One Month. 32 days. 750 hours. 45,000 minutes. 2.7 million minutes. That’s how long it has been since my world has turned completely upside down. March 10th, 2020 will forever be a day I remember. Just 24 hours after the governor called a state of emergency for Ohio, we found out that the campus was closing, at least temporarily. Spring break trips had been cancelled, classes had been declared remote through April 13th, and all group sizes over 150 were not permitted to meet.
Obviously, A LOT has changed over the course of ONE MONTH. I have been trying to wrap my brain around it all, but if I’m being honest, there are so many moving pieces happening every single day that I have realized it is impossible to do so. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, PBS, and every person I follow on all social media platforms, I am keeping well informed of all of the new precautions and guidelines being made from the statehouse every day at 2 o’clock in the afternoon (#WineWithDewine).
However, outside of what we can do to play our part, there is an overwhelming world of things we are dealing with. Mental health, spiritual disciplines, learning to gather together virtually, physical health, family relations, friendships from a distance, self-control, patience, the list goes on! I have been trying to get a grip on all of it, but I have come to realize that it will never happen, and that is okay!
One of my favorite parts of my new routine has been Tuesday afternoon with my huddle girls. Huddles are same gender discipleship groups that exist within the small groups we have at H2O Church on campus at University of Cincinnati. Over this past week, myself and the ladies who join me, sat in Philippians chapter 4 (meaning, we took time to read over it every day, at least once, over the course of one week).
Paul is writing this letter from prison. Not the most ideal location to be writing, let alone to be having these specific thoughts that form from him in this particular chapter. I will start in verse 4:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
There is so much that I love within this section. First, he says “Rejoice ALWAYS.” Again, Paul is writing this from prison, and, just in case you missed it the first time, he even reiterates his point by commanding “I will say it again: REJOICE!” Over the last few weeks, I have felt like Paul is calling me out personally when he repeats himself. I love that he is really hitting at this point. Rejoicing is not something that should be a response to other things, but rather, rejoicing should be our first thought and an act of obedience.
We see the call to rejoice all throughout scripture.
“Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:11)
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” (1 Peter 1: 8)
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9)
“Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; Let those who love Your salvation say continually, “The LORD be magnified!” ( Psalm 40:16)
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
The list could go on! I love David’s heart towards this in the Psalms. In a very unfiltered decree, he constantly asks the Lord to fill his heart with gladness. He openly admits that he lacks and is almost wailing and weeping over the battle of his flesh.
“Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.”
– Psalm 90:13-16
This transitions into the next part of this passage in Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” David does a good job of presenting his requests to the Lord. We see that all over the Psalms as he is being pursued by his enemies and his pleas and cries to the Lord.
I love the example of this found in Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.[c]
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
David is not afraid to express that he feels far from the Lord and by doing so he casts his anxieties on Him. He quickly responds after stating his anxieties “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One” and later “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.” You can see the peace of God transcend on him as he lays out his burdens before the Lord. The peace comes from recognizing that the Lord is still holy and sovereign despite David feeling let down.
As we move on to verse 8 in Philippians Chapter 4, we see Paul command us to work specifically on our thought life. David gives us an example of a transformed thought life in Psalm 77:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
You can see David move from sorrow and believing lies, and then turning to truth and remembering the works of the Lord. Paul ends this section by saying, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
How can we put the things we have received from Paul, and really all of scripture, into practice right now? Focus in a little bit, because there are a LOT of things we could put into practice from scripture, but what is it you are struggling with RIGHT NOW? What is consuming your thought life? What has most of your attention? What is it that is weighing down your heart or distracting you from the ways of thinking listed in Philippians 4:8?
A simple solution to all of this? Well, I will not say it is easy, but I think Paul sums up his letter to the Philippians with a very simple, yet difficult truth:
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
“I have learned to be content in whatever the circumstances.” Think about this: The man is writing this FROM JAIL. I think, with everything going on right now, some of us might have felt like we are “in jail”, being confined to our homes. We have felt deprived and restrained. Yet, are we really, actually, in need? On a personal level, most of us, even though the economy is plummeting and groceries are more difficult to buy, are actually doing okay. We think we have it bad because our world looks so different these days and the luxuries we once had are not at our disposal. But, are we really in need?
I get that some of us are in difficult financial and house situations. I myself was temporarily laid off from my job which brings in 60-70% of my monthly income. I am really only making enough right now to pay my monthly bills, but outside of that I have nothing coming in. Praise the LORD for Ohio Unemployment doing what they can and Zach’s parents for housing and feeding us for almost a month now. I have been not only thankful for the help that has stepped up for me, but to those in more significant need than myself.
However, though all of this, I am meditating on Paul’s words. He knew both plenty AND need. Yet, he was content in all circumstances. If we had it all taken away, everything we owned, everyone we loved, maybe even put in jail like Paul, would Christ still be enough for us? Would we be content with just that?
I do not know if I could confidently answer those questions with a “yes” every day. If we read until the end though it says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I believe this is referencing “being content in all circumstances, through the strength of Christ.” So yes, in a way it is saying that we can be content with ONLY Christ THROUGH Christ.
It’s kinda weird to think about, but if we read the Word, it makes sense. He is our SUSTAINER, our PROVIDER, our REWARD, and SO much more. While these days seem strange and honestly never-ending, how can we be using this time of rest to engage with the Lord? How can we go from seeing our deficit to seeing our provision? How can we embrace the trails? How can we rejoice always? How can we think of whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy?
Through Christ who strengthens us.