How do you get peace in a really bad situation? You may be in the fight of your life financially and about to lose your home. It may be that you've been diagnosed with lung cancer as my father-in-law was. It may be that your marriage is falling apart. You fill in the blank. We're either headed into a crisis, in the midst of one, or coming out of one. Now, coming out of one is great. We can see what God was up to in part, and we get a measure of peace from that. But how can we get peace if we're headed into or in the midst of a crisis? God tells us how to do just that in Phil. 4:4-9.
The first thing you have to do is focus on God instead of your situation. That's easier said than done, but that's what Paul means when he says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice" (v. 4). He's not saying that we're happy about what we're going through; he's not even saying to rejoice in our difficulties. He's saying rejoice in the Lord, and that's something altogether different.
Biblical joy is the knowledge that God is in control of your circumstances and allows only that which is good for you into your life (Rom. 8:28). That's why James says to consider it joy when a trial comes your way (Jas. 1:2). It's not that the trial brings joy; it's what God is doing for us through the trial; His good work is coming into our lives. Because we know that, we consider the trial joy; we rest in the Lord. In essence, we worship Him. That's what Job did when he lost his possessions and his family; he said, "Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).
The morning my father died was sad; not only were we very close, but it pained me to see my mother suffer as well. At the same time, we knew that God was involved in every detail and was doing a good thing in our lives through our hurt. As we focused on that, we were able to worship, find joy, and tell others about the goodness of God and the good times we had with my dad. A couple of deacons from the church arrived within an hour of his passing. As they came into the room, we were laughing about some story as we'd been reminiscing, and one of them made the comment, "Somehow I knew there would be joy in this house today." Again, it's not that we were happy about my father's death. But we forced ourselves to focus on God and in so doing we found joy.
But that's only the beginning; we can't stop there because Satan and the flesh have a way of coming back to bite us. From our focus on God, we have to literally engage in serving others. Paul says, "Let your gentleness be known to all men; the Lord is at hand" (v. 5). As you rejoice in God, that should move you to then focus on others. Let your gentleness, kindness, patience, and heart be known to others. How can you do that? Paul says the Lord is at hand; God is near and will help you.
And it's not just that God wants you to serve others in the midst of your trouble. It's that He knows our weakness. Our tendency will be to focus on ourselves and spiral down into despair. But if we focus on others, we'll be distracted and not have time to spiral down. More than that, we'll derive a certain joy in serving others before the Lord.
The morning my father died, a man's car broke down in front of our house. He was taking his daughter to school, and the car just quit on him. I saw him, went out to help, and gave them a lift to school so the little girl wouldn't be late. The man and I came back to check on the car. While we were doing that, I remember looking over as the funeral home folks were carrying my father out of the house and thinking, "That's just like the Lord to be kind enough to get my focus on someone else. Thank you Lord."
Now, that's well and good. But what happens when we're alone or when it's time to go to bed? We have to give our trouble to God through prayer. I remember tossing and turning one night as my mom was to have open heart surgery the next day. I couldn't get any peace. I did remember God's Word though: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (v. 6). Well, that's what I was doing; I was praying over and over again but I still couldn't get any peace or sleep! And then I realized; I was praying like the pagans do (Matt. 6:7-8). I was worried if I didn't say just the right thing, mention every possible problem, or pray with just the right attitude, that God wouldn't hear my prayers. When I realized what I was doing, I simply gave it to the Lord. That's why He says to pray; He means for us to tell Him what's burdening our hearts and give it to Him so we can rest. He gives us permission (and commands us even) to stop thinking about our problems and let Him deal with them. When we do that, He gives us the peace. When I did that, I went right to sleep. If we pray and leave our burden with God, "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (v. 7). God's peace, like a Roman soldier, will guard our hearts and minds so that no troubling thing plagues us.
It doesn't work! That's what we say when we're filled with worry, fear, or despair. The truth is we can't take any one of these things without the other. Each of the things we're talking about forms a whole. God is telling us what to do in the midst of a troubling state of affairs. He's telling us to focus on Him and others; to think about Him, to pray to Him, and to think about Him again. It's not enough to pray. Once we pray, Paul says we're to force ourselves to think about the things of God and not what's bothering us. It's not easy; that's why it's called a battle. But the way we fight is to change what we're thinking about.
You might say certain thoughts plague you because you're in a longterm dilemma that seems never ending. Yes, but you don't have to dwell on the difficulties. Reorient the focus of your thoughts. Paul says, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things" (v. 8).
Take it one step further. The more you meditate on the things of God, as Paul says, the more you'll know God and His ways. You'll know that He is indeed working these things for good in your life. You know that "the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11).
But there's one more thing. You've moved your focus from your troubles to God and others. Paul says now to make sure you keep doing that. Keep doing the things God has told you to do. "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you" (v. 9). If you do what God is teaching you to do, you'll have peace. And don't overlook the nuance of what Paul says here. Earlier, he said that the peace of God will guard your heart. That's true; that's what we want. But here he says the God of peace will be with you. That's even better! You get peace because you have the God of peace walking with you through the fire.
Jesus was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, and He'll be with you in your fiery furnace as well (Dan. 3:25). They were at peace even though they didn't know whether God would actually keep them alive or not (Dan. 3:17-18). All they knew was that God was with them and would see them through one way or the other. And that's what you need to realize; God is with you and will see you through one way or the other. And that's not resignation or defeatist. That's confidence. God has a plan for you and it's good. You walk with Him because He's walking with you. That's how you get peace in a really bad situation.
Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at www.trueworldview.com.