4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers, 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. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:4-9 contains Paul’s closing thoughts in his letter to the Church at Philippi. In these verses the apostle Paul writes of 2 ways we can live in this world—one ruled by anxiety, worry and foreboding that is continually fixated on how bad things appear, or another completely different way which is lived in openness and trust, that is ever drawn to the beauty and wonder all about. The first way of life is lived tight-fisted, clinging greedily to anything one can posses while the other way of life is characterized by openness—open hands, an open heart, and eyes wide open at the beauty and wonder all around.
We live a life of openness when we rejoice in God, when we live in thankfulness, when we become aware of the nearness of God. He is right here in front of us, behind us, within us, and yet most folks are too consumed with tight-fisted and squint-eyed living to notice. Yet when we let go, when we step back and slow down, when we open our eyes and hearts and hands we will begin to notice God everywhere. And when our heart finds God in such moments, anxiety is not even an option to be considered.
These ancient words seem so very relevant today in a world where everything is pushing us towards fear, anxiety, defensiveness, where threats of violence and terror and economic collapse seem to dominate the social, political, and cultural landscapes. Paul writes of a peace that is available to us that transcends everything we can understand, a peace that doesn’t make sense based on circumstances or intellectual reasons, a peace that will actually defend our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
I spent many of my teenage years as a lifeguard. One of the most dangerous things a lifeguard can encounter is a drowning person in fully panicked state. In fact if a lifeguard is unable to calm the drowning person down a bit, that person may very well drown both himself and the lifeguard. Yet in reality, surviving in the water is not a very difficult thing to do, but it has less to do with fighting and more to do with resting. To survive in a lake or ocean a person need only turn over on his/her back with arms stretched out on either side and breathe slowly. This really works quite well. In fact my boy Ezra, who is just five years old, learned how to do this at the lake this last summer and was able to spend an hour in the middle of a lake without a floatation device or being able to touch the bottom. He just floated on his back a lot.
The same is true about life. Our initial instinct when things get crazy is to panic, to tense up, to become ruled by fear and anxiety—and yet this will only take us (and others) down. What we really need to do in these times is let go, to be still, to trust and rest in God. It may seem quite counterintuitive and even unproductive but it opens us up to the very peace of God, to a strength and wisdom that is not our own.
In these verses from Philippians we can learn something about prayer. Prayer has much more to do with an inward posture than an outward action. How many times do we offer prayers out of sheer anxiety? Our lips may be saying something to God but the rest of our being is not acting as if there is a God, much less a caring and loving father of a God. The apostle Paul tells us that our prayers are to come from the inward posture of rejoicing in God, thankfulness, from realization of the nearness of the Lord, and from a putting away of anxiety. It is only after these steps that Paul talks about presenting our prayers and petitions to God. However, once we have got our inward posture right then our prayers won’t be from the same place of anxious clinging to our own ideas about how things should be but instead will be in the flow of what God is doing where we can honestly pray—“Your kingdom come and Your will be done (not mine).”
When our inward posture of heart is dealt with then we can turn our attention to the last verses in this section, “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Understand that apart from the first verses of this section, these verses will be mere positive thinking, and in many ways a denial of reality. But when we find a place of resting in God as a child floating on his back in a lake, then we are given the very context and power by which our minds are freed to think on true, noble, lovely, and praiseworthy things.