What does it mean to be a busy Christian? Once we have decided we want to serve the Lord, we will probably find that our hands are full. We have the Great Commission to fulfill, we have livings to earn, we have families to care for and we know we must be exemplary in all ethical and behavioral matters. People are watching us.
Is it any wonder that we might occasionally feel tired, irritable, argumentative and even angry? Is it any wonder that we might feel unsettled, anxious, worried, and even depressed?
What can anyone say to us to make us feel better? What can the Apostle Paul say to us to make us feel better? There are many words of encouragement in the letters of Paul, but the stressed Christian is well-advised to be familiar with the book of Philippians.
In Philippians 4:2, we read: "I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord." (ESV). Such names remind us that Paul's letters really were letters, written with specific people in mind. They remind us too that Paul's counsel is rooted in reality; ancient, day-to-day reality involving personality conflicts, arguments and disputes. He entreats Euodia and Syntyche to "agree in the Lord." It must have been a bitter dispute to merit so much attention from the early Christian leader. "Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Phil. 4:3). The consummate leadership skill of Paul is evident in the words "these women, who have labored side by side with me." He acknowledges their work and their equality. Twenty-one centuries later, this type of management skill is still a rare commodity. Peace can be an elusive thing, whether it is peace of mind or peace amongst God's sinful people.
Here are the words we want to hear as we make our way through day-to day struggles:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Phil.4: 4-6).
Yes, here is our answer-it is not all up to us, after all. It is up to God. We have a role to play, of course, but it is God who is all-powerful and makes the final decisions about everything. Prayer is of course the means by which we can lift it all up to God.
Let us pause for a moment. A truly stressed Christian might be protesting: "I pray all the time. I'm sorry, but lately my prayers just haven't been working for me." There are times when we must explore what it means to pray. James Houston writes:
Prayer to the Father is therefore an exploration of his mystery and glory. The atmosphere of such prayer is bold and confident, open and hopeful, but at the same time full of awe, wonder, worship, praise and adoration... Our contemplative prayer mirrors the love of God himself. This act of contemplating the love of God must be an act of the whole person, because it wholly absorbs, unites, and possesses us... God's love reconciles our inner contradictions: our thoughts with our actions; our prayer with our life; our mind with our heart.
God's love enables us to do out of what we are. We are forgiven, so we forgive. We are healed, so we bring healing. We are redeemed, so we live as redeemed people. We are loved, so we love.
Praying to God is not simply a matter of asking for things. It is nothing less than entering into the mystery of faith and participating in providence-the divine plan of almighty God.
Is prayer therefore so complex and sublime it is impossible to do? Of course not-Houston adds: "it is in the nature of love to live in peace in the love of the other person. So to know the love of God is to have arrived at a safe anchorage and forever to be there." We are loved by God. How many times do we need to hear it before we will be at peace?
It is God who orchestrates the mysteries of time and space. It is God who will eventually make everything right:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4).
This knowledge, received from the Bible in faith, gives rise to something else, something rather special-the very thing we have been looking for:
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7).
The peace of God. If ever there was a gift we must cherish, it is this, and we must be relieved to know we are not required to understand it. At some point we can stop making relentless efforts to feel better and allow the peace of God to envelop us.
Is there anything else we need to know? Perhaps we should stop thinking about our problems so much and listen to music, the way a shepherd might listen to the gentle notes of a flute as he kneels in the grass on a summer's day. Perhaps we might observe the brilliant blue of the sky reflected in the sea as birds fly over distant cliffs. Perhaps we might immerse ourselves in awe and wonder as we watch the miraculous workings of the sun and the stars. There is much to learn but our God is not remote. As Paul says:
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. What you have learned and heard and seen in me-practice these things and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9).
Let us therefore reach out to one another in complete confidence and unhesitating love. Let us pray together for peace, glorious peace-peace in our hearts, amongst our friends and indeed in the world, according to the magnificent plan and watchful judgment of almighty God.