Our minds, our hearts, and our inner selves are constantly under attack. These attacks can stem from physical circumstances, from broken relationships, from the troubles of this present evil age, or simply from the worries that we allow to come into us.
In one of my recent posts, I told you that the word “peace” in scripture means even more than you may have realized. Thankfully, the Apostle Paul wrote about several habits that can help us learn to comprehend and experience God’s peace, which I have listed below.
The Mind is Powerful
Our inner lives are very powerful, both for good and for ill. Everyone knows how powerful the mind can be in creative thinking, in writing, or in sports. The mind has a great capacity to imagine and to create.
On the other hand, the mind also has an enormous capacity to be out of control. When our minds are out of control, our bodies, our behaviors, and our emotions may also be out of control. Instead of allowing ourselves to be flooded with panic, fear, and stress, Paul says, we are to:
1: Submit to God in prayer.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Instead of being anxious, we should submit ourselves to God in prayer. When we do that, Paul writes,
The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
2: Discipline your mind to dwell on good things.
Paul follows this by explaining another spiritual practice:
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Paul is referring here to a discipline of the mind whereby we refuse to allow those things which are hateful, despicable, stressful, or immoral to take control of our minds.
3: Practice behaviors you know to be right.
Paul also teaches a third habit.
The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things… (Philippians 4:9)
That is, practice the behaviors that you know to be right. He’s referring to the traditions of the gospel, traditions of theology, and the traditions of Christian behavior that his readers have learned.
4: Develop the habit of trusting God.
Paul had cultivated these habits himself, and he knew what he was talking about:
Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in. (Philippians 4:11)
Notice the word “learned.” Paul was not automatically content in all circumstances—it was a skill he had to learn. He developed the habit of trusting God. There’s a mystery here that he learned from the experience of prayer, from the submission of his mind and heart, from letting his mind dwell on the right things, and from the experience of trust. He learned to be content.
Paul changed the word “content.”
The word “content” here is unusual. Paul didn’t use it very often in his writings, and it’s not normally thought of as a Christian term. It’s the term from which we get the English word “autarchy,” or self-rule. It was a favorite term of the Stoics. Stoic philosophers aimed for contentment, by which they meant controlling the passions, especially emotions like fear, envy, or even love. They didn’t want to be controlled by their emotions. We use the term “stoic” today to refer to someone who doesn’t allow his or her emotions to be too prominent.
Paul used the same word, but changed the Stoic focus upon self to a focus upon Christ. He learned that he could do all things through Christ, the one who strengthened him. (Philippians 4:13) Paul knew he lived in the presence of the resurrected, living Lord of the universe. He learned habits of behavior, habits of mind, and habits of trust, so that when he was tempted to give in to his fears or become anxious, he was able to be “anxious for nothing,” by letting his requests be made known to God in everything with prayer and supplication. (Philippians 4:6) He learned how to experience contentment through submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. We must learn the same thing.
Following Jesus requires trust.
If that’s difficult for you, think about this: the everlasting Son of God had to trust the Father that if he would lay his life down, the Father would raise him up again. Jesus trusted the Father. He allowed himself to be conquered by death. He submitted to imprisonment in the chains of death, trusting that the Father would release him.
When we learn the habits of submission, of humility, of prayer with supplication, of practicing those things that are right, and of doing what we’ve been taught even when it’s not to our advantage, God will not forget. God will redeem us, and he will vindicate us through Jesus Christ.
The life of following Jesus Christ is a life of trust. Do you want to grab for everything here and now, or do you want to trust that in the end, the God of the universe will vindicate all who know him and follow him through Jesus Christ?