Preached in Welland, Hanley Swan 21/1/18 Hanley Castle 25/2/18, and Upton 28/1/18

 

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

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.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

One of the most distressing times I’ve ever had in my life  was in my early 20s  when someone very close to me tried to commit suicide.  I won’t go into the details, but for a long period afterwards life was very messy and difficult.  And you might imagine that my faith and emotions were all over the place as a result.

And yet actually something really remarkable happened – I experienced what our reading from Philippians 4:7 described as the “peace of God which transcends all understanding”. A supernatural peace and calm in the face of real difficulty. It was an incredible gift from God, a real release from some pretty serious worries.

Now we Brits we tend to be a nation of worriers. Let me read from a recent newspaper article:

BRITAIN is a nation of worriers who get stressed over “minor emergencies” daily, researchers revealed yesterday. Top of the list is not being able to sleep. But losing our glasses or running out of phone battery also result in heightened panic, said psychologists at Goldsmiths, University of London.

 Apparently 1/3 of us worry about

losing our keys. Being stuck in traffic when late was also hated by a third. The realisation we had no control over a problem was a factor as well as the extent of its disruption – so laddering tights was less of a worry than breaking a heel because it was easier to deal with.”[1]

Not having ever done either I couldn’t possibly comment. And all that worry has a negative impact on our health: dizziness, irregular heartbeat, fatigue, headaches, sweating, trembling and twitching. All caused by worry.

Are you worried yet?  Well take some comfort in research which found that 85% of what we worry about never happens. But by my maths that still leaves 15% to worry about!

So what can we do about worry?  Well this passage from Philippians 4 is a really practical one, which if we put into practice in our lives, will begin to change our approach to worry because it tells us that there’s no worry in life that God can’t give us peace from if only we’ll take a few sensible achievable steps.

But before we get to those steps you might be wondering:

 

1) why do Christians worry at all?

I mean being a Christian surely means God is going to give you an easy life. No hardship, no suffering, no illness, no difficulty; wealth, a big house with a BMW on the drive and of course you’re happy and healthy all your life. Isn’t that what the Bible promises?

Well I hope you’ve all gathered by now that’s not what it promises. This book of Philippians wasn’t written from a mansion but from a prison cell by a guy on death row for following Jesus. We live in a broken messed world, and we’re broken messed up people. So it’s no surprise that sometimes our lives are broken and messed up.

And rather than telling us that God will come and spare us all of that the Bible tells us that he loves us so much that he’ll come and walk with us through all the mess and help us transform it forever.

And part of that help is the promise is the gift of a supernatural peace from God that transcends all understanding. But before we get to that peace, let’s think about:

 

2) How we can worry less that we already do.

Now I reckon you can break down our worries into two broad categories. There’s worries that are in our heads, and there are worries that are in our lives.

There’s an example of a worry in our lives in v2 of our reading, that bit pleading with two women in the church to sort out their row and be reconciled. That’s a challenge to us that sometimes our worries can only be resolved by action. We have to go and do something, be reconciled to someone, And when we do that, the worry goes away by itself.

Worries in our heads are a little harder to fix. When I was about 8 I had a recurring dream about being chased round and round my mum’s orange Hillman Imp car. It happened for months and months and months.

So what was it that had got me all frightened of vampires? Well I’d been reading about them  in a children’s horror book I’d borrowed from the library, that’s how.

Every day we will our minds with trash. Is it any surprise that sometimes it comes back to haunt us? I mean who wouldn’t worry if they’d read Friday’s Daily Express?

Here’s a selection of it’s headlines:

  • UK set for 24-hour non-stop snow DELUGE as weather systems smash creating huge SNOW SQUALL
  • High Blood Pressure – cut back on this morning drink to lower your blood pressure (coffee)
  • UK to be OFFICIALLY declared COLDER than the North Pole – Shock winter temperatures hit
  • World War 3 is coming: Battle to spark reign of Jesus hinted at in THIS bible passage
  • UK Weather: Met Office forecast shows SIGNIFICANT snow as BITTERLY cold winds strike UK
  • Heavy snow UK: Met Office weather warnings latest – Is it going to snow?
  • Snow UK: What is a snow squall? Will it hit Britain this week?
  • Snow report: Britain set to be BURIED in snow as Siberian FREEZE hits UK in a matter HOURS
  • The most dangerous country to drive in Europe – does the UK make the list? (Bulgaria, UK nearly the safest)
  • Failing to keep car clean could land you £1000 fine and two million drivers risk it.
  • And finally, 7 (SEVEN) more articles about cold weather…

If you took all that at face value and filled your head with it, you’d probably just want to stay home hiding Under your duvet. Except there’s a headline about bed bugs as well.And that’s why v8 tells us to fill our heads with something better.

V8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Fill your head with those things and you’ll worry less. But you will still worry, So let’s think about the supernatural peace that God promises. How do we receive it?

 

3) How do we receive the peace that transcends understanding?

Well the first thing to say is that:

 (i) to know the peace of God you’ve got to know God for yourself.

That’s there at the end of verse 7.

 the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

That phrase “in Christ Jesus” is a relationship phrase. The Bible tells us time and time again that God isn’t distant an impersonal, instead in Jesus, he’s close and personal. We can know him. And once we do, we are united with him, adopted by him, we’re in him, we’re walking in step with him. It’s all relationship language.

So the first step to receiving that supernatural peace of God is to know God for ourselves. Listen if that’s something you aren’t sure of –  grab me afterwards and let’s do something about that.

Second thing to say:

(ii) to know the peace of God, you’ve got to pray.

That’s there in v6.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

What’s it saying?  That when you’re worried, the key to peace, is prayer. And there seems to be two particular kinds of prayer

The first is the one we’re all familiar with  – request prayer.  “Present your requests to God” our verse said. I remember going through the mill over this a few years ago when my Dad was dying of cancer.. He wasn’t a Christian – even though he’d grown up in Anglican churches, he was a self-proclaimed atheist. And it’s hard losing your dad on those terms.

So throughout his illness – and it lasted 4 years – I prayed for him a lot.  I prayed for him to be healed. I prayed for him to saved. And no doubt a dozen other things too. That’s request prayer. Asking for things. And when we’re worried and in a crisis its the easy sort of prayer to pray.

But our passage mentions another sort of prayer. And this is the one that we tend to forget and find harder in a crisis. And that’s thanksgiving prayer. Saying thank-you to God.

Now you might think that thanksgiving is an odd thing to do in a crisis.

Thank-you Lord that I am in a hole, life’s going terrible, and I’m worried to death about the flu and Polar Winds.

 But actually saying thank-you is emotionally and spiritually one of the most healthy things we can do. You see no matter what our circumstances, there are always god-given blessings in our lives day to day. Food, clothing, warmth, friendship, sunshine, even in January.

The Bible tells us all good things come from God. The money we earn in our jobs,  the clothes on our backs, the car we drive, the home we live in, are all gifts from God. And remembering that and saying thank-you, seems to be the key to releasing the peace of God.

I remember discovering that as my Dad’s health deteriorated. By the end I was praying,

Lord, thanks for giving me a dad. Thanks that he’s usually been a good dad. Thanks for the amazing courage he’s shown facing this illness. Thanks for all he’s taught me down the years. Please make him physically well, and even more importantly, may you make him spiritually well also.”

 Now I don’t know if those prayers changed my dad’s situation.I guess I’ll never know until I stand face to face with God in glory. But they certainly changed how I felt about my dad’s situation. Because as I thanked God for him and requested healing,I felt God’s peace coming into me.

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.

And that’s a promise. And like any of the promises of God we have to decide whether we’re going to trust it or not.

Amen

[1] https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/568952/Britain-is-a-nation-of-worriers-who-get-stressed-about-silly-things

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