Title: Experiencing Peace Under Pressure
Series: Philippians (19/20)
Reference: Philippians 4:4-9

If you have a Bible, I want invite you to open up to the New Testament book of Philippians.  As you’re doing that, we’ll go ahead and dismiss the little ones to Children’s Worship.  All the little ones, you can make your way to the back of the Sanctuary, and from there you’ll be escorted off to another great Bible adventure.

For those of us who remain, we’ve been studying the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings.  We’re in chapter 4.  The title of today’s message is “Experiencing Peace Under Pressure.”  I’ll begin reading with verse 4, and I’m going to ask if you’re physically able–  Let’s all stand, in honor & reverence, for the reading of God’s Holy Word.  The Word of God says in Philippians 4, beginning with verse 4:

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.

 8 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

I don’t know how many of you can remember all the way back to last Sunday, but we essentially started our time together by doing a little survey, and the survey showed us that just about everyone was dealing with some kind of stress.

This past week I did a little more research on stress, and I found out that we’re not alone!  It turns out that just about all Americans are stressed out.  A few years ago Time Magazine had an article called “Stress: Can We Cope?”  It was estimated that Americans consume over 20,000lbs of aspirin in a year in hopes of offsetting many of the effects of stress.  The American Heart Association estimated the total cost of stress in the work place to be over $100 billion each year!  The article went on to say that nearly 2/3 of al visits to a doctor’s office are (in one way or another), stress-related.  We are a stressed-out people.

The Apostle Paul, the man who wrote this little letter we’ve been studying (we know it as the book of Philippians)–  I’d say he was also a man who was dealing with a little bit of stress.

The church that he worked so hard to help establish and strengthen in Philippi was going through some difficult times.  Two of his friends and partners in ministry were fighting with each other, and their behavior was beginning to bring division within the church.  Paul had the heart of a pastor.  He would have wanted to be there to help the church work through some of these difficult things, but the big problem with that is he’s still locked up in prison!

On top of that (all the way back in chapter 1), Paul talked about folks who were there in Rome just to try and make things worse for him.  And on top of all that was the very real possibility of death!  I’d say Paul was a man who knew what it was like to feel stress, yet it was exactly in those stressful, difficult, and trying circumstances that Paul wrote what many students of the Bible refer to as “the letter of joy.”

How is that possible?  How can Paul, a man who was under tremendous stress and pressure, how was he able to experience peace?  I believe the answer is tucked away right here in chapter 4.  Paul begins this section with, what seems to be, an outrageous command:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 

Now the command seems very much unrelated to this whole issue of finding peace, but this is actually the very heart of the matter!

Paul says rejoice in the Lord.  How do you find peace when you’re under pressure?  How can face the stress and the pressures of life, and still hold-on to your joy?  Verse 4 is the key: rejoice in the Lord…

Over & over, throughout our study of this letter, we’ve touched on this idea that our joy is anchored not in our circumstances, and not in our personal preferences, but in Him!  In Jesus!  In the Lord!

This is so foundational to our experience of joy in life.  Most folks think joy is what you get when you get what you want.  But real joy comes when you realize what you deserve.  You deserve judgment (because of sin), and yet you get Jesus (you get salvation).  This is the foundation.  This is the starting point for our experience of peace & joy (even in difficult things).

It begins with rejoicing in the Lord, but rejoicing in the Lord isn’t just the starting point–  It’s the second point, and the halfway point, and every other point!  It’s everything because the Bible doesn’t just say to rejoice in the Lord, but it is rejoice in the Lord always!  That’s how your notes start off:  The command is to rejoice in the Lord always…

In every season, in every circumstance, through every form of adversity–  It doesn’t mean we go around here, skipping & singing (totally detached from reality)!  But it does mean we can drink deeply from the well of salvation that will produce joy & peace in every season, and in every circumstance.

How is that possible?  If the command is to rejoice in the Lord always (if that’s the key to experience joy & peace), then how is that possible?  Let me give you a few things to think about.  Number one–  Determine that nothing is worthy of my anxiety.

6 Be anxious for nothing… 

The word “anxious” is a very visual word.  It actually speaks of being pulled in two different directions.  Just out of curiosity, can anybody here identify with that?  Anybody here feel like they are being pulled in different directions?  Maybe hope is pulling you one direction, but fear is pulling you in another direction.  Maybe faith & expectation pulls you one direction, but there seems to be a thousand other voices pulling you in another direction.

Yet the Bible commands us (verse 6): Be anxious for nothing…

The very core of what the Bible is getting after here is this idea of worry / anxiety that would pull you in different directions.  And the Bible is saying, “Don’t let that happen!  Don’t let worry, or anxiety, or fear pull your heart in all these different directions.”

Confession time:  I’m preaching to myself here because if there was such a thing as the spiritual gift of worry, I would be writing books on that one!  I worry (I allow my mind & my heart to be occupied & pulled in different directions) about everything.  I worry so much that when everything is going fine, I worry about the fact that it’s going fine!

You say, “Well Pastor Shane–  You seem like a pretty laid back kind-of-guy.  What do you worry about?”  I worry about the church.

I worry about the health of our church.  I don’t really care if we’re a big church (I want to be as big as God wants us to be), but I worry about us being a healthy church.  I worry about having enough volunteers to establish effective ministries.  I worry about being financially sound.  I worry about paying off our debt.  I worry about whether or not our roof problems have been fixed.

I constantly worry about our ministry efforts.  How we can reach people here in Olathe?  How can we connect with more, reach more, grow more, impact more?  I worry about getting our Bylaws & ministry structure done and in place.  I worry about having a structure that actually works for us (something that we can use to be organized for ministry).

I worry about those in our church family who are sick.  I worry about those who are spiritually far from God.  I read the attendance report each Monday and guess what, I worry about those who have missed several weeks in a row.  I worry about, “Did I say something or do something?”  I worry about, “Did somebody else say something or do something?”–and “How can we get folks to focus on what really matters.” 

I worry about every single Sunday morning.  I also have responsibilities at the associational level that (you guessed it) cause me to worry.  I have responsibilities at the State level that cause me to worry.  In just a couple of months I’ve got a doctor’s appointment coming up, and last year my cholesterol & blood pressure were both high.  The doctor told me to lose some weight and get it under control.  I haven’t done either of those, so I worry about that.

On top of all that, I worry about balancing family & ministry, and making sure my family understands they are my number 1 priority!

Now I’m not complaining (don’t take this all wrong)!  I’m not complaining.  I’m just saying you have a pastor who can identify with you.  You have a pastor who understands what it feels like to be pulled in a million different directions.  I’m like that one guy who said: I’m worried about the economy.  A counselor said, “Tell me exactly what you’re worried about?”  The man said, “Well, my hair is in a recession; my waist is in inflation, and I’m pretty sure I’m headed for depression!”

We all have those times when we feel like there’s so much going on, and there’s so much out of our control.  I believe Paul could relate to that.

I mean, here is a guy who is in prison.  He’s got enemies all around him who are trying to make things worse.  A church that he deeply cares about is being pulled apart–and it’s not so much from outward pressure, but it’s inward conflict that’s tearing this church apart.  To top it all off, he’s facing the very real possibility of getting his head whacked off.  Yet this is the man who writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always!  Be anxious for nothing!” 

Are you kidding me!  This is a guy who could be on the chopping block any hour, and yet he has this kind of perspective!  How is that possible?  I believe Paul would say it’s possible when you determine that nothing is worthy of your anxiety.

Nothing is worthy of your anxiety, and you know why?  Because of what Paul says just before he says not to worry!  Look at it there in verse 5b.  Verse 6 starts off with “Be anxious for nothing…”  Don’t worry.  Don’t allow your heart to be pulled in different directions.  And just before Paul gives us that command, look at what he says in 5b…the Lord is near…

Now when you talk about the word “near”–  You can either mean “near in time” or “near in space.”  Make sense?  Near in time would be like, “The end of the message is near” (that would be near in time, but it’s not, okay.  The end of the message is nowhere near)!

That’s near in time, but there’s also near in space.  That’s like me coming closer to you.  Before I’m up here and I’m far, but now I’m near, right!  (Wouldn’t you agree that I am near)!

Now that’s what Paul is talking about when he says “the Lord is near”.  He’s talking about near in space.  The Lord is near to you.  The Lord is close.  The Lord is not far removed, and because you know that truth, verse 6 goes on to say “be anxious for nothing.” 

Do you see that connection?  When my heart is gripped with worry–  When my soul feels pulled in a million different directions, I need to stop, not only to remind myself of the command in verse 6 (be anxious for nothing)–but I also need to remind myself of the truth in verse 5 (the Lord is near)–and it’s the truth that enables the carrying out of the command.  Because I know the Lord is near, my heart can rest easy, and I can make the choice that nothing is worthy of my anxiety.

Number one, determine that nothing is worthy of my anxiety.  The Lord is near!  Amen!  His presence isn’t far removed from my situation, so be anxious for nothing.  Determine that nothing is worthy of my anxiety.

Number two, determine that everything is worthy of my prayers.  Paul said it like this in verse 6:

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything…  In everything!  Turn to your neighbor and say, “That means everything!”  Turn to your other neighbor and say, “Even that thing that’s causes you to worry!” 

The Bible says “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything…”  In everything that causes you anxiety.  In everything that seems to pull you this way or that way.  In everything that seems to pile on and strangle you.  6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer…  You see, prayer is the answer to worry because it is prayer that ushers us into the presence of God.

As a small child, I can remember when I first started to sleep in my own room.  At first, all I wanted was my own room.  And I hounded my dad, and hounded my dad, and hounded my dad and until he finally gave me very own room.

But the first night I was alone in my very own room, I wasn’t so sure I wanted my own room any more.  Can you guess why?  Can you guess why I didn’t want to stay all by myself in my very own room?

It was because of the monster!  Like most kids do, I believed there was a monster in my closet, and he only came out at night when I was all alone!   So I didn’t want to be in there by myself.  I was scared.  I was overwhelmed.  I wasn’t sure, but it sort-of looked like this thing had really big claws.  During the day, things were fine.  I loved having my very own room.  But at night, when the monster began to lurk in the deep, dark, shadows of my closet, I wasn’t so sure that I wanted my very own room!

But when dad came in, everything was fine!  When dad came in, I was safe.  I can still remember the feeling of lying there in my bed, and dad would come and sit down beside me, and I just knew I was safe.  I knew I was okay.  I knew that monster was long gone because nobody would mess with my daddy!

As a little boy, growing up with a crazy little imagination, daddy made all the difference.  It was the presence of my dad that drove fear out of my heart, and that’s what prayer does for us.

Now I realize God is everywhere and at all times.  Theologically, I know that.  But often if you’re anything like me, often we forget that.  And especially when we are worried, when we feel pulled in a million directions, when we feel like there are more questions than answers, we tend to forget that God is near.  But when I take time to stop and pray, all of a sudden I’m in God’ s presence.  I know Daddy is near, and because Daddy is near, my heart can rest a little easier.

Now when Paul tells us to pray here, he actually uses three different words.  5 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.

Let’s think about each of those words.  The first is the word prayer.”  This is a very general word for payer, but it’s usually the word for prayer that’s associated with adoration, devotion, and worship.

Paul says whenever you find yourself worrying, the first thing you need to do is to stop, get alone with God, and pray to Him (worship Him, exclaim worth to Him)!  Now that goes against everything in my human instinct.  My instinct (in my worry, in my anxiety) is to try and figure out the situation.  My instinct is to figure out how in the word this thing is going to work out.  But the Bible says if you & I want to experience a God-given peace, even when things around us are not peaceful, then in the worry, in the anxiety, in the uncertainty we have to stop–recognize who God is, and worship Him!

The second word for prayer that Paul uses here is the word supplication.”  6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication…

That’s the word for prayer that means you simply bringing your request to God.  Honestly, earnestly, bringing your needs to God.  And then Paul uses the word “thanksgiving.”  6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. 

So it’s “with thanksgiving.”  In my worry, my anxiety, my uncertainly, I’m continuing to express thanks to God.  Why?  Because of who He is…  Because of what He has done…

You see, this goes back to what Paul says in verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always…”  We are to rejoice in the Lord.  Our joy is anchored in the Lord.  In who He is.  In what He has done (it’s not about everything coming up roses in my life)!  My experience of joy, this Holy Spirit wrought (world can touch it, devil can’t take it, and backslidden-complaining-critical Christians can’t stop it)–  This deep-seated joy & contentment in my heart doesn’t hinge on my circumstances, but it’s rooted in my Savior!

My circumstances may change (and in fact, they probably will), but my Savior never changes.  He is the Great, Unchangeable, Rock in my life.  He doesn’t move.  He doesn’t waver.  He is steadfast.  He is sure.  The Bible says He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

So the Bible says, “You want to have peace?”  Rejoice in the Lord.  Worry about nothing.  Pray about everything, and before I give you number 3, look at the result in verse 7:  7 And the peace of God…

Peace of God is not the same as peace with God.  You have peace with God through Jesus Christ–but you can have peace with God and still miss out on the peace of God because you’re all worried & filled with anxiety, trying to handle problems you should have left with Jesus a long time ago!

But when we determine that nothing is worthy of my anxiety, and everything is worthy of my prayers, look at the result in verse 7:  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension…  That means others can understand it.  Others look at your life, they see what you’re going through and they just don’t get it.  They don’t understand where the joy comes from, where the peace comes from, where the inner strength comes from,and from a worldly perspective, maybe you seem a little odd because you’re not wringing your hands & driving yourself nuts trying to figure everything out…

But you’ve got that peace of God which surpasses all comprehension (it doesn’t make sense & others can’t understand it, but you’ve got that inner confidence of soul), and the Bible goes on to say there in verse 7 that it’s going to guard your heart and your mind (the way you feel and the way you think)!

Determine that nothing is worthy of my anxiety.  Determine that everything is worthy of my prayers.  And then, real quick, the last one (number three on your notes): determine to focus on the good.  

8 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. 

Dwell” is the big word there.  If you’re going to experience peace (real, lasting, peace)–  You’re going to have to be very selective about the thoughts that you allow to dwell right up here between your two little ears.

Proverbs 23:7 says “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he…”  What you think matters.  And so the Bible says to think about what’s true, not false.  Think about what’s honorable, not dishonorable.  Think about what’s just, not unjust.  Think about what’s pure, no impure.  Think about what’s lovely, not repulsive.  Think about what’s commendable, not wrong.  Think about what’s morally excellent, not filthy.  Think about what’s worthy of praise, not shameful.  The Bible is saying these are the things you need to dwell on.

You remember the story I told you about having trouble sleeping in my room?  Here’s the truth…  Your heart will be filled with fear when you spend all your time gazing into the darkness.  Determine to focus on the good.

Let me pray for us…

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