Franciene and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson on the beautiful Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. It certainly gives us a calmer, more relaxed image of Paul than we’ve seen in some of the stories we’ve read! He was still so filled with zeal and energy for the mission he had been entrusted with by God, but when he had time in solitude to gather his thoughts and arrange them on paper, he was very eloquent and lovingly encouraging to his fellow believers. It really does read like a personal letter to us, even today.
And even though he is writing this exhortation from the constraints of prison, he is amazingly at peace with his uncomfortable situation. The advice he gives in Chapter 4 in verses 6 and 7 seems to give us the backbone of this feeling of peace. “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
A footnote in my Ignatius Bible says “The ready access to Jesus through prayer should encourage believers to seek his help and consolation in times of need. This tranquility of heart and soul comes from Christ. Paul insists that if we pray about our problems rather than worry about them, God will post a guard around our minds to protect us from the doubts and disturbances that weaken our confidence in His fatherly care. Jesus gives similar instructions in Matthew 6:25-34.”
We have all heard the admonition not to worry about something, but to turn it over to God and trust that He will either resolve the issue for us, or turn it into something of benefit for us in our spiritual life. You may have had experiences in your own life of this unshakable peace in the midst of a difficult time or a personal struggle. I know that when I have held onto some concern–not really turned it over to God–I have put myself at the center of my life and have focused on what I feel like I need in that situation. I have been so focused on what I felt was necessary in that situation, that I have shut out any other possibilities that may have borne much fruit. I wonder how that stubbornness of heart has looked to the protective “guard” that God has placed around us to protect us from doubts and disturbances” that are part of our daily lives? But I also know how different it is when I have opened my heart to God in my troubling situation or with my worries, and really felt the assurance that He would make whatever is truly the best outcome in the situation, according to His will. I imagine that Paul had lived this personal reality at least a few times in his life by the time he wrote this letter, and he could speak convincingly and encouragingly with this advice to the small flock of early Christians.
And it makes perfect sense to me that joy would be a natural consequence of this peace in mind and heart which “passes all understanding”. This peace is not shaken by undergoing current hardships–like Paul’s time of imprisonment–because it is not focused on things that do not last, which is where we can so often get mistakenly focused. We’ve probably all experienced many times the truth that our Christian joy does not come and go with our current circumstances, but it is rooted in our relationship with God, and is an abiding quality of our lives in faith. This joy is a beautiful fruit of our experience of God’s love for us and for all that He has created and continues to sustain with His love.
There is a quote I love, and I don’t know where it originated. But I think it fits so perfectly with St.Paul’s advice to us here:
“Joy is the flag that flies on the castle of the heart when the King is in residence there.”
I don’t think that our joy can be explained or analyzed by looking at our changing personal circumstances, or the challenges that each of has faced and will continue to face, but by knowing deeply in our hearts that God is always with us, and is always calling us to a closer relationship with Him. And it feels like St. Paul has just written that personal letter to us who are here today, to remind us of these eternal truths.
As always, feel free to contact either Franciene or me if you have any questions or concerns. We hope that you are enjoying a blessed week, and we look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.
You all are in our prayers,
Franciene and Karen