As we consider God’s prescription for fear and worry, we discover that God has even more for us than even peace that surpasses all understanding. He so often desires to give us so much more than we even think of asking for! This amazing God of love and compassion wants to give us more than just peace– He wants to give us His very presence, that we might be held safe and sound.
In my last post, we looked at God’s instructions for accessing the peace of God– His description of what it really means to have faith that can turn away from fear and choose peace instead. As we found in Philippians 4:4-7, faith rejoices, stays calm, gives thanks, and brings each request to God. Today we turn our attention to verses 8 and 9, in which Paul teaches us the secret of drawing near to the very presence of the God of peace.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Step 5: Faith Fills Its Mind with What Is Good
I struggled for years with my thought life– with this guilty knowledge that I was expected to control my thoughts, but without any kind of real understanding of how to do that. Scripture says to set your minds on things above, but I had no clue how to do that when my mind was continually being inundated with things of the earth. Controlling my actions was hard enough– how was I supposed to control something as nebulous as my thoughts?
This understanding has come to me over time, and I certainly still struggle with a mind that is so very full of earth. However, as I look back, in God’s grace He has given me a good deal of victory in the area of my thoughts, teaching me this process of dealing with thoughts that are impure, unholy, doubtful, or filled with fear or worry.
Recognize, name, and confess sinful thoughts. At first this is a near-constant process. This is what it means, I believe, to take every thought captive. When I realize I have succumbed to worry, I need to call it what it is– a sinful lack of faith– and confess it to God. (The same is true for any other sin of the mind, be it lust, anger, envy, discontentment, pride, etc. I believe the steps to overcoming those sins are the same as for overcoming worry and fear.)
Turn away from things that tend to cause sinful thoughts. Obviously, we cannot turn away from all of the responsibilities and circumstances of our lives that tend to cause us worry. But we can choose what we allow into our homes and our minds. I can turn off music when it includes ideas or words that I don’t want in my mind. I can stop reading a book that is full of inappropriate relationships or racy descriptions. I can be more selective about what I watch on television. I can unsubscribe from blogs or withdraw from social media if I realize that what I’m reading or seeing makes me feel jealous or discontent. And if my thought life is a real, ongoing struggle for me, then I can find a friend to hold me accountable to do those things.
Turn toward things that cause holy thoughts. Paul gives us a list of what we should think about– what is true, what is honorable, what is just, what is pure, what is lovely, what is commendable, what is excellent, what is praiseworthy. Once I have recognized and confessed an impure or incorrect thought, I need to replace it with a pure and correct thought. What does this look like? Well, for me, most often it means Scripture. If I am struggling with fear, then I focus on a verse that speaks to my fear– I am with you always, even to the end of the age; or nothing is able to pluck [you] out of my hands; or nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing is more true than Scripture, and the truth of God’s Word is able to drive out the lies of the enemy and the world and our own deceitful hearts. That is why it is so important to hide God’s Word in our hearts. I truly believe it is our best defense against worry, fear, doubt, impurity, and deceitfulness in our thought lives.
Other ways we can fill our minds with what Paul tells us to think about include reading good books– books on Christian topics, yes, but also just good books— books that are excellent and lovely and commendable. We can deliberately put beautiful things around us in our homes or workspace– even on our phones– things that draw our attention back to what is pure and lovely. We can fill our homes with music that is excellent and praiseworthy and full of truth.
All of this is a deliberate choice. It will not happen by accident. It requires us to be submitted to God, willing to sacrifice whatever God requires in order to have our thoughts made holy– that we might find ourselves in the presence of God. And it is a process that will not happen overnight. God call us to be faithful in the midst of the battle, trusting that the outcome will be what He has promised.
Step Six– Faith Obeys
Paul told the Philippian church to follow his example, doing the things he had taught them and shown them and lived out before them. Basically, he told them to obey– to live out their faith. The book of James is full of this idea– that our faith must result in action or it’s not really faith. Faith is not just a warm fuzzy feeling; it is a catalyst that causes change and action in our lives.
I have spent many mornings pouring 0ut my fears and anxieties before God, only to have His Spirit gently remind me that I have not obeyed Him where He has led me. So often my worry and unsettled feelings are the result of a bothered conscience. Here is a truth that I fight against far too often: If I am disobedient to God’s clear leading, then I will not have access to the presence of the God of peace. Disobedience is turning away from God. How can I expect to come into His presence when I am turning away from Him?
A real faith that leads to real peace in God’s presence says “How high?” when God says “Jump,” knowing that if God says to jump there’s a good reason for it. A real faith obeys the Word of God when it says “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth,” or “Go into the world and make disciples,” or “Be subject to the authorities . . . for those that exist have been ordained by God,” or “Love your neighbor as yourself.” A real faith obeys when the Holy Spirit’s prompting says to turn off that television show, call that friend you had a fight with, close your mouth, share your faith.
And this is the real faith that ushers us into the presence of God, where we experience His great and sufficient power in our weakness, His glorious beauty and holiness, and the peace and security that can only be found when we are near to the God of all comfort.
Friend, if you long to be nearer to the God of peace, it’s time to stop merely longing and let that longing drive you to doing. Believe that He wants to comfort you and be near to you. He sent His Son to die for you to allow you this priceless access to His presence! Believe that He has given you clear directions to His presence. Think about what He commands you to think about. Do what He commands you to do. And discover the joy that comes in the holy presence of the God of peace.