when the apostle paul wrote to the christians at philippi, life was not easy (so i’ve heard…i wasn’t actually there). they were living in a roman colony under the domain of a paranoid emperor and were thus under the daily threat of discrimination, exploitation, and even arrest and imprisonment. with that historical backdrop, paul’s advice in philippians 4:6-7 seems all the more inconceivable…
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.
paul seems to be saying that the “peace of god” is available to mere humans, and he is divulging the secret formula. follow me on this…
the “peace of god” is an attribute of god. it describes his level of apprehension (zero on a scale of one to ten) with the state of his creation. god’s peace is beyond human comprehension–it “transcends all understanding.” obviously, god is not worried about how things are going to turn out because he orchestrated the ending before the foundation of the world. besides omniscience, he is in complete control. and besides omnipotence, he is completely and perfectly good. to suggest that god worries would be beyond ridiculous, it would be heresy. he is peace.
paul argues that that peace–the peace of god–is available to any and all of us. peterson says it this way: “instead of worrying, pray. let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting god know your concerns.” is that the way you read this? that you and i can be completely and absolutely at peace? then my question is simple: why are so many believers stressed out?
let me preface my remarks by acknowledging my (probably apparent) predisposition. i grew up in the generation before attention-deficit disorder was diagnosed. in those terrible pre-ritalin days, children were forced to sit quietly (and, for the most part, they did) and no one made excuses for them. my parents knew nothing of anti-anxiety medication, and their world was consumed with anxiety. but these days, everyone is overwhelmed/anxious. i counsel with people all the time who say they are depressed. when i prescribe philippians 4:6-7, they scoff. “my problems are too big, too pervasive,” they insist. “and god is not bigger?” i think but seldom say.
i know that people suffer from chemical imbalances, and i concede that the times in which we live are more hectic than those of a generation ago. but more treacherous than a christian living in philippi during the reign of nero? come on.
it seems to me that there ought to be power enough in the life of any spirit-filled believer to offset the ravages of stress–ample energy to fend off depression. call me simplistic, but i believe anxiety in the life of a christ-follower points to a fundamental disconnect, a lack of trust, an unhealthy (and sinful) reliance on self. i try to guard my own heart, i lose. i go to god–in any and every circumstance with praise and thanksgiving–and he provides his peace. and he guards my heart and my mind.
for my brothers and sisters (whom i love) i pray this prayer: “lord, please enable my friends and me to ruthlessly and courageously resist the temptation to lean on self. instead, help us learn–absent of understanding–to lean on the peace of god.”