This summer we’ve continued to meet for Bible studies on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons. On Fridays we’ve been meeting in downtown Mount Vernon by the Skagit River. There we’ve run into many people we know from the jail, the homeless community and beyond.
Yesterday afternoon about ten of us sat around a picnic table there and read Philippians 4:4-7, which begins with: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all people. The Lord is near.”
We talk about what it means to rejoice– being glad, and joyful, noting that it also says “in the Lord.” We then discuss what we could rejoice in the Lord always about.
People mention answers to prayer and other things for which we are thankful. Noticing God’s action in our lives certainly gives us reasons for joy. It is easy to forget to deliberately acknowledge the good. We all recognize our tendency to focus on negative things: what worries us, angers us, or causes us to be anxious or afraid. We are bombarded by bad news, and there are very disturbing and threatening things happening in our community, nation and larger world.
“Sometimes it’s quite difficult to come up with things we’re thankful for in our personal lives and in the world– like when we’re going through especially hard times and everything seems to be going wrong,” I say, and everyone seems able to relate. “What else has God done that we can be glad about, in addition to whatever we can think of in personal lives and families?” I ask.
So we came up with this list.
- God shows such love by sending Jesus to save us the world.
- God destroyed death itself through Jesus’ death on the cross, and his resurrection and offer to us of eternal life.
- God sent the Holy Spirit, who comforts, fills, strengthens, and guides us.
- God’s powerful Word in the Bible teaches, encourages and guides us.
- Jesus seeks after the lost sheep until he finds them.
- Jesus launches and recruits us all into his Kingdom of God movement, to bring the beautiful Gospel everywhere.
- That we are here now, thanks to the saints that have gone before us, thousands of years of years since this movement’s been underway.
- For the Kingdom of God that is drawing close, and for the new heaven and new earth that God is creating, where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).
- The Lord is described as being “near,” not far away!
What examples can you think of?
As we speak out these truths joy is visible on people’s faces. We then continue to read the following verses.
“Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
We talk about how counter intuitive it is to “be anxious for nothing,” which seems almost irresponsible and certainly difficult to practice. But rejoicing in the Lord always for God’s saving actions, makes it more possible. We agree that we need to be reminded by verses like these to engage in these actions of rejoicing, not being anxious and asking, since our natural way is to do the opposite- to be anxious about many things. But these verses are not counseling us to be in denial of reality, or just having a positive mindset.
Prayer and supplication (a fancy word for a precise request) are deliberate actions. When we pray and make our requests known to God, we humbly put our needs out there, believing and expecting concrete help. The result is that “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I ask people whether they feel more attacked on the level of their hearts or their minds when they’re tempted to relapse. At first people say it’s their thoughts that get them all agitated and plotting to use. But this leads to a deeper discussion about emotional pain from past wounds, and shame, guilt and fear that people feel they can’t bear, tempting them to seek relief through drugs or alcohol.
“Imagine the peace of God as being far beyond the biggest pit bull guard dog, since it can effectively guard our hearts and minds,” I say, surprised by my unorthodox contextualized example.
People laugh and we wrap up our time with Sarah, a Native woman who lives on the nearby Swinomish reservation, praying a beautiful prayer for us all to step into practicing the counsel in these beautiful verses, so we can experience God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds.
Please remember to pray for our Tierra Nueva community as we continue to gather for Bible studies in numerous places, and for our Sunday worship service. Remember to try out our Tierra Nueva farm coffee, which you can order here.
Check out my weekly podcast, “Disciple: Word, Spirit, Justice, Mission,” accessed below.