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Experiencing the God of Peace

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Avoiding Anxiety: Experiencing the God of Peace
(Philippians 4:6-9)

I remember hearing a missionary tell of being in an undeveloped part of Africa with his family, including his two very young children…[Personal illustration]

Have you ever really considered the mind-body connection?  Have you ever considered how much the body influences the mind and how much the mind influences the body? 

The mind-body connection is an important concept.  But it is a concept which is difficult to pin down because there is a part of it that defies our ability to explore it scientifically.  And, of course that part is not the body, which can be subjected to repeatable and verifiable testing.  No, the part of the mind-body connection that defies our human attempts to quantify is the mind.  We can’t put the mind under a microscope or subject it to repeatable and verifiable testing. (That tends to bring up another subject, that the brain and the mind are not synonymous, they are, in fact, separate and distinct) 

So when we begin to deal with the subject of anxiety, it makes it necessary to talk about the mind-body connection.  This is because anxiety is connected to both. 

The feeling of anxiety, the uneasiness, the uncomfortable, restless unpleasant feelings are created by the body. 

But it is the body that creates those feelings in response to what the mind is doing.  The mind is dwelling on things that are precipitating the body’s response. 

This response is something that God has created within us as a warning system; when the mind is stressed about issues outside of its control the body reacts and creates a sense of dread and uneasiness so that we will be wary about engaging in harmful behaviors.

But, which one is God concerned about?  In Scripture, we don’t typically see God focusing His attention on the body and how we feel; because that is a secondary issue or a byproduct of the mind.  God focuses His attention on your mind and what you are allowing to go on in your mind; that is the primary issue or the prime product.

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”

Your love, O Lord, supported me.

When anxiety was great within me,

Your consolation brought joy to my soul

(Ps. 94:18-19, NIV).

In this passage, Paul enumerates 4 choices the Christian must make in order to experience the God of Peace.

I. In order to experience the God of Peace, you must choose to abandon dwelling on your circumstances, which results in anxiety (v.6a)

Jesus Himself said three times, “Do not be anxious” (Matt. 6:25, 31, 34)

Paul is just reiterating what Jesus said.

Notice that Paul specifically states that there are no circumstances that we can allow ourselves to be anxious about

  • Not the economy
  • Not your health
  • Not your relationships
  • Not what other people think about you
  • Not the future (after all, no one worries about the past, if you did it would only be about how the past would impact the future, so it is actually about the future, not the past)

A question inevitably rises up when you discuss worry: isn’t it legitimate to be concerned and to plan for the future?  Yes, and that is an essential distinction to make.  What is the difference between godly concern and sinful worry?

The Greek word that is translated “anxious” or “worry” is various forms of meridzo which means “to be divided, to be split or separated” and that is what worry is, it divides your attention between being occupied with current reality and future reality.  Another way of saying it might be that you are split or divided between the present and the future.

 In 2Co 10:28, Paul talked about his daily care (merimna) for all of the churches.  He also mentioned that because of that daily concern, he hoped to send Timothy to be with the Philippian church (Php 2:19) because he had not one like-minded who will sincerely care (merimnasei) for your state.

 Paul is not admitting his sin by saying that he was sinfully worried or anxious in his daily care for the churches.  Nor was he recommending Timothy to go to Philippi to sinfully worry and agonize over the church there.  In each instance, he was talking about a godly concern.  His concern was godly and Timothy’s would be too (which Paul said was rare, since most people only think about themselves).

 I bring that up to show some examples of the Bible speaking specifically to a godly concern that is different that sinful worry.  But, again, what is the difference between the two.

Lets use Paul’s two examples and see where the tipping point would be where godly concern could become sinful worry.

We know from various passages that Paul continually prayed for the churches.  He listened to reports from messengers about what was happening in the churches. 

He would plan for future visits and things he would like to do when he was there to be a blessing.  He would write letters to the churches to encourage or admonish them.  All of this is care and concern that is well within the bounds of godliness. 

But if Paul were to start dwelling on events that had not happened yet, like, “How will they respond to my letter?” and turning that over and over in his mind. 

Perhaps he could dwell on possible threats to his safety from the Jews or other false teachers. 

He could ruminate on whether or not he would have enough money for his future journeys, or for next week’s sustenance.  Do you see? 

Considering the needs of the future and prayerfully making plans is one thing.  But to dwell on something beyond your control, turning it over and over in your mind is another. 

One causes you to be of a single mind, undivided, trusting God.  The other causes you to be double-minded, split between the present and an unknown future, failing to trust God.

The Bible does not advocate a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants manner of living, where life is lived so moment-by-moment that there is no thought for the future and everything is purely reactionary; not at all.  The Bible advocates for diligent planning, taking life with a proactive view that prepares for godliness and avoids sinfulness.

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty,
But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.”
(Proverbs 21:5 NKJV)

This is an example of God clearly advocating for informed decision making that tends towards being proactive, “the plans of the diligent.” 

The one being criticized here is the one making ill-considered decisions, the one who fails to plan and experiences unnecessary poverty as a result. 

This poverty is not merely financial, either.  It can be an

  • emotional poverty that is due to a lack of foresight in cultivating intimacy in a relationship. 
  • It can be a spiritual poverty from the result of failing to plan for avoiding temptation and developing spiritual maturity. 

Those are all things that don’t happen by themselves, but are the result of forethought, planning and working the plan.

So, the first choice that Christians must make in order to experience the God of peace is you must choose to abandon dwelling on your circumstances, which results in anxiety

The second choice that every Christian must make

II.    In order to experience the God of Peace, you must choose to commit your circumstances to God, which results in peace (v.6b-7)

 Paul does not write, “Pray about it!” He is too wise to do that. He uses three different words to describe “committing our circumstances to God”: prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving.  Committing our circumstances to God involves all three.

A.    Committing our circumstances to God involves approaching Him (v.6b)

The word prayer is the general word for communication with God. It is both an action and a perspective.  It an action when we do it, it is a perspective when we are conscious of the reality that God never leaves us or forsakes us, we are His temple and He dwells within us, therefore we can talk to Him all the time.  Literally without ceasing, as 1Th 5:17 tells us.  So, whenever we find ourselves worrying, our first action ought to be to talk to God about it.  Worship Him! Adore Him!  We must see the greatness and majesty of God!  We must realize that He is big enough to solve our problems. Too often we rush into His presence and hastily tell Him our needs, when we ought to approach His throne in humility and awe, but also realizing that He beckons us to come anytime!

B.     Committing our circumstances to God involves asking Him (v.6b)

The second is supplication, an earnest sharing of our needs and problems. While we know we are not heard for our “much speaking” (Matt. 6:7–8), still we realize that our Father wants us to be earnest in our asking (Matt. 7:1–11). Be specific with God, be honest and forthright about how you are feeling and what your concerns are.  We have not because we ask not.

C.     Committing our circumstances to God involves thanking Him (v.6b)

After prayer and supplication comes appreciation, giving thanks to God (see Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:15–17). Certainly the Father enjoys hearing His children say, “Thank You!” When Jesus healed ten lepers, only one of the ten returned to give thanks (Luke 17:11–19), and we wonder if the percentage is any higher today. We are eager to ask but slow to appreciate.

Paul counsels us to take “everything to God in prayer.” “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything!” is his admonition. We are prone to pray about the “big things” in life and forget to pray about the so-called “little things”—until they grow and become big things! Talking to God about everything that concerns us and Him is the first step toward victory over worry.

The result is that the “peace of God” guards the heart and the mind. You will remember that Paul was chained to a Roman soldier, guarded day and night. In like manner, “the peace of God” stands guard over our hearts as we trust Him. When we give our hearts to Christ in salvation, we experience “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1); but the “peace of God” takes us a step farther into His blessings.

This does not mean the absence of stormy trials on the outside, but it does mean a finding a place of refuge in Him where there is protection from the storm coming inside, regardless of circumstances, people, or things.

Daniel gives us a wonderful illustration of peace through prayer. When the king announced that none of his subjects was to pray to anyone except the king, Daniel went to his room, opened his windows, and prayed as before (Dan. 6:1–10). Note how Daniel prayed. He “prayed, and gave thanks before his God” (Dan. 6:10) and he made supplication (Dan. 6:11). Prayer—supplication—thanksgiving! And the result was perfect peace in the midst of difficulty! Daniel was able to spend the night with the lions in perfect peace, while the king in his palace could not sleep (Dan. 6:18).

So, the second choice that Christians must make in order to experience the God of peace is you must choose to commit your circumstances to God, which results in peace.

The third choice that Christians must make…

III. In order to experience the God of Peace, you must choose to filter your thoughts (v.8)

Be aware that these terms may vary slightly among translations, but whatever version you are using, it should be synonym of the words I have here.

A.    Our thoughts are to be on things that are (v.8a-h)

1.     True (v.8a) these are thoughts that are not false or unreliable, but genuine and real.  People think about things that are not true and suffer self-inflicted grief all of the time.  People who are prone to jealousy are not thinking about what is true, they are thinking about what could be or what might be, neither of which they know to be true. (Of course, if they know it to be true it is not jealousy, they are the genuine victim of sin and should deal with it)  But, if it is jealousy, committing to thinking about what is true what alleviate them of all of the negativity that comes from jealousy as well as the stress that it causes the relationship.

The same is true of people who have medical ailments of various kinds and are undergoing tests. 

Or someone who may be working for a company that is talking about layoffs. 

Or if a family member is not in good health. 

Or kids that are growing up and parents are fearful about how they will turn out. 

We can’t allow our thoughts to go to those things that are not true.  Think on those things that are actual reality, not potential reality.

2.     Noble (v.8b) Thoughts that are honorable are morally attractive or worthy of respect.  Unfortunately, many within Christendom are trying to make the church more attractive to the world by becoming more like the world.  When I say this, I am not talking about style, I am talking about substance.  There is a worldliness creeping into Christianity.  There are Christians and even pastors who are crass, vulgar and rude in their speech but are calling it being edgy and provocative for the sake of reaching the culture.  And to that I would say, why not be honorable?  There is an attractiveness to be found in being dignified because we are committed to gentleness, meekness, humility while also speaking the Word without compromise.  Have you ever known someone who was honorable?  Someone who carried themselves with such kindness, humility and grace but who also was uncompromising in their character? If you haven’t, I feel sorry for you and that in itself is a testimony to the degradation of the church.  But, if you have, didn’t you find that to be an admirable quality?  Didn’t it possess attractiveness in that you enjoyed being with that person and wanted to emulate that person?  Being honorable doesn’t mean that you don’t have a sense of humor.  Being honorable doesn’t mean that you lack warmth and friendliness.  Being honorable is simply being worthy of respect and it begins with how we allow ourselves to think.

3.     Just (v.8c) this is the kind of thought that conforms to God’s standards or is consistent with God’s character.  A person who is just in their thinking is someone who refuses to compromise in what they believe is right.  Everyone is tempted, but giving into temptation begins in the thoughts and if we filter our thoughts so that we only consider what is just and cast out anything that does not measure up to what is just, then it will result in being just.

4.     Pure (v.8d) this is the kind of thought that is neither impure nor mixed with impurities; it is free from that which could lead to moral compromise.  This speaks to the overall quality of our thoughts and involves a commitment to sifting through our thoughts with a fine tooth comb and testing what we think for total purity.  Not kind of pure or sort of pure or even mostly pure: totally pure.  Otherwise we must reject those thoughts because they do not measure up.

Being pure is rigorous, but we are not alone in this endeavor, we have the Holy Spirit who is always there to help us and convict us, but He also does not do this alone. 

We are commanded to think pure thoughts and that makes some people think it is Christianity run amok and charges of legalism begin to be bandied about when you even suggest absolute purity in one’s thought life. 

But we can not lower the standard simply because it of it’s obvious difficulty.  Being like Christ is an impossible goal to achieve, but it is still the goal.  So it is with purity in our thought life, it is impossible to achieve absolute purity in your thoughts, but it is still the goal.  Anything less and we are starting to give ourselves permission to have impure thoughts and justifying it because of the difficulty of the task.

5.     Lovely (v.8e) this is the kind of thought that is pleasing to the conscience due to its gracious and kind character.

6.     Of good report (v.8f) these are thoughts that are positive and constructive rather than negative and destructive.  Mike is going to be back from vacation tomorrow and I know that when he checks his e-mail or you have opportunity to talk with him about the paint job in the sanctuary, it will be commendable—positive and constructive, not negative and destructive.

7.     Virtue (v.8g) if a thought is virtuous, it will commend us to higher virtue; it will spur us on to live in grace and truth.

8.     Praiseworthy (v.8h) if a thought is praiseworthy, it will commend others to do the same.  It is worthy of sharing with someone else and is worthy of receiving their praise.  Not that we should live for the praise of men, but it is not us that they are praising, but the thought itself is praiseworthy due to its quality in commending them to higher virtue or closeness to God.

B.     Our thoughts are not to be on anything else

Satan is the liar (John 8:44), and he wants to corrupt our minds with his lies (2 Cor. 11:3).  In addition, our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Je 17:9) and the world is continually pulling at us attempting to corrupt us through our lusts. 

We must be diligent, because “...your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NKJV)

So, the third choice that Christians must make in order to experience the God of peace is you must choose to filter your thoughts

The forth choice that Christians must make…

IV.   In order to experience the God of Peace, you must choose to pattern yourself after Christ in thought and deed. (v.9)

I know that Paul is specifically referring to himself in v.9. but when Paul says that, it is always assumed that he is really talking about following Christ, not himself.  He clearly stated as much in 1Co 11:1

“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NKJV)

Our imitation or our following is “learned and received” and “heard and seen.” It is one thing to learn a truth, but quite another to receive it inwardly and make it a part of our inner man (see 1 Thes. 2:13).

Facts in the head are not enough; we must also have truths in the heart. In Paul’s ministry, he not only taught the Word but also lived it so that his listeners could see the truth in his life. Paul’s experience ought to be our experience. We must learn the Word, receive it, hear it, and do it. “But be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).

When it comes to the issue of mental discipline, what we are really talking about is the spiritual battle.  It is what Eph 6 is all about with the spiritual armor, it is what 2Co 10 is about when he says that

“4  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5  casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV)

When it comes to our thought life, the law of sowing and reaping is in full effect.  Do you not know that whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap? (Ga 6:7)

It is garbage in, garbage out.

“Sow a thought, reap an action.

Sow an action, reap a habit.

Sow a habit, reap a character.

Sow a character, reap a destiny!”

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