Rev. Dr. Simon Lee
Dear brothers and sisters,
Last week we talked about serenity as the real PEACE of God. This is the PEACE of God “which transcends all understanding.” (Phil 4:7) This PEACE “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We receive this PEACE and so are not “anxious about anything,” that is, not being in a constant mode of uncontrolled anxiety (even when confronting the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic). This is achieved by the spiritual discipline of “in everything by (regular) prayer and (special) petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil. 4:6)
This does not mean being on our knees all the times anxiously when we all in all sorts of troubles, but rather, being constantly in a prayerful mode with a thankful heart in our daily lives, living in the presence of God, and sharing our needs to Him, as a child would to his or her loving parents. Daily we are bombarded with new understanding and information of the virus and how to combat it (and for sure, we should closely follow the advice of the experts and the authorities), but the very fact we have a daily portion of new information actually shows the lack of understanding that we have. The wonderful news is that in Christ we have a PEACE that transcends all understanding.
“Anxiety” is “concern that may become fretful and inappropriate if taken too far.” (Constable’s notes in NET Bible) This is because the same Greek verb (a present imperative merimnate) used in “do not be anxious” here is the same verb used by Paul to describe “being anxious” over the welfare of the Philippians (takes a genuine interest in your welfare).” (Phil 2:20) Concerns can either be appropriate or inappropriate, proper or improper (over concern or under concern). Applying it to the current pandemic, we should take care to do everything the experts and authorities tell us, but having done that, not be overly concerned with what is unknown to us (but not unknown to God.) In helping people dealing with anxiety and depression professionally for over 35 years, I have always encouraged people to examine their core beliefs that lead to their anxiety, then to dispute them and replace them with healthy and rational beliefs, so as to change our behaviors accordingly.
As the old hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus” by Joseph M. Scriven (1855) reminds us all of timeless truth with these words:
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
O what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Indeed, “what peace we often forfeit, what needless pain we bear.” Our God is here waiting for us to go to Him in trust, despite the fact that a catastrophe is happening right before our eyes, and we are so helpless, lost and isolated. We who wants to make sure everything is under control are utterly devastated when this pandemic is spinning out of our control. At such time, we must practise how to “pray unceasingly” (constantly in a prayerful mode) and carry everything to God in prayer.
We not just have the PEACE of God; we also have the God of PEACE. PEACE is not just a product of our prayers and devotion, as it is the very essence and nature of God Himself. We read “the peace of God will be with you.” (Phil 4:9) What a comforting thought to know that Christ “Emmanuel” is “God with us” and that means wherever we are and whenever we be, and in all circumstances, Christ is with us. So especially when we as a Church cannot even meet together because of the call to “physical distancing,” the God of PEACE is always with us, and therefore we always have PEACE from God the Father, in Christ and through the Spirit.
But how do we have the God of PEACE always with us. Paul gives us these clear and unmistakable instructions (Phil 4:9):
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable –
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice.”
The two important verbs are “think” and “put into practice”:
First of all, “think” about whatever is excellent and praiseworthy:
This means to “dwell on” (NASB); filling your minds and meditating on (MSG) “all that is commendable and noteworthy. What do we do with all the time we have on our hands when we have to stay at home? With all the freebies that are offered online at this time, pick those that truly deserve your study and meditation. Don’t waste your time on news and tips that are resent and recycled over and over again online. Above all, soak in the Word of God, by reading, meditating, praying and contemplating the Word in God’s presence.
Secondly, “put into practice” all that you have learned:
The modern church is blessed with so much knowledge, both Biblical and secular, that is so easily accessible, they include things that “you have learned or received or heard from me (Paul and all your teachers and pastors).” The “Future Shock” (Alvin Toffler, 1970) is really now a “Present Shock” that is unfortunately no longer “shocking” as we are used to all the knowledge surrounding us and we are numbed and oblivious to some of the wisdom that maybe hidden within. We know too much and do too little. We need to, practise what we have learned or received, and above all, I need to, practise what I preach and teach. So “put into practice” means to model after our teachers, especially after our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, “to not be anxious for things that I cannot change,” that is accepting the things I cannot change is, for us Christians, submission to God and surrendering to the sovereignty of God who knows and control all things, both good and bad, even those things that we do not understand and find hard to accept. The prophet Isaiah records these words from God(Isaiah 55:8-9):
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways my ways,”declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We learn to “let go and let God,” as the saying goes, because it is when we admit we are so limited that we can tap into God’s unlimitedness, and it is in yielding to God that we see God’s mighty hand at work. Amen!