Don’t Worry; Be Happy!
The lectionary for this week brings us Philippians 4:4-7:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything
by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
There is so much richness in this passage! Paul’s three exhortations here stand out to me:
- Rejoice always
- Be noticeably gentle
- Do not worry
And all three of these things are tied to one specific cause: God’s presence. The Lord is near, Paul writes, always. He is so vigilantly present that he can guard our minds and hearts with peace.
Peace in the Presence of God
I’ve been thinking about this connection between God’s presence and peaceful joy. In my journal I have written words from Psalm 89:
Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;
they exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness.
When I read these verses, I find myself asking: Am I one of those people?
Do I know the festal shout? Do I proclaim with rejoicing the glory of God? Am I walking in the light of God’s countenance, God’s presence? Is God’s name joyfully on my lips all day long?
Would those who encounter me during the day say I am one of those people? What if you asked the people I work with? Or my boyfriend? Or my family? Or the people I don’t get along with?
How to End a Fight
And the rubber meets the road here: Paul is offering these exhortations (to rejoice, to be gentle, and to be worry-free) to two particular Philippian women who are having a disagreement. These are women who have “struggled beside Paul in the work of the gospel” (Phil. 4:3); they are members of this close Christian community.
Paul doesn’t mention what their dispute involves, but he offers these three suggestions as a solution for them to “be of the same mind in the Lord.”
He doesn’t tell them to talk it out or to compromise or to seek outside mediation. He tells them to relax, be happy, and live in the joy of God.
They need to remember the festal shout — and declare it with joy!
They need to be walking in the countenance of God daily, bringing God’s name continually to their lips. They need to practice gratitude. They need to stop worrying and let God’s inexplicable peace seep into their hearts.
Then their fight will be over.
Taking Paul’s Advice
What if the next time I have a disagreement, I take Paul’s advice?
Or, even better, what if I wake up tomorrow morning and take his advice even before a fight breaks out? What if I make a point to let my gentleness be obvious to everyone I encounter? When concern or anxiety rises in my heart, what if I make it known to God, then I let it go?
Paul tells us that the peace of God that comes as a result of this continual rejoicing is beyond our understanding. I don’t know about you, but I sure need that kind of peace – the kind that seeps up from the deepest parts of my heart and permeates throughout my life; the kind of peace that is easy to feel but difficult to explain; the kind of peace that guards my mind against fear and worry.
In closing, I want to share one of the first Rumi poems I learned to love:
I saw Sorrow
holding a cup of pain.
I said, hey sorrow,
sorry to see you this way.
What’s troubling you?
What’s with the cup?
what else can I do?
All this Joy that you have brought to the world
has killed my business completely.
Friends, which of Paul’s three exhortations is the hardest for you to live out right now? Who in your life can see your gentleness and joy? Who cannot see it? What concerns, desires, hurts, or fears do you need to lay before God? When have you experienced the transformative, healing peace of God’s presence?