Maintaining Our Emotional Health in a Hazardous World
Friday, April 3, 2020
Devotional for Day 17
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. 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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
- Philippians 4:4-9 (ESV)
Dear Praying Friends,
This is the fourth anxiety-addressing devotional thus far, with yet another scriptural trail to God’s peace in a hazardous world (see also Days 7, 10, and 14). The passage above is my personal favorite. Committing it to memory many years ago has paid off as the Apostle Paul’s aim is much higher than merely reducing our heart rate.
The joyful, peaceful disposition that Paul suggests we can attain and maintain is the polar opposite of where we naturally begin: in angst and dread. Paul and his friends in Philippi were not experiencing a plague, but their allegiance to Christ was costly. Persecution was the norm in the first and second century church, and Paul penned this exhortation to the Philippians from prison. When he reassures them that “the Lord is at hand (or near),” he was almost certainly reminding them that their eschatological vindication was close at hand. but he may have also had the very nearness of Christ in mind for all who need comfort.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication…”
Following Jesus’ lead, Paul leaves no margin for existential or circumstantial anxiety in a faithful Christian’s life. The negative imperative is immediately followed by the sublime invitation to pray instead about everything. In every fear and stressful circumstance, praying. In all confession, casting off the crushing weight of shame on Jesus. In every challenging relationship, praying that God would first change us. God desires that we walk this closely with Him! Our access through Christ is not as a crutch or AAA membership, but as our Lord and friend.
I don’t know if Paul meant to make this tiny clause the game changer in his cure for anxiety, but that is precisely what happens when I begin my prayers. I thank God that He cares and can use anything that is happening in my life for my good. It gives feet to my faith in a wonderfully practical way.
“Finally brothers (and sisters)...”
The last portion of this passage provides yet another antidote to the burdened soul. To worry and to fixate on the problem sends us into the ditch, which is why Paul pleads with us to keep our eyes on the road by focusing on any and every blessing we can think of. Easier said than done! This discipline is a close cousin to the command to give thanks, right? And equally effective.
I will happily borrow from Charles Spurgeon’s last sermon to frame our prayer. Many consider Spurgeon the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century. His sermons reached 10 million people—a mind-boggling number for that era. Despite his fame, he was no stranger to vexing trials and troubles in this life.
“Depend upon it, you will either serve Satan or Christ, either self or the Saviour. You will find sin, self, Satan, and the world to be hard masters; but if you wear the livery of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. These 40 years and more have I served him, blessed be his name! and I have had nothing but love from him. I would be glad to continue yet another 40 years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day! Amen.”
Ministry Director, Christian Union Gloria