Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:4-9]
Christians are (or should be) in the “Rejoicing Business”. Our task is to share the Gospel, the Good News of hope, loving one another unconditionally. Paul encourages us to joy. He addresses aloneness first, assuring us that the Lord is near. He addresses our fear and anxiety next, commending us to make our requests with prayer, supplication and thanks. Once we do so, he assures us, the incomprehensible peace of God will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.
Isn’t that amazing? What a simple instruction… don’t be anxious but in everything, offer up prayer with thanks… and peace will guard our hearts and minds.
Then Paul follows up this incredible promise with a more specific instruction, that we dwell on excellent and praiseworthy things. That we are to practice what we’ve learned from Paul, focus on the good and excellent, and thus the God of peace will be with us.
This rings deep with me for two reasons, and has suggested a question to me. I thought I’d share the question, and see what you think.
Most of my ministry is counseling. People come to see me when they lack joy in unbearable ways. That is the first reason this rang in me. I realize a strange thing. The people I see, people who hurt, are not generally “hurting in the present”. That is, they are not hurting from things of the “here and now”. The pain they feel comes from ideas they dwell upon. Usually, these are either memories of the past, or fears of the future. Whether divorce, family troubles, business failures, all ghosts from the past. Then there are the anxieties of the future… job worries, children, financial strains, all fears of future misfortunes. OR, even if the concerns are of the present, they are often based on people and decisions that are not HERE. People and decisions made by others elsewhere, about which we can do nothing.
Here’s the question… How much of our time, do we actually spend dwelling on the here and now, where God and grace are accessible to us? And how much do we spend either in regrets of the past, fears of the future, or stressing on things well beyond our ability to affect?
Here’s an amazing thing I’ve realized. “Joyful people” live mostly in the here and now, and focus on excellent and good things. Miserable people, do not.
The second point that made this so ring for me was actually a bit funny. This blog is the “Postmodern Mystic”, and much of my focus is meditation, contemplation, mental prayer. I get lots of questions about what these mean, what IS this, when I speak on it… people are curious, sometimes hungry, to engage in prayer of this sort. It is easy enough to “describe” or “define”, but not so easy to help people understand.
But I realized that this little Philippians passage is a wonderful description. I’ve admitted from time to time my challenge with “cat-herding”. My mind sometimes bounds from one topic to another in a rather “out of the box” stream of consciousness that usually links up to a general theme, without necessarily making sense in a chain-link fashion.
Bottom Line: When one follows Paul’s instruction here, God fulfills His promise. When/if one chooses to “dwell” upon the excellent, lovely, and good… then the Excellent/Lovely/Good “dwells back” and the mind/heart is not only guarded, but experiences joy and peace. These tend to be addictive on their own, and reinforce the practice. “Meditation/Contemplation” may well BEGIN as an effort and a discipline… but with just a bit of perseverance, they become joyful, attractive, peaceful and… well, frankly… habit-forming.
What do you think, Gentle Reader?