The fruit of the Spirit includes peace. Peace, to rule my heart–to rule all other thoughts, feelings, reactions, and to force out the anxiety and chaos and disunity of the world, the flesh and the devil. This tried and true passage was teaching the Philipian church just that; we ought to be in often ourselves. Shalom and well-being is not a fairy tale; nor is it reserved for some elite group within the Philppian church. It is addressed to all the brethren there, and likewise to all of us who are in Christ.
Verse 4–Rejoice in the Lord always! In the Lord. Not apart from Him, not in evil, not in circumstances, not in “fate” or “luck” or our own strength or wisdom… IN THE LORD.
Joy and Peace and Gentleness, all fruit of the Spirit. In Christ, with the Spirit dwelling in us, we can “Let your gentleness be known to all.” This is addressed remember, to “all the brethren.” Men. Women. Old. Young. Middle aged. Regardless of personality type, cultural status, educational achievements.
All of you be gentle; and let that gentleness be known. KNOWN. In deeds. In words. In knee jerk reactions. In the mundane. In any season. There can be known excuses, we are all called to this–and remember, if the Spirit dwells in you, He will be working His fruit in you.
Oh, the nearness of my God is my good (Psalm 73:28). The Lord is near. To all who call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:17-18). So near that you are His Home. He abides in You, and you abide in Him. It is as though Paul was referencing in this one statement all of John 14-15. The Lord is near. And look around at those you fellowship with. The Lord dwells in them too. You are called to One Body, with Christ as the LORD and head, the Shepherd.
Then, the command some shun.
Be anxious for nothing! This anxiety is not the chemical imbalance that some face–it is the anxiety stemming from thought, feeling, and how we set our minds (our entire inner being, not mind separated from heart, read here please). This is not trite, it is not a platitude. And it is of no comfort to those who are not in Christ.
Between 18-19% of the US were treated for chemical imbalances that lead to anxiety last year. Not all anxiety is of this sort. When it is–medical treatment can be so lifegiving! For more encouragement in this area, I recommend this book by J.P. Moreland.
The anxiety Paul is addressing is the same that Jesus addressed in His Sermon on the Mount.
What can you add to your life by worrying? Nothing. God knows your needs and takes care of you! Do not give yourself over to this worry. Be anxious for nothing.
The choice here is between anxious thoughts or prayer. Prayer means you will turn your gaze away from self and situations toward the One who is Sovereign, full of compassion and goodness, and who loves to lavish His grace upon us. How do I pray about things, and do I let go of them or simply draw Christ’s attention to what I am stewing over/depressed about/anxious about? Yes, you may list them out, you present your supplications and requests, but you don’t heap up words and continue repeating them. Move on toward Thanksgiving.
Thankful for God’s nearness. His constant presence. His power. His promises that are ours in Christ. His unchanging love. His ear that is ever inclined to you.
Then comes a promise that will grow more and more dear to you as you spend such moments with God. Verse 7 tells us that the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. In. Do not overlook that word. He does not plop peace upon you, for you to run your own ways.
The peace is in Christ. We experience it more as we abide in Him. It will become the guard, it will silence your fears and worries. His truth and power and love will answer all the “what ifs” you worried about. The what if may come true, this is not a promise that life will have no unsettling moments. His goodness and mercy follow us through the valley of the shadow of death.
Do not dwell on the cause of chaos, dwell on Christ. Lay the chaos down, and “practice” the things Paul would have shown
It is a helpful counseling technique, when a counselee is rehearsing all the worrisome thoughts…spiraling toward an anxiety attack (not the chemically induced kind), that the counselor would deflect their thought pattern to some unrelated truth. By focusing on the circumstances, and then some possible outcomes, we worry and no longer think straight or make wise decisions. But–the cycle stops when the counselor leads the counselee to rehearse unrelated truths. Anything not up for debate. Interrupt the conversation, ask a question that will require the brain to pull a fact from a different quadrant. “Did you see the game last night? Who won? Who was the pitcher? How many…” or “Tell me the storyline of “Persuasion” by Jane Austen…”
Dwell on these things
Instead of rehashing circumstances, and rethinking the past, and venting to friends who will rehash with you…pray in this manner. Seek the counsel of a fellow believer who will help in this. Lay it down. Cast it on the Lord. Look to Christ. Direct your thoughts towards what is: true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, worthy of praise.
In the Sermon on the Mount we are asked to consider (dwell on, think about…) flowers and birds. In this list that Paul presents, you might set your thoughts on: nature, art, math (have you ever read “Beauty for Truth’s Sake” by Stratford Caldecott? Please do!), one of these “tried and true” passages, the glories and excellencies of Christ, memories of a moment that brought your soul joy, a good book, a craft that requires attention to detail (crochet? Sewing? Whittling? Weaving? Hand lettering? Origami? Leathercraft?), and perhaps while savoring a lovely cup of tea/coffee.
Flood your thoughts and senses with Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Journal a list that you can come back to–a list of things to dwell on, favorite verses or attributes of God or a moment you want to remember in such times.
We need mentors
Paul then instructs the Philippians to practice what they “have learned and received and heard and seen in” him. Practice. How often do sports teams practice? How much time and effort does a musician put into practicing a piece of music? How often does a student practice math equations before they become ingrained? So this “practice” implies that we will devote time, attention, energy, passion, prayer, thought, etc; to learning these things. From mentors, or spiritual mothers and fathers, or elders and teachers we learn, hear truth, receive habits and disciplines. We are called to put them into practice.
By setting our minds intentionally, by practicing with heart, mind, and body the things passed down from older Christians, we share in an experience of “the God of peace will be with you.” These practices do not bring God to us, He is already abiding in us; they make His presence more clear to us.
And as we see Him more clearly we are reassured that He is the God of peace.