In Phil 4:1-9, Paul gives us further insights into how to rejoice always and what to do when we feel anxious and perhaps unable to rejoice. He says, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.’ (Phil 4:6-7) These famous verses show us how to deal with the ‘unconscious blasphemy’ (to quote Ralph Martin) of anxiety, worry and fear which often blight our lives, despite Jesus’s command not to worry (Matt 6:25, 34)
Thanksgiving is again part of the way we actually move in prayer from anxiety to peace. When we come to God in prayer, we may well feel overwhelmed and swamped, because our focus is on the issue, the problem. But as we give thanks to the Lord, we recall His goodness and mercy to us; we remember all the ways He has helped us in the past; we get our gaze back in the right place. God then gives us His peace, a peace which may well transcend our understanding but which is His gift to us.
Paul’s final piece of advice in these verses is to ensure we win the battle of the mind by focussing our thoughts on things that are true, good and wholesome (Phil 4:8). The mind controls so much. What we think about determines so much in our lives. If we think wrong things, we end up believing lies. If we believe lies, we will end up in chains, slaves to sin. Jesus made it very plain that the devil is the ‘father of lies.’ Lies are his native language. (John 8:44) He likes nothing more than people thinking about wrong things and believing lies, because then it’s a very short step to people doing wrong things and living in slavery rather than in the freedom God wants us to know and experience. Jesus said that knowing the truth has the power to set us free (John 8:32), and so it’s crucially important that we think about whatever is true.
Again, we have the choice as to what we think about, and we must choose wisely. As the saying goes, ‘If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’ Paul talks about taking every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5), and so we must learn to identify the lies (which we can do by allowing God’s word to shape our understanding of truth and lies), refuse to believe them any more and focus on truth instead. As we put up the wallpaper of God’s truth in our minds, letting His word shape our thinking and our outlook, we are transformed into His image and the peace of God is with us. (Phil 4:9)