By the Rev. Thomas Shepherd
Stuart United Methodist Church
“Rejoicing in Anxious Times”
Philippians 4:1, 4-9
2002 has been a very strange and difficult year. It started off well enough the economy was booming, unemployment was the lowest ever for people of color, new jobs were being created and then “BOOM” like a bomb blasting in one moment everything changed in the twinkling of an eye. Was it the Second Coming? No! It was the COVID-19 pandemic and it swept away any sense of normalcy and wiped out all the strides of economic progress.
A new phrase has been coined “social distancing.” In the past seven months since the start of the lockdowns and restrictions I have yet to find anything social about “social distancing.” Many governors implemented quarantines, and forced business closures, which resulted in sharp rises in unemployment, and many small businesses that were forced to close have shut their door forever.
Because of these restrictions and closures the people affected by them now are wondering “How am I going to make it? I have bills to pay, children to feed.” Then the almighty government steps up and brings in a relief package to save the day. Oh really? A check is going to make it all go away? Not on your life! There are still millions of people out of work and struggling to make it. The government is not the answer and may be a big part of the problem.
Add that to the fact that 2020 has been filled shocking headlines and horrific news and conspiracy theories galore. It has seen some of the largest wildfires in the west ever recorded with people losing everything. There have been storms of devastating destruction. There have been uncalled deaths by police that resulted in “peaceful protests” where people were killed and looting of businesses and communities burned or destroyed. Many of these areas look like war zones. Add to that it is an election year and some are anxious about the unrest and animosity stirred up by the election. But I have good news for you, whatever happens on November 3, God remains supreme and our victory in Christ is already won.
Then top all that off with the news that this virus is not going away anytime soon, if ever. Our lives have been turned on end and many are living in fear and anxiety and there seems to be no joy or peace! You can hardly get people to smile or even say “Hi!” anymore. Joy and peace seems a thing of the past! Then we come to this passage from Philippians 4, and we are left wondering, how Paul can tell us to “Rejoice” in the face of all this madness? How can God expect us to rejoice? What is Paul trying to tell us?
When Paul wrote this letter he was in a Roman prison waiting possible execution. The church in Philippi to which he was writing was facing extreme persecution and problems of its own. Yet Paul writes a letter of encouragement to them from his jail cell. Maybe there is more to having Joy and Peace and being able to rejoice in the Lord than meets the eye? Let’s take a look.
In verse 1 Paul says to “stand firm in the Lord in this way.” In what way? Is this about what he said in chapter 3, or is it about what he is going say in chapter 4? Why not both? Go back and read chapter 3:20-21, and the very next verse is 4:1 “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” I believe it is the conclusion of the thought in chapter 3 but, it also fits for what is to come in chapter 4.
In verse 4 Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” You gotta be kidding, right? “Rejoice? Always?” Doesn’t he realize that we are living in a time of uncertainties? We are bombarded with news of terrible things happening around the world. Doesn’t he understand that people are anxious about all kinds of things? How can we find peace? Yes he understands for he is in prison awaiting probable death and the people he is writing to are under severe persecution. He knows all too well the strife that is in this life but he wants to point them in a better frame of mind. He reminds them that as believers they have a hope that is not of this world (keep chapter 3 in contexts with chapter 4) “our
citizenship is in heaven.” We have a hope that is not of this world. We are children of the King! So “Rejoice!” No matter what happens here, “Rejoice!”
So, what are we to do when we are having our pity party and are anxious? The answer is in verse 6, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Pray! Pray! Pray! Be at peace with the Lord and you will find true peace. “7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul is speaking about the peace of God that comes from being a child of God through faith in Christ Jesus whereby we become the children of God. Paul is saying that even though we live in this world, we don’t belong to it. We are called to rise above the circumstance and be “more than conquerors” through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 8:37).
So yes, this world is in chaos and we tend to hear little good news but we can still have peace about us and we can still rejoice in anxious times because we are children of God. Are you even in this crazy time rejoicing in the LORD? Find that peace in Christ. Paul gives a few tips for achieving peace saying “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
How we think, and the things we think on will make a big difference in our attitude. Think on the good not the bad. Rejoice even in anxious times. AMEN!