I wonder if you know the work of the cartoonist Simon Drew....For some years I had one of his drawings pinned above my desk. It showed a rather perplexed-looking terrier, surrounded by thinks bubbles “Now where did I put the car keys”
“Will I be able to pay off my credit card”
“Did I leave the gas on?”
“Whatever can I do about global warming…”
Beneath was the caption
“The tomb of the unknown worrier”
You see, I'm rather good at that kind of worrying myself – and as I listened to the news last night, there was no shortage of global concerns to give me pause. ISIS, Ebola, Cyclone HudHud and the recent success of UKIP...there's plenty to worry about before I even begin to think about finance (which always has the power to paralyse me with anxiety).
That's rather a shame, really, because Paul says that this should not be an option for me as a Christian.
“Be careful for nothing” says Paul to the church in Phillippi…or, if you prefer it
Such sensible advice, but so hard to follow, don't you think?
To be fair, Paul doesn’t simply forbid us to worry.
He gives us an alternative programme to follow, as he encourages us
“rejoice in the Lord always, and by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let your requests be made known to God.”
He's looking for hearts and minds transformed, it seems...and it all begins with joy.
"Rejoice!" Not just once, but again...
look to the things that give you joy – focus on all that is good, and remember that we have the all-time best reason to be cheerful. THE LORD IS AT HAND!
That doesn't mean we all have to turn into Pollyanna's, pretending that everything is just fine when we're surrounded by real and serious problems…Paul isn’t acting as a kind of spiritual cheer-leader, insisting on an upbeat response to any and every grief. He is writing to a church filled with doubt and fear, amidst a crooked generation in an aggressively evil environment. Life is a struggle, with in-fighting and persecution. There is no shortage of things to fret about, and yet Paul insists, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”
I don't know how the Philippians took that – I'm often frustrated that we don't get to hear the response to all those New Testament letters – but I suspect they may have snorted in derision at first, that they might not have been much better at living a joy-filled life than I am myself.
You see, the sad truth is, that often Christianity seems to be a religion for kill-joys...People imagine that we spend most of our time focussing on the things we can't do, and disapproving of those who do them anyway – and it's certainly true that opting to follow Jesus isn't a recipe for an easy life. Everything from our relationships to our shopping habits may need to change...It's hard work...and for those who focus on the external sources of happiness, it just doesn't make sense. But the thing is that joy exists independent of the environment and will persist through any and all circumstances – because it doesn't depend on them.
The secret to joy is not to look at the circumstances of your own life. Focus instead on Christ and his work in you. Now it begins to make sense.
Don’t worry…Be careful for nothing.
This does not mean “Be careLESS of everything” but rather do not be worn down by anxiety…
"Present your requests to God" Let God know specifically what troubles you – what your needs are –No matter what is going on, in all things PRAY!
This reading is often used at Rogation services, when we gather to ask God's blessing on the sowing of seeds...and that's the perfect illustration, really, since planting a seed is always and everywhere an act of faith. How can something so small and fragile carry within it all it needs for fruitful life? How can burying that tiny fragment in the ground lead to the growth of a whole new plant, just like its parent? Clearly with the planting of each and every seed, we find ourselves in the realm of miracle…and it's so as we plant the tiniest seeds of faithful prayer.
Yes, these ARE dark and difficult days. The world is messed up in ways we can only begin to imagine – and worry might seem the most rational response. But we have an alternative...
However ridiculous, however inadequate it may seem, we have the choice to carry on praying even when it seems to be a completely fruitless activity.
Just as planting a seed involves us in a process of patient waiting while nothing much happens, we have to believe that a similar process will see prayers answered, if we wait in hope.
And as we wait – there's good news, news of God's peace which "Transcends all understanding"...of a peace beyond human reason or logic,- the peace of knowing God's presence and protection.
So a seed of prayer sown, leads to the miracle of a mind transformed.
As the peace of God comes to occupy the place anxiety once held!
That's what happens when we pray in joyful hope.
We pray and God plants a seed within us, diverting our attention from those things which cause us pointless anxiety, which drain our energies and rob us of our sleep. Instead we can focus on
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable...
Doesn't that sound better as a response to the 3 a.m. devils?
So here is Paul’s prescription – his four part antidote to anxiety.
Change your attitude - Rejoice! all shall be well, for God is in charge!
Do things differently - in everything – absolutely everything – give thanks and pray! Ask for what you need, and it will be given to you
Wait for your answer and instead of worry, you will experience the peace of God!
And while you wait, think of all the gifts and blessings that surround you.
That's so much better than immuring yourself in the tomb of the unknown worrier...so let's pray that through God's transforming power the small nugget of belief we bring to the table may flourish and grow, so that as the body of Christ in this place we may be full of that irrepressible joy of which Paul writes, as we live lives grounded in the peace that is beyond our reason, beyond all understanding.