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Peace in a Time of COVID

Philippians 4:6–7, May 10, 2020

Introduction

If any of you have not been following the news, and have not been talking with anyone, have stayed off of social media, and generally have been asleep for the past few months, you may have noticed:

  • Your favorite stores aren’t open

  • Harder to get toilet paper than it used to be
  • Your retirement account or college savings accounts are worth less than they were in January.

There’s a pandemic. A few million have gotten sick. A few hundred thousand are dead. This is a unique emotional challenge for many of us.

  • You may not be anxious at all about this, and think everyone is blowing this way out of proportion. If you’re honest with yourself, you likely have your own anxieties.
  • You may be feeling anxious/worried about the pandemic, and may be asking:
    • How are you or family going to avoid getting sick?
    • What will happen to your job?
    • Or, if you’ve lost work, how will you make ends meet?
  • No matter whether you’re anxious about the pandemic or about something else, God has something to say to us.

You can experience peace.

How can you experience peace? Our text gives us two instructions and a promise.

I. Be anxious for nothing

That’s the first instruction.

  • What anxiety is:
    • It’s worry. It’s a response to something bad that may happen in the future.
  • It can have a range of severity.
  • What anxiety isn’t:
    • I don’t think the word here describes your response to an immediate danger.
      • For example, being robbed as you’re walking down a dark alley.
    • It’s not the concern you feel for others you love. Paul commends Timothy for being genuinely concerned for the Philippian Christians. See Philippians 2:19–20.
  • What may have caused the Philippians anxiety?
    • Adversaries (Philippians 1:27–30)
    • The people in the Bible are just like you. This book is very relevant today.
  • Do you ever feel anxiety?

“Had I been honest with him, I would have said, ‘Your mama is neurotic. That means that I’m afraid of clowns and badly-drawn eyebrows. I also get nervous when I drive over bridges, I don’t like large bodies of water, and if I can’t see the bottom of a lake, I’m not getting in. I also have a fear of the dentist, and if not for the constant ridicule of friends and family, I would literally never go. I have a fear of weevils being in our bags of sugar and grains, which makes me very grateful to have been born in 1979 instead of 100 years prior because I am also afraid of horses.’”

“I was recounting this story to a group of mothers at the playground, and they started rattling off their own fears. At the root, mothers are all the same — we’re just a bunch of neurotic wackadoodles with a laundry list of concerns.”

  • Your fears are common:

    • Fear of something bad happening to your baby
    • Fear that your children won’t measure up to other children
    • Fear that you don’t measure up to other mothers
    • Everyone else:
      • Health (dying, disease, disability, growing old)
      • Social (not having enough friends, not fitting in, people won’t like you)
      • Work (impostor syndrome, not keeping up)
      • Children (monsters, the dark, not doing well on a test)
    • Me: 
      • Everything
  • Why is worry bad? It looks really reasonable on the surface.
    • God commands you not to be anxious.
    • It is a bad witness
    • It often shows that you’re valuing the wrong things, and distracts you from what’s really important.
    • It can be based on wrong beliefs
      • You might believe that staying healthy is necessary to being happy
      • The Bible doesn't assume you need to be alive to be happy or glorify God:

“as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20–21, ESV)

    • It neglects to notice at all the facts.
      • It’s like looking through a keyhole
        • Os Guinness calls this “keyhole theology” (In Two Minds).
        • We only see some things in the room, but we can’t see everything.
      • We’re missing God.
        • Almighty (Psalm 115:3, ESV—”Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”)
        • All-wise (Romans 12:33, ESV—”Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”)
        • Merciful and loving (Exodus 34:6, ESV—”The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’”)
        • Eternal (Psalm 90:2, ESV—”Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”)
        • Perfect and true (2 Samuel 22:31, ESV—”This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”)
        • God guides all things to the ends He appoints for them (Ephesians 1:11, ESV—”In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will”)
        • God is in control
          • Nothing happens outside of His control
          • Devil is evil and dangerous, but He can not cross any boundary God sets for him.
        • If you leave this God out of the picture, of course you’ll be anxious sometimes.
    • Even when we consider God, sometimes we don’t like what He does
      • I gave my children a Nintendo Wii for Christmas this past year (yes, I know it came out over 13 years ago)
        • We recently got Mario Kart. Racing game. One of my kids’ go-karts kept falling off cliffs or bridges.
        • We think God drives His world like that.
        • If the way He drives doesn’t make sense to us, it should come as no surprise. He’s infinite. We’re finite. He’s God.
        • God doesn’t need our input. God doesn’t want our input.
        • He’s an expert driver. Trust Him.
  • Don’t be anxious
    • It may feel like obeying that command is impossible.
    • If this is a besetting sin for you:
      • It may take time to change habits of thought.
      • Remember that God loves you. He sent His son to die for sinners just like you. He is patient with us.
    • We’ll get to a practical strategy in a minute. However, you do need to make a conscious decision to fight anxiety.

Application

  • When you’re anxious, resolve not to be.
  • Make a list of things that cause you anxiety.
  • When you’re anxious, ask:
    • What does your fear say about what you love?
    • What does your fear say about what you believe you need to be happy?
    • Where is God in your thinking?

We can have peace in a time of COVID by fighting anxiety. First, be anxious for nothing.

Second, pray about everything.

II. Pray About Everything

That’s the second instruction.

  • Internet/secular counselors have lots of ways to fight anxiety. Some are fine.
  • God’s counsel is what I want to hear.
  • Three words for prayer are synonyms. Why three synonyms? To show how important prayer is. (Peter O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, NIGTC)
  • Everything = every circumstance you’re in, not all the time, and not every possible thing in the world (O’Brien)
  • Every time you have an anxious thought, pray.
  • Anxious thoughts are like leeches
    • Popular Science: So you’ve been bitten by a leech. What’s the worst that could happen?” by Kate Baggaley, December 13, 2017 (https://www.popsci.com/so-youve-been-bitten-by-leech-whats-worst-that-could-happen/)
      • “Several years ago, emergency physician Jeremy Joslin found himself overseeing an ultramarathon in the backcountry of Cambodia. Once they’d finished the event, many of the athletes wanted to cool off and noticed an inviting stream nearby.”
      • "’After a few minutes, the screams started,’ says Joslin, who is based at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. It was not long before people began hurrying back to camp—along with the multiple leeches that had become attached to their bodies.”
    • Prayer is how to get “spiritual” leeches off.
  • It also pleases God to grant our requests, if all other things are equal
    • If you had a generous millionaire friend, it would make sense to ask him for money if you needed help paying rent/mortgage, or saving up for a toy or video game.
  • Text seems to say that we tell God something He doesn’t know. (O’Brien) However, God knows everything.
    • Matthew 6:31–32, ESV—”Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all."
    • Why we pray when God knows everything
      • We acknowledge our dependence on God
      • You’re cultivating your relationship with God
  • We’re also to thank God
    • This seems a little out of place at first
    • Why thank God?
      • When we pray without gratitude, we may come to God with a sense of entitlement, like He owes us. We may even come with an accusing attitude. (cf. John Calvin, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/philippians/4.htm.)
      • It is right to thank someone who does something good for you.
      • Thanksgiving glorifies God (2 Cor 4:15)
      • Primarily, the gospel. Our fears, or the things we fear, can only harm us for the next few decades. If you’re really young, maybe 100 more years. Then, we spend an eternity with God in a place where your delight in Him will only grow with time, and there are no more anxious fears. God purchased all of that for you at the expense of His only Son, Jesus—even when we deserved just the opposite: an eternity of pain and fear.

Application

  • Ask God for things in this pandemic
  • Thank God
    • Moms—thank God for your families when you pray for them
  • Trust in God’s goodness

“The way to be anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything.”
Robert Rainy,
The Epistle to the Philippians

God has given us two instructions: Be anxious for nothing, and pray about everything. Now, we’ll look at a promise God gives us.

III.God’s peace will guard you

That’s the promise.

  • Sometimes life is like warm spring day w/o clouds
  • Sometimes, like a hurricane
  • It’s the peace of God. God gives it.
  • What it means to surpass all understanding
    • The peace is better than we can imagine (O’Brien)
    • The peace isn’t understandable to the unregenerate person (Calvin)
      • “nothing is more foreign to the human mind, than in the depth of despair to exercise, nevertheless, a feeling of hope, in the depth of poverty to see opulence, and in the depth of weakness to keep from giving way, and, in fine, to promise ourselves that nothing will be wanting to us when we are left destitute of all things” - Calvin’s commentary on Philippians
  • What does this look like?
    • John Wesley was a religious leader in the early Methodism movement. He lived from 1703–1791. On October 14, 1735, set sail from Europe for Savannah, Georgia. On the boat were Moravian Christians. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley)
    • “In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Was you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied, mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.’” -John Wesley’s journal, Sunday, January 25, 1736 (http://rwbooth.com/2016/01/25/john-wesley-with-the-moravians-in-a-storm/)
  • Guards your heart and mind
    • Meaning of heart and mind (O’Brien)
      • Heart used in various ways in Bible. Here, it’s your emotions and will.
      • Mind is that part of you that does the thinking.
    • Phillipi was a Roman colony, guarded by a Roman garrison. (O’Brien)
  • The peace is conditional in two ways
    • You need to pray
      • Don’t expect the peace if you don’t do the praying
    • Peace is only “in Christ”
      • If you don’t know Jesus, trust Him. He died for sinners, rose from the dead, and is Lord.
  • When it “doesn’t work”
    • Ask what you would have been like if you hadn’t prayed. You may have been much worse off. (This was Tim Keller’s idea.)
    • Maybe God wants to cultivate the grace of perseverance in your life. Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking.

God has given us two instructions: Be anxious for nothing. Pray about everything. He’s given us a promise: God’s peace will guard you.

Conclusion

What does it look like to experience God’s peace?

  • Parent: Child is out late with friends. You pray. You thank God. You go to sleep.
  • Student: Test coming up. You pray. You thank God. You study hard. You don’t feel butterflies in the stomach.
  • Anyone: There’s a pandemic. You pray. You thank God. You take reasonable precautions for your own sake and for the sake of others.