Keeping the Peace (or Two Fingers and a Painful Reminder)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. 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. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Tonight I was praying, asking the Lord what I should write about – for guidance and just the right words to touch someone’s heart in a very real way.  It is my prayer every time I sit down to write.  Then I looked on Facebook and saw a friend of ours had posted Philippians 4:6-7 on their wall.

Over the past twelve years, I don’t know how many times I have written on this passage.  But it is one of those passages of Scripture that we should never forget.  Why?  Because the peace of God is assurance in His love and care for our lives – yesterday, today and eternally.  And it isn’t just for us, lest we become nothing more than consumer Christians.  It is the peace that transforms us from heavily burdened people to joyful sojourners, a light to others – especially when we facing troubles.  People will see the peace of Christ at work in our lives and wonder, “Hmmm… what do they have that I am missing?”  The peace of God expressed through our lives takes Christianity from dogma to reality when viewed by others.  It strengthens and encourages fellow believers and attracts (or at least befuddles) non-believers.

So… tonight I want to begin digging into this passage and find hope for what we’re facing in life.  Understand, please, that these words come from the heart of a man who has wrestled with anxiety and doubt, knows what it is to go nights on end with very little sleep, and worry about life.  If this sounds familiar to you, read on as we unpack the Good News that is crammed into these few short verses…

1.: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  Spring 1999 was a low time in my life – very low, very stressful, very tough all around.  We had been without a solid church family for five years.  In fact, this was – although we didn’t have a clue at the time – the last months of five years of self-imposed exile in the Chicagoland desert (a long story for another post).  We had just gotten involved in a church because of an amazing connection through some friends of ours (which is an even longer story).  One Wednesday evening, we were at a church service and the pastor was preaching on this passage from Philippians.  He was aware of what I was going through at the time and I was sitting in the pew, feeling (and I assume probably looking) particularly sour that night.  The pastor was talking about being glad, caught sight of me, walked over to where I was sitting and – index and middle fingers sticking out – reiterated the words “BE GLAD!”, punctuating his point by poking me so hard in the chest that he left two fingertip bruises on me that remained as a reminder for a few days. 

Look at what Paul is saying… “Rejoice!”  He says it not once, but twice.  Rejoice!  Now… when Paul repeats himself – whenever you see a point repeated in rapid succession anywhere in the Bible – take notice.  Pay attention.  An important point is being made.  Paul is telling us, be glad!  When should we be glad?  Always!!  Not when circumstances are happy.  Not when life is peaches and cream.  But always. 

An important point: rejoice comes from the Greek word χαίρω (chairō).  Despite being translated as “rejoice” – a word that, in English, indicates some sense of excitement – chairō actually denotes a more peaceful prosperity of soul, what Strong’s calls “calmly happy or well-off” (Strong’s G5463).  It is the manifestation of the peace of God in our countenance, our actions, our reactions, our example.  And Paul says that, as Christians, that is our “reasonable” (re)action to life. 

That seems perhaps far-fetched.  After all, isn’t it only reasonable to worry – worry about our kids, about the economy and the state of the world, about our jobs, our security, etc. etc. etc.?  Not according to Jesus:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV)

What is more reasonable – being twisted up in knots over situations we have little or no power to change and being unable to think straight because we’re nerve-wracked, guilt-ridden and exhausted from anxiety, or trusting in the ability, might, love and grace of the Eternal Creator God Who exists outside of every barrier that hems humanity in?  Personally, it took beginning to realize that God loves me – me, sinful, useless me – despite my failures and faults to begin getting some peace in my life.  Not only that, but understanding exactly what the agapē love of God is (and that I could never earn it or deserve it, which is fine because I didn’t have to!) helped me to see that the peace of God is, in fact, the reasonable response to whatever situation I face in life. What have I to worry about?  “The LORD is at hand.” 

Do I succeed in keeping God’s peace all the time?  Hardly.  But, that’s ok.  I keep coming back to God and His Word.  It isn’t a matter of losing faith, but of being human and needing the reassuring reminder from time-to-time of my Father and His love for me.  After all, even Peter had his thorn to keep him tuned in.  Sometimes we need a bruising thump in the chest to remind us that God is at hand.  Rejoice and be a light by letting others see your reasonable response of God’s peace!

Which is where we will leave this for tonight.  We’ll pick up on verse 6 next time around.  Rest well, be at peace, and know you are loved and blessed.

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