Often we live our lives consumed with ourselves, what we will do next, where will will go, forgetting that in an instant it could all come to an end on this earth as we know it. Looking back on my own experience in life, it took some rather dire circumstances that caused me to wake up in my later years of high school to realize that we are not meant to live forever. All throughout my younger years I simply lived what I could only call a two-faced life, one on Sundays, and another Monday-Saturday. It wasn’t until an experience in high school that I came to the crushing reality that there’s more to life than seeking to fulfill our pleasures, and that we were created for a purpose, by One who is greater, who has known us from before we came to exist, and who has an awesome plan for our lives if we will simply put our faith in Him, and trust in that plan. Unfortunately, I know I speak for many of us when I say that we go in and out of that state of awe, forgetting who He is and what He has and is still doing in our lives when we fill it with the commotion of “life”.
This isn’t to say that we are not to give God the best in all we do and to seek to glorify Him through the daily activities that He has called us to, however if we realize the brevity of life, perhaps how we approach these day to day activities would differ. Something that really convicted me was how we allow the activities of our lives affect us, namely stress. For those of you who know me well, these past 3+ years since graduating from Cal Poly have been a time of growth through my work life and serving at CCCTO, but also challenging in terms of the stress I subject myself to. While I recognize a lot of this may be self inflicted at times is beside the point, to put it simply, a nutritionist I was seeing last year said everything was fine in my diet/exercise, yet my HDLs were abnormally low, putting me at risk for some sort of heart condition, and the only explanation was elevated stress levels.
Regardless of the cause or reason however, Philippians 4:4 reads:
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
We are called to rejoice in the Lord always, not once, but twice. We know that when something is repeated in scripture it’s important but even more, it says to rejoice in Him always. It isn’t followed by a statement saying, “except when you’re doing something important because that’s when stressing out is ok”, it simply says “always”. So for me to live in a life of stress means that I have decided that the circumstances of MY life, are more important than God’s command to always rejoice.
To worry implies that we don’t think God is big enough, powerful enough, or doesn’t know what’s best for us. Likewise, stress implies that the things in our lives are more important to merit our impatience, frustrations, and lack of grace to those around us. Call me a control freak, but it’s crazy to realize how quickly I can forget that my life is just a vapor in the wind in the big picture, resulting in the tendency to plan out my life with such detail and to grip on tightly to the things of this life. It’s something I’m sure many of us can relate to at the end of the day, and until we come to a point of realizing that it’s not all about us, that we can start to loosen that grip and trust in His perfect and holy plan.
Now this is not to say that our dreams come true overnight when we put our faith in Him, in fact God has taught me over the course of these 3 years that sometimes my plan isn’t His plan. When I start wondering if He’s listening, it takes these moments of reflection to realize that maybe what I’m expecting isn’t what He has in store for me, So often we say “God I trust you, now please make this and that happen in my life,” not even realizing we’re treating Him like a take out window who is asking for our order. Rather if we realize who He is, and who we are, we’d gladly open up our hands and loosen the grip we try to hold onto life with. The old adage goes, “when He takes something away from us He’s not necessarily trying to deprive us of something we think we want, more often than not He’s freeing up our hands to grasp onto whatever else it is that He knows is so much better for us”.
In addition to rejoicing always, we are reminded in verses 6-7 to:
6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
If we didn’t get the point that we are to rejoice ALWAYS, we are reminded in the opposite sense to not worry about ANYTHING. But it doesn’t stop there. We are called to prayer, prayer with thanksgiving. And what results of this? A peace that surpasses ALL COMPREHENSION, which will guard our hearts and minds in Christ.
I know that for myself, I have a mind that will keep me up at night if it’s running at full speed. In fact it did do that, to the point where I was only sleeping 1-2 hours a night for a good part of the year because I was so stressed out. Despite all the prescription medication that my doctor could prescribe me, I would lie awake until sunrise. What I failed to realize was that I had decided that the circumstances of MY life, were more important than God’s command to always rejoice, and to not be anxious about anything. It’s funny, how sometimes it takes us coming to utter brokenness, to realize our folly. While I longed for that peace, I could not let go of “my” life, and in my anxious thoughts, I tortured myself for months on end. It wasn’t until from physical exhaustion that my I could no longer grip onto these things that I finally realized the path I had gone down, and asked God to make my calling clear in my life. It was also the first time, in a long time, that I earnestly listened for an answer. And yes, that peace surpassed ALL comprehension.
In closing, we are reminded of what we are to dwell on in verses 8-9:
8Finally, brethren, 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, dwell on these things.
9The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
So what does it look like if we remove this focus on ourselves, and not live selfishly? To answer a question with another question, I would pose the following, are we living every day like it’s our last? I can see how it becomes easy to “put God off” until later in life, or to say that He’ll be our first priority…after I get through this or that, but how can that be right? The only way something like that can sit right with us is if we compromise and water down how we see Him. So often we forget what it means to truly stand in awe of Him. If we can honestly say that we are standing in awe of who He is and what He has done and is still doing, how can we not respond in worship and with lives that are obedient and even more, honoring to Him? Sadly, we dip in and out of these “highs”, only to justify our stress and anxiety, while disregarding what He commands us to do and blinding ourselves of the fact that He is in control. Given the reality and realization of the brevity of life, are we living everyday, ready to do His will, in a response to the amazing gift of salvation He has offered us (see my previous post, Freely We Receive), or are we putting Him off until it’s convenient for us in our life, according to OUR plan? Perhaps if we can correct our view of who God is, and stand in awe of Him, maybe, just maybe we wouldn’t be a people so easily swayed by our circumstances, and instead a people who rejoices in Him always.