. Everyone knows this. Think about the saying, “Count your blessings!” There’s even a song that begins, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” If you can’t sleep, remind yourself that you have ten fingers. Put ten thank you’s on each finger—your family on one, e.g. You’ll have a hundred. I promise, you won’t stay awake worrying long if you even start that list. I’ve found this to be true myself. And even more interesting is the fact that it isn’t all that hard to list things to be thankful for. We just have to decide to do it. I think this is the sort of thing Paul means. And we can’t just write off thankfulness as some sort ofPollyanna technique, not when we’re doing this on Paul’s advice. He was in a Roman prison—whether in Ephesus or in Rome itself. Who would want to change places with him? If a man imprisoned for his faith can declare in writing, “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” he had to know what he was talking about. Christians do too. We just have to be reminded.
The Messiah is “the prince of peace” (Isa 9: 6), and Paul clearly knows him personally. If you don’t, think about this: The Prince of Peace has open arms, especially for the anxious.