From Worry to Prayer: a reflection on Philippians 4

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In one of the most well-known passages from Paul on prayer, Philippians 4:6-7, we read these words:

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.

Every time I read the first part of verse 6 – “Do not be anxious about anything” – I confess that I feel a tingle of guilt over my tendency to become anxious about things. However, if there’s one thing I have discovered, it’s that feeling unnecessarily guilty about the things of God often kills the growth that God wants to bring. I pointedly say “unnecessarily” there because there are certainly things we should feel guilty about, such as willful sin, disobedience to God’s express commands, or lack of love toward others. Guilt should lead us to repentance and the kindness of God’s grace.

However, when we start to feel false guilt over feeling anxious based on this verse, it doesn’t help us do what Paul is really after here in his words to the Philippians. He is most concerned with calling the believers to prayer. Perhaps the rendering of the old King James Version will help us here because it sounds so foreign:

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

The word (μεριμνᾶτε) literally means to be anxious or troubled by many cares. Paul is encouraging the believers not to be weighed down with their worries (or even guilt about having those worries), but to turn toward the presence of God in prayer to present to God those sources of care and worry, thankfully trusting that God will answer.

To put it in practical terms, when cares and worries are overtaking us we should immediately reach out to God in prayer. That is the sort of mental and spiritual activity that is most beneficial; much more than agonizing over the sources of worry, let alone being guilty about worrying. When the stresses of life – relationships, work, school, the future – reach out to grab us and hold us within their grubby hands, we should turn immediately and run into the arms of our good God. With Him we find open arms to receive us, hands capable of holding our troubles and worries, and divine peace that inexplicably enables us to find gratitude even in the midst of our stormy lives. The Apostle Peter echoes these words of Paul when he writes:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

What anxieties or worries do you need to release into the hands of God today?

What would it look like now to turn to God in prayer to experience His provision, peace, and care?

 

Power in Prayer: Learning to Pray with St. Paul

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a teaching series entitled “Power in  Prayer: Learning to Pray with St. Paul.” This series is the first of a three-part series related to our 40th anniversary as a church. Since the earliest days of Eastbrook, prayer has been profoundly important and vital to our life as a church. It was often said that we wanted to be a church that could only be explained by the power of God.

As we move forward we want that to continue to be true. We believe that prayer is the heart of what it means to live with God, live as the church, and live on mission in the world. In this series, we will explore three basic aspects of the life of prayer so that we might be rooted in life with God and bearing fruit for His kingdom.

August 17/18 – “Prayer as Living within God’s Love” (Ephesians 3:14-21)

August 24/25 – “Prayer as Life-Shaping by God” (Colossians 1:9-17)

August 31/September 1 – “Prayer as Power for Mission with God” (Romans 15:23-33)

Bibliography for Ephesians series

 

Here is the resource bibliography to accompany the recent preaching series, “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity.” Although I utilized many books or resources for specific messages within this series, I did not include all of those in this bibliography. Instead, I limited it to books our preaching team utilized throughout the series. The books I found particularly helpful are marked with an asterisk.

Bibliography on the book of Ephesians:

* C. E. Arnold. “Ephesians, Letter to the.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, 238-249. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993.

F. F. Bruce. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984.

John Chrysostom. “Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians.” In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff, vol. 13, 49-172. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004.

LaMoine F. DeVries. Cities of the Biblical World. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997.

*Harold W. Hoehner. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

William W. Klein. “Ephesians.” In Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev., vol. 12, 19-173. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Eugene Peterson.  Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.

* Andrew T. Lincoln. Ephesians. WBC. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1990.

Handley C. G. Moule. Ephesian Studies. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1900.

Klyne Snodgrass. Ephesians. NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

John R. W. Stott. The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1979.

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 6)

This is my final post in a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

As he concludes his letter to the Philippians, Paul offers some final ‘secrets’ to living well for God.

The first is to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). This echoes Paul’s theme of thankfulness from chapter one, that there is a grateful joy we can have in life. The secret behind such rejoicing is to turn our anxiety in to prayer, presenting God with our requests and living in His peace (4:6-7).

The second ‘secret’ to living well is to fill our minds with the right sort of things. Paul knows the power that inner thoughts have to shape the life of a person. Because of this, he encourages the Philippian believers to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (4:8).  What we think about impacts our lives through our attitude, words, and desires. Thoughts have power.

A third ‘secret’ Paul mentions from his own life is contentment. He writes: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want” (4:12). Obviously, we know from Paul’s life that he has been in a variety of situations. Even now, he is writing from prison. In it all, however, Paul is content. The secret to Paul’s contentment is knowing God’s strength living in him: “I can do all this through Him who gives me  strength” (4:13). Paul points these words toward the Philippians’ situation later: “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).

As he begins, Paul concludes by rejoicing in God’s good gifts, thinking on excellent things that God does, and content because of all God provides.

How are you doing at living into these spiritual ‘secrets’ Paul outlines at the end of his letter to the Philippians?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 5)

This is the fifth in a series of posts on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are written from devotional reflections on the Scripture.

Paul is driven by an all-consuming desire to know Christ. In one sense, Paul already knows Christ, as he writes: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (3:8).

Because of this saving knowledge of Christ, Paul has set aside all earthly accomplishments or religious means of proving himself. He even counts those things as rubbish – or dung – so that he can “gain Christ” and a righteousness of Christ by faith. Paul has a focused perspective on Christ’s impact on his standing before God.

But, in another sense, Paul has more to know of Christ. He says immediately after this: “I want to know Christ” (3:10). There is a sense that something needs to be filled in with Paul’s knowledge of Christ. Paul outlines i this way: “I want to know the power of the resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection of the dead” (3:10-11).

Paul wants to know Jesus’ death and resurrection, His suffering and His glory. This all seems to point toward an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ that is far beyond what Paul knows now. He has not yet fully experienced this sort of knowledge of Christ (3:12).

How are you growing in your experiential knowledge of Christ these days?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 4)

This post continues a series of posts with thoughts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

Paul mentions Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippians when writing to them. From Paul’s laudatory words, we see that both of these men are examples to the believers then and us today.

Paul describes Timothy as:

  • “I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (2:20)
  • “Timothy has proved himself” by serving with Paul “as a son with his father” in the work of the gospel; apparently being one who looks out for the interests of Christ Jesus, not just himself (2:21-22)
  • he will faithfully report back to Paul (2:19)

Paul describes Epaphroditus as:

  • “my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier” (2:25)
  • “your messenger” sent to take care of Paul’s needs (2:25)
  • became sick while with Paul, almost died, but is now well (2:26-27) by God’s mercy
  • “risked his life” for the gospel work by caring for Paul (2:30)

These two believers were examples that Paul could hold up for the church in Phillipi. We all need examples of faithfulness to God toward whom we look in our daily lives. Those examples help us as we try to continue to pursue God and work for Him in this world.

How have examples of faith been an encouragement to you in your faith?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 3)

This is the third in a series of posts with thoughts from Paul’s letter to the PhilippiansA Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 1). These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

I have always been captured by Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good pleasure.

These two short verses provide what I see as the best description of the mysterious tension that exists in our lives between God’s power and our effort. Paul is challenging his readers to obey God – and his teaching about God – even though he is geographically apart from them and in prison. He offers a kind, yet challenging, word to the believers to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

In essence, Paul is telling us that we need to put in hard work to work this all out. It will not just ‘happen’ without energy expended and effort given to the work. I cannot help but think of Paul’s encouragement to his young pastoral trainee, Timothy, to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). His comparison in that passage to physical training seems to echo through the current words to the Philippian believers. ‘Get to it! Don’t stop working at it!’ Paul says.

But the other half of the equation is the reality that “it is God who works in you.” This working out of our salvation is not something based in human effort alone. Our own efforts find strength and their source in the truth that God is at work within us. This should encourage us, but also give us that “fear and trembling” Paul references here. Right now and right here in our lives, the Living God is at work. He will do His work in our lives. That’s why Paul said that God will “fulfill His good purpose” in us or, as he wrote earlier in this same letter, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

So, we find ourselves resting in this mysterious tension that we are to work out our salvation, while knowing that anything that comes worth talking about is fully from God’s gracious work in us. We cannot wait for God to do something without putting some effort into it. Yet, we cannot believe our efforts will do a thing apart from the powerful working of God in our lives.

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]