“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” (Phil 4:4-7).
If believers begin to experience the indwelling power and transforming effect of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they will begin to taste a joy that transcends one’s particular circumstances. Remember Paul is writing from prison to believers being threatened and persecuted by the power brokers of the Roman Empire. Still, Paul urges Christians to rejoice (it is an imperative). He repeats himself followed by his concern for their witness to the onlooking world. As people observe these followers of Jesus what do we want them to see in our lives? Here’s how one commentary addresses it:
“Joy, unmitigated, untrammeled joy, is–or at least should be–the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus. The wearing of black and the long face, which so often came to typify some later expressions of Christian piety, are totally foreign to Paul’s version; Paul the theologian of grace is equally the theologian of joy. Christian joy does not come and go with one’s circumstances; rather it is predicated altogether on one’s relationship with the Lord and is thus an abiding, deeply spiritual quality of life” (IVP New Testament Commentary).
This “abiding, deeply spiritual quality of life” is rooted in the conviction that “The Lord is near” — both in the sense that (a) His comforting presence is nearby when we call out in “prayer and petition” during anxiety-inducing circumstances and (b) in the eschatological sense of his imminent Second Coming to make all things right. Jesus is our example again here. Jesus constantly brought prayers and petitions before his Father in Heaven and taught the disciples not to worry:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life” (Matt 6:25-27)?
The best anecdote for anxiety is persistent prayer and utter dependence on God in all times and circumstances. Paul tells us that communion with and dependence on God leads to the experience of the peace of God “that transcends all understanding.” Just as this marvelous peace is beyond understanding, so to it is beyond describing in words. But those of us who have experienced God’s calming peace amidst the personal storms of our own lives can testify that Paul’s words are true.
Never has this supernatural, unexplainable “peace of God” been more apparent than when people of faith are grieving the loss of loved ones. Despite great loss and sadness, there is a peace that prevails in the hearts of the faithful rooted in the hope and promises of God in Christ. This is a peace, Jesus reminds us, that is quite out of this world: “I’m leaving you peace. I’m giving you my peace. I don’t give you the kind of peace that the world gives. So don’t be troubled or cowardly” (John 14:27).
Finally, this peace is not merely a meek, comforting force in our lives. The peace of God serves as a military garrison standing guard over our “hearts and minds” — our innermost being — protecting us from the onslaught of fear, doubt, anxiety and despair. This peace has “the Prince of Peace” as it’s source and goal, and as with everything else with Paul this gift is ours “in Christ Jesus.”