Part 1 Of The Vibrant Series
Christian author Gary Thomas rarely makes a major decision without diligently seeking God’s will through prayer.
When he and his wife set out to purchase their home, they did just that, concluding that God was not only directing them to make the purchase but creating the opportunity for them to do so.
For five years they enjoyed that house, until the housing market suddenly crashed and they discovered that its value had plummeted. The money that they had sunk into their home was simply… gone.
It didn’t make sense. Why would God direct them to make such an expensive purchase, knowing the financial toll it would take on them a mere five years later?
It was in response to that very question that Gary heard God’s response.
“Perhaps, Gary, the reason I sent you to this house was to place you in a position to minister to this community rather than to bolster your financial equity.”
It is amazing how circumstances change when the viewpoint does. Perspectives are powerful.
Paul the Apostle understood the power our viewpoints hold. In Philippians 4:4-7 he writes to a church in dire need of a new perspective. Here, he offers them three deeply impactful challenges to help them unleash a faith-infused outlook.
Challenge #1: Cling To Joy
It was the pen of a man under intense persecution writing to a body of believers under strained challenge and difficulty that we read “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
For Paul, writing behind prison walls, the opportunities to rejoice remained endless. He found celebration in the men chosen to guard him, for they were compelled to listen to him proclaim the gospel. He found joy in the believers outside the walls to whom he wrote, men and women of God faithfully impacting their world despite the circumstances in which they found themselves.
It is a decision to celebrate, to cling to joy, that we must actively choose to make when our environment makes such joyfulness counter-intuitive. The great irony, however, is that when we choose to cling to joy, we discover increasing reasons to do so.
Joy creates for us a celebratory perspective.
Challenge #2: Offer Grace
It is on the heels of joy that we are admonished towards gentleness, as Paul instructs us to “let your gentleness be known to everyone.” (Philippians 4:5)
“Gentleness,” however, does little justice to the term. The Greek word is epiekes and it has no English equivalent. It construes a range of ideas, gathering together the collective impressions of terms such as kind, yielding, lenient, and forbearing. It conveys the willingness to lay down one’s personal rights in order to display consideration and gentleness to others. It releases the “right” to vindication and expresses a love beyond deserving.
Here, too, the grace we extend becomes a decision in spite of our circumstances. This does not mean that the injustice of our world is allowed to go unchallenged — justice, after all, is central to the unfolding Kingdom of God — but it does mean that we choose to love even the abusers. It is this decision that frees us from the chains of rage, and it is in the extension of love that we come to be filled with love ourselves.
Love creates a perspective of grace.
Challenge #3: Unleash Prayer
While we are empowered to find joy in trying circumstances and freed to extend love to the undeserving, neither of these change the difficulty of our situation. Where we have the ability, we must certainly take action and respond to our world in faithful and productive ways.
Often, however, we come to discover the simple reality that the burdens we face are far too heavy for our tiny shoulders.
Thankfully, it is not our shoulders tasked with these burdens.
Paul leaves us with one final instruction: to set down our worries, and to hand these burdens over to God. (Philippians 4:6) Interestingly, he speaks of prayer with three distinct terms.
- The first is proseuche, translated “prayer,” but which embeds a particular attitude of worship. When we come to God, we come in reverence and awe. We begin by knowing how great and powerful He truly is.
- The second is deesei, translated “supplication,” but which specifically speaks of expressions of need. Filled with reverence and awe, we are free to release our burdens upon Him, confident in His ability to take them on.
- The third is eucharistias, translated “thanksgiving,” which reminds us of the way God has cared for us in the past. It is this trust in His ever-working hand that fuels our faith in His continued work.
In prayer, we release our burdens and step into faith.
Faith cultivates a perspective of trust.
It is in the application of these three means of cultivation that our viewpoint can suddenly, radically shift. It is in this shift that we discover hope; it is in this shift that we receive the promise.
And so, after presenting us with such challenges, Paul offers us the reward:
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7
Because ultimately, this is what a proper perspective does: it provides peace in the midst of uncertain turmoil.