James 3:6-18, Philippians 4:8-13
September 23, 2012
If you remember last week, we used these same two scripture passages. Thats because I didn’t want to leave this passage from Philippians just hanging there, without saying anything about it. It is one of my favorites. But this passage also has a lot to do with what we were talking about last week.
If you remember we were talking about words. And we had a little fun with words, didn’t we? We talked about how we “drive on a parkway and park on a driveway.” We asked why the word “Abbreviation” was so long. And on the way out, Mark gave me a good one. He said that “If a package arrives by truck or car its called a shipment.” “But if it comes by ship, its called cargo.” Do you like that?
Those kinds of things are fun. But then we got serious, and we talked about how words come from what’s inside us. Our words reflect the kind of person we are in our hearts. And if you remember, I asked us to use the catchphrase I borrowed from the old credit card commercial. But instead of “Whats in your wallet,” I asked us to think, “Whats in your heart?”
Well, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul gives us his take on all of that. And I’m certain that he would have echoed the thoughts of James. He would have agreed with Jesus, who said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Paul would have agreed with both of them whole-heart-edly! But then Paul took those thoughts one step further. He told the Philippians that a lot of how we conduct our lives of faith comes from a state of mind. And that’s what I want us to think about for today.
If we go back to the verse that came just before the place we started reading today, we hear these familiar words. “But in everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your (what?) hearts and (what else?) your minds, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
There you are! Paul talks about both our hearts and our minds. He tells us that its important to keep both of them in Christ Jesus! That’s the way our lives as Gods people are best lived. When we have our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, when both of those things are oriented toward God, “through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,” we will have peace in our lives that we can’t even begin to imagine! That’s what Paul is telling us here.
And don’t we want that kind of peace in our lives?! Don’t we want that peace that passes understanding? You know I’ve said before that our world craves that peace! So many people in our world are desperately searching for peace, but so many are not finding it. In fact, doctors are telling us that one of the worst afflictions of our age is stress! In our fast paced world of jam packed calendars, where people are anxious about everything, and where they’re worried about obtaining more and more, stress is causing a plethora of health problems. (Its always a good day when I can use that word!)
Think about that. And it’s the same with our kids! I’ve often said that I wouldn’t want the schedule that some of the kids in our world are keeping! In some families, there is no time for kids just to be kids. Think about when many of you were young. When I was young, we ran around the neighborhood, we rode bikes, we climbed trees, we played games. We made up games! There was a time for creativity, for interacting, for exploring new things. Now, there are sports that are organized like professional leagues, there are clubs and activities that demand hours of kids’ time. And when there’s down time, it’s spent in entertainment based games on TV and computer screens. The stress of our world is being handed down to our children!
At the same time, there are so many signs in our world show that people are desperately seeking peace. They are seeking a break from the cycle of stress that keeps them up at night and shortens their lives. But that peace is elusive. When I think about all that, I often think of the words of Jeremiah who warned us saying, “They have healed the wounds of my people lightly, saying Peace, peace, when there is no peace. “(Jeremiah 6:14)
We all need that peace in our lives. And, the thing is, God wants us to have that peace the peace that is beyond our understanding! God wants the people he created and he loves to live lives of peace and abundance. He doesn’t want all the turmoil and oppression and stress we humans have created. But we humans seem to have a inclination for causing those things. I believe, as Gods people, we need to be seeking peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers!” (And that word blessed is translated as happy in some versions!) But being peacemakers doesn’t just mean being people who bring an end to warfare. It means working to bring an end to the stress and turmoil in people’s lives.
As people of God, we too miss out on that peace from time to time. (And maybe it’s more accurate to say that we only have it from time to time!) And sometimes one of the big reasons for that is that we think it happens automatically! In fact, we think too many things in our faith happen automatically. But the thing is – and Paul always tells us this – we need to choose to do certain things if we expect to live a fulfilling and productive life of faith! If we expect to have that peace!
In the next paragraph, the place we actually started, Paul gives us some practical advice – as he always does. He gives us some guidance as to how we can have that peace in both our hearts and our minds. And I love these words, too! He says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things.”
I love that. And isn’t that great advice? And notice that its about choosing the kinds of things were going to think about. Because if we don’t choose what we think about, our minds and our emotions will choose for us. If something has bothered us, or hurt us, or inconvenienced us, those kinds of thoughts take off, don’t they? And it’s hard to stop them! We have to choose, we have to will ourselves to stop them!
If we don’t, thoughts of anger and revenge will take over our minds. And we wont really think clearly. And we won’t be able to see the what’s true and honorable, etc Because when we’ve been hurt, when we’re in the heat of whatever it may be, things like truth are not all that important to us. Paul is telling us to look for the things that are “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious, to seek that which is excellent and praiseworthy.” Think on these things! That is the path to the peace he told us about!
That’s great advice. And then in the next part, Paul shares with us some of his personal experience. He says, “I have learned to be content in all circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11) Wouldn’t we like that? Wouldn’t we like to be “content in all circumstances?” But again, notice that it’s “I have learned to be content.” I think you’ll agree that if we want to learn to be something, we have to practice it. If you want to learn to be a piano player, you have to practice. If you want to learn to be a peacemaker, you have to practice making peace. And if you want to learn to be content, as Paul said, you have to practice being content. (You need to learn the things that make for peace, as Jesus said it.)
Remember, Paul didn’t just say, “May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s just the second half of the sentence. That’s the result we will have if we do things he said in the first part of the sentence. “Do not be anxious, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be known to God.” “Do that, and that peace will keep your hearts and minds…” Do you see how that works? If we do if we practice the things that make for peace, we will have peace.
Like I said, though, sometimes we think it happens automatically. Sometimes we think if we ask for it, Gods peace will just come over us and calm us and everything will be good. And that’s true, that will happen – sometimes. But God also wants us to be people who learn and practice that peace. Think about it. If you want your children to be successful, you want them to “learn to be” successful, don’t you? You don’t just bestow success, or the fruits of success, upon them.
It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. He wants peace for us. He wants us to learn to be content in all circumstances. He doesn’t want for us a life full of anxiety and worry about the things of this world. Remember, Jesus said “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” But that wasn’t the end of that sentence! He went on to say, “And all these things will be added unto you!”
But how many times do we have that backwards? And because of that, how many times do we find that we have the very anxiety that Jesus (and Paul!) told us not to have? As you go from this place today, know that our Heavenly Father wants the opposite for us. He wants us to know his peace. He wants us to learn to be content in all circumstances. And so, let us seek his peace. Let us practice it. Let us learn it. Let us pray
Heavenly Father, we know that you want for us your peace. But too often we forget the things that make for peace. Help us to learn and to grow in that peace. Help us to seek first your kingdom. May we grow in our ability to be the peacemakers you want us to be. For we pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.