Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry 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
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Don’t you love these words? They are from our second reading for today, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. I have included a bulletin insert for today, with these words printed in a way that you can post at your home, or place in your Bible, and return to them often. (See the end of this blog post.)
These words are worth keeping close to us, because they offer an incredible promise: the promise of the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. And they offer a way to receive this peace. And so, today I just want to reflect on these few words, and on that peace which surpasses all understanding.
Rejoice in the Lord Always
Paul begins this passage by calling us to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And, just to make sure we don’t miss the point, Paul writes: “Again I will say, Rejoice.” Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul writes from his prison cell in Rome. That’s important to remember – that he writes these words while being imprisoned because of his Christian faith. So when Paul tells us that we can rejoice in the Lord always, he really means, always.
How? Well, he writes, by rejoicing in the Lord. We can always rejoice in the Lord, even when we can’t rejoice in other things. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that there are some things happening in our world these days that we can’t very well rejoice in. Maybe there are some things happening in your life right now that you can’t very well rejoice in. But you and I can still rejoice in the Lord. Because God is always faithful. Full of love and grace and mercy, and always there for us, always here with us. And so, we can rejoice always, because we can always rejoice in the Lord.
No matter what is happening in your life – no matter how bad it might seem – you have a God who loves you, a Savior who died for you, and a promise from our God to be with you always. And that’s why you and I can always rejoice. Because we are rejoicing in the Lord.
Gentleness and Nearness
But this passage is not just about rejoicing. Paul goes on to say: “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” We can rejoice in the Lord, and we can be gentle with those around us. Because we know and believe that the Lord is near.
Have you ever known an elderly person who has such a deep and abiding faith, that nothing seems to really bother them? I have. And I love being around them, because they are so full of faith and wisdom. They have this unflappable serenity, which is really what this word, gentle, means. They have a strength about them, but it is not pushy or demanding. They’re not wishy-washy, but they are also not easily disturbed or threatened.
This is the gentleness that Paul describes here. And this is what we are promised, when we go through life knowing and believing that the Lord is near.
We can share our views, even with passion. And we work hard for solutions. But without ever needing to be combative about it, and without even worrying overly much about the results of our efforts. We have this wonderful serenity in the midst of life’s storms, because we know that the Lord is near. We believe that God still cares about our world. And so we do the best that we can, but leave the rest to our amazing God.
Turn Our Anxiety and Worries into Prayers
The Lord is near. How can we help but rejoice? And why shouldn’t we have an unflappable serenity? But what about when life throws us the proverbial punch, and we find ourselves staying up at night worrying about something?
There seem to be no end of things to worry about these days, and I suspect that our news outlets like it that way. Because it keeps us tuned in.
So, what do we do with these worries? Paul goes on to say in passage: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Do not worry about anything. Other translations say do not be anxious about anything. Anxiety or worry is something that we all face at different times in our life. In fact, anxiety is one of the most common reasons why people go to see a doctor in our country. And that was true even before this pandemic.
We live in a very anxious world, and it affects us all. And there are times when our anxiety is unmanageable without help from the medical profession. I want to be clear about that. If your anxiety is interrupting your daily life, then it is important to see your doctor, and perhaps find a counselor, too. I don’t want to discount that, and I don’t want to suggest that prayer is the only solution that you need. Just as prayer is not the only solution you need for cancer, or for heart disease, or for any other physical illness, prayer is not the only solution for mental illness, either, like anxiety or depression. Prayer, instead, invites God to work through doctors and medication, to bring wholeness and healing.
But with that said, let’s look at the role of prayer in our everyday anxieties and worries. Paul tells us not to worry about anything, and that is a consistent theme in Scripture. But I have to admit, this idea used to cause me problems. I used to worry when I would worry about something, knowing that the Bible tells me not to worry. That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? Worrying about worrying? But that is what I used to do. Until I realized that whenever worry is brought up in Scripture, what always follows close behind is prayer.
And what we are really taught in the Bible is to turn our worries into prayers. Most of us can’t help but worry at times. And being told not to worry doesn’t really help that. But turning our worries into prayers is something that we can all do. In fact, I now see the positive side to my worries, because they serve as reminders to me to pray. When I find myself worrying about something, it just reminds me to pray about it.
Do not worry about anything, Paul says, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. So, let me say two more things about turning our worries into prayers. First, we are told that we should let our requests be made known to God by prayer and supplication.
What is supplication? It is a request arising from a specific need. And that is important, because what Paul is telling us is that there is no need too small for God. There is no concern too unimportant to bring to God. We can bring every specific worry, every specific care or concern, to God in prayer. In everything by prayer and supplication means, everything.
And the second thing that Paul tells us is to do this with thanksgiving. And that is very important, too, because a thankful heart is rarely an anxious heart. When we take time to give thanks, in all circumstances, we discover that there is much to be thankful for, in all those circumstances. And our worry and anxiety seem to go down in proportion to how thankful we are.
A Peace which Surpasses All Understanding
Do not worry about anything, Paul tells us, but in everything pray. 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. So let’s wrap things up by looking at this peace that Paul writes about.
It is a peace which surpasses all understanding. Meaning we can’t explain it. We can’t discover it, or create it, or bottle it. We can’t buy it or sell it. We can’t earn it or give it away. We can only receive it. And we can only receive it from God. As Jesus puts it in John’s gospel, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” This is a peace that the world cannot give, and that it cannot take away.
And this peace, Paul tells us, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Now, remember, Paul is writing this from a prison cell. And when he uses the word, “guard,” he is referring to soldiers who are on guard duty. Maybe he’s even looking at his guards as he writes these words. And he realizes that he has a peace from God that is truly guarding him and protecting him. It is guarding and protecting his heart and his mind.
There is no problem in this world that can penetrate this peace. No soldier, no punishment, no prison cell, no sorrow, no anxiety or worry, no loss, no grief, no sadness, and no pandemic that can penetrate the peace which surpasses all understanding. The peace that comes from knowing and believing that the Lord is always near to us.
The Lord promises to be with us always, and God never breaks a promise. And God helps us to turn our worries into prayers. And helps us to be gentle with everyone, knowing and believing that the Lord is always near. So how can we help but rejoice in this Lord, always? So, again I say: Rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord. Always. To the glory of God. Amen