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?

 

A Prayer of Clement of Alexandria

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Be kind to Your little children, Lord; that is what we ask of You as their Tutor, You the Father, Israel’s guide; Son, yes, but Father as well. Grant that by doing what You told us to do, we may achieve a faithful likeness to the Image and, as far as is possible for us, may find in You a good God and a lenient Judge.

May we all live in the peace that comes from You. May we journey towards Your city, sailing through the waters of sin untouched by the waves, borne tranquilly along by the Holy Spirit, Your Wisdom beyond all telling. Night and day until the last day of all, may our praises give You thanks, our thanksgiving praise You: You who alone are both Father and Son, Son and Father, the Son who is our Tutor and our Teacher, together with the Holy Spirit.

By St. Clement of Alexandria, early teacher and apologist for the faith.

Six Pastoral Reflections on the California Synagogue Shooting

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This past Saturday, a 19-year-old man opened fire in a synagogue near San Diego, Chabad of Poway, killing one and injuring several others. This past fall, a similar shooting occurred at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, taking even more lives.  Since Saturday’s events, I have been reflecting on how we should think about and respond to this situation as followers of Jesus. Let me offer six basic responses here.

1. Lament – Paul the Apostle encouraged the early Christians to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). One of the greatest gifts we can offer to another person in grief is to sit with them in mourning. This was, in fact, the best gift that Job’s friends offered him in his distress. Let us, too, mourn with those in mourning and, as opportunity arises, share comfort with those in mourning from the overflow of comfort we have received in our own lives (2 Corinthians 1:4).

2. Rebuke hate – As Christians we follow a Savior who brought God’s grace and truth and embodied God’s love to the world (John 1:14; 1 John 3:16). Because of this, we cannot countenance hatred, whether within us or others, whether toward other Christians or those who do not share our beliefs. Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and even more mild forms of prejudice have no place within those who name Christ as Lord. Valid disagreement about beliefs do not give us permission to hate, whether passively or actively, those with whom we disagree.

3. Be a peacemaker – In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). We can be peacemakers because, as the Apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). James, that advocate for faith manifesting in good works, exhorted early Christians, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18). We have an amazing opportunity in the midst of strife and danger to actively move forward as people marked by Jesus’ peace.

4. Advocate for change – Gun deaths in the United States surpass that of other nations, not just in numbers, but in percentage of our population. While I have many friends who are strong gun-rights activists, I have also talked with others, from gun shop owners to those who have lost loved ones to gun-related deaths, who agree that something needs to change in the legal processes by which guns are purchased and regulated. As Christians, who value the dignity of each human life made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and seek to be peacemakers (James 3:18), we must advocate for better gun legislation.

5. Look to ourselves – Early reports indicate that the young man accused of this shooting was a church attendee at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church just twelve miles away from the synagogue he terrorized. While the pastor of that church has appropriately distanced the congregation from this egregious event, all of us who follow Jesus must enter into a time of self-reflection about ways in which our own faith or congregational life might, even inadvertently, give rise to such hatred. God’s grace is sufficient for us to face into hard truths about ourselves. Peter tells us that judgment begins in God’s household (1 Peter 4:17), so we should humbly pray, “Search me, God, and…see if there is any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24).

6. Pray – There is always power in prayer. God has given us the gift of prayer that we might reach out relationally to Him but also so that we might reach out to the world through Him. Every action listed above requires great wisdom, compassion, perseverance, and strength. The best way to move forward with all of these actions is from the foundation of prayer and trusting God with the results. There is not an either/or that must exist between prayer and action. Ideally, prayer and action fit together as two parts of the Christian response to any calamity. Certainly we can agree with the Apostle Paul: “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

The Good News of Jesus

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This weekend, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at Eastbrook Church, we will begin a two-week message series exploring “The Good News of Jesus.” Drawing upon the post-resurrection accounts within the Gospel of John, we want to bring into sharper focus the ways in which Jesus brings good news to the world.

April 20/21 [Easter]: “The Good News of the Resurrected One” – John 20:1-10, 30-31
The resurrection of Jesus from death brings good news into our lives. As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, we will also explore three themes of how this is good news: light overwhelming darkness, freedom overcoming prisons, and life overpowering death.

April 27/28: “The Good News of New Beginnings” – John 20:11-21:25
After Jesus’ resurrection, John offer a series of encounters that Jesus has with real people. Each of these encounters sheds light on the way in which Jesus’ resurrection is good news: God’s presence in loss (Mary), God’s peace in fear (disciples in the upper room), God’s guidance in doubt (Thomas), and God’s restoration in failure (Peter).

Live in Peace

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Have you ever felt worried, distressed, or anxious?

Yes, I know that might seem like a ridiculous question. In one way or another, we have all experienced worry, distress, or anxiety. These real experiences of our lives are the sort of things we encounter throughout the Scripture. In fact, the writer of Psalm 4 expresses thoughts we all likely relate to:

Answer me when I call to You, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1)

Where do you turn to find peace in these times? Often, we turn to friends or family for support, or look to distractions like television or reading a book. In themselves, none of these things are bad. However, within Psalm 4, we are directed in another way. The psalmist instructs us in the way we should turn in our distress.

God’s Strong Presence
First of all, the psalmist shows us to whom we should turn. “Of course,” you might say, “you are going to say that I should turn to God.” Yes, that is true, but it is not enough of the truth in this case. The psalmist says Read More »

“Peace”: two poems by Herbert and Hopkins

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This past weekend, my message at Eastbrook Church was entitled “The Hunger for Peace.” It was the latest installment of our “Hungry for God” series during Lent. As with many sermons, there are aspects of study and illustrations that never make it into the actual delivered message. As a lover of poetry, I couldn’t help but want to share these two poems on peace, one by 17th century poet and priest, George Herbert, and another by 19th century poet and priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

“Peace” by George Herbert

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell ?  I humbly crave,
        Let me once know.
    I sought thee in a secret cave,
      And ask’d, if Peace were there.
A hollow winde did seem to answer, No :
        Go seek elsewhere.

I did ;  and going did a rainbow note :
        Surely, thought I,
    This is the lace of Peaces coat :
      I will search out the matter.
But while I lookt, the clouds immediately
        Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden, and did spy
        A gallant flower,
    The crown Imperiall :  Sure, said I,
      Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devoure
        What show’d so well.

At length I met a rev’rend good old man :
        Whom when of Peace
    I did demand, he thus began ;
      There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase
        Of flock and fold.

He sweetly liv’d ;  yet sweetnesse did not save
        His life from foes.
    But after death out of his grave
      There sprang twelve stalks of wheat :
Which many wondring at, got some of those
        To plant and set.

It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse
        Through all the earth :
    For they that taste it do rehearse,
      That vertue lies therein ;
A secret vertue bringing peace and mirth
        By flight of sinne.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
        And grows for you ;
    Make bread of it :  and that repose
      And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestnesse you do pursue
        Is onely there.

   *   *   *

“Peace” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
      He comes to brood and sit.

The Hunger for Peace [Hungry for God]

During Lent at Eastbrook Church, we continue to explore the soul-deep hungers in our lives planted there by God in order to lead us to Himself. The series, “Hungry for God,” parallels the season of Lent, and has a companion daily devotional that you can access here.

This weekend I explored the hunger for peace. There were so many ways we could approach this topic. In fact just a short while ago, I preached on Jesus as the Prince of Peace. However, this weekend, I decided to focus in on Jesus’ Passion and the journey from the triumphal entry to the cross and beyond to the resurrection. I asked: how does Jesus’ Passion related to the peace He promised to bring?

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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