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GOD CAN HANDLE IT ALL
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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 - Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
How many times have you heard or read this passage? Perhaps you are reading it for the first time (if so, more on that later). Or perhaps you have heard it once or twice as a part of a Sunday morning sermon. Or maybe it's one of those oft-quoted parts of the Bible that as soon as someone begins to recite it you nod approvingly, noting its importance and familiarity, and then move on without further thought. But have you really looked at it? I mean, REALLY looked at these two verses?
Now listen, I get it - a deep introspective breakdown of one of the more well-known passages in the Bible is not only not ground-breaking (it's likely been done before, and likely better), it's not exactly trendy either (no great catch phrases or acronyms coming - sorry). But you came to this web site and are reading this blog post and more importantly God knew that you were going to come to this page and read this today so apparently you need to hear this. In fact, one could argue we all need to hear this at some point in our lives, even if it's a reminder for the millionth time.
Simply put - God can handle it all, we as humans, can't.
Before we go any farther - a little historical context on the passage we are looking at. In this letter to the people of the Church in Philippi, Paul is writing from his new home in a Roman prison. Obviously, not a great setting. In fact, it was probably just below awful and just above horrific. Yet, he spends most of this letter outlining the joy and peace we should strive to have as Christians, pointing to Jesus Christ as the ultimate source of these traits. You think you have adversity or a reason to be worrisome? Paul was awaiting possible execution, a certain knowledge of lifetime imprisonment in a Roman prison IN THE FIRST CENTURY (around A.D. 61). Pretty sure the conditions did not meet OSHA standards for the guards, let alone the prisoners. Yet Paul spends his time detailing the joy and peace we should have in Christ? In itself, the background story is mind-blowing. But delving into his specific message in chapter four, where he begins to close his letter with words of encouragement and advice, opens up many life-changing opportunities for us as Christians. After opening with a plea for some members of the church to put aside differences and work together for the cause of Christ, Paul in verse four begins a five-verse list of biblical principles that individually are worth attention. But today let's look closer at his specific message in verses six and seven. We'll be using the NIV for the breakdown of this passage, but the text in other translations is remarkably the same, even down to key words or phrases.
"Do not be anxious about anything..." Well that sounds simple enough. "Do not be anxious..." Easy. Done. No worries, sure I can live that. "...about anything." Oh, wait. Anything? Uhhhhh, well... How many of us start thinking of a laundry list of items that we think are exceptions to "anything"? "Yeah I'm all about giving my worries to God, but there's this meeting I have at work tomorrow" or "you know I worry about my kids turning out alright or finding the right future spouse - but outside of that, you got it God, no worries." Why do we hold back? Proverbs 3:5 says "Trust in the Lord your God, and lean not on your own understanding." In other words, are you hearing yourself? You hold something back from giving to God because you need to worry about it some more? Why? Proverbs 3:5 is in a sense asking why are you believing your thoughts? They are from YOU! Why are we thinking we have all the answers and know what's best? We are well...us...human beings, born of sin - God is GOD. Get it? We can trust Him to do anything because He can do anything and has done everything. Speaking of "everything", take a look at the next part.
"...but in everything..." This is what I love about God. He understands we don't get it. As if the statement "don't be anxious about anything" wasn't clear enough, it's as if God hits us with an open-hand to the forehead here. In case you missed it, that's right I said anything and everything, give it to Me. It's not just when we feel like it, or when we feel it's extra important, or just on Sunday, it's ALL THE TIME ABOUT EVERYTHING. Wait, so I'm just supposed to go through life with no worries? That's not what Paul is saying. He's saying when the worries come, you can choose to be anxious about it and hold on to it, wrestling with it to the point of obsession. Or you can choose to trust God and give it to the One who has proven the ability to handle all things. Matthew 11:28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." So how does one go about giving it to Him? The answer comes next.
"...by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Prayer is the way we talk to God. It's both relational and reverential at the same time. One could get into a long theological discussion about why we ask God for things when, as an all-knowing God, he already knows what we'll ask him for but again, it's simple. He's GOD. Don't try to understand it, because you won't. That's why He's GOD. As for us, we are commanded to pray and petition (ask) God with our requests. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 keeps it simple with "pray continually". In our featured passage, Paul offers we are to request relief from the burden of anxiety about the worries in our life. Again, seems simple enough. Ah, but then there's this little qualifier in the middle - "with thanksgiving". Wait God, you mean I'm supposed to be thankful in the midst of these worries? Well, yes! God, via a chained Paul in a Roman prison, reminds us that it could always be worse. So while we are in the midst of our cry out for relief of our troubles, a simple reminder of "with thanksgiving" implies we should also be thankful for what the Almighty has blessed us with. Worried about your kids growing up in Christ? Some folks can't have kids or have health issues that far outpace our imagination. Anxious about a big meeting tomorrow? Some folks don't even have a job. Worried about the economy? Some people don't have money period, much less enough to warrant concern over a roller-coaster market. Despite the thoughts that seemingly overwhelm us when adversity hits, God gently reminds us that what we may think is the end of the world, really isn't. He provides peace of mind. And well, wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what Paul says next.
"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding..." Another head-slap moment. And if you missed the message of the previous verse, God says, you come to me, and I'll provide peace. Paul just told us to not be anxious about anything, ever. And not just that, but in everything, every possible scenario, offer those worries to God. Doing so, Paul implies not only can He handle it, He welcomes the opportunity to alleviate us of the burden and provide peace of mind. At the start of verse seven, God gives us the return of the if/then action item of the previous verse. If you offer it up to Me, then I'll provide peace. Does it mean worries won't come or hardship won't find us? Not at all. But when they do, He is there for us. How does that happen? How could He? The next few words provide the answer "...which transcends all understanding". Again, we are us, He's GOD. We aren't going to get it all. There's a reason. He's GOD and we're not. How He does it is beyond explanation. Here's what we know. He sent His Son to die on the cross as an eternal act of sacrifice for you, me and every other human being. He cares that much about all of us. Why did he do it? Could you do it? Of course not. But that's the point. We couldn't make that decision because we aren't God. And beyond that point, God saw the reasons as to why it had to be done. Christ, knowing his role for the future of humanity, saw it through to the end despite acknowledging his own anxiety in the garden of Gethsemane. If God's shoulders are big enough for His own Son's petition for relief of anxiety, how much more able is He to handle ours! God can handle it all - if we let Him. If we get out of our own way. And we get peace of mind if we do. Oh, and something else.
"...will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." An interesting ending to our passage. Paul had made his point as we've seen. Why did he choose this particular verbiage to end the verse which is used in so many translations? Let's take it in it's full context. "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." So we already know the peace of God is coming when we pray and petition God with our worries and anxieties, and we know that how He does it (literally, how He accomplishes this) is beyond anything we could comprehend (as with most stuff God has done and does). But now Paul is saying this peace from God will GUARD our hearts and mind? First, how is that possible? Clearly, it references the very phrase before, it "transcends all understanding" so the how isn't as important as the what. As in what is He guarding our minds from. The answer is the world, the Evil One, even ourselves. Everything that is of this world and led to the anxieties and worries in the first place. Here's a simple yet powerful truth - Jesus Christ paid the price for us, the battle between good and evil is over. Satan's hold on us as Christians is no stronger than an internet connection during a power outage. He's already lost. Jesus is coming back to remove him from the Earth. Yet we continually chose to listen to the temptations of our own thoughts, and/or those supplied by the Evil One, that encourage us to hold on to that worry and not give it to God. Again God, through his messenger Paul, is saying that when we not only give our anxiety to Him but also trust that He will take care of it, He will guard our hearts and minds with the ultimate King of Kings, Jesus Christ, the One who is Above All, the Prince of Peace, the Ruler of the World. Jesus is standing guard! Even Satan with all of his might cannot overpower Him. In another translation, instead of "guard" it's described that Jesus "displaces" the worry. I like to imagine Jesus displacing that worry like a safety displaces the ball from a wide receiver coming across the middle. Continuing that sports theme, He's the ultimate team/coach/player. He is unbeatable. If we trust Him, there is nothing that can penetrate His defense. No wonder this letter is described as Paul's message of joy to the Philippians. How could you not be joyous knowing this!
We've all heard or seen the famous line from Forrest Gump, "Life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get." The thing is, while some of those chocolates (or hardships) aren't what we want, it's up to us how we choose to handle them. God says to come to Him, be thankful for the box of chocolates (it's chocolate for goodness sake!) and let Him take care of the rest. And oh yeah, when you give those worries to Him, not only do you get peace but also the protection of said peace from the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. A little later in this same chapter, Paul delivers an often misapplied line with verse 13 "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." Does that mean I can lift a car? No. But as Paul moves from our selected passage in verses six and seven and into outlining his current conditions in prison in verses 10-12, he offers those words as his resolution in overcoming adversity. By trusting God, I can make it through my adversity. By giving my anxieties to God, I can make it through the mental fight of constant worry. By giving it all to Him, I can get peace of mind through Jesus Christ. By allowing Him to take control, I am blessed with the protection of the One who has already defeated the Evil One. Who are we to say we have worries beyond God's capacity? Who are we to argue that a God who parted seas, destroyed and rebuilt civilizations, CREATED THE WORLD, and sent his only Son to die for you and me, doesn't understand? It's us who don't understand, and that's okay. We only need to trust Him. After all, He's God - we're us. He can handle it all, we humans can't.