One of the most familiar commands in the Bible is this: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Philippians 4:4). But how do we do this? The answer comes in the next verse: “The Lord is near.” At the darkest times in my life, of which there have been a few, I have cried these words out to the Lord: “Lord, let me know that you are with me.” Not “Lord, let me know I am a success,” for in those times all I know is I am a failure. Not “Lord, let me know that I am strong,” for in those times all I know is I am weak. Not “Lord, let me know that everything is going to be alright,” because I know at those times that nothing is right. No, all I can cry is the one thing I know that in spite of all circumstances is true, “Lord, let me know you are with me.” And somehow in those darkest hours, he sends me reminders that he is right there.
And it is because the Lord is truly with us that Paul goes on: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The word for worry or anxiety here means to carry the burden of the future oneself. No one who tries to carry the burden of their future will be at peace. They will be controlling, anxious, inward-looking, insensitive to the needs of others because they are preoccupied with their own needs.
Time and again, right up until the other day, God keeps taking me at times of great personal anxiety and putting me into the life of someone else whose need is greater than mine. Why do you think he does that? Because forcing me to put my own worries aside is the best way to freeing me of them. As I choose to show care to someone else, his Spirit flows through me and he meets me and shows care for me. And when I feel his care, I know he is near.
Knowing that the Lord is near is the cure to anxiety. Knowing that he cares is the cure to fear. There may well be a lot to be anxious about -- the command not to be anxious assumes that we are anxious. Yet there is an answer to our anxiety. Paul talks about prayer, supplication and thanksgiving, but what he is really saying is this: “Do not be anxious about anything, but pray, pray, pray and pray.” At the darkest hour, when it appears God has forgotten us and abandoned us, the apostle reminds us that God cares about us. He wants us to pray. He wants us to bring our needs before him. He wants us to bring the despairing cry of our hearts to his eternal ears. It is when it seems he is not there that we need to know that he is. And if he is there, he is there to listen and to reply and to help us.
And now comes the best part: “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The mind is the place of fear. It is the place where we ponder our situation, where we worry about what is going to happen to us, where we consider the obstacles we face, where we think about all the possible things that could go wrong for us. It is the place of depression and despair, of hopelessness and loss. We can’t think our way out of this place, because in such times there are always more negative thoughts than positive. Neither can we feel our way out, for there are always more negative feelings than positive.
No, the fact is we need to be rescued out of it. The peace of God does not rescue us by analysis or emotions, it rescues us by supernatural power. The peace of God is not the mindless serenity of the bubbling fountain, it is the very breath of Almighty God rushing upon our troubled soul to revive us and to deliver us. It breathes life into our flagging spirit and weary soul, and somehow overpowers and overcomes the negative thoughts and feelings, and lifts us out of the place of fear. It comes whether our requests have been fulfilled or not. It doesn’t give an answer; it is the answer.
Sometimes we have to make a decision of faith that in the face of hardship, of despair, of hopelessness and anxiety, we will choose to rejoice. To rejoice is to place a higher value on our fellowship in Christ than on all the things the world has to offer, including the things we genuinely need. As we choose to rejoice, as we come to him with the desire to submit our lives to his service, as we determine to show love and patience to others, the same Holy Spirit who came with fire at Pentecost will come with power to build a fortress of hope around you.
May the Lord be near to you.