On our journey to a life filled with gratitude, we have discovered the many gifts God have blessed us with, in the natural, but more importantly, in our spiritual growth. From our Give Thanks Bible Study, we know that God is good and that he has sent Jesus Christ to us as our greatest gift. We know he has a very special plan for our future and loves us dearly. For all these reasons and many more, we find that the practice of thanksgiving builds our trust in our heavenly Father and gives us courage for the future. Most importantly, gratitude fills us with joy and peace that nothing on this earth can provide. Recognizing God’s goodness in our lives results in a heart posture the world will not understand – that of unrelenting joy.
According to Amazon and Kindle, Philippians 4:4-9 is the most highlighted passages in scripture, especially verses 6 and 7. In this letter to the church in Phillipi (and Christians throughout the ages), Apostle Paul encourages the congregation to live as citizens of a heavenly city. He teaches us to grow in service to God and others by following the example of Jesus Christ. We are urged to adopt an attitude of joy and reason, replacing our anxiety with expectant, grateful prayer.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.Philippians 4:4-9
Anxiety is the most dangerous pandemic of our time and is far more infectious than any virus. It steals our joy and peace while influencing our reaction to daily conflicts. Symptoms include excess use of the phrase “what if” which points to a habit of anxious insecure thinking as we attempt to control every situation. This only results in chaos and sin. When anxiety reigns in our hearts it is easy to forget that God is the one who is sovereign, holy and near to us every single moment of our lives. He loves us with a redeeming love which should fill us with reasons to rejoice and trust. If we make a habit of remembering his past blessings we will have a permanent attitude of thankfulness to God. From this stance, we can experience an outpouring of love for others and pursuit of unity with other followers of Christ. With a grateful heart, we can also pray expectantly with confidence, filling our minds with Godly contemplation.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!Philippians 4:4
This command from Paul seems an almost impossible feat, yet he wrote these words while sitting on a cold stone floor in a Roman prison cell awaiting execution. The joy written about here is not the happiness that is dependent on our circumstances, but instead refers to deep contentment in the Lord because he is always good and always with us. We know that our God is always in control, so we should always be glad. Our inner attitude does not have to reflect on our outward circumstances. Paul could have this disposition of joy only because he was sure that Jesus Christ was with him, even in prison. The lens we choose to use when looking at our surroundings will influence how our outward circumstances affect our inner temperament. If our lens is one of joy in the Lord for all his benefits, anxiety cannot find a foothold in our hearts.
The Lord is near
Let your gentleness (reasonableness) be evident to all. The Lord is near (at hand/coming soon).Philippians 4:5
As we grow towards the nature and example of Jesus Christ, we should seek to be considerate of others and want to draw them towards Jesus. Our joy is in the return of Jesus and the fact that he dwells in us now already through the Holy Spirit. When Jesus returns he will realize our ultimate joy and fulfil his purpose in us. This is our greatest reason for joy.
Replacing anxiety with 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
There can be no doubt that Paul says we should never be anxious. Never, ever? That is just crazy talk, right? Not quite. Here he is reminding us of the teaching of Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount.
Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.“Matthew 6:25-34
Jesus admonishes us as his followers to put our trust completely in the hands of our Father because he knows our needs better than we ever could. We should turn our worries into prayers, presenting them to God and then leaving them with him. In his book Anxious for Nothing, Max Lucado uses the example of taking an appliance to the repair shop and then sleeping on the floor of the store, while you wait for the repairman to fix the fault, just in case he needs your help. This sounds ridiculous, but this is exactly how we act when we pray to God. We want to give him advice and tell him how to take care of us while he is the ultimate ruler of the universe. Lucado encourages us to resign as the ruler of our universe and leave our concerns with the real Ruler because he is in control and he knows best.
What we can add to our prayers is the thanksgiving for who God is and what he has already done for our salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We can give thanks for God’s wisdom and love that designs everything – our pleasure and pain which he will work out for our good. This gratitude will in turn fill us with the peace which guards our heart against anxiety because we have the security that our destiny is set and that we can overcome sin. Anxiety and gratitude cannot share the same heart. When we can focus our mental energy on Jesus Christ there will be less space in our heart for anxious negative thoughts and the good thoughts from the Spirit will take over.
Focus on the right things
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Philippians 4:8
We are very quick to forget how much power we have over our thoughts. When Satan tempts us with thoughts of doubt or fear, we can so easily latch on to these hints and allow them to snowball into anxiety storms that signal the end of our world. Yet we are told to focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. We must fix our minds on what is praiseworthy.
In this information age, we are constantly bombarded by (mis)information – whether it is relevant to us or not. Social media is flooded with the highlight reels of the lives of others and we compare ourselves to their situation. Advertisers listen to our thoughts to show us the desires of our hearts are on sale and just one swipe away. Our reality seems bleak in comparison which fills us with anxiety. Once again, all Satan does is plant the picture in front of us and we take it further. Do I really have enough? Is my life really good? Does God really love me? Why don’t I have a partner/house/child/dream job/thin body? He must not care about me. I must not be worthy.
No! Stop! Measure your thoughts against what is true: You do not know that person’s story, so you cannot compare your cross to theirs. You don’t know what the future holds but you do know God is good, so the future will be good. Only God can see the big picture and only he knows why you don’t have the partner/house/child/dream job/thin body. Jesus has already died for you so that is all you need to know about the future.
We can apply the same principle to whatever is right, pure, lovely and admirable, but I want to take a moment to reflect on whatever is noble. We know that we have been adopted as children of God and wear the royal seal of the Holy Spirit. We are the betrothed of the King of the universe. We are royalty, nobility. Have you ever met a poor prince or princess? As nobility, we lack no good thing because God fills us with abundance. When our thoughts start accounting the things we do not have then we are not evaluating our lives through the lens of the child of a king. Everything we have is for our good, and everything that is withheld from us is also for our good. Looking at life with a posture of abundance fills us with thanksgiving for all we have and don’t have and joy overflows – always.
Put it into practice
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.Philippians 4:9
You can highlight Philippians 4 in all the colours of the rainbow, but if you don’t put Paul’s advice into practice, it will not change you and you will remain anxious (ask me, I am an expert). Joy and gratitude work in a beautiful cycle: We are joyful because we are grateful for who God is, and when we recount all he has done for us we are filled with joy. Then anxiety has no place in our lives and is replaced with the peace of God. This peace does not come from positive affirmations or good feelings or even avoiding conflict. The peace of God emanates from a heart that knows God is in control and that our kingdom is secure – our destiny is set.
It is completely normal to be anxious. Jesus was anxious in Gethsemane when he prayed that the Father remove the cup from him (Luke 22:42). But he concluded with “not my will, but yours, be done” and he left it at the Father’s feet because he knew whatever the Father’s will is, is good. And thankfully he did, otherwise we would be doomed.
The prescription for an anxious-free life is capturing our runaway thoughts and making them obedient to the truth of Jesus Christ so the peace of God can fill our hearts and lives. By constantly reminding ourselves of the many reasons we have to be grateful, we leave no space for fears of the future because we know the One who holds the future is good.
Click on the link below to watch my Facebook Live discussion on Philippians 4.