God’s promise of anxiety-overcoming peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Like so many things in the Christian life, the directive here is radical and goes beyond our understanding of things, or what we might do left to ourselves. Off and on I’ve struggled with anxiety. Oftentimes I’ve more or less given up, and just learned to live with it.

It could be translated that we’re not to worry or be anxious, either one. There are few things more debilitating than anxiety. It seems to eat at the core of our being, and take the heart out of life, so that what we do is a mechanical grind. When we’re anxious, we’re failing to trust and rest in God’s provision for us in Christ.

This Scripture probably is helping us both to avoid anxiety or worry, or know how to deal with it when it strikes us. We’re told in every situation what to do. The same thing: with thanksgiving, pray. Prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. Specific requests to God with thanksgiving.

I know that in the past I’ve done this even in a poor way, and found the promise to be true. It’s an act of faith. And God does come through.

Sometimes it can be particularly difficult. I’ve gone through days into weeks in the past, basically not realizing this peace, surely because I failed to follow this directive. Likely a part of the spiritual warfare all believers experience (Ephesians 6:10-20). The enemy knows that anxiety is one way to trip us humans and strip us of God’s peace. And they know our weak, vulnerable places, as well.

The answer in the passage quoted above is simple. We’re to do it. God will help us through whatever we’re facing. But he wants to do so while we have his peace. The peace of God which goes beyond any understanding we have. That is our call and privilege in and through Jesus.

one thing we can do and not quit doing

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

Given the world’s scene, and the mess right here in the United States, and just considering our own worlds, what we’re up against, there’s one thing we can do, something we should not let up on. You could say the parable hints, until our Lord returns. That is prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Simply praying.

As we can surmise from Jesus’s words, need should prompt us to pray. And don’t we experience that, and see it everywhere? Prayer should be something we’re getting used to, a part of who we are. But since we’re so used to the old way of the flesh which includes taking care of things ourselves, or just plain giving up, not factoring God into the picture, the new way takes practice and time. Not to mention the spiritual warfare we’re up against. The spiritual enemy will do what they can to keep us from praying, since that exacts a toll on the evil they’re doing or intend to do. We’re told to stand strong in the strength God provides, even in God’s strength, and put on the armor of Christ and the gospel, standing firm against the spiritual enemy. And continue in prayers (Ephesians 6:10-20).

We might scratch our heads at our Lord’s saying that God will bring about justice quickly. But the point is that our prayers matter and make a difference now. In the tough slog of life with all our questions and difficulties we’re to persist in prayer. With praise and thanksgiving, confession of sin, and requests. Simply crying out for God’s goodness and righteousness (justice) to prevail. In and through Jesus.

our struggle is not against people

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

If there’s anyone who struggled with people besides our Lord, it was surely the Apostle Paul. When you read the account in Scripture, it’s remarkable what all he went through especially from his own people, but sometimes from others as well. His life, like our Lord had previously indicated, was marked with suffering. And Paul did warn people about certain characters who were resisting the gospel and its messengers.

But in Ephesians we read something that is remarkable in itself and yet given the message of Scripture and what is more and more revealed along the way is arguably not all that surprising. There are underlying spiritual entities at work both to resist us and resist our witness. They are active and at work in usually the most subtle ways, though sometimes not so subtle. C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is a remarkable read that lifts the veil off what they’ve been doing the past few centuries right through to the present day, even with anticipation of what’s beyond. Without getting into that, which I’m not prepared to do anyhow, I want to insist that what Paul calls us to here is nothing short than living in the truth of the gospel, as we share that gospel as a witness to others.

What do we tend to do instead? We fall right into the enemy’s trap by doing something different. We might fight fire with fire. We might enter into the struggle as if it’s against other humans, perhaps a political or philosophical battle rather than a spiritual one. That doesn’t mean that something of philosophy or politics might not find its way into what is going on, though the gospel should always be front and center. The point is that we’re no less than in a spiritual battle, with the Holy Spirit at our side to help us through prayer and our attempt to do in the Lord’s strength, what God calls us to do here.

With these things in mind, we want to beware entering into the enemy’s turf by stooping to something less than what we’re called to do. Yes, there’s always grace for us in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing what’s best or most pleasing to the Lord. So we want to avoid insofar as possible partisan politics, like siding either against or for some particular politician or government official. This seems to be a major way in which the enemy is either tripping us up, or our witness. That said, we also need to be willing to take some controversial stands which will be considered political. The gospel is not just about one’s personal relationship with God and their salvation. It includes so much more, at the very least in its impact on all of life. If we fail to take that into account, then we’re not following Paul’s example or heeding what Scripture says. But we want to do so as those who are “as wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves.”

This really all begins with our own walk. We should not imagine that God has something “great” for us to do day after day. The great God wants done is that we see to ourselves, as the text above says, and pray. God will let us in on other things along the way, but it must always be first things first, the basics in place. We must seek to live in the strength and provision from God, realizing that we are in a battle, a spiritual one. In and through Jesus.

finding peace (and holding on to that)

Peace in Scripture means a number of things. First in the Old Testament it is about human well being and flourishing and that in community. That involves justice and righteousness and mercy. In passages in the New Testament it is more in terms of one’s position through faith in Christ. Christ himself is called our peace in that in his Person and by the cross, his death, he has broken down the walls which separate people into warring parties, instead uniting them together in him. And then there’s the peace which surpasses or goes beyond all understanding. That’s the peace I’m referring to in this post. But the other aspects of “peace” found in English Bible translations are in play here.

You find this sense of peace by being willing to live at times without it. If you make living in peace the end all, then you might well miss out in it altogether. We can’t bring it about ourselves. It’s the peace of God, therefore from God, including what Jesus called his peace that he gives to his disciples which is referred to here.

For myself, I’ve lived much of my life in the absence of peace. Usually I’ve went from one anxiety or worry to the next one. And as a Christian, that is decidedly the weakest point I think, where therefore the spiritual enemy attacks. I’ll be fine, and out of the blue, or sooner than later I’m not fine anymore. I’m so used to it, yet it’s something you never get really used to, because it’s too unsettling.

But the opportunity out of that is that no matter what, and I mean no matter what, we can pray and find God’s peace. But that takes a commitment and refusal to lapse into the way we’re used to dealing with problems. It requires prayer. And the realization that we are indeed in a spiritual battle. I don’t think I can emphasize enough that it’s important in the midst of all of this to accept one’s lack of peace. That’s hard, but a part of faith. Only God can give us what we need. Yes, we can try to find answers in the realms of wisdom and knowledge. But in the end it is God alone who grants us peace. Something I’m always reaching out toward, and seeking to live in. In and through Jesus.

what we’re responsible for

…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

So often we can either get caught up in the past or the future. Downcast because of past mistakes and sins. Apprehensive because of possible future consequences or fear of the unknown.

That is part of the ploy of the enemy (spiritual, of course). But what we’re called to do is what Jesus tells us here (click reference for context). We’re not to worry about tomorrow, and we’re not to be frozen or even defined by past mistakes. What we’re responsible for is the present, right now.

We repent over past sins, and try to learn from past mistakes so that we can do better, gathering wisdom from Scripture. Of course we can’t undo the past, as much as we would like. But hopefully it can serve as a help for us, so that we can help others. Nor do we wring our hands in apprehension over the future. Jesus’s words address that directly in Matthew 6 (click link above). Our Father knows all we need, and will take care of our needs as we trust in him, and seek first his righteousness and kingdom in our lives, and in life in general.

It is so vitally important to have hope for today, right now. Not to be down because of the past, or be worrying about the future. It’s the present we’re responsible for. We don’t want to let the devil get us down and out because of what is out of our control.

It’s the present in which we live, where God meets us, and helps us to receive from him so that we in turn might give to others. In and through Jesus.

trusting in God no matter what

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den.When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Daniel 6:19-23

Daniel was faithful no matter what. But underlying that faithfulness was a rock solid faith in the faithfulness of God. Daniel trusted God.

Daniel’s trust was not hinged to good circumstances. It was trust in God through good times and bad times. It was honed and made solid from years of daily practice. The development and growth of faith takes considerable time.

The king, Darius, was led to make a decree which was set up by men who were jealous of Daniel, and wanted to get rid of him. But Daniel payed no attention to the edict to pray only to the king, and continued day after day to open his windows and face Jerusalem, praying to God. According to the edict, whoever prayed to anyone other than the king was to be thrown into the lion’s den.

Daniel trusted in his God no matter what. I’m sure he wasn’t assured of the outcome, but he was assured that through life or death God could be trusted. In this case it was an outcome which for Daniel was good, but not for his enemies. A pretty ruthless day and age.

The passage talks about the king’s emotional state, but not Daniel’s. I’m sure Daniel had emotions throughout it. But above all, he kept trusting God, I’m sure by praying. And if he had scrolls, looking into God’s word, or hearing it at weekly gatherings where it was read. And he continued to do what he was called to do.

We might face fearful circumstances, or quite often just fearful thoughts which frequently are baseless.  The roaring lion, the devil prowls about looking for someone to devour, the context in Peter in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 5:8-9). But God shuts the mouth of the lion. In a certain way now the devil can’t touch us (1 John 5:18). The roar is meant to instill fear. We need to ignore that and continue on in faith. Doing what God has called us to do, and above all continuing to trust in him. God will always see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

handling trouble in a godly way

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[b] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job lost everything except his wife: his livelihood, his seven children, and then his health. And the rest of the book is well worth reading, rereading, and pondering. But Job did not abandon his faith in God. He was up against it, at his wit’s end. The story ends well. But part of what can be instructive for us upfront and right away is Job’s initial response to all that happened.

It’s interesting how some seem to go along in life without little care. And that includes those who are responsible. While others of us seem to be chomping at the bit to descend into fear and the fretting that ordinarily accompanies that.

How much better to trust the heavenly Father, just as Jesus taught us (Matthew 6:19-34). To leave everything into God’s good, more than capable hands. To trust that the Father will see us through. And to learn to live in that prospect with the peace that accompanies it. So it’s a matter of trust versus fear.

Paul gives us what perhaps is the most direct, specific direction in dealing with trouble and troubling thoughts when they come:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Seems like an impossible command, I say loving directive, not to be anxious or worry when trouble comes. But instead, in every situation we’re to pray, and tell God our concern. And thank God for the good in our lives. With the promise that God will give us peace, a peace that goes beyond our limited understanding. That our hearts and minds will be guarded in Christ Jesus. I have thought that worse than nearly any problem is my own reaction to it. We do our best, but in the end, God is the one from whom all blessing flows. This world is not trouble free, even as Jesus told us. We simply need to submit ourselves to the Father’s care.

I wonder if this is a part of the spiritual warfare we’re up against as Christians. I’m sure the spiritual enemy does try to exploit whatever weakness we have. We do well to go back to Ephesians 6:10-20 and ponder that in prayer.

What is crucial for us is how we react when trouble comes. Job initially does well, and then we see the rest of the book, how he responds further. Of course he didn’t have all the revelation we have now, or the person writing the wisdom story, one of the oldest if not the oldest writings of the Bible. It’s not like there’s going to be no wrestling or anxious moments. But whatever we’re experiencing within or without, we need to commit ourselves to growth in doing so in a godly matter, depending on what God’s word tells us. In and through Jesus.