4Always rejoice in the Lord! Again, I say, Rejoice! 5Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Don’t let anything make you anxious, but make your requests known in prayers and petitions to God in all circumstances with thanksgiving. 7And God’s peace that is beyond all comprehension will guard your minds* and thoughts in Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:4-7
* or heart. In Jewish thought, the heart was the seat of the rational processes rather than the emotions as it is used in literature today.
One of the hard saying of Jesus, at least hard to implement, is Matthew 6:23-34, in which he tells us not to worry about anything. Now I confess I’m an exceptionally good worrier. I am capable of imagining the worst possible outcome of almost any course of action. I can conjure up a mental picture of looming disaster merely because the phone rang.
But first Jesus, and then Paul both tell me not to worry. The message is similar in both casesâ€”talk to God about it. No matter what is going on, no matter how bad things look to me, I’m supposed to rejoice, think about God’s kingdom, and go on praying. Now that can be a tough command to follow. I don’t think very many of us succeed.
Many people would consider both these texts as impractical. How are you going to live if you never worry about anything? How will you improve your circumstances if you rejoice and pray, but don’t plan? But I think that both Jesus and Paul are simply giving some very practical advice. No matter how bad your circumstances, worrying isn’t going to help you change them.
Sometimes people read these passages, especially the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:23-34 as a command not to plan or organize. â€œTomorrow will look after itself,â€ can easily be read that way. But based on other things Jesus said, including his suggestion that we should count the cost, even the cost of becoming his disciple, suggests to me that he was not telling us not to plan. He was telling us not to worry. And there’s a big difference. When I plan, I take action. I sow seeds, I wait for a harvest. The difference can be illustrated in the field. Planning is when you plant the field; worrying is when you look at the field and wonder whether it’s going to produce anything this year. Planning is when you head out there with a plow. Worrying is when you wonder whether there will be a weather disaster this year that will destroy your crops in spite of your best efforts.
Now Paul leads us a bit further. Keeping a positive attitude, rejoicing in what God has given us is not only a good thing to do in itself, it is also the best attitude to have when going out to work. I don’t know about you, but if I look over the bills and worry about how I’m going to pay them, and let my mind get worked up over it, I find that my writing work doesn’t exactly flow when I get in front of the computer. I’m likely to try to run the figures around in my brain and worry, when the most practical thing I could be doing is working.
So I starting with an attitude of rejoicing, then with prayer. Then I’m looking for peace next. That means I put my trust in God and lay aside my worries.
And it is that peace, God’s peace, in Christ, that guards my mind. Here’s where we often get off track. It’s not just any peace, and it’s not just anywhere. It’s God’s peace and it is in Christ Jesus. That means that in that prayer time I’m seeking the filling of the Holy Spirit, I’m seeking to be one with Jesus, and Jesus is living out his life in me.
You can’t have any better planning than that!