At staff retreat this week I was asked to do a devotion on whatever Bible passage I wanted. I picked my favourite bit of scripture, Philippians 4:4-9:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (HCSB)
I talked mostly about how rejoicing isn’t a command to be happy. Joy in the Lord is something deeper, richer, more grounded than mere happiness. You can be joyful in the midst of great sorrow and suffering when your hope is in God, when your hope is secure that one day all of this will pass and we will be with God and he will wipe every tear from our eyes. And that peace really is beyond all human understanding. Joy in suffering? It makes no sense without God.
Today on my drive to work I listened to the latest Tim Keller sermon in my podcast queue, titled Peace – overcoming anxiety and it was just on this passage. There’s so much gold in it. Obviously it’s something I really need to dwell on at the moment. My energy reserves are nearing the bottom of the barrel, and so my emotions are scraping along, raw and rough. I’m just exhausted and crying a lot, for no discernible reason. I hate, hate, hate depression and just long for Christ to return and set this world to rights, to get rid of sickness and decay and our warped view of reality. This bizarre view that tells me all sorts of negative things about myself and has me believing them.
Keller talks about the fact that when we’re anxious or worried (or depressed, for that matter) we can either listen to our hearts or talk to our hearts, which is something I know but so easily forget:
Now there’s two things you can do with your heart [when you’re anxious]. You can sit and listen to your heart and go ‘nnnnhhh nnnnhhh’, or you can talk to your heart. In Psalm 42 you can see exactly what happens. David, in Psalm 42, is depressed and he says ‘why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ Who’s he talking to? Himself, he’s talking to his soul…What he’s doing is instead of listening to his heart, he’s talking to it. He’s saying ‘Think about this, think about this, think about this. Don’t forget this. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget who it is that made you. Don’t forget who it is that saved you. Think!’ Worry is listening to your heart. Peace comes from talking to your heart. It comes from telling your heart what? Not just talking in general, and not just saying ‘hey, I heard a funny story’. Peace comes from talking to your heart about who you are in Christ.
He also talks about our enemy – not just the world, the flesh or the devil, but all three working together with the prime goal of destroying our peace and joy by attacking our assurance of our salvation. “They’re trying to get you to look more at your sins than your saviour.” The enemy will always try to keep us away from the gospel. Just yesterday I was feeling terrible and part of me was saying “Just read your Bible” and yet it was so hard to actually sit down and do it. And what do you know? Just sitting there, reading the Bible and praying for 10 minutes and the weight started to lift. Speaking truth to myself just healed so much of the blackness…and yet when I’m feeling down I will do anything but read God’s word.
The sermon is worth a listen.
The world, the flesh and the devil are after you. But everything’s fine if you have the right expectations. Don’t be upset that you’re upset. Don’t be down that you’re down. Jesus was constantly a man of sorrows and weeping. All the great Christians were constantly wrestling with these things. And frankly, you’re going to get back into your joy and you’re going to get back into your peace faster if you’re not so bummed out by the fact that you don’t have it right now. For every one look at your sin, take five looks at your saviour. The noble, the pure, think of these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”