I often want the peace of God without surrender. I want my anxiety to cease without first opening my hands. I must confess; sometimes I want to receive the gifts more than I want the Giver himself.
Can you relate?
Anxiety has plagued me since I was a young girl. To help combat it, I committed Philippians 4:6-8 to memory long ago:
“Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
I thought, okay, that’s the answer! If I desire the peace that surpasses all understanding, I just need to start changing what I think about. I need to focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy more than the untrue, negative thoughts that infiltrate my mind without warning. I need to be more thankful. If I do that, I’ll have peace.
You can imagine my deep frustration at the lack of success I had. Maybe you’ve felt it too. You’ve sought God through His Word, thinking you’ve understood how to apply it to your situation, only to be left feeling like God didn’t hold up His end of the bargain. We think, God, I’ve done what you asked of me! I’ve been obedient to your commandments, so why don’t I feel better yet? Why has this struggle not passed?
This is what happens when we want what Jesus can do for us more than we actually want Him.
In my battle with anxiety, I spent years cherry-picking soothing Bible verses, using them as salve for my wounded heart. I’d attempt to use His Word like a formula, and become frustrated with Him when He didn’t deliver me from every anxious thought. What I’d failed to understand is that God’s promises have a price—the blood of His Son. Christ has paid for the promises of Scripture with His very life. In Him, I am graciously given undeserved mercy to enjoy the salvation, peace, and hope for future glory that He provides. I’ve been adopted into His family; made an heir to the throne of grace. Freedom that’s free for me, but purchased once and for all by His substitutionary death on the cross; promised by His resurrection, and sealed by the Holy Spirit.
When we look at the passage in Philippians again, we’ll notice the verses before and after the ones I memorized as a child give crucial instruction to the reader:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;” (Phil. 4:4-5).
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:9).
In full context of the passage, we find that there’s a premise to the promise: rejoice in the Lord always. When should we rejoice? Always. At all times. Regardless of our circumstances. Regardless of whether or not we “feel” like it. Who or what should we rejoice in? The Lord. Not our health. Not our finances. Not our abilities or accomplishments. Not even our family. We rejoice in Christ! Why do we rejoice? Because the Lord is at hand. He is near to us. He is coming soon! He is returning again, and we will be with Him face to face.
When I rejoice in Christ, it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him—who He is by His very nature and character. As I remain fixed upon knowing Him, and as I commune with Him regularly in prayer with an attitude of thanksgiving, His peace will naturally flood my heart and mind.
In verse nine, Paul acknowledges that these are not easy instructions. Simple, but not without difficulty. He says, “practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:9).
Did you catch that? Practice. This means to repeat it over and over; to rehearse it regularly with the intentions of growth and mastering what we have “learned and received and heard and seen” in Him.
What freedom this brings, to know that rejoicing in Christ and fixing our thoughts on Him is not meant to be perfectly performed on our first try. Instead, we practice. In other words, we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). And as we are faithful to continue seeking God’s heart, He will be faithful to impart His peace unto ours.
The forgotten weapon against anxiety is simply rejoicing in the character of Christ—His goodness when life doesn’t feel good, His strength to cover my weakness, His love when I feel unwanted, His glory so I can stop striving, and His sovereignty when I am confused and afraid. As my trust in Him grows, anxious thoughts will lessen.
I will rest in this good news: He is not just able to give me peace. He himself is peace.