November 25, 2001

GUARDED BY GOD’S PEACE

The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7

Important people have bodyguards.  Wherever the president of the United States goes, a number of grim, strong people with guns are right there with him. The Secret Service does all it can to protect the president. The prime minister of Canada and the leaders of nearly every country on earth are guarded by similar security forces. Athletes and rock stars have bodyguards too. So do many billionaires. Even religious leaders like the pope have bodyguards whenever they make a public appearance. The world is a dangerous place, and the more important you are, the more bodyguards you need.

But what about those of us who aren’t so important? The airplanes we fly on don’t have the same level of security as Air Force One. We don’t have our own personal army to protect us and whisk us to secret bunkers if trouble strikes. Of course, we’re not as likely to be attacked, and you and I probably wouldn’t want bodyguards hanging around wherever we go. But there are times when it would be nice to have special guards.

Right now is one of those times. The world is a dangerous place. One danger that’s always been around is street crime. Another danger that weighs on us now more than ever before is terrorism. Terrorists like to target important people, but they’re also happy to blow up ordinary folks. We face risks and dangers. No country is perfectly secure. No person is totally safe. Wouldn’t it be nice to have bodyguards to protect us?

Well, according to the Bible, if you belong to God, you do have a bodyguard. You have the best bodyguard there is: the living God himself. Psalm 121 says, “The Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” God himself protects us, and he assigns his mighty angels to protect us. Psalm 91 says, “Under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart… If you make the Most High your dwelling–even the Lord, who is my refuge–then no harm will befall you…  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” God provides the protection of his own wings and the protection of his winged workers, the angels.

All around the world, security has been strengthened in airports and other public places. There are more armed guards and tighter security measures. These are wise steps to take. Leaders must use good sense in trying to defend against threats to our safety. Still, no matter how tight the security, no matter how many people are put on guard, it will all be useless unless the Lord himself provides protection. “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Psalm 127:1). There are no human bodyguards who can match the protection of God’s angels working under the direct command of God himself.

But What About…

You may be thinking, “But if God is such a great protector, what about God’s people who get hurt or killed? If God is in charge, how can such rotten things happen? People die of violence and accidents and diseases every day. How can the Bible say that no harm will befall us, when harm befalls people all the time?” That’s a good question. How can I say that God and his angels are such good bodyguards, when godly people end up dying–when all of us end up dying at some point?

According to the Bible, God plans and arranges events in a way that works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). If a follower of Jesus dies, it’s because the time has come for that person to live in heaven with the Lord. To us it might look like death just comes along and destroys a person’s life. We may see nothing but pain and sorrow. But the Bible tells us that when one of God’s people dies, the angels escort that person’s soul directly to blessedness with God (Luke 16:22). The Lord protects us from death for as long as he plans for us to live on this earth, and then he brings to heaven with him.

When Christians die, it’s not because God failed to protect them or because angels failed their assignment. The Bible says that even when believers are tortured, imprisoned, and killed, they are not really harmed, for they “gain a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35-37). God’s enemies “will put some of you to death,” says Jesus, “but not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life” (Luke 21:16-19). God doesn’t guard us from death. He guards us and guides us all the way through death–and beyond! Not a hair of our head will perish. Those who die in Christ will live forever, unharmed and joyful.

So if you’re concerned about your safety and health, trust God to guard you. He’ll keep you on this earth for as long as it’s best for you. Nothing is going to happen to you apart from God’s will. Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

You can count on the Lord to pay attention to every detail about you and to give you the protection you need. And God doesn’t just protect your body. He also protects you inner being. That’s extremely important. Many of the things we fear will happen to our bodies don’t happen to us, but even though our bodies aren’t harmed, our minds and hearts are harmed by fear and terror. God doesn’t just guard bodies; he guards hearts and minds. The Bible says in Philippians 4:7, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God’s kind of peace doesn’t just influence or affect your heart and mind. God’s peace actually guards your heart and mind; it stands watch and protects your inner being against attackers. The peace of God isn’t just a feeling. It’s protection. If you trust Jesus, you are guarded by God’s peace. In the Bible Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

The Choice to Rejoice

In Philippians 4:4-7, the apostle Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What magnificent words!  How could anybody write such things except by inspiration from God?

The first thing this passage says is, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

When you hear that, doesn’t it sound strange? How can you rejoice always? It’s easy to rejoice when life goes well and you feel safe, but how can you have joy when horrible things happen or danger threatens? And how can you be commanded to rejoice? Is anybody able to rejoice on command? If you’re sad and somebody tells you to feel happy, do your feelings immediately change? No, you probably feel sadder than ever. If you’re happy, you’re happy; if you’re not, you’re not. You can’t change how you feel just because someone says you should.

Or can you? What if it really is possible to make a choice to rejoice? The Bible doesn’t just command us to rejoice about things in general. It says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Choosing joy isn’t simply a matter of choosing what to feel. It’s a matter of choosing where to focus. If you focus mainly on what you don’t like about your life, you’re going to feel gloomy. But if you focus on the Lord, you’re going to feel his kind of joy no matter what else might be sad in your life.

You can’t change how you feel just by deciding to make an attitude adjustment. You can’t just get up in the morning and say, “I think I’ll choose to feel joyful today.” But you can say, “I choose to focus on the Lord, on how splendid he is, on how much he loves me, and on how much he has done for me.” And when you choose to focus on the Lord Jesus, you suddenly find that you’ve always got a great reason to rejoice.

The apostle Paul was a man focused on Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:8).  The living Lord Jesus, and the infinite power released in his death and resurrection–this was Paul’s focus. And if we put our faith in Jesus, it will be our focus as well.

Paul didn’t claim to know Christ fully or to be perfectly in tune with him. He didn’t claim to be perfect. “But one thing I do,” he wrote. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (3:10-14).

When you look at your own life, are you able to rejoice? If you know Jesus as your Savior, your boss, and your friend, you have a huge reason to rejoice, no matter what else might go wrong for you.  And if you don’t know Jesus, then you don’t have real joy, no matter what else goes right for you.

Singing in the Dungeon

You might think, “Well, it’s easy to say ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ if you’re a preacher. You don’t have to face the troubles of the real world.” But when the apostle Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he wasn’t preaching in a rich church or writing in a comfortable office. He was in prison. But did that stop him from rejoicing?  Not at all. He counted it a privilege to be in prison for Jesus’ sake, and he rejoiced that even his guards were finding out about Christ.  Paul knew how to rejoice, whether in prison or out.

Sitting in a cell was nothing new for Paul. He was tortured and imprisoned many times for preaching salvation in Jesus, but nothing could destroy his joy. When Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he was writing from a prison cell in one city to some fellow Christians in another city, Philippi. Years earlier, when Paul first came to Philippi, he had been jailed in that city. He was beaten severely, then was clamped in wooden stocks for the night, unable to move. How did Paul react to such torture and injustice? He prayed and sang hymns to God! Nothing could snuff out his joy. Before the night was over, God set Paul free and turned the hard-hearted jailer into a Christian!

Now, years later, Paul was in another prison in another city, and he wrote to the Philippians, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (4:12-13). Paul was content and joyful in the strength of Christ. That was Paul’s attitude, and that can be our attitude when we are guarded by God’s peace.

When Paul tells us to rejoice always, he’s not telling us to psych ourselves into feeling happy.  He’s telling us to focus on the Lord. Never take your attention off of what Jesus has done for you and what you can do for him. Then you’ll always have much to rejoice about. God’s peace protects you from the kind of gloominess and grumbling that can poison the soul. Faith in Jesus produces an attitude of joy.

Gentleness

Another attitude that flourishes in connection with God’s peace is gentleness. Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” That word “gentleness” includes being kind, considerate, generous, tender, and big-hearted toward everyone we know.

Again, this isn’t because we’re naturally so big-hearted, or because everybody else is so nice and likeable that we can’t help feeling warm toward them. Far from it! No, the reason Paul gives for an attitude of gentleness toward everyone is that the Lord is near. Again, the focus is on the Lord. Christ is near to us at every moment, and his second coming is near. The only thing that holds God back is his patience and gentleness in giving people more time to repent.

The nearness of God is the basis for an attitude of gentleness to others. Why are we so often rude and cruel to others? Much of this comes from fear, insecurity and anger. When we focus on the fact that God is near, we’ll be at peace, and we’ll be peacemakers. Our way of relating to others will be transformed. Our gentleness will bring hope and healing instead of more and more conflict. Because God is near, we can afford to be big-hearted toward others. If they’re good, we appreciate what God has done in them and feel close to them. If they’re bad, we feel compassion for them and gently try to win them to the Lord. Government has the task of stopping evildoers and bringing them to justice, but as individuals, we are called to gentleness. God’s peace guards our inner being from the kind of insecurity and reckless anger that make us harsh in relation to others.  God’s nearness produces gentleness.

Pray Rather Than Worry

Another aspect of being guarded by God’s peace is to pray rather than worry. Prayer is the way to take refuge in God’s protection. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Do you worry a lot? Are you anxious about the future? Well, the Bible says to stop worrying. If that’s all it said, it wouldn’t help you much, would it? You can’t get rid of anxiety just by trying not to be anxious. You can’t just repeat to yourself over and over, “I’m not going to worry. I’m not going to worry. I’m not going to worry.” If you do that, you’ll still have all your old worries, plus you’ll have the added worry of why not can’t stop worrying!

God doesn’t just tell you to get rid of anxiety. He tells you to replace it with something else. Replace your worry with trust, thanksgiving, and prayer. Why worry when you can pray? The Bible says, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Bring your concerns, requests and petitions to God. And as you pray, give thanks for Jesus and for all that the Lord is constantly doing for you.

There’s a space inside you that always has to be filled with something. It’s never empty. That space is either going to fill up with worry, or else it’s going to fill up with prayer, trust and thanksgiving. Jesus says,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the lilies grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink;  do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:22-31).

Prayer is the way of peace–and not just the kind of prayer that asks God to give you this, that, and the other thing.  You can pray about various needs, but it’s when you set your heart and focus your prayers on God’s kingdom and his righteousness that you’ll discover that God is all you need.

There are two very different approaches: you can focus on all your worries and then pray in the desperate hope that God might decide to do something. Or you can focus on God’s goodness and power and his kindness to you and his daily care for you, and then look at your various concerns as a few relatively minor matters that God will be taking care of.

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was in prison facing one of the biggest fears any of us have: the fear of death. Paul didn’t know whether he’d be released or get his head chopped off. Just imagine, sitting in chains, wondering whether you would face the executioner’s axe. Can you think of any better reason to worry? But Paul knew his future was in God’s hands, and whether he lived or died, his future would be good. He wrote, “I eagerly expect and hope that … now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:20-21). If Paul lived, he could serve Jesus and help others to know him. If he died, he’d be face to face with Jesus, enjoying all the rewards of heaven. Either way, he couldn’t lose. So why worry?

If we take physical survival as our highest good, we’ll panic whenever we face a life-threatening illness or find that our nation or community faces danger. We’ll worry like crazy whenever our survival is threatened. But when God is our highest good, we can pray confidently and thankfully. If God answers by giving us more years of life and health, fine. To live is Christ. If God sees fit to call us out of this life, that’s also fine.  To die is gain.

Maybe you’re less concerned about death than about what comes after death. You don’t know whether you’ll go to heaven or not. Well, friend, it’s simple. If you don’t put your faith in the Lord Jesus as your Savior and King, you won’t go to heaven. You will go to hell. But if you do trust Jesus and accept him and focus your life on him, you’ll live with him forever. Satan may attack you with doubts and temptations, but God’s peace will protect you and keep your faith alive and growing all the way to the end. God always finishes what he starts. As Paul told the Philippians, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6).

We’ve heard a lot of quotes from the Bible in this program, but the reality goes beyond words.  The peace of God surpasses understanding. God’s peace comes when God’s Spirit fills our hearts.  There’s a time to hear and believe the words that God has given us, and there’s a time simply to be still and know that he is God as his Spirit ministers to your Spirit. The Bible says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3-4).

PRAYER

Father in heaven, in all the challenges and dangers of life, fix our attention on Jesus. Move us to rejoice in him always. Let his gentleness shine through us. Replace our anxiety with trust, thanksgiving, and prayer. Fill us with your Spirit, that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, may guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.