Hope you had a wonderful Father’s Day last Sunday. We had a family dinner, and the kids gave my husband a new wallet, then we watched a few old and really badly made movies just to laugh at them. It was great just to be together. If you weren’t able to be with your family, I hope you were at least able to talk on the phone.
I do realize that, like Donald and I, many celebrated without our own fathers this year and perhaps have for several years. They say time heals, and I suppose it does. These holidays have become a little easier for me, as I remember my mom and dad. I am thankful for these memories. Even more so, I am thankful that I have learned to distinguish between the good and bad memories and to concentrate on those that are positive.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, wanted to impress upon the believers the importance of a positive attitude. At the very beginning of chapter 4 he “pleads” with two women of the church to find a way to make peace with one another. These women, who had “contended at my side in the cause of the gospel,” undoubtedly had come to a diversion of ideas, and no doubt their contention with each other was spilling over to the church.
In his final exhortations, Paul brings the entire concept down to one line: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Often this phrase brings to mind the T-shirts from years back that declared “Praise the Lord Anyway!” Whatever the situation, whatever the trouble, praise the Lord. However, that isn’t always the easiest thing to do. And sometimes, it just sounds trite, especially when someone is quoting it to you!
What does it mean to rejoice in the Lord always? And just how do we do such a thing? Does Paul suggest that we just ignore our problems and pretend they don’t exist? I
don’t believe so. In fact, he gives us a procedure for dealing with stresses and problems, as well as the joys of life. Here is a quick overview.
Let your attitude be one cast toward joy rather than anger. (“Rejoice in the Lord always” (v. 4).
Elsewhere we are told, “Be slow to anger”, which is another way of saying it. The key here is what I allow my focal point to be. Where is the emphasis of my life? When I place the “things” of my life in their true levels of importance, I find that the greatest thing in my life is knowing God. The one thing that cannot be taken away from me is my relationship to God, the salvation purchased by Christ’s sacrifice and given freely. When compared to this, everything else, as the chorus says, “will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
Practice God’s presence with you. (“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (v. 5).
When I am cognizant of God’s presence with me, I can be assured that God knows what is happening in my life. I have no need to “fly off the handle” or attack another. Brother Lawrence, an ancient monk, wrote a book called “Practicing the Presence of God.” In every task, he performed it as if God were there, present with him. He recognzed that in God’s hands there is only blessing, even when things seem unfair. He believed that every task was an opportunity to be blessed by God and to bless others. One of the sad developments in the modern church, on all sides, is that we have lost that gentleness, the ability to deal with one another with a sense of humility and deference. Anger and rage become the rallying cry, instead of prayer and example. There is a place for protest, a time for stepping up for citizens’ rights; however, as Christians, even that should be done in such a way as to draw people to Christ, rather than repel them.
Look at things clearly, good and bad, and include God in the conversation. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in EVERY situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (vv 6,7).
Paul never suggests that we disregard what is happening around us, pretending that it doesn’t exist. Rather, he encourages that we look at the situation clearly and break it down, presenting it in its wholeness to God. We are to thank God for His care and involvement and ask for wisdom in the situation. Lift your struggles to God. “Have a little talk with Jesus.” Then, leave the problems in God’s hands, knowing that you are not alone in the endeavor. That is where the peace comes from. Don’t let the problem becomes the focus of your day, but rather the God who will carry you through it.
Choose to have a positive outlook. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (v. 8).
On what do you spend most of your mental energy throughout the day? Do you constantly return to the same thoughts, regularly rehearsing the problems and wondering how you will resolve them? Then you are not focusing on excellent and praiseworthy things. Paul exhorts the believers to exercise mental discipline, keeping the focus on God’s blessings rather than what we see as troubles. Married? Focus on the positive parts of your relationship (hopefully there are some), rather than just rehearsing the clothes on the floor and the dishes in the sink. Got kids? Focus on their positive traits and recognize them, instead of just harping on the dirty room. Have a situation in your life that is overwhelming? Take it in small chunks and look for even the smallest positive. Exercising the positive in my life doesn’t place me in denial of the negative. Rather, it gives me the strength to deal with and overcome the negatives. It reminds me, again and again, as Paul asserts, “The God of peace will be with you.”
I have been in awe of the response to Joplin’s tornado tragedy. More so, I have been humbled by the words of so many of those affected as they testify, again and again, that the things that are lost are just that—things. Let us continue to pray, contribute, and pitch in as the work continues. In the days immediately after the event the outpouring was immense. However, as the days go by, the outpouring has slowed down. Let’s keep these people at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers and do what we can to keep the recovery going.
Mary Kay Glunt
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church