Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of Philippians 4:9 in the fight against anxiety. Here it is again:
9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
In this text we see that there is a very active element to receiving God’s gift of peace. God wants us to obediently follow the example of Paul, and as we do so, He promises that his peace-giving character will be with us.
What I didn’t expound on yesterday is why this command is so important in fighting anxiety. If you ever struggle with moments or seasons of anxiety, you know how it can cripple you in your obedience to the Lord. Anxiety keeps you inside yourself, trying to answer questions that you can’t answer, seeking to handle hard circumstances by yourself, and trying to get to the bottom of your struggle. Anxiety leads us to keep spinning our wheels while going nowhere. As this is happening, we are dropping the ball on our spiritual privileges and responsibilities – we forget to pray for other people, we neglect those closest to us, and we stop pursuing the Lord in worship.
This is why it is so crucial for Paul to tell us to follow his example. Anxious people need to be reminded of who God is and what Christ has accomplished for us, but we also need to be told to get busy living again – living a life of devotion to our King. The right feelings might not be there at first, but that’s when we repent, ask God’s forgiveness for not desiring Him as we should, ask Him to provide us with those right feelings, and then keep moving forward by His grace.
Yesterday, I ran across this well-balanced quote from J.D. Greear’s book, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.
Last week I admitted to a friend that when I am reading a book which quotes lengthier portions of Scripture, I often skip over the quotations if I think I am familiar with them. Saying it out loud brought home the realization that this practice is foolish.
Yes, I want to know what the author has to say on the subject, but the author of the book I’m reading is fallible, the Scripture he is quoting is not. The words he is using are not inspired by God, but the Scripture he is quoting is (2 Timothy 3:16). While the words the author is writing may be helpful and profound, they are not, however, necessary for my faith in Christ and the practice of that faith before God.
What has been given to Christians so that we will be “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17)? Is it Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, John Piper’s Desiring God, or the latest Gospel-Centered work? As good as they are, it is only Scripture that has that power, so it is Scripture that should be given the priority.
In his book, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, John Piper introduces his readers to an acronym he uses to help him pray for his heart as he prepares to read God’s Word in the morning. IOUS stands for Incline, Open, Unite, and Satisfy.
Incline – Psalm 119:18 – “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Very simply we ask God to take our hearts, which are more inclined to breakfast and the newspaper, and change that inclination. We are asking that God create desires that are not there.
Open – Psalm 119:18 – “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” So many times we read the Bible and see nothing wonderful. Its reading does not produce joy. So what can we do? We can cry to God: “Open the eyes of my heart, O Lord, to see what it says about you as wonderful.”
Unite – Psalm 86:11 – “Unite my heart to fear your name.” Parts of [my heart] are inclined, and parts of it are not. Parts see wonder, and parts say, “That’s not so wonderful.” What I long for is a united heart where all the parts say a joyful Yes! to what God reveals in his Word.
Satisfy – Psalm 90:14 – “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” What I really want from all this engagement with the Word of God and the work of the Spirit in answer to my prayers is for my heart to be satisfied with God and not with the world.
I was never disappointed in my choice to choose Android over iPhone until months ago when Desiring God chose to make their devotional app available only through iTunes. A sickening feeling of inferiority swept over me that day as I shook my fist at the computer screen (not really). But now, alas, Solid Joys, an app of daily devotionals written by John Piper, has been made available on Google Play!
The readings take less than five minutes to get through, but the truth within provides great fodder for meditation throughout the day. All at the tap of a touchscreen.
And here’s the link for the Solid Joys on iTunes also. I love my Apple peeps too!
I’ve been meditating on 2 Corinthians 5:14 over the last week. It reads, For the love of Christ controls us because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore, all have died. If the word “controls” makes you feel uncomfortable at first, you’re not alone. Upon encountering this verse, my sinful heart initially recoiled at it as well. We don’t like to think of ourselves as being controlled. We are quick to voice our freedom in Christ and we bask in the liberties that his death and resurrection have achieved for us. The word “control” makes it sound like faith in Christ transforms us into automaton robots, so our eyes begin darting in every direction looking for a way to get around what we think is being suggested here.
Don’t worry, Paul is not saying that Christ’s love takes an unwilling person and makes him do things he doesn’t want to do. Rather, he is emphasizing the affect that Christ’s love has had on his and Timothy’s motivations and choices. The gospel of Jesus Christ is so overwhelmingly gracious that the realization of the love it communicates produced such a strong desire for holy living in Paul and Timothy that they saw its work as having control over them.
When a person truly understands the glory of the gospel at the heart level it changes that person from the inside out so that they willingly do what pleases the Lord. The same thing takes place in Luke 7 with the prostitute who came into the Pharisee’s house to anoint Jesus’ feet. Jesus tells the Pharisees in this scene, I tell you, her sins, which are many are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little (v. 47). The prostitute got it; she understood the gospel, which is why she worshiped Christ as she did. The radical reality of Jesus’ love did not force her to do something she saw as undesirable, but it did create in her a desire to do that which is ultimately good as if no other option was legitimate.
In those moments when you and I cannot say, like Paul, that Christ’s love controls us, we need to run back to the gospel and drink deeply of its truth while praying that God would help us to see its resplendent beauty in such a way that to do anything else but serve him would be foolish.
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We’ve all experienced those occasions in our lives when our emotional stress level is so high it seems like we can’t focus on anything. Whether it’s at the kitchen table with a stack of bills or in the hospital waiting room pacing back and forth, we’ve been there. And if you’re anything like me, you know the best thing for you in those times is to pull out your Bible and put yourself face to face with God’s truth, but there’s an excuse that pushes that knowledge to the side: “I can’t concentrate on anything else right now; I’m too distracted”.
Listen to these encouraging words from Psalm 119, Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes (v. 23). The psalmist is not going to let anything get in the way of him meditating on God’s word. Certainly I’ve seen hardship and trial, but I’ve never had government officials near the top of the hierarchical structure seek to oppress me personally. I have neglected God’s Word for much less, yet the psalmist, under these circumstances, is committing to think intentionally on God’s word.
My point is that it is possible to focus your mind and heart on the Bible even when your circumstances are leaving your head spinning. We say we’ll meditate on God’s word when things settle down, but we desperately need to be reminded of God’s truth when things are unsettled. Plead with God to help you focus on his truth, if you can, get away from the kitchen table and out of the waiting room for a while, and then open up your Bible and drink deeply.
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