This week Philippians 4:4-7 has been reoccurring over and over in my life and in the life of friends. Paul encourages the church at Philippi with these words:
“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: REJOICE! Let reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which is incomprehensible will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul gives us some exercises that will lead to God’s peace. You may think of these like workouts to bring about a sense of peace. Just like you don’t walk into a gym and instantly become strong, you don’t follow these practices and instantly gain peace. It takes practice and building your “heart” muscles. You literally train your heart to be peaceful before God. Here, Paul gives us 7 exercises for peace:
1. Rehearse Joys
The passage says “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!” The root of the English word “rejoice” is to RE-JOY. In other words, rehearse (repeat and say over and over again) the joys we experience. One exercise that will lead to peace is to bring our minds back to those things for which we are thankful. Our minds will wander back to the worries, so we have to “rejoice” again; go back to the memories of when God gave you joy. What are the ways that God has provided for you? When have you felt close to Him? What blessings are in your life? Practice focusing your mind on these things. This might be the most powerful exercise for training your heart toward peace.
2. Remain Reasonable
This passage goes on to say “let your reasonableness be evident to all.” What is interesting is that the word used for reasonableness can mean ‘patient,’ ‘gentle,’ or even ‘rational.’ The idea is this: “Don’t freak out!” In the midst of worry and anxiety, it is easy to become impulsive or irrational. Don’t allow your heart to act out. Practice remaining reasonable. In other words, “relax!” Take a deep breath and stay calm. No one said these exercises were going to be easy.
3. Remind Yourself of God’s Presence
Paul stuffs in the statement “The Lord is near” almost randomly. Yet, if you have been in the midst of anxiety, you know it is not random at all. Worry and anxiety have a way of pulling our hearts away from God. So, God may not feel near. But, we know theologically that He is always near (because He is omni-present). In this exercise, we take a second to be reminded of that important truth. God is not far off. He is near us, eager to guide, comfort and come through on His promises for us.
4. Resist Anxiety
In America, we think we don’t have a choice as to whether we worry or not, but we do. For the most part, you choose what will occupy your mind. If you are like me, anxious thoughts race through your mind before you know it. This exercise encourages you to hit the pause button on those thoughts. The passage says, “don’t worry about anything…” This is a command. Often we believe that if we can worry about something, we should. If we don’t, we feel irresponsible. Paul is saying that we need to stop worrying. Take your thoughts captive and subject them to Christ’s truth and peace. This exercise alone won’t be enough. We need more…
5. Request in Prayer
Paul says, “in everything, by prayer and petition (asking)… present your requests to God.” We must bring every concern, worry, or dilemma before the throne of God and trust Him to take care of it. We don’t just simply “stop worrying,” we let our worries go by handing them over to God knowing He is in control. Often we worry as a way of keeping control of things. However, as we let go, we acknowledge our absolute dependence on God. I have found that many people will say “I need to pray about that,” but never actually get around to telling God what it is they want. This exercise encourages you to make your request; tell God what you want! Scripture is full of promises that God wants us to bring our requests knowing that He is eager to bless us and give us good gifts. Tell God what it is you want Him to do.
6. Remember the Good
Paul tells us that we must make our requests“with thanksgiving.” If there is one thing I have learned in my short life, it’s this: thankfulness is the key to peace. If you present your worries to God without thankfulness, you will not have peace. Thankfulness has a way of bringing our hearts back to what is truly important and right in our world. In fact, Paul gives us a list to jog (no exercise pun intended) our memory: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” Remembering the good things God has placed in your life is a key exercise to produce peace. Train your mind to be thankful and think of the good things (true, noble, right…)
7. Rest in God’s Peace
Paul makes some big promises in this passage. In verse 7 he says, “the peace of God which is beyond comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Further, he says that if you do this (vs. 9), “the God of peace will be with you.” As you exercise your heart in these ways, choose to rest in God’s peace. You are not in control anyway. So, you can be reassured that the God who created this vast universe can take care of whatever detail in your life has you anxious. As Jesus said, ‘Don’t worry! Who can add a single hour to his life by worrying?’ Instead, rest knowing your tender and loving Father is a God of peace who is eager to care for your needs.
Life is full of things to worry about. Even Jesus acknowledge that ‘tomorrow has enough worries of it’s own.’ Yet, we know that God is a God of peace. We know that our lives are to be characterized by peace and trust in Him. How do we do that? By exercising our heart to find peace in God.