“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 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 understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:4-7].
In a world powered by anxiety the counsel to “be anxious for nothing” sounds insane and beyond possibility and those who exhibit a lack of anxiety are often considered naïve and unrealistic, living in their own little worlds, or “happy places”. But Paul is not recommending escapism in the sense of living in a fictitious or delusional state of mind, but he is rather counseling his readers to live lives connected to God, and therefore to the reality which reveals the world for what it is – delusional and fictitious. The world is fictitious in the sense that its claim to be the highest reality, its claim to be all that there is, is a lie and a delusion which leads to death and separation from God.
Early in Jesus’ ministry He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than clothing?...Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?...Do not worry then…But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” [Matthew 6:24 – 34].
Paul wrote his words in prison; Jesus spoke His words to an audience living under the dominion of Roman conquerors – indeed, it had been centuries since Galilee and Judah had enjoyed independence, living under Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman authority. How can Paul write to “be anxious for nothing”? How can Jesus say “do not be worried about your life”? Are these irresponsible teachings? Are they unrealistic? Are they an invitation to disaster?
What is our focus in life? What is our North Star?
Paul writes “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”. We are to live in continuous conversation with God – this conversation includes thanksgiving, it includes our requests, and it includes persistent petition. Perhaps most of all, the conversation is the result of relationship, a relationship in which God discloses Himself to us and we disclose ourselves to God (from a human perspective, for of course He knows all there is to know of us – but do we know? Of course we don’t.)
Jesus says, “Do not worry then…But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Paul tells us to live in conversation with God; Jesus teaches us to seek God’s kingdom; both Jesus and Paul are talking to us, in part, about focus – where is our focus? Our heart will follow our focus.
Earlier in Matthew Chapter 6, leading up to His words about worry, Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light…” [Matthew 6:19 – 23].
If we are evaluating life based on the world’s standards, if our eyes are seeing things through the world’s lenses, then we will have reason enough for worry and anxiety and we will be motivated to overcome that anxiety and worry by the ways of the world. But if, however, our focus is the Kingdom of God, and if live in relationship with God, then we view life through the lenses of God’s Word by the light of the Holy Spirit.
In a sense we are all in lifeboats in the cold waters of the Atlantic. We can move our lifeboats in one of two directions; one direction is toward the sinking Titanic, the other is toward the rescue ship Carpathia. This world, this age, is sinking…it has been sinking for a long time and eventually, perhaps suddenly, it will be engulfed in the ocean never to be seen again. Everything we were impressed with on the Titanic will be gone – whether we were in First Class or were on the bottom of the passenger list – rich and poor, small and great – all that impressed us will be gone – whether we dined at the captain’s table or ate leftovers below decks – it will all be gone…and if we stay with the Titanic we will be gone with it.
The Carpathia offers rescue and hope. Is it escapism to row to the Carpathia? Or is it salvation? To remain in the lifeboat is not an option – those who remain will die – they will either be sucked under the waters by the Titanic or they will freeze to death.
Jesus offers us His peace (John 14:27) in a relationship with the Trinity. He offers us Himself and His incredible love. Paul can write Philippians in prison because Paul is living in Christ Jesus – Paul has made the transition from the sinking Titanic to the Carpathia.
Living life in the peace of Jesus, or living life in anxiety and anger? The Titanic or the Carpathia? That is my choice, that is your choice, that is our choice. Which direction are we rowing in today?
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”