Today we are going to continue our preaching series based on those lessons we can learn from the book of Philippians. Thus far, we learned that this particular book is actually a letter Paul writes while he is in prison and it was intended to bring about joy and hope to its recipients. This letter is meant to impress upon us that the Christian life, regardless of circumstances, can be one of happiness and holiness. Two weeks ago, we used this letter to help us dissolve the myth of location: what it is, why it does not matter, and what this means for each of our own personal ministries. Last week, we attempted to use this letter to help raise our own awareness to the impact of our attitudes and how when we adopt a servant mindset, our priorities shift, our humility is heightened, and our pursuits are no longer self-centered but Christ centered. Today we are going to look at the how this letter reveals to us the certainty of God's promises allowing us to celebrate this life. Specifically, how we as people of faith, should approach uncertainty and deal with our tendency to worry.
It is All About Perspective
Have you heard the old story about the young man who enthusiastically joined the monastery? Wanting the highest and the best, the young monk immediately took the vow of silence. The solemn vow meant the monk could only speak two words a year and those were reserved for his annual evaluation with the Abbott. The first year passed and the Abbot asked the monk how he was doing. Without hesitation the monk replied, "Food Bad." Another year passed and the Abbott again asked the monk how he was doing. The monk replied, "Bed hard." When asked for an evaluation the third year, the young monk said, "I quit." "Well", said the Abbott, "I'm not surprised. All you have done since you came here is complain, complain, complain."
Life seems to be in turmoil right now – our country finds itself in a recession – businesses are collapsing, folks losing jobs, others are watching the investments that they had counted on to provide for them, slip away with the bottoming out of the stock market. There have been a lot of changes. How are we going to handle those? How are we going to face those? Especially in light of our faith. Because the answer for how we handle and face change should be different that those who don’t have a belief in Jesus Christ. It really should.
So what should be our perspective as believers in Jesus Christ? Paul lays it out in one of the best ways I have ever seen. Listen again to his words,
“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. (Phil 4:4-7, NRSV)
Now how many of you never worry? I know I do and I am pretty sure all of you do as well. We have grown up being taught to worry. Worry about grades in school, success in our jobs, now a days it is even keeping our jobs. Worrying about our houses and are they nice enough, big enough, stable enough. Our cars, our friends, our finances. The list can go on an on. We all worry. But here Paul takes to the opposite of worry. He says, "Do not worry about anything!" Please understand that this direction is nothing new. Three times in Matthew chapter 6 alone, Jesus tells us, "Do not worry." (25,31,34)
To help this concept take root a bit deeper, let's try this. I will suggest some things that would concern most people and would like all of you to reply with the words, "Do not worry about anything!"
"Paul, I am worried about some bad news I received about my health."
"Do not worry about anything!"
"Paul, I am anxious about our country's economic situation."
"Do not worry about anything!"
"Paul, I am worried about my family and the world that we are leaving to them."
"Do not worry about anything!"
But Paul is not finished. He takes it a step further and says not only are we not worry, but we are not to worry about anything. Zip, zilch, nada, nothing. With so much uncertainty in this life, how, by all that is holy, can we not worry?
The Answer to Worry
The answer lies in Paul's second statement, a statement with a very clear and specific set of instructions. “...but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The answer to alleviating the worry in our lives is through prayer, through specific requests, and to do it with an attitude of thanksgiving, knowing God is in control.
If want to alleviate worry in your life, pray. Pray daily, pray often. This is the way we communicate with God. And after you pray, listen. You talk and then let God talk. I try to pray five times a day. Not just at meals or before I go to bed. Pray abundantly, pray without ceasing.
We are also to pray specifically. Yes, God knows all of our concerns, and yes the Holy Spirit can and does pray our prayers for us when we are overwhelmed. But praying by supplication is not for God, but for us. It is us having that opportunity to be with God, connect with God, deepen our relationship with God. The best way to grow deeper with someone is to spend time with them. Be open with them.
And we are to pray with thanksgiving, with confidence, knowing that God is in control. We can be grateful that we serve a God that is always present, grieving as we grieve, crying as we cry, present with us no matter what we face.
But what makes this act so difficult, is that the practice of not worrying, of praying with supplication and thanksgiving, is that it will involve a change in our lives.
Therefore, our perspective is very important, especially when we are in a state of change. Change is hard and often scary. Most people don’t like change, they avoid it if at all possible. And the principle thing that most people don’t like is to change is themselves. We resist change even when it is in our best interests. We like power, we crave control and to turn all things over to God can be scary. Letting go of the control can be frightening. But if our perspective in life is to live for God, then we have to try.
Paul tries to put those fears to rest by explaining what happens when we can let go of the power and turn our worries over to God. When we let go, when we do not worry by turning our cares over to the one person that can really do something about them, we gain peace. The peace of God. The peace of God that “surpasses all understanding, [that] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7, NRSV)
All of this, everything we have talked about so far this morning, it all goes back to verses 4-5, ““Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” We can have peace, we can rejoice, because God is a part of our lives. Every Sunday morning we begin worship by praying for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, to come into this place. And not only to come but to move, move in us, move around us, move between us. We ask God to be active. And because we ask, he does. We do not want to simply worship God when we come here, we should expect to experience God when we come here. That is how we rejoice. We rejoice because God is here and because God is in control. When we lay our worries before God, receive God's peace as a result, and rejoice that God is near, those feelings are life changing. They are transforming!
Folks, if you hear nothing else this morning hear this. These feelings can be yours everyday. It does not have to be a Sunday only affair, a Sunday only experience. You can experience God in the high times outside of this place, and you can experience God in the low times outside of this place. Through prayer, through thanksgiving, we can all experience a peace which surpasses all understanding that gives the opportunity to rejoice.
We see it in the great Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, who was once asked by a friend why his church music was so full of gladness and Haydn replied: “I cannot make it otherwise. I write according to the thoughts I feel; when I think upon my God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap from my pen; and since God has given me a cheerful heart… I can do no other than serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”
I tell you all of this because I sincerely want one thing for all of you. I want you to have the chance to celebrate. I want your life to be full of celebrations. I want you to be able to celebrate victories, celebrate each other, reveal in the euphoria of seeing people comes closer to God.
Today we have the opportunity to celebrate a baptism, a new person adopted by the body of Christ.
We also have the opportunity to celebrate the Marion County YMCA for all of the dedication, service, and love they extended to so many of the youth in this area. Let me tell you, as I walked around our campus this summer, I saw counselors running and playing games with the children. I saw people taking a genuine interest in these children and teaching them the value of honesty, caring, respect, responsibility, and faith. I witnessed the gratitude that they felt as the campers would thank our church members for having summer camp here. I was moved when 41 kids prayed to God for the first time in our Fellowship Hall. These counselors worked extremely hard this summer. These children played even harder. But we all grew. We all had the chance to celebrate, to rejoice, to lay our worries at the feet of the one who loved us first, and simply revel in his presence and his love.
I want to read for you our scripture lesson again, from the Message translation,
“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!
Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.
It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
Never lose the desire to celebrate. Never lose sight that God is near. Never forget that God only wants the best for you. Turn your worries over to God today. Right here, right now. Come to this rail, pour out your worries, your cares, your concerns, to your Heavenly Father. Trust in his grace, bathe in his mercy, be transformed by his love. God is waiting. God wants you to experience his peace that surpasses all understanding. God wants you to begin anew today, celebrating life, celebrating each other.