“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.” ~Philippians 4:6-7
I’ve suggested this week that Paul is telling the Christians in Philippi that giving everything to God in prayer will result in the Lord’s blessings of heavenly peace ONLY in the context of a relationship with Jesus based on the things he had already written leading up to this point in the letter. Giving everything to God in prayer must be accompanied by giving all of your everything to God. Period.
Paul assumes that disciples of Jesus are still awed and grateful for their salvation (Tuesday), still confident of God’s love and care (yesterday), and identified in the Lord.
Timothy Keller gives us a couple of cinematic illustrations at the beginning of his powerful chapter ten (“The Problem of Sin”) in The Reason for God. He points out that Sylvester Stallone’s character in the movie Rocky is determined to go the distance in his fight because, as Rocky declares, “If I go the distance, then I’ll know I’m not a bum.” Similarly, one of the main characters in Chariots of Fire describes his motivation for training for the one hundred yard dash this way: “At the beginning of every race, I have ten lonely seconds to justify my existence.”
Both of these men were looking to athletic achievement as the defining force that gave meaning to their lives. I’m an athlete. As long as I excel in athletics, then I matter. I’m important. I’m a somebody. I have a purpose. But if I fail. I’m a nobody. I don’t matter. Because I’m athlete. That’s a pretty tough thing to live up to.
But we’re all looking for that same significance. Every one of us needs to matter. We all need to have worthy. And if we’re looking to anything other than Christ for that identity, we’ll never have peace.
Think about it for a second. Where is your identity? Who are you? I’m a successful doctor. I’m a business owner. I’m a great mother. I’m a proud American. I’m an elite runner. I’m a loyal Republican. I’m a popular teacher.
If that’s your absolute value, if everything in your life revolves around that identity, that’s a problem. If that’s actually who you are, you’re going to devote a lot of time and energy to it; you’re going to devote a lot of passion and intensity to it. This thing that is central to your significance, your purpose, your happiness — it becomes your god. It’s your savior. It’s where you put all your resources. It’s where you find your emotional well being. And it’s shaky, at best.
I’m a great mother. Well, what happens if something goes wrong with your children? Or your parenting? Now you’re a loser?
I’m a successful doctor. Fine, but what happens if you lose a patient? What happens if technology passes you by? Now you’re a nobody?
I’m a proud American. OK, but what happens if the country starts to go downhill?
I’m an elite runner. Great, but what happens if you get a disease? Or you get old?
I’m a loyal Republican. Well, what happens if the Democrats are in charge?
I’m a popular teacher. Fine, but what happens if people stop coming to your classes?
If anything threatens your identity, you’ll become anxious. Maybe even paralyzed with fear. If my daughter goes down the drain, then my whole life is a failure! If I can’t teach anymore, then my life will have no purpose! If I get that disease, my whole life will be ruined! If they legalize gay marriage in Texas, then we will have lost everything!
Some parents are probably a little too wrapped up in the accomplishments of their children. We all might need to evaluate how much we’re tied in to our jobs. And I think the unrest in the world and the increased secularization of the United States is causing God’s children more anxiety and stress than it should.
Your identity as a person is everything. So, if you lose your identity because somebody messes up or somebody fails, you’ll be resentful, maybe even locked up in bitterness. If you lose your identity through your own mistakes or shortcomings, you might despise yourself or see yourself as a failure your whole life. Either way, these things don’t hold up. There’s no peace.
That’s why Paul reminds these Philippians throughout this whole letter that their identity is in Christ. He addresses it to the saints in Christ Jesus (1:1). I am in chains, he says, for Christ (1:13). You are preaching in the Lord (1:14). We rejoice in the Lord (3:1, 4:4). I’m hoping in the Lord (2:19). I am confident in the Lord (2:24). Euodia and Syntyche, agree with each other in the Lord (3:2). We worship by the Spirit of God, Paul says, and we glory in Christ Jesus and we put no confidence in the flesh (3:3).
“Whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” ~Philippians 3:7-9
If your identity is in Christ, if your true self is in Jesus, you’ll never be threatened. He is Lord. What’s going to take him down? If everything about you is based on Jesus — your self worth, your security, your future, who you are, your significance, your identity — if all that rests in Christ, you can’t lose it. You can’t mess it up. Nobody else can mess it up for you. If Jesus is your center, nothing can upset that.
Of course, placing your all in Christ is the hard part.
C. S. Lewis, in an essay entitled “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?” summed it up:
“The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead.”