These are uncertain days. (How’s that for an understatement?) As I type this, there’s a livestream from the White House on in the background with the latest update on the coronavirus. Everywhere you turn, people are talking about it. Some are mildly concerned. Others are in a full-blown panic. Uncertainty almost always raises stress and anxiety. In this post, my desire is to turn our focus to God and His Word. These are passages we can focus on, discuss, and pray through as we trust a faithful God in any uncertain time.
They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself. So then, my dearly loved and longed for brothers and sisters, my joy and crown, in this manner stand firm in the Lord, dear friends.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Philippians 3:19 – 4:9
This passage – especially 4:6 – is quoted all the time. But there is so much more than just telling people “Don’t worry about anything.” When we look at this verse in the context of the verses before and after, we find seven reminders that show us how we can not worry.
Reminder 1: Focus on the eternal.
In times of uncertainty, most people focus on the same things…earthly things. Temporal things. Things that surround us. Immediate things.
Are you and I focused on earthly things or eternal things? Pausing to meditate on the eternal will help us navigate the temporal. After all, we have an eternal home. We have an eternal Savior. We will have an eternal – ever-healthy – body. Reminding ourselves of that truth will help us navigate the uncertainty of today.
Reminder 2: Build up instead of blame.
It’s interesting that immediately after encouraging the Philippians (and us) to focus on the eternal, Paul turns their attention to people. Their arguments. Conflicts.
I think Paul was on to something. He knew that in the midst of uncertainty, people tend to turn on one another. After all, someone must be blamed, right?! Wrong.
What would happen if we made every effort to build each other up, rather than blame?
Speak a kind word. Compliment someone. Post something encouraging. Give to someone in need. Find someone who is hurting and pray for them. Then tell them you are praying for them.
Reminder 3: Remember God’s “nearness.”
These are my four favorite words in this passage: The Lord is near. That’s the reminder I need. In the midst of the uncertainty, the Lord is near.
He knows. He sees. He’s not surprised. And He’s bigger than the uncertainty. He is not overwhelmed or anxious.
Have you ever seen a young child who is nervous or frightened? What’s the first thing they do? They grab the leg or hand of a parent or other trusted adult. The nearness of someone they trust – who is significantly more powerful – calms their fears.
We have a God who is powerful. And He’s near. Very near.
Reminder 4: Rejoice and be thankful.
Rejoice? Be thankful? Are you kidding? Nope. I’m not.
In the midst of uncertainty it is extremely easy to focus only on what is going wrong. What has happened. What we lack. What others have (that appears better).
Pause to give thanks. Pause to rejoice. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m saying it’s necessary.
Every November I do a 21-Day Thankfulness Challenge. You can read the long version here, but this is the basic outline:
- Every day, set aside five minutes to be thankful.
- Devote one minute to each of five categories.
- Thank God for WHO He is.
- Thank God for HOW He has been faithful in the past.
- Thank God for WHAT He has provided.
- Thank God for WHOM He has put in your life.
- Thank God for WHERE He will show up in the future.
Thankfulness and rejoicing are transformative. No matter what the uncertainty looks like, we can always find reasons to be thankful.
Reminder 5: Ask.
“Through prayer and petition…” and “…present your requests to God.” Paul is reminding the Philippians to ask. He is reminding us to ask. God is not offended by our asking. God is a good Father. He wants His children to ask.
In the midst of our asking, we must forever be mindful of the goodness of the One we’re asking from, and the perspective He has that we don’t. Yes…He is good. Yes…He sees way, way more than we see. He already knows the outcome of our uncertainty.
We might not like His answers. We might not agree with His timing. But if He is good (which He is), and if He has a grand and eternal perspective (which He does), then our asking opens the door for a peace that surpasses all understanding. And peace is one thing we all long for in the midst of uncertainty.
Reminder 6: Be careful where you dwell.
It always amazes me how tempting it is to endlessly watch the news, scroll social media, or read news articles whenever uncertainty hits. We spend hours and days listening to the same information over and over again.
It’s not a coincidence that Paul – immediately after encouraging them not to worry – shows them where they should focus.
Dwell on these things…whatever is true… honorable… just… pure… lovely… commendable… morally excellent… and praiseworthy.
I don’t know about you, but in the midst of uncertain times, my mind doesn’t naturally go toward the items on this list. My mind goes to the tragedy, the circumstances, and the unknown.
This reminder helps me self-evaluate and “take every thought captive.” (2 Cor. 10:5). As I read this verse, I ask myself, “Are my thoughts true? Are they honorable? Are they pure?”
To “experience” something can just happen. To “dwell” on something takes intentionality. In the midst of uncertainty, you and I need to be intentional about what we put into our minds and where we focus.
Reminder 7: Model others who have handled uncertainty well.
Few people experienced more uncertainty than the Apostle Paul! Traveling for months and years on end. Persecution from all sides. Multiple imprisonments (sometimes with no idea when he’d get out).
He finishes this section with these words…
Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Paul would only encourage them to imitate him if he had experienced what he wanted them to experience – the God of peace.
Do you know someone who always seems to handle adversity well? She always seems to be at peace. He somehow always remains calm. She doesn’t ignore the uncertainty, but also isn’t mastered by it. He is practical, but not paralyzed.
Give them a call. Send them a text. Grab a cup of coffee – even if you need to use Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype. Ask them how they do it. Better yet, ask them what they do in the midst of uncertainty.
My guess is you’ll find practical help and words of encouragement. Figure out what they do and how you can model what they do. Learn from each other.
Oh…and if you’re someone who handles uncertainty pretty well, look for someone who is struggling. Encourage them. Guide them. Pray for them. Uncertainty is much easier to navigate in community.