Today, I want you to know that I give thanks for you. I find myself thinking about you during the day, wondering what you are doing, and how you are managing during this time of adjustments to a new style of living that includes an unsettling outlook about the foreseeable future.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry 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.” (Philippians 4: 6-9)
We have always lived each day with uncertainty about what tomorrow will bring, so this is not new to us. What makes it different is that we have an identifiable threat that is real and that is close. Paul reminds us that the Lord is near, not in some far away distant place, but right here among us. He encourages us to live, trusting in the Lord.
It is said that even though there are stores and restaurants having a hard go of it, home improvement stores continue to have good business as people take advantage of this time to do home projects they have been putting off. Now, the time is here. I like that home projects have a beginning and an end. When the project is completed, I feel a sense of accomplishment. The project, if all goes well, is something I have control over. But, then there are other projects that I can’t do by myself; projects that require an expert in the field. For instance, I wouldn’t try to replace the shingles on my roof by myself. I need professional help. When I have that help, I am relieved, and feel that all will go well. Anxiety averted.
Paul tells the people of Philippi not to be anxious. This call seems to be directed toward anxiety resulting from living in a world hostile to Christianity. The anxiety is directed toward a situation in which they have little control. Anxiety is a human condition, and in situations that we cannot control, we need help beyond ourselves. Paul tells us how to deal with anxiety: Bring all your requests to God in your prayers and petitions.
We don’t need to keep our concerns and anxieties to ourselves. We have a God who is like an understanding parent, a Savior who is like a mother hen protecting her chicks under her wing. We are heard when we pray, and our prayers make a difference. There is no reason to limit our prayers. Pray frequently. Make your life a prayer. Prayer can be at a prepared time throughout the day, such as morning, noon and night. But it can also be a spontaneous conversation, such as what you would have with a good friend or family member. The Holy One is always listening.
Paul also reminds us to give thanks. I know that there are times when I forget to give thanks. I take the goodness in my life for granted. I don’t appreciate what I have received from God. Acknowledging the goodness in our lives and recognizing that goodness lies at least partially outside of ourselves, we become aware of the Creator of all goodness. We become filled with gratitude. When we give thanks, we appreciate what we have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes that it will make us happier. Being thankful helps us refocus on what we have instead of what we lack. And what about anxiety? It’s very probable that your situational anxiety will be diminished as you recognize God’s activity in your life.
So, during these days of social distancing, I encourage you to start a Gratitude Journal. You may recall several years ago as a congregation we individually kept Gratitude Journals as part of our Stewardship Emphasis. Many people commented on the insights that came from this process. This discipline awakened a renewed understanding of God’s love. This was in and of itself a reason to give thanks. It changed their focus to be reoriented to a life of thanksgiving.
God’s love calls us to move beyond fear and anxiety. Prayer and thanksgiving are the path that leads to the peace of God that exceeds all understanding. This peace keeps our hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus in these trying times and forever. Thanks be to God!
Pastor Pam Schroeder