Circumstances that Cause Stress
The events of the last six months have unveiled an almost unending barrage of human suffering. Uvalde, Ukraine, and a major church denomination scandal had inundated the headline news. We struggle through an uncertain economic future as well as rising Covid-19 cases. Well-meaning friends encourage us to ignore current events hoping to salvage our mental well-being. Tuning out media may provide temporary relief, but our minds tend to veer back into the pit of despair. It’s easy to drift into neutral and waste precious time in sadness and anxiety.
Encouragement of Peace from Paul
Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, encouraging the stress-ridden Philippian church to petition God in prayer with thankful hearts and that God’s peace will guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Refocusing our minds and attention on God and letting him bear the weight of our worries places a guard at the door of our minds and heart – the peace of God.
We Need To Mitigate This Anxiety Problem
It is simply not enough to will our minds to cease falling down the spiral of anxiety. We bought an old fixer-upper earlier this year – a house built in 1939 with a full basement. I love to work on home improvement projects, and a clean basement workshop is essential. However, years of neglect have left this basement smelling musty. It also occasionally leaks water during heavy rain. Removing the water and washing the mold away will suffice for a while, but after the next storm, these things will return, filling my mind with tension and worry that my tools will rust and I will have to breathe unhealthy air! I must implement the things that I know will remedy the basement. The antidote for water intrusion begins with thinking of a plan that will be right for my situation. I first deal with the problem by repairing the leaky gutters. I then seal the cracks in the wall from the outside and finally paint the interior walls and floor with good water-resistant paint or sealant. However, this one-time fix is only the beginning. I must constantly keep the gutters clean and seal any new cracks, careful to observe any place where the paint may begin to chip.
Paul uses two imperatives for the church – think and practice. What is Paul referring to when asking the believers to think about and practice “these things?” Thinking about the things that are true, worthy of honor, and pure encourages love and readies the mind for action. When our minds are thinking correctly, we can imitate what Paul did by walking with God.
My father-in-law stayed with us for a few weeks last April to help improve our home. He is the quintessential handyman and is more experienced than I in keeping a basement clean and dry. When I get frustrated when my skills come up short in a task, he is always patient with me, offering me advice and stepping in to do the work. He even painted the entire basement himself! He is intentional not only in showing me but also in demonstrating the appropriate way to do things. He is with me through the whole process so that I may do the same for my child or grandchild down the road. At the end of Paul’s final admonishments to practice the things they have seen in him, he promises that the God of peace will be with them.
Verse 7 promises that by laying our petitions before God, the peace of God will guard our minds and hearts against anxiety. By the end of verse 9, we see the result. The God of peace – God himself will be with us! As I contemplate the distressing recent events of the last few months, I am reminded to stay on course by filling my mind with the promises found in God’s word. These promises include salvation, an eternal dwelling place with Him, and the ability to serve those around me in the power of the Holy Spirit. Many faithful Christ followers are doing the work of God through serving our neighbors or offering hope for a friend despite the difficulty because I know they are not alone. I find encouragement to stay the course through these believers, knowing that God – the God of Peace is with us.
Societal depression and anxiety continue to rise. The mental health crisis is only getting worse. Life demands more and more of us, and with it comes added stress. In March 2022, an HHS study found that from 2016 to 2020, the number of cases involving children diagnosed with mental illness rose significantly. Fortunately, with the help of professionals, many are finding sustainable treatment options. However, life is not supposed to be this way. Often, we need someone to come alongside us and encourage us through words or to be present.
The Hebrew culture reveals a starkly communal aspect of their daily life. Children, as in many societies worldwide, do not leave their parents’ homes until they are married. Days-long celebrations with friends and family accompany marriage. Community members watched out for one another and shared daily life. God weaved laws protecting the community’s well-being into the warp and woof of the Pentateuch. In today’s western culture, we value our individualism which comes at the price of increased isolationism and greater fear of the dangers that lurk around the corner.
Teleos – Finding Peace In New Creation
The book of Revelation is a promise for the suffering church that God will put things right in the end. In the new creation, sin will lose its hold on our lives, and we will continue without its effects. In the meantime, Jesus has promised his Holy Spirit to come as the comforter and helper. Matthew’s gospel ends with a promise that as we go about the work of the Great Commission, He will be with us to the end of the age. Who better than Jesus can one have on this journey to offer peace to our anxious hearts and a friendship that no one else can secure? The church stands as a witness to his presence. May the God of peace be with you on your journey, my friend.