The apostle Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything.” (4:6) Really? Not anything? Is that possible? Sounds like heaven to me. Paul did not pen those words lightly. He had lots in his life to be anxious about.
In his second letter to Corinth he compares his sufferings to that of other apostles. He writes that he has had “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
Whew! It makes my concerns seem trivial in comparison. So if he can “not be anxious” in the midst of such circumstances, so can I. But how? The scriptural context of the injunction holds the key. What comes immediately before and after these words? Here is the rest of the sentence: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
“The Lord is at hand.” The presence of the Lord is the foundation of his peace of mind. There is no need to be anxious if the Lord is near. I take the words “the Lord is at hand” to mean the spiritual presence of Christ. It is what Jesus meant when he said, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” The omnipresence of Christ is the basis for freedom from anxiety. Relax! The Lord is here now!
Then Paul suggests that we replace the pattern of anxious thinking with an alternative practice: “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In other words, when you are anxious, just pray. Place yourself - and everyone and everything around you -into the hands of God. Do it with thanksgiving. Count your blessings, and life look better. As Paul says in another letter, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
There is a lot more in this biblical chapter. I could easily preach several sermons on the fourth chapter of Philippians. Right beforehand he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Practicing the spiritual discipline of “rejoicing in the Lord” serves as preventative medicine to the “dis-ease” of anxiety.
Then he says, “Let your gentleness be known to all.” There is a gentleness deep inside. It is the inner sanctuary of the soul where the Spirit resides. Let this gentleness come forth in thoughts and actions. Be gentle with yourself and with others. Living life gently and simply is an antidote to the anxiety-producing modern lifestyle.
If one practices what the apostle suggests, he offers this promise: “Then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace that he is speaking about is not of human making. It is not a “self-improvement” scheme or a pharmaceutically induced equilibrium. I am grateful for the blessing of prescription medication. It saves lives and has helped me. But there is a spiritual dimension to peace that transcends the medical arts. There is more to peace of soul than brain chemistry. This is the peace of God.
This type of peace “surpasses all understanding.” I have tasted it often. I glimpse it always in the background, even at those time when I am anxious. The secret is to abide in this peace. Paul says it stands guard over our hearts and minds, just like the Roman soldier who was standing guard over Paul as he wrote those words.
Then come these wonderful concluding words: “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.” One translation says: “meditate on these things.”
I practice meditation daily, during which I intentionally calm my mind and heart. For years my wife has used “thought conditioners,” biblical verses that condition our hearts and minds to be in harmony with God’s Spirit. Wholesome ideas counteract the negativity that invades our lives.
During my last appointment, my primary care physician told me to stop watching the television news. That advice has helped. I don’t miss the drama. Furthermore I find that reading the news gives me a far better understanding of what is happening in the world.
Paul closes this section of his epistle with these words: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” In other words, we learn peace from those who live peaceable lives. Be around peaceful people, and their peace will be transmitted to you. Then our peace can be passed on to others. As the song goes, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”
So those are my thoughts today as I meditate on one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. I hope they help. It helps me to share them.