And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8–9
Are you a list person? I live by lists. They help me remember what needs to be done—whether it’s a grocery list, project list, gift list—writing it down helps clarify what needs to be done and it is satisfying checking those things off. But have you ever tried doing a relationship by a list?
Last week, in part 1 of this series, we read Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-9, encouraging us that instead of fixating on our worries, we ought to bring them to our heavenly Father:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:6–7
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Philippians 4:6
Paul says to replace worry with prayer. Your mind will be actively working on something; better to go to the One who holds the solution than to fret about the “what-ifs” in a given situation. What does that kind of prayer look like? He describes it this way:
- Simply tell God what you need
- Then thank him in advance for what he’ll be doing through this situation.
- And when you do that, Paul says, you will experience God’s peace—and this peace will continue to guard your heart and mind from further worry as you follow Christ.
Now, in the next two verses he takes this idea of dealing with anxiety to the next level. Instead of sliding back into old patterns of worry, he says to fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise.
So again, I don’t know if you’re a list person, but I see a list here, and my mind thinks “OK, let’s start running all of my thoughts through this list/grid to see how I’m doing.”
“OK, let’s start running all of my thoughts through this list/grid to see how I’m doing.”
If you do this, I can tell you what you’ll discover (what I discovered!): you will not experience peace, but create anxiety for yourself!
Reflection/self-evaluation is helpful. But when we begin seeing our relationship with Christ as performance-based, it creates anxiety. Instead of seeing God as a Father who loves his children, I begin seeing him as a cosmic bean-counter; “Our accountant, who art in heaven…” Totally wrong perspective.
When our relationship with God turns performance-based, it is only a matter of time before we hang it up. If there is one thing we know about the Gospel—the Good News about Jesus—it is this: our relationship with him is based not on what we do, but on what he’s already done.
Just before Jesus died on the cross he said “It is finished.” When he laid down his life to pay for every offense we’ve committed against God, he declared “It’s done. Finished.” Everything that was required to give us new life was completed. Now our part, as followers of Christ, is to simply live out this new identity, to love and follow him.
So, how can a list that’s supposed to help me, cause anxiety and give me a wrong-headed view of God? Keep this in mind: lists are a good basis for completing projects, but a bad basis for relationships.
Lists are a good basis for completing projects, but a bad basis for relationships.
If you’re keeping a list to see if your spouse measures up (or your children for that matter), it won’t be long before they disappoint you. No one wants to feel that their relationship is contingent on a list. That is fine for a legal arrangement or a contract, but it’s not a relationship.
No one is perfect; no one bats 1.000. That is why grace and forgiveness are the basis of enduring relationships. My wife’s father (I call him my father-in-love) reminds me that every healthy marriage is made of two good forgivers.
No one is perfect; no one bats 1.000. That is why grace and forgiveness are the basis of enduring relationships.
Instead of seeing Phil. 4:8-9 as a list to evaluate, think of them as a group of words that help us get our minds around the idea of God’s goodness.
What is true? What is honorable? What is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise? In a word, it is Jesus. Simply Jesus.
When we keep our mind on what he did for us on the cross, that changes everything—and when we see others through him, it changes the way we see them. Paul describes it this way in his letter to the believers in Rome:
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Romans 8:31–32
The answer is Yes!! The cross is God’s declaration of love for you—and nothing can separate you from that love! Neither life, death, nor any other thing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ (Romans 8:39).
The cross is God’s declaration of love for you—and nothing can separate you from that love!
So, what has you anxious today? What has you fretting? Is it career-related? Is it financially-related? Is it family-related? Is it performance-related? Is it relationally-related?
So, what has you anxious today?
Instead of focusing on the “what-ifs” of life, focus on the what-we-know-to-be true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise. Focus on Jesus. Focus on his ability to move mountains in your life. Focus on his limitless power to come to your aid.
Instead of focusing on the “what-ifs” of life, focus on Jesus.
If he overcame death, what can’t he do in your life? Focus on his resources to do what our resources could never do.
Today, instead of focusing on your problems, fix your mind on Christ. Continue to grow in the grace and understanding of him, then the God of peace will be with you.
What areas are most difficult to trust God for?