Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. ( Philippians 4:4-7)
“Have no anxiety at all” is a lot easier said than done, yet it must be possible (at least approachable!) or we would not be called to it. Or better yet, promised it, for there is no one on earth that wouldn’t long to be able to fulfill this command and trust that with God whatever he commands is what he also intends to give. Remember the great prayer of St Augustine, “Command O Lord, what you will; but give, O Lord, whatever you command.”
So where do we find the gift of living without debilitating anxiety? Many say the answer is right here in these few verses: it is taking everything to the Lord in prayer. But that is only so if something far more fundamental has happened first: we have come to trust the Lord and his love for us and are confident that when we pray he always hears and always answers. Anxiety diminishes as faith increases.
One small verse in Isaiah captures the secret, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is staid on you, because he trusts in you”(Isaiah 26:3) To be confident of the Lord and to have one’s mind fixed on him instead of transfixed by the present circumstance or future uncertainty is to begin to find the “peace which passes understanding” which Paul promised the Philippians. The great Biblical image of this is Peter walking on the water in Matthew 14. As long as his eyes were fixed on Jesus he walked, when he took his eyes off Jesus and put them on the waves, he sank.
I am always encouraged and challenged by the lives of people who, like Paul, have known hardship and pain far deeper than anything I’ve known, and yet somehow also have a greater sense of peace and of God’s presence and love for them than I often have. One in particular is Annie Johnson Flint, a woman who knew a life filled with pain. Orphaned at an early age and crippled with arthritis and later cancer and incontinence, she spent the last prt of her life bedridden, developing sores so severe that she had to have multiple pillows to ease her pain. And yet, she was known as a woman of deep, indomitable joy and wrote one of the most gorgeous poems I have ever read. It is a true testament of her own experience of the joy and peace that Paul proclaims in Philippians, and the hope we all can have of God’s gracious strengthening in our times of deep weakness and pain:
“He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increases;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving has only begun.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
In her unfathomable weakness, Annie Johnson Flint had come to know the immeasurable love of God, and his power to abundantly pour out his grace in her life to enable her to endure and overcome every circumstance. She knew peace and joy far greater than many people know who don’t struggle with the extreme physical challenges with which she struggled. I pray that we all come to know that peace, joy, strength, and power at similar depths in our own lives.*
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.
*The last several paragraphs of this post, beginning with “I am always encouraged and challenged”, are quoted word for word from “ A Sure Hope”, Kathleen Durham, pp 56-57)