How can you sustain a heart that rejoices and is gracious toward others always?
Phil 4:6-7 [READ]
We can sustain a heart that rejoices and is gracious toward others through prayer. What are we doing when we pray? We are claiming v5–the Lord is near. Lord, I’m overwhelmed. Lord, I’m stressed. Lord, I’m burdened. But I can rejoice because you are near me. Here are my burdens. Here are my requests. I will not worry. I will trust you. Stay close to me, Lord.
If you allow the circumstances to govern your faith, you will have a roller coaster faith. If things are going well, you will feel like you are on top of the mountain. If things are not going well, you will feel like you are stuck in a valley. Instead, if you allow your faith to govern your circumstances, then you can actually rejoice and be gracious in the good times as well as the bad. We need to learn how to live our lives prayerfully. Moment by moment, going to Jesus, staying close to Jesus, claiming the promise that He is near in the darkest of valleys, casting our burdens to him, making our requests known and then leaving the burdens and requests at the feet of Jesus. If you live life prayerfully, v7, a peace that surpasses every thought will guard your hearts and minds. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and if you spend time with him, His peace, His joy, His graciousness, His gentleness rubs off on us.
Why do we lack peace even while we may be praying? It’s because we may cast our burdens and requests to Jesus during our prayer time. But we lack peace because as soon as we say Amen and open our eyes, we take back the burdens. Because ultimately, we don’t trust that God will take care of us and so we need to figure out what to do. A person who rejoices in the Lord and regularly casts his or her burdens and requests to the Lord will experience a peace that transcends understanding.
v7 – the peace of God that surpasses every thought acts like a shield to guard our hearts and minds. There is a close connection between our minds and our hearts. Our mind is a door into our hearts. If our minds are not changed and if our thought patterns are not broken, we may pray for decades, but our heart will not be changed.
No wonder Paul ends this section in v8-9 with advice regarding our minds. Phil 4:8-9 [READ]
We are to dwell on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, whatever is morally excellent and praiseworthy. Dwell. Think. Meditate on these things. For me, it helps me to meditate on how I want to finish my race. I want to finish well. I want to be sprinting for the finish line. And so I have some mental pictures of what I hope I will achieve at the end of my life.
In my marriage, I want to invest in Jackie in the present because one, the Lord is near and I’ll have to give an account of how well I laid down my life for Jackie’s sake. That motivates me. But I also started praying more recently about what I want our marriage to be like if the Lord allows us to live a long life. When we are in our eighties and nineties, I have a picture that we will love each other far more and be far more gracious toward one another than we are toward one another right now. Most marriages break apart or couples drift apart and they become a grumpy, old man and woman, and each side has learned merely to tolerate the other. I want Jackie and I to reverse that trend. To increase in our joy, in our rejoicing, increasing in our graciousness, increasing in our peace and our trust in the Lord. This is a mental picture I want to hold onto because it motivates me in the present.
Likewise, with my kids, why do I strive to invest time in my boys? It’s one thing to be a present father, which is far better than most fathers who are absent because of work or their sinful passivity, or some other reason. But I don’t want to be merely present with my kids. It’s vastly different to be a father who goes after the hearts of their kids for Christ. I am sufficiently motivated to train my kids in the way of the Lord because one day, the Lord is near and I will have to give an account for how I stewarded my time with them. But what motivates me more is dwelling on a picture that one day, my kids will be faithful, mature Christians who love Jesus,and Lord willing, we will be serving together at church or doing missions together. These future mental pictures with my kids are honorable, commendable, praiseworthy. It nourishes my soul to dwell on these things.
To recap, we can rejoice and we can be gracious because the Lord is near. When difficulty or hardship or the messiness of life happens, don’t throw the Lord out of your life. He is near. Reach out for him. Prayer is a time to claim the verse, the Lord is near. Lord, things are not looking good, but I trust you. Here are my burdens and requests. These burdens are too heavy for me. I don’t know what to do. Lord, you are sovereign. You know what to do. You are with me through the peaks and valleys of life. I trust you. Lord, from birth to now, I am here because you’ve never stopped being near me. Even when I doubted you and I thought you had abandoned me, I was wrong. You never left my side. Now Lord, I ask for your peace. Guard my heart and mind. I confess that I lack peace because my mind is stuck believing lies. I don’t believe you are always near. I believe that I can’t ultimately trust anyone but myself. Change my mind. Help me to dwell on things that are true and lovely and praiseworthy. Change my mind so that my heart can be changed.
This chapter is full of practical tips on how to maintain a heart that can continuously rejoice in the Lord. He is near. And in light of this truth, give your burdens to him today. Your burdens of school, work, family, your burdens of sin, your unbelief, your lack of trust, your singleness, your finances, whatever it is. Give him your burdens and stop taking the burdens back on your shoulders after you finish praying. Let him hold onto your burdens and requests. He knows what to do with them better than you and I do. Let’s pray that God can make us into joyful, gracious, peaceful children of God who rest on the unchanging fact that the Lord is near, today and forevermore.