Philippians 4:4-7 reads, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” Blessed be the reading of God’s Word this morning.
In AD 61 Paul, the author of this letter was sitting in a Roman prison where he was chained to a guard. He wound up in jail eventually because he refused to listen to the warnings of his church brother and sisters. He felt compelled to go back to Jerusalem and preach the Word despite their warnings of possible prison time. He went and preached in the Jewish Temple and some Jews from Asia Minor had started to hassle him. They accused him of speaking against Jewish people and the law. He also got in trouble for bringing Greeks into the temple itself and making it unclean. There was a disturbance, a small riot then the Roman commander came in and arrested Paul, putting him in prison.
Yet, in spite of these difficulties, he writes tot eh church in Philippi. “I thank God that you’re the type of people up there in Philippi who have been supporting me with prayers and finances. And I want to send a thank you note with Epaphroditus, thanking you for backing me. Thank you for your lives and for being a constant source of encouragement.” And that’s how he begins this letter to the Philippians.
So what is really happening here? What is the cause of such a positive outlook and attitude? The key was that Paul was able to look far beyond the immediate confining circumstances. Through the Spirit of God, he was able to interpret beyond the immediate. He could see that because he was in prison he could see that many more things were happening. The Gospel was moving forward. And he said, “Rejoice! I want you to rejoice. Good things are happening.”
I understand that many of us at times are weary, like Paul, and we get lonely at times and we don’t realize what’s going on, that there are things that happen to us that we are confused about. And yet despite all of these things – the shipwreck, the prison, the trumped up false charges, all these things laid on Paul’s back, he is able to say, “Listen, it’s all right, it’s okay. All is well.”
The source and secret to Paul’s attitude comes in four ways. In chapter 1 Paul says, “Jesus Christ is my life.” In Chapter 2 Paul says, “Jesus Christ is my example.” Chapter 3, he says, “Jesus Christ is my confidence.” And in this chapter four, in his thank-you note he writes, “Jesus Christ is my strength.”
You see Jesus Christ was Paul’s very life and he realizes that he’s in prison so that he can spread the message of Jesus Christ to Europe and many who don’t know the Way to Salvation. That’s why he has the thrill of saying, “Rejoice in the Lord! Rejoice in the Lord, not in my strength or my positive attitude, not in my cleverness, but rejoice in Jesus Christ. Realize who He is! Realize who you are! Put the two together and you’ll come out saying, “Well, praise the Lord! Rejoice!”
You see joy in the Christian life is as vital as oxygen is to breathing. We need to be called again and again and again to it as believers. If you do not rejoice in Jesus Christ, I would dare to say you need to repent of a joyless life. Being genuinely happy because of who Jesus is in your life is a mark of a real Christian. This authentic joy is not slap-happy silliness, not warm-fuzzy feelings. This happiness and joy comes from understanding, as Paul did, that Jesus is what you truly live for the rest of your life.
The attitude of being happy, because of Jesus, is what will produce that gentleness that Paul talks about in the next verse. If people cannot sense your gentleness and rejoicing in Jesus then you need to listen to this revealed secret:
“As a third-century man was nearing death, he wrote these last words to a friend: It’s a bad world, and incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and peaceful people. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are rejected and despised, unpopular and persecuted, but they don’t care. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians—and I am one of them.”
Rejoicing about Jesus – That is our first step to dealing with that one poison in our life. You and I know what it is. It is not an accidental poisoning that happens to us. It is a poison of choice. Kind of like nicotine. We know smoking is bad for us but some of us here have ignored the warning that is right on the cigarette package itself and went ahead and lit up.
This poison has divided families. It’s brought shame to the body of Christ and shame to our families. This poison puts us into predictable convulsions, doing things we know we shouldn’t but do anyway. This poison steals joy from our lives, sucks happiness from our souls and cuts life short by causing heart failures, brain aneurysms and high blood pressure. The poison I am talking about is ANXIETY.
A John Hopkins University doctor says, “We do not know why it is that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, but that is a fact.” But I think I know. We are made in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for Faith and NOT fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against reality.
Now I am not saying that you should never worry but take this mental note down. Self-centered, unproductive worry without legitimate cares and concerns for the way Jesus wants us to follow is anxiety that is harmful. You see anxiety is faith in the negative, trusting in the unpleasant, assurance of disaster and belief in defeat.
Paul tells us to be anxious for NOTHING! Did you hear that? He didn’t say to be anxious for your children, to be anxious for your family, to be anxious for your future, to be anxious for your snow removal, to be anxious for your church construction. We are to be anxious for NOTHING! Because you see being anxious is the great poison of the mind that slowly kills your faith, slowly killing the real joy of life. We become unsure of life. We stop trusting people, we stop trusting God.
So what are we to do? Do we continue to let worry and anxiety cast a big shadow over something so small? Paul gives us the answer. Pray. That’s it, prayer. You see anxiety and prayer are the two greatest opposing forces in the Christian life. Like fire and water. Think of it. You talk to God less about things and you end up having more time to worry about them. You talk to God more about things and you have less time to worry. You see, God will help us when we are in trouble. When we worry we are on our own.
And Lord help us when we’re on our own. That’s why we need to come to Him in prayer. Anxiety has no place in the Christian life because in everything there can be prayer. That is why Paul says to be anxious for NOTHING. If we are anxious for nothing, we will pray for EVERYTHING.
But it is the kind of prayer that we need to refine. We need to tune-up our prayer life. Some people have turned their prayers into a ritual, without any meaning. Like the three-year old who was taught the Lord’s Prayer over and over again and finally when her mother thought she had it down heard her pray at the end, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us some e-mail. Amen.” Our prayers may lose meaning if we forget the meaning of the words.
Some people might slingshot prayers to God. You know, a little request here, a little thanks there. Never giving long enough time for God to get their name, let alone their sentence of prayer. Or are you like the person who comes to Santa Claus, I mean God, when you need something? Do your prayers start like this, “Dear Lord I really need…” “Dear Lord could You…?” “Dear Lord please bless…”?
God made the heavens and the earth. He gave breath to babies and puts all things in perfect order in the physical universe. The sun is just the right distance from the earth. The earth rotates just fast enough to keep life going and slow enough to keep it from shooting into space. Our God already knows our needs better than we can tell Him. But what He really needs is our thankfulness. He needs our gratitude, our worship for the things that He has done for us. Like author John Macks puts it in his book, “Heaven Talks Back” – “You should pray everyday not in begging but in gratitude for all you have been given. I’m just like everybody else; I like a little appreciation now and then. Nothing big, no plaques, just a nice, “Hey God, good job today.”
That is why Paul says in verse 6 that we pray with, ‘thanksgiving.’ Literally, this means that we tell God why He has made our hearts warm. I k now some people who have some of the warmest hearts I have met. They have endured more than most before they were seventeen years old. They would never ask, but I will: Have you lost your family to civil war? Have you seen childhood friends die horribly right next to you? Have you gone insane, having no reason or mind? Have you been shipped to another country, forced to learn a new language – separated by thousands of miles from friends and family? These young men are Christians from the war-torn country of Sudan and they have warm hearts, warm enough to burn past all the stuff we hide under as Americans.
Let us start by telling, Him thanks for the life He’s given you. Tell Him thanks for people who love you. Tell Him thanks for Jesus and saving your life. That is how we are to let our requests be made known to God – with thankfulness. If we would spend out time thanking God more we would spend less time worrying about what He has given.
And God doesn’t care how big your worries are or your problems. That is why Paul writes, “But in EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving…. Let your requests be known to God.” Aren’t you tired of worrying about everything that nobody’s doing? Aren’t you weary from worrying about what you haven’t done on your ‘to do’ list? Wouldn’t you like to rest your mind, heart, and your body from the anxiety that racks your body and robs your sleep? Aren’t you ready to trade the poison of anxiety for the peace of God?
I wonder how many people lost their lives on 9-11 because they were on their cell phone talking to their next business deal. I wonder how many people died on 9-11 making sure that they didn’t get their hands dirty. I wonder how many people lived because they knew that seconds counted and it didn’t matter if they got dirty, it didn’t matter if the customer was on hold, it didn’t matter because life was hanging in the balance. You see, our very souls hang in the balance when we substitute the poison of anxiety for the prayerful peace of God.
This God-given peace that comes through thankful prayer acts as a security guard over our hearts and our thinking. This peace keeps the Christian’s mind and emotions from being overwhelmed by the sudden onrush of fear, anxiety, and temptation. Without this guard of peace it is easy for anything else to break in and destroy our hearts and minds.
Right now I want us to pray silently. I want us to practice the prayer of thanksgiving. Yes I know it is not the holiday yet, but do we have to wait once a year to give thanks to God?
Let us pray:
Thank You God for Your beautiful creation.
Thank You God for giving us this day.
Thank You Lord for giving us the freedom to worship you in this country.
Thank You Lord for this sanctuary.
Thank You Lord for everyone here.
Thank You Lord for the life You’ve given me
Thank You Lord for Your son Jesus.
Thank You Jesus for listening to us.
Thank You Jesus for loving us.
Thank You Jesus for dying for us.
Thank You Jesus that we will see you once again.
Thank You God.
Thank You Lord.
Thank You Jesus.