Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a recent press conference said, “For a while, life is not going to be the way it used to be in the United States.” We are not sure when life will return to “normal.” Anxiety begins attacking the heart as people ask questions like: “What will like look life after this?” “Will I be healthy?” “Will my loved ones be healthy?” “Will I have a job?” “Will there be enough money?” “What will the economy look like post Covid-19?”
These unanswered questions can leave a person feeling crippled under the weight of worry and anxiety. In unprecedented times like these, it is easy to complain, fret, and worry rather than anchoring our hope in God. How can believers have peace in uncertain times such as this? Paul gives us five strategies to fight anxiety with faith in the promises of God.
- Rejoice in the Lord in All Circumstances.
The apostle was under house arrest during his first Roman imprisonment. His “quarantine” did not last for a few months, but for two years. He had limited resources, limited fellowship, and was watched by a Roman solider at all times. But Paul rejoices regardless of his circumstances: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phi. 4:4).
The word “rejoice” is found in all four chapters as Paul rejoices in the partnership of the Philippians (1:4-5), that the gospel is going forth even while in prison (1:18), rejoices even if he were to be poured out as a drink offering as a sacrificial offering for their faith (2:17), rejoicing to write the letter to the Philippians defending them against false teaching (3:1), and now calls the Philippians to follow his example and rejoice!
Even though he was in prison with preachers trying to discredit him by preaching the gospel from selfish motives (1:17), a ministry partner that nearly died (1:27), false teachers threatening the church (3:1-2), he could still rejoice because his joy was in the Lord. In other words, we can rejoice in the Lord because even though our circumstances change, we trust in a God who doesn’t change who works all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28).
- Be Gentle in All Circumstances.
Paul says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5). The word can also be translated “gentleness.” While the world is given to panic and worry, Paul is saying that believers should remain calm and sober-minded because the Lord is at hand. Gentleness is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength under control. The Lord demonstrated gentleness when the religious officials came to arrest him even though he could have called legions of angels to defend him (Matt. 26:53). The apostle demonstrated gentleness even while in prison because he knew the Lord was with him in all circumstances.
The presence of Christ and his imminent coming motivated him to be calm in all circumstances, for “the Lord is at hand” or “near.” Paul was comforted by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and also was looking forward to the imminent return of Christ where all things would be made new. Because Paul lived in light of eternity, he could say “this light momentary affection is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18).
- Pray in All Circumstances.
Social media has many advantages and disadvantages. It is a blessing that we can still interact with others and share encouragement through technology. But one disadvantage is that social media connects us not only to one another, but to the world. We worry not only about what is happening locally, but what is happening globally. We read about the news and death tolls not only in our city, but also in New York, Italy, and Asia. We worry not only about local businesses, but also global businesses. We worry not only about our local economy, but also about our global economy. The world is at our fingertips through our screens, yet access to so much information can be overwhelming and debilitating. It can make us depressed.
Paul tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phi 4:6-7). The command from the apostle echoes the words of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:25-34). George Mueller, the evangelist who cared for thousands of orphans in England, said “Where faith begins, anxiety ends. Where anxiety begins, faith ends.” If we are worried about everything, we have to ask ourselves have we prayed about everything? Instead of spending so much time checking our phones, have we spent more time checking in with the Lord with all of our fears and worries through prayer? As we worship God through prayer, present to Him our needs, thanking Him for all we have in Christ, God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
- Think Heavenly Thoughts in All Circumstances.
They say, “You are what you eat.” It is also true, “You are what you think.” Paul commands us that we need to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent, and worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8). The word “think” is a mathematical term meaning to think critically. It is a term that requires mental effort and concentration.
The psalmist said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Ps. 139:23). Paul also said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Have you tested your thoughts lately? Are they aligned to what God has revealed in his word? Are they honorable thoughts? Are they just and righteous thoughts? Are they holy thoughts? Are you thinking about the true, good, and beautiful? And what better way to think heavenly thoughts than to think of Christ who exemplified all these things in his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation (Phi. 2:5-11)!
- Practice the Christian Life in All Circumstances.
Finally, peace will only come if we put into practice what God has revealed in his Word. Paul says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Phi. 4:9). The apostle could say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
He was an example of peace and contentment before the Philippians. While imprisoned, he could rejoice, be gentle, pray, and think holy thoughts in all circumstances because he had a supernatural peace that surpassed all understanding (Phi. 4:7). He may have been reminded of our Lord’s words concerning the wise man: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock” (Matt. 7:24).
We need to look to godly examples and heroes who practiced what they preached in all circumstances. Whether it was Luther preaching during the plague in his own city, or Martyn Lloyd Jones who continued to preach while his congregation heard bombs exploding outside of their church, we need to look to worthy examples who depended on the Lord in all circumstances. We need godly examples of those who taught and practiced God’s Word. And we need to practice what we have been taught in Scripture, church history, and godly men who have shaped us.
A believer can have supernatural peace because he has objective peace with God. The peace of God will guard a believer’s heart and mind in Christ Jesus. We know that the God of peace will be with us in all circumstances because Christ died as an atoning sacrifice to satisfy the justice and wrath of God. And because Christ is risen, he says to us who belong to him, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27).