Diane and I were recently spending time with two friends, and one of them was really wrestling with how his life and his theology didn’t always line up. He knows very clearly the imperatives of the Bible, the things that God tells us to do – pray without ceasing, love your neighbor, take every thought captive, etc. But so often for him the focus or object of his faith becomes his efforts to correctly apply the truth and do the right thing.
Thankfully I know something about that struggle, living in that tension many days, and God has been teaching me recently a new way of seeing His commands.
Philippians 4:6-7 is a familiar imperative to many Christians – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition let your requests be known to God, and the peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The imperatives are “do not worry” and “pray about all things.” If you do those things, the passage says, you will have peace from God. And so my tendency is to take every worry and try hard to stop worrying about it and just pray it away, pray until it no longer worries me.
But what I had been missing for a long time is Philippians 4:4-5. “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
The Lord is near. My hope in worry, my hope in any of my prayers, hinges on the truth that the Lord is near. The reality of God’s presence is more true and more powerful than any of my fears, sins, or worries. Knowing that the Lord is near, rejoicing in that, enables and empowers me to not be anxious, because I know Who is with me. It enables and empowers me to pray because I know Who is hearing my cries. The presence of God frees me to embrace His imperatives, which leads me to His peace.
And so I urged my friend to let “the Lord is near” be the defining thought for him in his struggles; to not focus on what he has done poorly or could do better, but to let the presence of God in him and with him draw him to an obedience that comes from faith (Romans 1:5, ESV). A presence empowered imperative. Rejoice!The Lord is near.