Summary: Experiencing peace in our lives means keeping an open connection with the God of all peace through prayer.
What are some of the things that cause you worry and anxiety? I’m sure we’ve all been thinking about this over the last few weeks as we have worked to “Find Peace in an Anxious World.” Each of us deals with worry in big and small ways at various points in our lives and for various reasons. There might be times when we are anxious about our health, or maybe our big worry is finances. Sometimes, when the hospital bills begin mounting, we worry about both at the same time. Or maybe we worry about our children. Are they healthy? Are they doing okay in school? Will they be able to care for me as I get older? Then there are the smaller worries that fill our thoughts from day-to-day. When will I have time to get in touch with that friend that reached out to me last week? Will the recently completed project at work be acceptable to my boss or will I need to start all over again? When will I be able to get the house clean again?
We usually say, “Nothing is certain in this life but death and taxes.” I think we could also say fairly, “Nothing is certain in this life but death, and taxes…and worry.” I suspect we’d be lying if any of us said we never worry about anything. But how about this one: have you ever worried about being imprisoned and killed because of your faith? I’d almost be willing to bet this is one matter that has never caused any of us anxiety. We are fortunate that we live in a country where we are free to live out faith and practice our religion without fear of persecution. But this has not always been true, even as it is still not true in every country today.
Almost 2,000 years ago when Paul wrote this letter to the Church in Philippi, it is believed he was imprisoned in Rome. Early on in the letter, he speaks of his upcoming sentence, and he also shares his optimism in the face of death. Where we pick up this morning, Paul is urging the Philippians to always rejoice in the Lord, to be glad in every circumstance. Paul, imprisoned in Rome and facing a sentence of death is enthusiastically encouraging his brothers and sisters in Christ to always be glad and rejoice. And he’s not talking about some simple feeling of happiness within; when Paul says, “Rejoice!” He means get out and celebrate exuberantly, dance with reckless abandon, hug all your friends, neighbors, relatives, and even strangers! Be glad! Can you imagine? Can you imagine be so happy when there is so much to worry about? Clearly, Paul has a handle on something that frees him from anxiety, and today, as we continue “Finding Peace in an Anxious World,” we are going to talk about what that is.
Now, there is the obvious reason for Paul’s near exuberance in this letter written from a Roman prison, and that is simply his faith in the risen Christ. With the promise of life, who needs to fear death? Certainly, our faith should be so strong and sure that we do not worry about anything. But in all truthfulness, even when our faith is strong, we still worry, don’t we? So let’s dig a little deeper into Paul’s instructions to the Philippians because in this case, faith is basically assumed. Paul has been to Philippi, he has shared the Good News, a community of believers in Jesus Christ has built up, and now Paul is checking in after being away from them for some time. We know he is talking to faithful people. And yet he also knows there are problems. There is some strife and disagreement among some of the Christians in Philippi, but Paul knows there is something greater here than a conflict between a few people. The Christians are worried, they are anxious, and so Paul says, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.” Instead of worrying, Paul instructs, Christians should pray.
That sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Yet most of us know that praying instead of worrying is much easier said than done. So what I want to try and do today is help all of us think of ways we can improve our prayer practices in order to overcome worry and experience greater peace. Let me begin by saying that none of us are perfect, and we are all human. No matter how much we might pray and present our petitions to God with thanksgiving, there will still be times when things worry us. But even if we can just find that right way to connect with God’s peace in anxious times, then we are at least moving in the right direction. So how do we use prayer to find peace?