- The God of Peace
- Philippians 4:6-9
- Brian Brownlow November 23, 2020
The God of Peace
Good morning LakeRidge praise. I’m excited to be here with you this morning for the last message in this series titled Capturing Rebellious Thoughts. The last few weeks we’ve looked at how our thought patterns represent a battle. We have an enemy who wants to lie to us and tell us that we have no value that we are not important. That enemy wants to distort the truth that we are created in the image of God. We are not God, but we do bear his image. We are created by him and the Bible clearly tells us that everything he created is good. Now, our enemy has an ace up his sleeve and that ace is sin. Ever since the fall we’ve had to deal with the presence of sin and our nature that leads us to desire sin. Because of that, our enemy has lots of ammunition. There is plenty of sin in my life that the enemy of my soul doesn’t have to look far to find something to throw at me. I’m going to guess that some of you are in the same boat.
That reality sets up the battleground of our mind. It is literally a war that we are engaged in. No sane person wants to be in a war. In our physical circumstances and certainly in our thoughts we want to be at peace. And yet we have an enemy whose sole purpose is to pull us into this war.
This morning I want to look at a passage of Scripture from the book of Philippians that speaks to us about how, no matter what our enemy does or says, we can find true peace of mind.
I hope you have a Bible with you and yes, you can look it up on your phone. Just don’t go to Facebook while you’re there! Let’s look at Philippians 4:6-9 NIV.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 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. 9 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.
Paul begins here by telling the church at Philippi, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Well, that’s simple enough. Don’t be anxious. End of story. Close up shop. We’re done here. I wish it were that easy – don’t you? The truth is it’s really hard not to be anxious. Maybe it’s just me but – especially now – I find anxiety creeping in from all angles. The COVID-19 pandemic has created so much uncertainty for us that is difficult not to become anxious, to worry about the future and for all of us to be safe. The recent election has created tension in our nation and has exposed an even greater divide than most of us imagined.
Sometime in April I heard someone describe the times we are living in as “unprecedented.” At first, I was dismissive of that. I’m not a history expert but something I’ve noticed is that we tend to over exaggerate our own experiences. That’s only natural. We feel our own experiences. We can only describe what someone else has experienced especially in a time far removed from our own. I’m not diminishing our current circumstances. On the other hand, I’ve wondered what it was like to have gone through a world war. America has experienced conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq as well as other places, but you have to go back to the early 1940s to find a time when the entire world was seemingly in conflict. Then I realized that someone who turned 80 this year would’ve been born the year before America entered into World War II. They would been five years old when the war ended. We don’t have a lot of recollection of things prior to our fifth birthday. So, someone would have to be approaching 90 to really remember what it was like to go through World War II. That made me realize that, yeah, for pretty much everyone alive today the effects of a worldwide pandemic can appropriately be described as “unprecedented.”
As a pastor I’m often confronted with the question of how to encourage people in times of tragedy. How do I speak life into people whose lives seem to be unraveling around them? As you can imagine words are often inadequate. I’m reminded of a song that was released in 1988 by Bobby McFerrin. I don’t really remember much about him so this might’ve been one of those one-hit wonders. Take a listen to a short clip of the song.
Some of you are too young to remember but that song became a cultural icon. There were bumper stickers, T-shirts, coffee mugs…you name it. If you could sell it, it had the slogan Don’t Worry, Be Happy plastered all over it. The tune was catchy and cute, and it was one of the worst, “I can’t get this out of my head” songs of all time. Some of you hate me for playing that. Some of you out there could sing every word. It was catchy and it was cute, and everybody was saying it.
For the most part, the late 1980s were relatively calm. No era is perfect and there always difficulties. In 1986 many of us watched the space shuttle Challenger explode only seconds after takeoff. But in the late 80s things seem to be kind of picking up. When I was a boy the Soviet Union was the great evil empire. Many of us wondered if the two superpowers – the United States and the Soviet Union – would start World War III and use nuclear weapons to wipe us from the face of the earth. But in the late 80s the Soviet Union was coming apart. All of a sudden, this world superpower seemed like a paper tiger. The Berlin wall that separated a country for decades came down in 1989. It was a time where don’t worry, be happy could kinda work.
But you know, don’t worry, be happy is terribly inadequate in times of real crisis. When I speak to a young couple who just experienced a miscarriage or when someone hears a diagnosis of cancer, don’t worry, be happy just doesn’t cut it.
I have to admit that when I hear the apostle Paul saying, “do not be anxious about anything…” I think surely there’s got to be more than this. Fortunately, there is. He goes on to say in the second half of that verse, “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
God has given us a template for peace in our lives. A way to live outside of the anxiety that seems to be a natural part of the human condition. That template has three parts and has a cause and effect relationship. The first part, and I’m going to say that these are in order, is prayer and petition. The only way to overcome anxiety is to go to God and give it to him. No amount of “trying harder” will overcome the anxiety that is caused by the seemingly endless list of difficulties we face in this life.
There are things that we can do. Lyndol talked last week about putting ourselves in the right frame of mind. Having the right filter – the filter of truth – through which we see the things around us. Paul’s going to say here in just a few moments how we have to think about the right things. All that’s important. All that’s necessary. But it will be inadequate by itself. We have to go to the Lord in prayer and ask him with thanksgiving to break the power of anxiety in our life.
The second qualifier in this template, along with prayer and petition, is to start with thanksgiving. At the beginning of every worship service, during our announcements, we tell you that all prayer requests will be prayed over by our prayer team and staff. On Tuesday mornings during staff meeting the staff prays over every request that is turned in. During that time of prayer, we always start with praises and give thanks to God. It is an act of faith to go to God and tell him how much you love him and how much you are thankful for all that he has done. When you pray, start with thanksgiving.
Thirdly, present your requests to God. It’s not only okay, but it is good and necessary to pour out your heart to God. Tell him all the things you’re anxious about. Ask him when you will see his mercy. Even when you are not feeling it or experiencing it. Remember, start with praises and thanksgivings. Even when it is hard to give thanks, give thanks anyway. It’s that act of faith that makes your prayers powerful – not any high-sounding words or cute and catchy phrases. The act of going to God and admitting you don’t have the answers, but you believe he does.
The act of prayer – with thanksgiving – is the cause. The effect is found in v. 7. Take a look back in your Bible. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. The effect of prayer is the receiving of the peace of God. Now, I need to clarify something. It does not say that you will receive exactly what you want, in exactly the way that you asked for it, and before the deadline you set for God. It does say that you will receive the peace of God that transcends all understanding. I don’t believe God is a silent God. I don’t think he’s the clockmaker God who created the heavens and earth, wound it up and then just walked away from it and let it operate on its own. He is a personal God he who is working in our lives and I believe he is doing miracles.
I also believe he is God and I am not. He promises that when I draw near to him that he will bring comfort to me he will give me peace even in the midst of the storm. There will be times where he will calm and completely absorbed the storm. There will be other times where he will allow me to walk through the storm because he is teaching me something. He is strengthening me. He is forming me. That is not always easy. It is almost always hard. Paul’s message to us here is not complicated. It is hard but it’s not complicated.
The power of God is often most amazingly felt when our circumstances don’t change but our perception of them does. When, despite being in a situation that would typically bring great anxiety and fear into my being, I’m strangely calm and confident. That mean I still get some butterflies but I’m no longer paralyzed. Anxiety no longer has a grip on me because the peace of God which transcends all understanding is given to me in that situation. The peace of God guards my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. Sometimes God calms the storm. Sometimes God gives me the peace, the confidence and the strength to wade into the storm and not bat an eye. God created us to be over comers, not to be weak and blown by every gust of wind.
Paul was under house arrest when he wrote to the church at Philippi. Four times in this letter he speaks of being in chains. When he talks about peace to the Philippians – and to us – he knows about difficulties. He situation was not good. God had not taken away the storm. God gave Paul peace in the storm.
There’s a second cause-and-effect relationship here in Paul’s instruction to us. Look again at v. 8. 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.
Lyndol used this verse a couple of weeks ago and, in many ways, it sums up this series. We’ve been talking about capturing rebellious thoughts. Yes, we got to capture those thoughts but if we stop there it’s been my experience that they creep back in. Anybody else ever experience that? We have to replace those rebellious thoughts with thoughts about who God is and what he is like. We have to focus on the character of God in order for our character to be formed like his. Paul says to think on whatever is true. I would suggest to you that you should remind yourself of all the things God has done in the past. Think of the testimonies that you have of how good he has been to you and how you have seen his mercy.
Specifically think on those things that are pure/lovely/admirable/excellent/praiseworthy. Fill your mind with those things so that the rebellious thoughts have no room. I will give you a couple of practical suggestions – some next steps that you begin right away.
Start reading the Bible daily. Do not just randomly wander through it. We have Engage Groups that start all the time. Engage Groups are 3-5 people who read the Bible together and meet once a week to discuss it and keep each other accountable. Go to our website to sign up. There we can help you get connected with other people who are reading the Bible. However, you start reading the Bible get some accountability. Have people that are going to ask you about what you’ve read and push you. Sometimes the worst person to be reading the Bible with is your best friend. Sometimes it’s the best person I get that. Everybody needs a buddy sometimes your buddy won’t tell you what you need to hear. Spend time in the word and see what it has to say to you. As an aside to that, don’t substitute what other people tell you the Bible says. That includes me or Lindell or any other teacher/preacher. If you want experience the peace of God you’ve got to encounter him. You do that to engaging with his word. I know many of you have your favorite authors people you like to listen to and that’s great that supplements continue to do that. None of us have all the answers. We need each other. Listen to people you trust. But don’t put your trust just in people – no matter how good or well-intentioned they are. Go to God.
The first suggestion: get IN the word of God. The second suggestion: get OFF the cable news channels. I don’t care which one is your favorite. They are all slanted and they are all trying to manipulate your thoughts. The days are gone with the news was there to present what happened. Everything is sensationalized now. Have the discipline to stay above that. I don’t care which side you’re on you can find a news source that will feed you whatever you want to hear. This is not a commentary on today’s politics. This is the application in our lives of what Paul is saying to us in this letter. It applied then it applies now.
Which takes us right into v. 9. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice… We can listen to these things all day long. We can hear a message at church and comment – either verbally or on Facebook – about what a good word that was. Unless we put it in the practice all it will ever be is just “a good word.”
God’s promises are sure. He has shown us the way to live at peace. Since mankind was removed from the Garden of Eden there has been conflict. God told us there would be. He’s never said anything different. God is always upfront with us. No bait and switch. He didn’t say everything was going to be roses and violin music. What he did say was that we would experience the peace of God if we go to the God of peace. Everything that Paul said to the church at Philippi applies to the church today. Go to the Lord in prayer with Thanksgiving and present your petitions believing that you will experience his peace. Set your mind on those things which true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. When you do those things the God of peace will be with you and guard your heart and mind.
If you are not experiencing peace, then you’ve got the wrong God. Now remember, peace is not the absence of conflict with nothing going on in my world. Peace is not sleeping till 10 o’clock every morning and getting up to sunshine and 75° weather. It doesn’t mean I don’t have some butterflies, stirred up because of the things that I’m facing. That’s not peace. Peace that transcends all understanding is a confidence and assurance that God loves me, and he is going to care for me and he will get me through this. Remember earlier I said it was hard but not complicated. God never promised us that peace meant winning the lottery, my favorite sports team going undefeated every season and everyone thinking I’m wonderful. We don’t serve a God who says Don’t Worry, Be Happy. We serve a God who says fix your eyes on me. Think about those things that I have told you are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Fix your eyes on me – not on your elected officials or your preacher or your favorite author. Fix your eyes on me and the effect will be that you will receive the peace which transcends all understanding.