Let’s remember, Paul is writing from Rome during one of his imprisonments, and his life is in the hands of Caesar awaiting judgment. Difficulties have a way of bringing either chaos due to the uncertainties before us, or they bring moments of extreme focus where survival and relief are sought. In either case we can choose to worry or trust God to bring about a sense of peace. By no means am I saying that the anxiety we experience due to a myriad of stressors in life is easy to overcome, but there is a spiritual formula to follow in a manner of speaking. Note the Apostle’s words in the fourth chapter of Philippians:
Philippians 4:6-9 (ESV) do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Secondly we should note the Scriptures indicate there are two types of peace; one is judicial and the second is experiential. Judicial peace is gained through our faith in Christ as addressed in Romans 5:1. Experiential peace is the day by day peace experienced by the believer as he/she walks with Christ, and it is this type of peace Paul speaks of in the passage above. Many of us as Christians forfeit this experiential peace through the worry and anxiety we allow to overwhelm us. Judicial peace on the other hand can never be lost once given to the believer because of our justification in Christ. We should also note here that before we can experience peace from God we must first be at peace with God.
A focused life is not to be mistaken with a life free from pain and trouble. All of us experience hardships from time to time, but the difficulties we face need not rob us of our peace. As I stated earlier Paul provides us with a spiritual formula or pattern to follow in order to continuously experience God’s peace. Again this is easier said than done, but the possibility remains for the believer to have a sense of comforting peace.
The first step as revealed in Philippians 4:6 is through prayer and petitioning God with our every need. Notice that the Apostle Paul tells us this is to be done with a sense of “thanksgiving,” which in turn suggests an earnest expectation on the believer’s part that God hears and responds. The idea is that the act of prayer and communion with God is a “constant” in the believer’s life. In other words we are to pray and pray again, and again, and again. It is through this consistent lifestyle that we begin to experience the peace of God mentally and spiritually.
Yet there is more to this process; our prayers are to be specifically focused. Read verse eight again in the passage above and notice that the Apostle Paul instructs us to think upon certain things. The word “think” literally means to “consider” or “ponder.” William Barclay once said:
“… It’s a law of life that, if a man thinks of something often enough and long enough, he will come to the stage when he cannot stop thinking about it. His thoughts will be quite literally in a groove out of which he cannot jerk them.”
Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
My wife Teresa often reminds me our attention needs to be on the many good things provided by God rather than the few negative things which we sometimes allow to creep into our lives. When our thinking is centered on Christ, and we’re consistent in our prayer life then experiential peace is certainly attainable. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:9 speaks from experience and maybe we should follow his advice.
Let me make a suggestion to those who may be struggling with worry and anxiety due to present difficulties. Set a specific time aside every day to pray for the many needs in your life and the needs of others. Start a prayer journal and write as you pray. Pray through passages you find meaningful, reassuring, and comforting. And by all means be continuously prayerful taking everything before the throne of God because He cares for you.