“Do not be anxious about ANYTHING…” (Philippians 4:6)
How, Paul? I don’t want to be anxious. What about this mess I am in? What about that health issues? What about this financial burden? What about that child who is wandering? What about my addicted friend who can’t seem to pull it together? What about the balls I am dropping, the deadlines, the school work, the laundry, the bills? How, Paul…how can I get to a place where I am not anxious about ANYTHING?
“…in EVERYTHING by PRAYER and SUPPLICATION with THANKSGIVING let your requests be known to God.”
Pray. Ask. Remember gratitude.
“And the PEACE OF GOD, which SURPASSES all understanding, will GUARD your HEARTS and your MINDS in Christ Jesus.” Oh, how we need our hurting hearts and over-thinking minds guarded by the prince of peace.
I teach a junior high New Testament class and we start each class with the lights off, worship music playing, and our journals opened writing three things we are thankful for, putting words on paper to our prayer requests, and documenting what God is speaking to us. Four to five short minutes to just be still and focus on God in the midst of our over-scheduled, over-stimulated world. Without intentionality, we don’t make time for these things. We generally know to ask and pray, but we often forget gratitude. And it is fascinating to see all of the studies linking the practice of gratitude to so many life benefits. I love when science discovers God’s truths planted into creation.
Yes, there is hardship and suffering and evil and trials in this life. But there is also A LOT of GOOD. Paul goes on to say, “Finally, brothers, whatever is TRUE, whatever is HONORABLE, whatever is JUST, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is COMMENDABLE, if there is any EXCELLENCE, if there is anything WORTHY OF PRAISE, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
There is no peace in dwelling on the difficult or trying to solve it all on our own. But there is peace that comes with focusing on the good. Peace that comes from gratitude. Peace from asking God to help.
Paul closes the letter by saying that he has learned to be content in whatever situation he finds himself in. Whether brought low or abounding; whether in plenty or hunger; whether in abundance or need. He has learned the secret facing every circumstance: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). He says God is willing and able to “supply every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19).
Practice gratitude. Practice prayer. Practice dwelling on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. It might mean turning off the news, taking a break from that group that tends to drag you into negative talk and gossip, or blocking a few social media feeds, but your hearts and minds will be guarded making room for the overflowing peace of God.
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:14)
I love that even Paul – who is a superstar achiever, all in for Christ, and living on mission – is still pressing on toward his calling.
And like Paul, we too have an upward call from God. Like Paul, we were created with purpose for purpose. Like Paul, we have unique skill sets, experiences, passions, and callings. Things the Creator set into motion as part of His Creation.
So, you might be thinking Paul is killing it, and you are still trying to figure it out, or just trying to stay afloat, or feeling like things are falling apart around you.
But Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Even Paul is still pressing on...dwelling not on triumphs or missteps that are behind, but straining toward what lies ahead. We can be effectively living in our calling and still have work to do. As long as we are still alive, we beg God for clarity around our calling, and then we press into it. I’ve been a bit obsessed lately about our callings, maybe because I’m feeling a bit restless or because I have an 11th grader who is beginning the college search process and faced with the early stages of setting out a career path. But mostly because I feel like when we are stepping into our calling, we are in sync with how we were created and we are in sync with our overarching mission of glorifying God in the best way we can. In our calling, we will find that contentment, peace, purpose, and joy our souls crave.
Michael Hyatt defines calling based on four characteristics: 1. It is EXTERNAL. It originates from outside us, beckoning us. As Christians, we believe it comes from God. 2. It is PERSONAL. It comes specifically to us and is something we were made to do that only we can do exactly the way we would do it based on our experiences, gifts, circumstances, abilities. Each of us is uniquely qualified for our calling. 3. It is APPEALING. It is something that profoundly resonates inside us; something in our heart of hearts we want to do, and there is fulfillment in doing it. 4. It is OPTIONAL. We have a choice to respond to our calling or not. Friends, let’s not opt out!
John Piper describes it as “holy ambition.” Paul had it, and Paul continued to press into it until the day he saw Jesus face to face. Our job is to also earnestly seek our holy ambition; our calling. Paul was converted in a remarkable way with instructions as to what his mission would be, but he immediately spent three years in the desert with Jesus. No doubt praying, revisiting the scriptures he loved with fresh eyes and revelation, gaining clarity around his mission. As we pray for revelation as well, we need to be diligent in the Word. It is God’s vehicle for revelation. Even Paul, who met Jesus on the road to persecuting Christians and received his assignment, quotes Isaiah when he tells of his calling in Romans. It was God’s Word that ultimately spoke to him. Piper says that God doesn’t lead us to ambitions that are pointless or cause regret. They are not of self-exaltation, though the temptation of pride and self-exaltation are always knocking at the door. Holy ambitions are always a form of love that meets people’s needs.
John Piper suggests a prayer to pray about our unique calling, and I’m fervently praying it today...for me, and for all who join me in reading it. “Lord, I will not let you go until you give me a holy ambition. Forbid that I would waste my life. Show me your glory. Show me your passion for your glory. Draw me into it, God. I don’t care about being famous; I want to be faithful. As small and insignificant as I feel, oh God, I want my life to count. My little way that no one else can do; MY holy ambition. Show me, grant me, oh God, a holy ambition.”
Sometimes I think we tend to get tangled up in theological tongue-twisters and deep doctrinal debate, and then we get separated from what to do right now. Paul’s simple, not simple, advice to the Philippians is a tangible “what now” principle to follow…
“Do NOTHING out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
Not so simple for us now, and apparently not even nearly 2,000 years ago. Later in this portion of the letter, Paul tells them he hopes to send Timothy to them, saying, “…I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:20-21) Ouch.
Our culture tells us to look out for #1 (ourselves, of course!), that it’s all about our self-esteem, we should build our brand; our platform. But true to the upside-downness of the Kingdom of God, Paul says to look out for OTHERS first, count others more important, seek the interest of others over our own.
And it isn’t about ignoring our well-being…that matters too. He follows the original statement with, “Look out not only to your own interests but also to the interest of others.” (Philippians 2:4) I think he is trying to say, “of course you need to look out for yourself, but it isn’t all – or even mostly – about you. Make sure you are looking out for others; in fact, make sure you are counting them more significant than yourself.”
Why? Why not all just look out for ourselves? Because humility and counting others more significant than ourselves is the path to unity, ”…being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:2)
So, how does that work? In his commentary, David Guzik says, ”If I consider you above me and you consider me above you, then a marvelous thing happens: we have a community where everyone is looked up to, and no one is looked down on.” That sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?
WHAT IF we did this…what if we tried it for even one whole day. In all that we did, what if we put the interest of others above our own. What if we cheered more for others. What if we quickly volunteered for that thing no one wants to do. What if we went out of our way to meet the needs of others; to make their life easier. What if we did that thing that never got done because no one stepped up to do it. What if we fed someone else before we ate a meal. What if we helped someone else get that thing we really wanted. What if we made a phone call to open a door for someone on a big dream or small need. What if we wished for the success of our neighbor more than us getting that thing we have been waiting on.
And then….WHAT IF others did the same for us. That would be an incredible, united, solid community. But someone has to take the first step. Well, that first step was taken by Jesus. Jesus traded his holy residence for earth. Jesus traded his heavenly body for flesh. Jesus traded his throne for a cross. He looked out for us more than Himself. He took the first step, now we can do likewise. One day, guys. Then another. And another. Until it becomes a habit; becomes our life. Let’s embark on a grand experiment toward unity and genuine love for one another.
So, today is my birthday. And birthdays are a little like second New Years. They give you a chance to reflect on the past year and think about what you want the next year to look like.
What am I living for? What about you; what are you living for? I mean, REALLY living for? Where do you spend your time? Where do your thoughts go? Play your goals out a few iterations…and then a few more…and then a few more. Where do you land? What are you really LIVING for? Because the core of what you are living for determines your course. Determines your joy. Determines your contentment. Determines your reaction to adversity and challenges. Determines where you will ultimately arrive. It’s the reaping and sowing truth embedded in creation.
Paul’s life is a beautiful example of living sold out for Jesus. For Paul, “to live is Christ.” He was all in for the Gospel. To know and tell of Christ…THIS is what he was living for. And with this strong and steady core, everything else flowed. He could have joy in the worst of circumstances because he KNEW God was sovereign and God would work it for good. He could brush off his enemies, like those in Philippi, because if the gospel was being rightly proclaimed, that is all that mattered. He could not fear what was around the corner, even death, because he knew “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He was living for Christ.
Preachers had come into Ephesus attacking Paul. They were filled with pride, envy, and selfish ambition. They sought to attack and belittle Paul. When self is the motive, scarcity mentality sets in and others become the target of destruction. “For me to get a bigger piece of the pie, everyone else must get less or none at all,” scarcity and selfishness chant. But Jesus was who Paul lived for, and like Jesus, he didn’t waste his time defending himself here or counter-attacking. He knew there was enough Jesus to go around. He kept his head down and pressed on toward his laser-focused mission of preaching the gospel. And not because he wanted to live and let live. He consistently called out false teachers. But in this case, the true gospel was being proclaimed even when the motives were whack. They were against Paul, not Jesus. Paul would not hesitate to defend the gospel, but he doesn’t waste his time defending himself or getting distracted and off course by these other preachers.
With this rock-solid core, if Paul was attacked, but the Gospel was rightly presented…so be it. If he saw overt displays of impure motives and selfish ambition, but the Gospel was preached…let it go. He says, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” God can use even impure motives. God will deal with these things of the heart, not Paul…so long as the Gospel is spoken in truth. Because THIS is what Paul was living for…NOT himself, his following, his reputation, his legacy, his comfort.
What do you want to be living for? Where might your motives need a bit (or a lot) of refinement? Where are you being distracted by things you just need to let God handle? What do you need to add, get rid of, or change to go where you want to be? Charles H. Spurgeon says, “Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began, and let the Lord be all in all to you.”
God, help us desire to live for YOU in all things. Let us love unity and joyful celebration of others on Your team. Give us clean hands, a pure heart, and your holy compass. And let us begin as we mean to go on.
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