by Allen V. Harris
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Isn’t it so like us human beings that when this or that doesn’t go the way it always has or the way we had hoped it would, that our minds go into a tailspin? You had your day off planned perfectly (in your mind, at least) from the early morning yoga, to the coffee with a dear friend, to watching a good movie playing at the metroplex at night! Ahhhhh! Then something happens and your day changes dramatically: a friend calls from the hospital, your car needs to be transformed into a taxi for a group of teenagers, a distraught friend drops by unannounced, or the tickle in the back of your throat becomes a full-throttle sore throat. Argh! And, if you are like me, my mind then becomes my worst enemy, and I become obsessed with how things aren’t going my way – sometimes to the point that I jeopardize the rest of the day due to the depression or frustration in which my mind has chosen to dwell.
I’ve experienced the very same thing with congregations and mission. Sometimes we get so caught up in how we have done this or that project or endeavor, as worthy as it may be, that we get thrown off course quickly if something doesn’t go quite our way when planning or implementing the mission. The pancake supper to raise funds for Week Of Compassion seems impossible when the primary pancake-flipper decides to go to a family wedding that weekend. The women’s shelter that has been the focus of your Christmas Angel Tree for decades closes and all the energy and enthusiasm seems to dissipate into thin air. The pastor who was beloved and seemed to be taking your congregation into a bright and shiny future gets called to another church in another Region. Darn it! And then we worry. We worry about funding. We worry about energy. We worry about numbers. We worry about growing older. And our worries get the best of us! Well? In the words of a great Indigo Girls song, “You can stand there and agonize, ‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load.”
The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, gives us solid words of advice about how to change our mind’s obsessive focus on the negative with a few helpful suggestions: “Rejoice!” Gratitude is the greatest antidote to negative thinking. “Let your gentleness be made know.” Honest vulnerability, especially with those we know and trust and love, can transform hardened hearts. “Let your requests be made known to God.” Pray. Pray. Pray. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Choosing to focus on the best life has to offer allows us to more fully receive the peace of God, which bypasses all human understanding.
When we as individuals or our congregations begin to fixate on how our perfect plans have been thrown into a tizzy or on how we cannot do what we’ve “always done before,” let us turn to Philippians 4 and remember that a refocusing of our minds might just refocus our hearts, and therefore our mission. If we allow it, becoming a taxi to a bundle of teenagers might just be a ride overflowing with joy and laughter. If we are open to God’s Spirit leading us, the loss of one mission focus might allow us to connect with new and more pressing needs in our community. If we allow it, gratitude, vulnerability, prayer, and pondering that which is good might just change our lives.
- This week, restart that gratitude journal you began a few years ago. Share honestly with a friend your frustrations about life. Pray one more time than you usually do. Meditate on Philippians 4:8.
Prayer: “O God, when life doesn’t go the way I had hoped and my anxieties and frustrations take over my mind, help me find a way to stop, refocus, and try a new path that I might continue to follow Jesus to where I am most needed in the world. Amen.”