Protected Minds

Read This Week: Philippians 4

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7 NIV

Anxiety is a profound issue and the most common mental illness in the United States. It’s also not unusual for someone with anxiety to suffer from a myriad of other personality disorders. Occasional anxious thoughts are an expected part of life, but severe anxiety involves more than temporary worry or fear. It does not go away and gets worse over time.

The official definition of anxiety is “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” In the context of Philippians 4, anxiety means a divided mind. It describes the mind as looking two ways and not being able to find a place where it can settle down. In this passage, anxiety is an inability to stabilize and protect the mind from wrong thinking.

The Philippian believers were struggling with negative, anxious thoughts and needed help. In verse 6, Paul repeats the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25, where he said, “Do not be anxious.” He is trying to redirect them and us away from self-dependence that often leads to feelings of loneliness and painful anxiety amid life’s difficulties and uncertainties.

This anxiety, according to the Scriptures, does not express trust in God. It is the misplaced reliance on self that produces fear, worry, and emotional suffering. Paul says we should care about and be concerned with our lives but should stop the pattern of powerless self-sufficiency and turn to God in faith. The exercise of confidence in God frees and protects us from anxiety.

The early Christians had plenty of reasons to be anxious in their circumstances. Not unlike us in modern days, they faced societal pressures, family problems, relational issues, and hard times. Paul’s encouragement to stop being anxious is not making light of their problems but reminds them that the power of Christ is greater than their troubles.

The phrase will guard in verse 7 is a military term for surrounding and protecting something. When we seek God and his truth in our lives, He circles and protects our heart and mind like skilled soldiers defending their position. The peace of Christ stands guard outside the door to our inner selves and stops anxious thoughts. It does this in a manner that we can’t understand and doesn’t make sense given the context of what we are walking through. We experience peace when our circumstances suggest otherwise.

It has been said that “prayerlessness is a declaration of independence from God.” When we fail to pursue God, worship, and do life with Him, our minds can become fragmented and susceptible to high levels of anxiety. To become overanxious to the point that we can’t function is harmful and denies faith in God’s ability to help us navigate our lives.

We need to exercise faith and a prayerful approach to life that will submit us to God’s power and control. It allows us to do the best we can in any circumstance, asking God to work with and beyond our human strength. This submission to the Lord is where we find protection and peace. When we realize that the Holy Spirit is working and active on our behalf in both the good and bad moments, we experience stillness and joy instead of crippling anxiety.

Keep Going

Read This Week: Philippians 3

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14 NIV

If you’ve ever climbed to the top of a mountain, you know how challenging it can be physically and mentally. The process of getting to the top requires guidance to stay on course, patience with the path, and perseverance when you feel like giving up. It also takes an awareness of yourself and the mountain.

Many climbers and trekkers have failed to reach the summit because they arrogantly overestimated their ability and naively underestimated the mountain. They became complacent when they should’ve stayed alert and focused; they let their guard down because they assume finishing is inevitable. They don’t experience the prize of standing on top because they take for granted what it takes to get there.

In the church at Philippi, complacency and spiritual arrogance were present among the members. Some were claiming that they had arrived at their goal and were beyond responsibility and the need for progress. Some assumed that they had already made it to the top. They were overrating their condition, deceived about their sin problem and undervaluing the difficult nature of life.

In Philippians 3, Paul wants the early Christians and us to understand that just because we have faith in Christ and his grace, we’ve not yet reached the prize that we’re trying to attain. He uses himself as an example and says that despite how far he has come since the Damascus road, he still has a long way to go toward his goal of spiritual and moral maturity. He points toward God’s active power in his life through the resurrection of Christ but makes it clear that his conversion was a starting place for growth and not the end. He and every believer must keep going because we haven’t obtained the goal.

This is a great reminder for every follower of Jesus and those who desire to walk with God and climb the various mountains of life. We live in the creative tension of being imperfect, weak, and sinful while also having the power of the Holy Spirit to help us be impeccable in our behavior, strong, and successful. We experience great spiritual breakthroughs but also get caught up in things that are shameful and messy. We know both the joy of spiritual highs and the despair of sinful lows.

Pressing on toward the prize is having the maturity to recognize the tension we live in as Christians while also having the desire and determination to keep going with God’s help. To be aware that we aren’t at the top but maintaining the daily effort to stay connected to the One who works in us to get there. To keep going is to be motivated by Christ’s love, presence and sustaining grace; to live worthy of his calling no matter how challenging the path. To press on with passion and discipline no matter how tempting it is to be complacent.

We keep going because God has so much more He wants to accomplish in our lives and the world. This is not the time or opportunity to stop. We are to be like Paul and forget about the failure, brokenness, and setbacks of the past and look toward the future prize with clarity and understanding that we aren’t there yet, but we will be.

Not Who But How?

Read This Week: Philippians 2

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Philippians 2:1-4 NIV

We are so concerned with who is going to be in our lives. Think about it. Ever since we understood what a relationship is, our focus has been on the people who will be our friend, our date or our potential spouse. We have to find that person we click with or have an affinity for. We must locate the ones that meet our criteria and fulfill our expectations. If we don’t, we become frustrated, unfulfilled and depressed.

This happens at school, work, church, in the community and especially on social media. Our relational journey is controlled by who is and who is not in our circle or attached to us. Perhaps our focus should shift a little bit. The who question is still relevant because, without it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But what if we got a little more internally focused as opposed to looking at others all the time?

Think for a second if we became less obsessed with who is going to be our friend, date or spouse and began to focus on what kind of person we are supposed to be and how God has instructed us to act within relationships. Philippians 1:27 tells us that Christians should live in a manner worthy of the gospel and in Philippians 2, Paul outlines exactly what that looks like as we are empowered by Christ. From this passage, we see the traits and emotions that we should have and are necessary for wholesome relationships.

The characteristics that need to be present to achieve unity and harmony with others are encouragement, comfort, affection, sympathy, love, humility and sacrifice. He also makes sure to warn us of a few things we must not exhibit in relationships if they are going to be dynamic, healthy and God-honoring and those are rivalry, conceit, and selfishness.

If a person is regularly displaying (not without slipping or failing at times) the 8 characteristics and avoiding the 3 characteristics laid out in Philippians 2, they should have no problem finding, keeping and enjoying good relationships. It’s as simple as that.

An encourager who brings comfort, fights for unity, displays affection and sympathy while exhibiting God’s love in a humble and sacrificial manner is someone who will experience a life of deep relationships no matter where they go or what space they occupy. So, it becomes less about who we will be in relationship with and more about how we will act and behave in one.

All Christians must answer the call to live in a manner worthy of the gospel when it comes to being in community with others. We have a responsibility to contribute to the unity and oneness of God’s people while maintaining a healthy respect for and genuine interest in one another above ourselves as we express the love of Christ that redeems and transforms.

Joy In Focus

Read This Week: Philippians 1

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. – Philippians 1:3-4, 21, 25 NIV

Prison is not a desirable place to be. Prisons are volatile and stressful and require a person to react and adapt at a high level just to survive the experience. The psychological toll that incarceration takes on the average person is immense and has a life long impact even for those behind bars a short period of time.

Being in prison for just two hours makes a bad day at the office look like a birthday party full of pony rides, bouncy houses, and award-winning cupcakes. Needless to say, prison is not an environment or experience that we often equate to joy, peace, and thankfulness. Unless, of course, you’re the Apostle Paul.

Paul wrote a letter to his friends in the city of Philippi while he was being held as a prisoner in Rome. Roman jails were brutal places where inmates were starved, tortured and if they were lucky, neglected. Paul was there not because he had committed a crime, but because he was preaching the good news of Jesus. His unwavering love and devotion to Christ and the Gospel had landed him in the most difficult of situations.

But in spite of his afflictions, Paul shared with his Philippian friends how much he loved them and detailed the circumstances of his time in prison while expressing his inner peace and gratitude. He wrote with conviction and filled his writing with hopeful joy. The word rejoice occurs eleven times in his letter and the word joy occurs five times. How could he do this while sitting in prison?

One thing is evident in reading the book of Philippians – the Apostle Paul was a focused man. He was focused on Jesus and living out and proclaiming the Gospel. Period. His focus allowed him to do life with a sense of expectancy; a confident hope and joy that he would be purposeful for the cause of Christ even if he died. In fact, he saw death as an ultimate purpose when he wrote, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Nothing would deter Paul from the mission of loving and serving Jesus. Through his trials, temptation, attack and captivity, he remained focused and that allowed him to experience joy even when his circumstances suggested that he should be overwhelmed with sorrow. He lived with faith, intentionality, and embodied an expectant hope in God’s purpose for his life. His focus on the joy of knowing Jesus and not his place in life empowered his unshakeable satisfaction through the worst of times.

Could it be that we struggle with joy because we struggle to focus? We certainly don’t live in a world inclined toward focus. We can barely pay attention must less harness the power that comes from focusing on the right things. We give more attention to what drains and frustrates us than we do to a fulfilling relationship with God. We give more credence to our problems and feelings about them than we do to our Savior. We focus more on what we can do instead of on the One who can actually do something.

The more we lock into God, the more we’ll begin to understand His purpose for our lives and our unique place in His story. We will see our problems not as something to fear but as a necessary part of our ultimate good. The focus will change our self-centered perspective and points us toward the truth. The truth that life is to be rejoiced over simply because God created us for a grand purpose and Christ has set us free to experience it.

We need to adjust our focus in order to have joy. Paul states in verse 20 of Philippians 1 that his life would bring honor to Christ. In this context, honor means “a celebration.” Paul’s life did bring fame and glory to Christ because he was faithful to and focused on Him. A life focused on God always brings a celebration to the name of Jesus and a celebration in our heart. There is joy in focus.