Removing Obstructions to Unity with God and Each Other

Knowing God, for me, has not been a constant experience.  I have not always been close to God.  I have not always felt the presence of God in the same way every day.  When I was very young I remember getting excited every year because summer camp was coming.  At summer camp the singing was vibrant, the preaching was passionate, and the fellowship was twenty-four hours.  We would come back from the Cornish countryside expectant of all that God would do.  We felt like we knew him. However, school, home-life, and even our churches would wear that experience away and we’d be left with the hope that next summer would come around sooner rather than later and we’d revisit the same spiritual highs.

I was a passionate person and wanted to know God in an intimate way.  I thought that it would come through serving God.  In high school I worked hard to get a lot of my friends saved.  I went to work for God as a missionary.  I wrote poetry to God (and girls), too. The poems would be honest and transparent.  They would show an authentic struggle with God and with making sense of who I was. This pattern of passionate flux in my relationship with God continued well into my twenties.  In my mid to late twenties I was a missionary in Murree, Pakistan.  Murree is a hill station in the foothills of the Himalayas.  It is a resort town for many Pakistanis, and I was blessed to teach there, within sight of some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.  I was also very lonely and isolated.  I wrote a lot of poetry and journaled frequently.  After a particularly hard break up with a girl I really started to pour my heart out on paper, and journaling affected my ability to do my job.  When my principal called me in and expressed her concerns I became really frightened that I would lose my job, so I made a decision.  I would shut off my emotions because they were trouble.  I would deal with the situation moving forward by only allowing my mind inform me.  Negative emotions were trouble, I didn’t know how to process them, so I took a hatchet to them.  What I realise now is that in doing so I also took a hatchet to a key aspect of experiencing God.

In the years that followed, I went to Moody Graduate School, met and married an attractive Moody professor, and obtained a job that I loved.  But our thirties became hard.  My wife and I realized that we were not going to have biological children.  My father died when he was only 56.  My in-laws came to live with us and they also died three years later.  We had a series of failed adoptions.  One pregnant teen seemed to turn us down because we had no pets.  One birthmother took our money and fled to Wisconsin.  Another birthmother changed her mind as we were headed to the hospital.  When we did adopt, neither process was simple.  My wife was angry at God and depressed.  I put up walls.  I remained Stoic.  It was the strong way to be – so I thought.  However, when you stuff your negative emotions they don’t go anywhere.  Denial just turns a blind eye to the reality deep within.  These unresolved feelings affect your relationships with others.  They detach you from reality:  there literally seems to be a film or a screen between you and the outside world.  And what is most important is that although I knew a lot about God, my experience of God – a wholehearted knowledge of God – was fading to nothing.  As Simon and Garfunkel once sang, “I can’t touch what I feel.”

My personal plight was leading to more conflict in my marriage. As my wife would power up in her anger, I would power down.  I would withdraw.  It became a pattern.  She thought she was trying to save the relationship with her actions.  I thought I was saving it through mine.  I also knew I had less patience at work and at church, but each time I came home I would feel my spirits drop.

Everything came to a head one day as the faculty of Moody, of which I was now a part, was lining up for Convocation.  We were all dressed in our academic regalia ready to march in and start the year by sitting in front of the student body on a large stage.  Dark thoughts of self-doubt came into my mind and I had overwhelming feelings seemingly coming up from nowhere.  I felt like an imposter.  I felt like I wanted to run back to my office and curl up in a ball under my desk.  When I shared my experience with the head of the Pre-Counseling major she told me that I ought to go and talk with someone.  Talk to some-one???  She might as well have told me to go and fetch a straightjacket from in the closet and go and find my padded cell!  I didn’t want to do that.  It would be admitting that I was a failure.  ‘Talking to people’ is what people who were really screwed up did.  I wanted to believe that I was fine. That I was adequate.  That I had small needs that were quite manageable by myself.  I see now that God was working.  He wanted to heal me.  He wanted to deal with all the wrong choices that I had made that had shut him out.  He wanted me to deal with conflict.  He wanted me to deal with my negative emotions.  What I know now is that in dealing with these things I would really begin to know our God in a different way.

In these times of dealing with conflict and dealing with my emotions I turned to the Bible in increasing measure. There are many passages that deal with estranged relationships, alienation from self and God. The Bible tells us about the fall of Adam and Eve early in the narrative.  Their shame leads to blame and discord.  They are alienated from God and each other. Israel, as a nation, has times of obedience that lead to joy, but the dark days of exile and the wounds of warfare contrast with God’s blessing.  In the New Testament the Christian experience is not all a bed of roses.  Jesus is deserted at the hour of his death and, in Gethsemane, he writhes on the ground in anguish. However, one familiar passage drew me back more frequently than others.  It was a passage which taught me ways to know God. In this Knowing Our God men’s conference, I want us to look at this passage together.  In so doing I think we will find answers to the question, “How do we attain peace and unity with God and his people?” The passage we will look at together is Philippians 4:2-9.

Before we dive in, though, a little about the context.  The setting of the passage is toward the end of a letter to the church at Philippi where he has been desiring that they would find unity and peace.  He calls the church to focus on Jesus and remember his humility.  He has given the church many reasons to get over themselves and then in chapter 4 verses 2 and 3 he writes:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

The first way that we develop peace and unity with God and his people often involves dealing with unresolved conflict.  Harmony often resides on the other side of conflict.

This short section gives a number of insights into how to address conflict in the church. In dealing with internal, intrapersonal conflict, as well as external, interpersonal conflict I think we can apply the same insights.

First we deal with the conflict by getting specific with conflict.  Although, from the beginning of the letter, Paul has alluded to conflict in the church, in these verses he names Euodia and Syntyche.  Ironically their names might mean ‘pleasant fragrance’ and ‘pleasant acquaintance,’ but now the two of them are anything but pleasant.  We do not know the nature of the conflict they are perpetuating.  However, we do know that conflict often happens when two people believe they are right and both believe there is too much at stake just to let the issue go. This conflict must be disrupting the whole church.  Maybe people are forming Team Euodia and Team Syntyche on both sides of the issue.  However, their personal squabble is public. We know this because Paul calls them out in a general letter to the whole body of believers in Philippi.  Paul does not want to allow the situation to fester.  So, rather than hint at what might be a problem, he names the two main people involved so there can be no ambiguity.

The way Paul uses ‘entreat’ twice tells us something else.  Our second point in dealing with conflict that we learn from Paul, is that he tries to deal with each person fairly.  He repeats his entreaty to each person because he emphasizes both party’s role in the conflict.  Euodia and Syntyche both have something to own here and Paul is fair.

A third point in dealing with conflict is that Paul is passionately involved.  The conflict should not be.  It stands in the way of harmony with God and within the church.  The use of the word ‘entreat’ or ‘plead’, plus the ‘yes’ at the beginning  of his request to his loyal companion, show that Paul comes to this situation with passion.  It is not a passionate anger, but the passion of genuine concern for everyone involved.

Fourthly, Paul deals with the conflict by mobilizing his associates on behalf of those involved in the conflict.  He wishes his trusted friend, the one he refers to as a ‘true companion’ or ‘loyal yokefellow,’ to get involved in the situation.  This loyal yokefellow is someone who has walked by Paul’s side and with whom he has shared the experience of ministry.  There are those who have proved their wisdom in counseling and Paul wants them to gather round and help.  These people will not throw fuel on the fire or delight in discord, they will assist in the reestablishment of peace and unity.  Dealing with conflict, then becomes a team effort where those with ministry skills step up and get their hands dirty.

Fifthly, Paul deals with the conflict by showing his compassion for Euodia and Syntyche.  He remembers their service with him.  In Philippi service is no easy task.  Because of the salvation of a slave girl, Paul had been imprisoned and beaten.  Roman influence was strong in Philippi, and so those who chose the way of Jesus were probably shunned or worse.  Although Euodia and Syntyche can’t agree on a particular issue, these women have a history of virtue that Paul remembers and wants to bring to mind.  Maybe in remembering how once the whole church had rallied to be on the same side, they would find some peace to help them work through conflict.

Finally, and most importantly, in Philippians Paul wants to bring the focus on Jesus.  He says that in dealing with the conflict they should be of one mind ‘in the Lord’.  When conflict arises people frequently act with their own interests in mind.  Faith flies out the window.  Paul alludes to this in earlier chapters.  However, when we take the focus off of ourselves and refocus on Jesus, we see our conflicts in a different light.  We belong to Jesus, so it should be natural for us to think with the mind of Christ.  When people lose themselves in Him, they often lose their need to fight.  He has provided all that we need for today.  Also, Jesus is of one mind, that is he does not have multiple perspectives in conflict with one-another.  If we focus on Jesus, we become united when we see his perspective.  As Euodia and Syntyche look to Jesus they will see more clearly what Jesus’ point of view on the issue is.

How can Paul’s exhortion of Euodia and Syntyche be an exhortation for us?  Bob attended a church for years.  During the week Bob works hard as a laborer.  His job involves a lot of heavy lifting.  For the body to take a heavy pounding day after day, year after year will cause a person to cry out to God.  Bob, like many in his position, wanted God to give him a new job, he wanted God to rescue him.  Was that really too much to ask?  He got angry at God because life was so hard, but he was also an influential member of the church.  His unresolved anger would accompany him to church each week.  So if anyone crossed Bob he got deeply triggered.  His anger would rise to the surface and he would attack.  Friends and elders wanted a conversation to happen and they confronted Bob about his behavior.  Bob perceived the desire for conversation as an attack.  Ultimately Bob chose to leave because he didn’t believe that the church was a safe place for him or his family.  However, after he left, the church found a new peace.  The church had finally stepped in and addressed the effects of Bob’s anger.  They named the problem.  They called in others to assist in resolving it.  They spoke kindly to Bob.  The result was not ideal, but it was a resolution and the church was then much healthier.

At this retreat it is time for us to take stock.  Are we alienated from God or our neighbor because there is unresolved conflict?  Are we avoiding dealing with internal struggles that are not named and brought into the light?  Is there a struggle in our home or in our church that is obvious to everyone but we are trying to ignore?

When we think about the conflict in our life, how deep does it go?  We can assess interpersonal problems by assessing their intensity and their longevity.  If this is a harmful situation that has become intensely painful to someone, it is important to step in and provide help.  Ask for help if the pain is your own.  Offer help, like a loyal yokefellow, if the pain is between others.  However, intense conflict needs to be addressed.  Chronic conflict needs addressing too.  Sometimes we ignore a person’s anger or cynicism because it doesn’t seem too intense, but it drags on and on.  This leads to the person with the issue, or those around them becoming less and less effective.  These chronic issues, like in my own story, are the ones that often block us from knowing our God.  They estrange us from our maker and others by inches.  When we finally wake up we can feel we have drifted miles into isolation.

So, the first part of today’s passage establishes peace and unity with God and his people by dealing with conflict.  Now we will read verses 4-7 of Philippians 4 to find another way the passage helps us establish peace and unity.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

There are four commands from Paul in this section:  We are to express joy, we are to be reasonable, we are to release anxiety, and we are to pray passionately to God.  In this paragraph there is a lot of emotion present.  Paul links a number of ideas without using conjunctions or any connecting words.  We call that asyndeton.  Paul uses asyndeton to make each of his points pop. So we can say that peace and unity with God and others occurs when we deal with our emotionsHarmony results when we work through our emotions in God-designated ways. 

The first marker of emotional health is a life of rejoicing in the Lord.  The Fruit of the Spirit includes joy.  It should be a distinct trait of Christians under pressure.  My joy has a tendency to rise and fall in relation to whether I have chocolate and leisure time. In fact sometimes when I have come across this passage, Paul sounds like an annoying Pollyanna.   I feel like I want to just tell him to be quiet and go away.  But that is not a good stance to take with the word of God.  It is a bit of a slap across the face to think that Paul wrote this passage when he was in prison awaiting a potential death sentence.  In the light of that he sees that, in the Lord, everything will be alright.  Even if he dies, because he belongs to Jesus, he will be with Jesus which is the best thing he can possibly imagine.  So, even death loses its sting.  Paul can command joy because his life has meaning and purpose which can never be taken away.  He can never be removed from the love of God. So it is a marker of how well we know God if our life is marked with joy in spite of the circumstances.  Many of us now would say, “That is what I want, but how do I get there?”  It is hard for me to deal with the life I have been given.  I am sure that in the face of persecution many Philippians would agree with you.  We should be grateful, then, that Paul does not give us this command in isolation.

The second marker of emotional health in the paragraph is gentleness.  It is another aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, but it is more than a spineless acquiescence to everyone else’s demands or opinions.  Put most simply it is the ability not to freak out under pressure.  The Philippians knew pressure in their day.  A complete meltdown or temper tantrum would not be God’s desire for them.  Rational reasonable response requires a certain disposition.  That disposition is called gentleness.  Perhaps the best example is that of Jesus before his accusers.  Although he is beaten and bloodied he is in complete control of his faculties.  He responds to Pilate with an intelligence that troubles the most powerful man in Palestine.  We can have that grace under pressure too.  How do we live a life of joy and gentleness?

The aid that Paul gives to maintaining the emotional well-being that he has offered in this section so far is to be mindful of the fact that the Lord is near.  This can mean that the Lord will return soon and it can mean that Jesus is close to us as we go through our daily lives.  Although Paul could mean either, we know that the Bible teaches both as being true.  Because Jesus is close at hand, his return is nearer today than it was yesterday, we can live with an expectancy.  Whatever negative things we have to endure now will be wiped away by Jesus’ return.  Whatever struggles we endure in order to overcome sin or hard circumstances, Jesus’ return will eliminate.  ‘The end of the world is nigh,’ was a message people would walk around the streets proclaiming.  We now seem to put the idea out of our minds.  However, it may not be tomorrow that Jesus returns, but it could be.  We can live with the constant excitement of ‘maybe today is the day!’  The other way of thinking about ‘the Lord is near’ provides a sense of comfort.  I am never truly isolated.  For someone like Paul in jail, he does not need to fear that he will be totally deserted. Jesus has always been with him maintaining his joy and giving him reasonable and gentle responses to the cruelty he has received.  When we know that Jesus is always with us we have the strength to develop a more solid emotional base.

A third marker of emotional health is when we address our anxieties.  Negative emotions can feel like a flood which drowns us at times.  Depression, burn-out, and anxiety can sink believers.  The Philippians had many reasons to be anxious.  The church in Philippi would not be loved by the majority.  They would find it hard to get a fair hearing in the marketplace of ideas.  The anxieties that we feel may be hard to identify, but they need to be acknowledged.  You cannot follow Paul’s command to release anxiety if you deny that it is there.  Anxiety is a fear-based emotion that looks to the future.  It is synonymous with worry.  Men often find it hard to name an emotion, but it is there none the less.  It can develop a lot of physical symptoms like muscle pain and tightness.  It can accelerate the body in ways that lead to sleep deprivation and other issues.  Anxiety wrecks lives and causes us to feel fearful of those around us and even of God.  We believe that we will not be okay, that we will not get what we need, that somehow our past will torpedo our future.  How do we follow Paul’s command to be anxious for nothing?

A fourth marker of emotional health that is connected to the third is a constant prayer life.  A man is to acknowledge the way he feels and then take the objects of worry and cast them on God – again and again and again – with passion.  There is a pleading element in the original languages that is somewhat lost in translation.  Rainy has summed up Paul’s sentiment well when he writes, “To be anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything.”  This prayer, though, should not be totally consumed by our worries and our fears.  While those emotions throw us into the act of prayer, we need to remember to cultivate gratitude.  Gratitude is key to emotional well-being.  Jim Wilhoit has said that developing a discipline of gratitude has been shown to deal with depression more effectively than drugs and therapy combined.  Gratitude acknowledges that I am not able to take care of everything that I need.  There is some force or power, namely God, who is greater than me.  When I realise that I have received so many things through grace and not through my own striving I become thankful.  I become grateful.  The humble posture of gratitude, of feeling cared for, feels really good.  As we know God as our provider and sustainer we develop an increased awareness of his presence.

A final marker of emotional health is a sense of inner peace.  This peace is rooted, not in the Greek language which Paul uses, it is rooted in the Jewish culture that permeates Paul’s training.  He is thinking of shalom.  Shalom is a wholeness which is translated as peace but means more than the absence of conflict.  It is harmony with God coupled with the knowledge that he is in control.  Everything in the world is the way that it is meant to be.  With that deep assurance that ‘it is well in my soul’ comes an inner strength.  Paul uses language which likens that strength to a garrison in a city.  When the city is attacked the garrison would mobilize, man the walls and repel the attack.  When a godly man is attacked by anxiety, persecution, or dark thoughts the assurance that he is known by God and he knows him brings an inner peace that repels that attack.

Many times in a semester young men will come into my office and start to pour out all of their problems that they are facing.  A student will sit down and tell me that they were unable to hand in a paper.  Another student will tell me that they feel neglected by their roommate.  Another student will say that the brothers on his floor seem judgmental and that they make him feel like he is just not good enough.  Beyond the presenting conflict is often an inner turmoil.  Beyond the anger on the surface is a fear or anxiety.  Many times the young man in my office is actually not facing the fact that they fear the accusations made against them are true.  They go on the attack against their brother floor and against Moody, but really the issue is their own self-loathing and anxieties about who they are and whether they fit in.  These people also feel far from God.  They feel like they don’t know him anymore.  They even feel abandoned.  With these students I will come back to Philippians 4.  At the start of our conversations they find commands to rejoice and be gentle or reasonable beyond them.  But then we come to the part on anxiety and prayer.  We develop skills to recognize how we are feeling and then to bring those feelings in honest prayer to God.  As they release more and more of their negative emotions to God his peace rises like a new dawn in their hearts.  They feel like they know him again and they rejoice and become reasonable.  This process has repeated many times in my office.  I know it well because it is the path I must travel each day.  I am real with God and he fills me with his Spirit in response and I rejoice.  I become reasonable and am thankful.

How about you?  How are you doing?  I don’t mean right now in the middle of a spiritual retreat.  I mean how were you last Wednesday at 3 p.m.?  Were you rejoicing, reasonable, grateful and at peace?  How can you increase those things?  Talk to someone about your tight shoulders, your angry outbursts, and your headaches.  Tell people what you fear will happen in the future.  These are times of scarcity.  People are working longer hours for the same or less pay.  Jobs are outsourced.  Companies are still downsizing.  These are times of conflict.  America is divided politically and both sides don’t know how to talk to each other.  We are still in a war on terror.  These are times of darkness.  People are wandering away from the church.  The Bible is gathering dust on the shelf.  As we see these things we may think it is reasonable to react with despondency, anxiety, and anger.  However, God wants us to know him and talk with him.  He wants to take away those negative feelings and give us a joy that comes from knowing he is near.

The first reading of today’s passage reminded us that peace with God and his people often lies on the other side of conflict.  The second section taught us that peace with God and his people develops when we deal with our emotions.  Our final section will teach us where to focus our minds to find peace with God and our fellow man.  Let’s read verse 8 and 9 together:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

The ‘finally’ in the reading is probably not the best translation.  Paul has already said ‘finally’ in chapter 3.  The word ‘finally’ might better be translated ‘furthermore’.  So what does Paul want to teach us ‘furthermore?’  Peace and unity with God comes when we focus on his grace and live accordingly.  Harmony results from positive living which results when we see how God is still at work in his world.

Paul uses polysyndeton to list similar words with a rhythm that causes them to mass together in a near-overwhelming flood.  All the whatevers are joined together to create a wealth of things that the Philippians can think about.  They would be tempted to wallow in their oppressed circumstances but instead Paul lifts up their head and bids them look at what God is still doing in the world, even in the lives of pagans or in nature.  Underpinning this list is the doctrine of common grace.  God causes his sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous alike.  God has created people in his image, and even those estranged from God still reflect his goodness in some ways.  The Bible is the reliable revelation of God’s eternal attributes, but God’s creation, says Paul in Romans, also shows much of the nature of God.

So, with so much to focus on around them, where does Paul suggest the Philippians focus their attention?  He starts with avoiding falsehood and lies by focusing on what is true.  What has been shown to be true over time?  We are not to waste our time on things that misrepresent reality.  We should focus on things that are really valid.

Next Paul uses language that points us in the direction of the majestic.  When he writes that our attentions should be on whatever is honourable, the language is that used to talk about high and lofty things like the temple, the law, and the Sabbath.  These were often the focus of Jewish conversation because they were objects and practices that were given by God in his holy law.

Paul then takes a more legal tack.  He refers to the just.  These are things that are righteous; Things that keep to the right side of the law.  When something is just it has moral authority.  In the Roman era there were things that people knew were the right thing to do.  There were common laws held throughout the empire, and so Roman decree often upheld what Judeo-Christian belief would require of its adherents.

Paul also asks the Philippians to think about what is pure.  Sexual purity would not be far from the recipients’ minds because there was such a proliferation of sexual impurity.  Those things which are free from smut or vulgarity or corruption are worthy of reflection.  A pure stream reflects something of God, an unpolluted sky reflects his nature, too.  However, a person who kept themselves from the sexual temptations of life is the example Paul may have had in mind.

The term ‘lovely’ reflects an uncommon virtue which is not listed among virtues outside of Scripture.  It means pleasing or agreeable, but the more helpful definition is ‘that which inspires love.’  After reflecting on an action or object, is a man more loving toward God and his neighbor?  If the answer is “yes,” then we might say that thing is ‘lovely.’

‘Commendable’ means of good reputation, winsome or appealing.  The Philippians were to think of those things that would win others to Christ.  Things that drew in the attention in a wholesome way.

‘Excellence’ refers to excellence of character.  Does a person excel at some skill? God has given the person that skill.  Does anyone have a particularly excellent mind?  That is worthy of reflection because it is a gift from God.  However, what is most important is that a person is virtuous.  It is all very well having a good mind and good skills, but what is the underlying character of the person?  Do they have virtue?  C.S. Lewis names seven virtues to be going on with.  These are prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, and charity.  You can read more about them in Mere Christianity.

The last category Paul gives is praiseworthy.  This is a general catchall and transitions us to his general example.  He holds himself up as a practical example because he embodies these things.  This is not a conceited self-made boast.  Paul is boasting about all that God has done in him.  Earlier in the letter he has already run down all of his own attempts at greatness.  He counts them all as manure compared to knowing Jesus.  This list in chapter 4 consists of positive traits that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit grown in Paul.

If you refocus your mind away from those things which cause worry and anxiety and see how God is working in the world, you will be more mindful of God.  To see the world from God’s perspective means that you have no need to worry.  The God of peace will be with you.  Remember, peace is more than the absence of conflict.  It is the world as God defines it.

Where we focus our minds shapes our development.  I have two friends who illustrate the positive and the negatives of this principle.  One is a friend called Nigel who has been dealt a difficult hand.  He was bullied by many people as he went through school.  Because of his troubles he believes that he is isolated and that belief has led him in embracing more isolation.   Alone in his room he would click on a dubious screen to see how others look naked.  Just out of curiosity.  His curiosity led him to darker places and after a while of looking at people having sex he wanted to experience it too.  He paid money for a prostitute a few times but it never lived up to the billing.  In his quest for more satisfaction he has been to some places I never even knew existed until he told me about them.  Places I wouldn’t want to describe because they are so base.  Where Nigel fixed his attention and justified his focus led him down a path.  It was a path that leads to little satisfaction and I would say that Nigel has very little joy.  He believes he is content, but each time we talk I see clearly that he is not.  The focus of his mind means he will never be satisfied.

In contrast to Nigel is Ken.  Ken is often talking about what God is doing.  He wants to understand how God might work in the culture so he reads books like Os Guinness’s Fools Talk. He will read Dallas Willard to challenge his understanding of Spiritual growth.  Ken frequently repeats stories of people doing good things and he often describes how he wants to reach local teens for the gospel.  Ken’s mind is always active, but his thoughts are centered around what is good.  When I am with him I sense a more consistent joy and contentment.  Ken is ‘in the Lord’ and although Nigel once went forward in a church for an altar call, the focus of his mind has led him far, far away from knowing God.

When I was a child I would sing, “Be careful little eyes what you see …” Where do your thoughts take you? We shouldn’t think of this as a mean-spirited God who wants to take away all of our pleasures.  God is a loving God of peace.  He wants to lead us into his presence.  However, many of us lose our focus so easily.  I would suggest talking with friends about where your focus is.  If God is the one you want to know more than any other, is that reflected in the way that your home or your day is set up?

Remember in Deuteronomy 6 people were encouraged to put God’s word on their doorposts.  This reflects the desire to have God’s truth central to the home.  I start my day with worship music.  I want my day to be aligned with God and I know that if I start with music that is not focused on him I very easily forget him.  I have designated my car as a place of prayer and so I use the hour-and-a-half commute to talk with God.  Then, if my day starts this way, it is easier to see all of God’s good gifts throughout the day.  The sunshine or the snow is a gift.  The good decisions that people make in my workplace cause me to praise God.  God’s common grace is still reflected in his world.  How can you switch on your mind to look past the worries of the future, beyond the elections, the warfare and the stresses and to see the God who is peace and to know him?

After I had talked with my colleague who told me to talk to someone, I decided that I would follow her advice.  This took me on a long journey.  I was shocked by how much emotion I had buried deep within me.  Once I uncorked the bottle there were times that I wished I could pull back. There was no going back.  God led me through the darkness into his great light.  I was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression.  That stung my pride.  However, once I let go of my pride I found freedom from the things that bound me.  When I became more healthy, by the work of God’s Spirit, my relationships became more authentic.  The particular relationship that was healed most deeply was that between my wife and myself.  We became a safer place for each other.

So let us end by reflecting and making resolution.  Take a time to ask yourself these questions and then evaluate whether there is some blockage between you and the God that you want to know.  Is there a barrier between you and other people?

Is there unresolved conflict?

Is there unresolved anxiety, despair or pride?

Is there an unhealthy pattern of thought or an obsession?

Let’s move forward with the God that who calls us to know him and his peace.

Let’s ask him to show us how to resolve the conflict in our life.

Let’s embrace a life of joy and peace.

Let’s focus the mind on the Lord and make plans for it to be our daily practice.

And the God of peace will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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