Hmmm… I wonder if Saint Paul ever read this sign? Sounds a little familiar:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9
Why would Saint Paul have written such a thing? Did he not live in reality? Ever suffer hardship? Not know how stressful life can be? Did he “live under a rock” where I was recently accused of living because I was trying to follow his advice?
NO! He explains his difficulties in Scripture:
“Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.” 2 Corinthians 11:24-28
So I believe we can assess that Paul was under at least as much pressure as we are on a daily basis...so why the “Pollyanna-ish” advice?
Because Paul knew that every word or action starts out as a thought, and if we allow our minds to “dwell on the bad” we will get “stuck in the mud.” Again and again we read how the disciples would literally “laugh it off!” and say the equivalent of “Wow! That was crazy--bad! But praises be to God--we are alive! Let’s keep moving on!”
When my kids were very little I had them memorize this bite-size version of Philippians 4:8:
“Whatever is TRUE, NOBLE, RIGHT, PURE LOVELY and ADMIRABLE-think on these things and the God of peace will be with you.” (Bribery does work!)
I knew it would help them through life as I had been taught this same scripture once on a mission trip where just about every thing that could go wrong did. We were feeling a bit like Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 (above). Our motto became, “You can’t make it too tough for us to complain!” It was like a mind, body and soul work-out and it was just what we needed to change our attitudes during the trip. That discipline gave us an entirely new perspective. We started looking for ways to serve God in spite of our circumstances, to be present to the good things that He was doing and not get side-tracked into a pity party and dwell on how bad things were. (And just FYI- the things that Saint Paul advises us to allow our mind to dwell on need to pass the “smell test” for all of the criteria he sets forth. They can't be exclusively “true” because some things are true but are not honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent or praiseworthy. So check all of the boxes and don’t get stuck in “stinkin’ thinkin’!”)
Here’s my summer challenge for you: put your mind on diet and stop complaining! Learn to take your thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. Challenge your kids! Help them to learn to bite their unhappy tongues (teach by example!:) and just see if “the God of peace will be with you.”
“For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
This is a tall order! I love to complain! I think of it as my pressure valve, and, honestly, it doesn’t REALLLY hurt anyone--does it? I guess the results must hurt others and myself or You would not tell me otherwise through Your divine Word. If You say that this resolve not to complain will give me more peace because You, the God of PEACE will be with me, I will try it! I will bring my complaints to You and, in exchange, choose to dwell on the truth about all you have done for me through Your love, mercy and grace! BUT I cannot do this on my own. You MUST give me the grace to even want to start, and then enable me to do it. I love You Lord and I want to have a happy, peaceful, loving life and family. I want You Lord, the God of peace to be with each of us. Lord, let there be peace on earth, and let it begin in me...but only by Your grace. I humbly ask this--
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.