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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Prayer and Peace (Philippians 4:1-9)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - July 14, 2013
Text: Philippians 4:1-9

"Prayer and Peace"
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Song of Peace" (Langlais)
Hymn of Praise: "Rejoice, the Lord is King" (DARWALL)
Song of Praise: "Praise is Rising" (Brown/Baloche)
The Word in Music: "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" - bluegrass band (Charles Converse)
Offering of Music: "Be Still" - Christina and Bobby White (The Fray)
Song of Sending: "It is Well" (VILLE DU HAVRE)
Postlude: "Exeunt Omnes - We All Depart" (Lloyd)

:: Some Visuals Used
Prelude: Video* on Philippians 4:6-7

Artwork by Joanie Fedor

:: Sermon Manuscript
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
The peace of God – is that for real?

We talk about peace as the alternative to war. We talk about peace as reconciling broken friendships. We talk about peace from the things that worry and agitate us. Peace is a good thing, but it is hard to find and harder to hold on to. If there is a God-sized version of peace, that would be something worth knowing for real. Our memory verse says there is such a peace and it’s “beyond all comprehension!” That may be so, but the scripture also declares it to be within human experience! 

So I want to look with you today at this scripture, to see what kinds of situations need peace and to see how we may come to experience this God-sized peace.

Anxiety Attack

Sometimes anxiety attacks. I use that particular choice of words not just to describe a literal “anxiety attack” but to pick up on language and imagery from today’s scripture, which both urges “be anxious for nothing” and also speaks of this God-sized peace “guarding” us. There are at least two significant reasons for Paul’s words and imagery.

For one, this precious group of believers – his Christian friends in Philippi – were experiencing discord. According to v. 2, Euodia and Syntyche were two women who shared in Paul’s struggle in the cause of the Gospel. They were included as Paul’s “fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (v. 3) And yet, these women were at odds with each other, enough so that Paul had heard about it. Nothing can be quite as debilitating to a Christian community as seeing leaders fighting with each other. Paul urges a third believer, Syzygus (a name or a description meaning “true companion”) to intervene and seek peace between the women. So that’s one bookend of our memory verse today.

On the far end is Paul’s own situation, his imprisonment in Rome. His very life is on the line because of his faith, and many were anxious for him. I can’t think of a more potentially peace-forsaken situation than being thrown in jail and put on death row for one’s faith, and yet Paul sandwiches this teaching between the local argument of Euodia and Syntyche and the description of his own situation to share the secret (v. 12) to experiencing God’s peace.

What of our anxieties? We struggle with irrational fears (or rational ones!).  We face overwhelming circumstances around money, employment, pressure, and expectations. We deal with the reality of broken relationships. We are crippled by uncertainty about tomorrow. We see a nation divided around politics, race, economics, and more.  Have you seen or read even a fraction of the grief, anger, and anxiety around the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case? Where is peace? Is there peace?

From the argument of two Christian women to his own death-row imprisonment, Paul is preparing us to understand that what he has to say about God’s peace is applicable in every situation we face. God’s peace can and will “stand guard” against all attacks, great or small.

Praise, Pray, Practice

I often talk about God’s partnership with us, how God does infinite and godly things, but includes us as active participants rather than passive recipients. So it is with peace. As we look through verses 4-8, we can see three things we are to do to prepare for and open ourselves up to God’s peace. It’s not to say God won’t grant peace without them or that doing these things magically produces peace or requires God to act; rather, these things help us see and experience a gift that God delights to give.

Rejoice (v. 4) – Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!

What does it mean to rejoice?  It means to celebrate God, to PRAISE God.  It is not a shallow or fake happiness, but is joy expressed.  Joy is the noun; rejoice is the verb.  It is rooted in faith – faith that God is good and holds all things in His hands.  Like joy, rejoicing is possible, even in great suffering, for it looks beyond human experience and capacity to the supernatural power of God.  Rejoicing is an act of faith and the human spirit that focuses our hearts and minds on God and prepares us to know God’s peace. And like the Great Commandment, which links love of God with love of neighbor, we can see in the next verse (v. 5) that a posture of joy and rejoicing toward God relates to a posture of gentleness towards others.  That humility could be a separate action or choice, but I’ll include it here as a by-product of worship and love of God, something that is cultivated as we celebrate God by putting Him first.

Pray (v. 6) – …in everything by prayer… let your requests be made known

Verse 6 begins with “be anxious for nothing.”  Prayer is set off as the alternative to anxiety and fear.  “Be anxious for nothing… BUT” PRAY instead.  Listen to what Paul writes about praying.  “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Pray and ask – supplication is persistent asking… almost begging.  But do so thankfully!  Do so without demanding, but as a request, with thankfulness that God listens to our prayers.  Are you fearful?  Then pray.  Are you anxious?  Then let your needs and requests be known to God.  Of course God already knows them, but if for no other reason, prayer is important because it expresses our trust in God – that He can and will hear and answer our prayers.  Prayer opens the lines of communication and prepares us to receive God’s peace.

Dwell (v. 8) – whatever is true…honorable…right…pure…lovely…of good repute…excellent…worthy of praise… dwell on these things

Finally, and Paul actually writes “finally” – we are to set our hearts and minds on good things – what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good reputation, excellent, and worthy of praise.  When Paul writes, “dwell on these things,” he means make your home there – build a dwelling place. PRACTICE this mindset and heartset, and not just these, but the content of the Gospel itself (v. 9).  So much of what causes fear and anxiety and darkness in our minds and spirits comes from what we put into our minds and spirits.  We watch the news, full of all the latest accidents and murders, and wonder why we are so troubled as we go to sleep.  We watch movies and TV shows about the occult and the demonic and wonder why our spirits are restless.  Dwell on the godly and lovely. Reading scripture daily, praying frequently, worshiping regularly, celebrating God in good and bad – it’s not homework to be checked off by dutiful students, it’s more like food and air and sleep – necessary to our health.  These things prepare us to give God’s peace a home in our lives.

Again, the supernatural peace that is beyond our comprehension comes from God.  But we can prepare ourselves for this gift.  We can prepare ourselves to know, receive, and make a home for God’s peace.

What it Looks Like

You can well imagine the practicality of all this. Not only would God grant peace, but if Euodia and Syntyche focused on praising God and being gentle with one another, in praying gratefully, and in practicing daily living in God’s Word and Spirit; surely they would not only be reconciled, but know God-sized peace. And not only would they know peace, but then be able to return to fruitful ministry in service to God and for God’s glory.  That’s the thing about anxiety; it’s a ministry-killer, cutting us off from being God’s people in the world as God intended us to be.

Next week we will read a bit more about how Paul experienced God-sized peace in his own life-and-death predicament. And the ministry flowed richly out of that peace. Though he was in prison, his jailors and house-mates were coming to faith. Paul is able to share about God’s strength even in that time of greatest human weakness.

So, again, our key verse is this, from Philippians 4:7…
The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
We’ve talked about what we have to do to obtain this gift of God, to prepare ourselves to know that peace, receive it, and give it a home.  God’s peace looks like Jesus! God gives us instructions on how to obtain the peace He freely offers in Christ.  We are to rejoice in the Lord, pray thankfully, and let our minds dwell on the good and godly.  God’s peace is not a temporary solution to anxiety and fear, but a lasting gift.  That is why Paul speaks of it “guarding” us like a sentry guarding his post.  God’s peace, given freely in Christ, will never leave us.  Rather, we disconnect and look elsewhere for the peace that is always on duty. 

As a point of application, I want to challenge you to do something. You can begin it now and continue it later. But write these three words down under each other in your bulletin, or even out in the margin if you have your own Bible:
Think of a situation, fear, problem, person – whatever or whoever it may be – and maybe initial that above and to the right of PRAISE. Think about what you can praise God for today, something in which you can choose to rejoice. And write that beside praise. Then to the right of PRAY, write down a specific prayer request related to what is causing you anxiety. Be sure to also include a thanks to God, whether for this or simply for God’s faithfulness. And then out beside PRACTICE, try to think of one thought or behavior you can practice this week. Maybe it’s patience or forgiveness or grace. And pray over these things and these scriptures each day. I’ll give you a moment to get started on this now…

Return to these scriptures again and again if you find yourself lacking this peace.  Remind yourself of this path to experiencing God’s peace: praise, pray, practice.  Remind yourself of what God’s peace looks like and how you’ve experienced it in the past. God’s peace may be beyond human understanding, but the Bible declares it to be within human experience!  May you know that peace in a very real and tangible way today, as you seek to live your life “in Christ.”  Amen.

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