This year has been a trying one for me, mostly because I was more unhappy at work than I have ever been. Men find meaning and fulfillment in work (sometimes to unhealthy and unbiblical extents), and no longer being able to find it in what I was doing was a strike at the core of my identity. Because of this I was contemplating a new career, something that is stressful enough when you’re 19, but is even more so at 29, with a wife and son to support, and a 1/2 finished master’s program that would be wasted with the change. That combined with busyness of family life and ministry at church left me in a constant state of worry, agitation and stress.
One of the Scripture passages that I’ve always used to help me during such times is Philippians 4:6-7:
do not be anxious 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.
I can still remember sitting outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow repeating those verses over and over in my head while my wife (then, fiancee) was being interviewed for a visa to come to the United States. And again in the DHS offices in Newark as we waited for her citizenship test and interview. Or a few weeks ago in Louisiana as we awaited news on our son, who had been taken to the hospital in New Jersey.
A few months ago, rather than just reciting it in my head, I went back to look at the context of the passage. When I read Philippians 4 this time, I saw something I never noticed before (or at least something I didn’t remember ever noticing before). I knew verse 4 and verses 6-7 pretty well, but I had somehow always skipped over verse 5. And as I read, the beginning of Philippians 4:5 suddenly felt amazingly profound. Paul writes simply,
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
In his commentary on Philippians, the reformer John Calvin says that the word translated here as “reasonableness”
is a term that is made use of by the Greeks themselves to denote moderation of spirit—when we are not easily moved by injuries, when we are not easily annoyed by adversity, but retain equanimity of temper. In accordance with this, Cicero makes use of the following expression,—“My mind is tranquil, which takes everything in good part.” Such equanimity—which is as it were the mother of patience—he requires here on the part of the Philippians, and, indeed, such as will manifest itself to all, according as occasion will require, by producing its proper effects.
Before Paul tells the Philippians not to be anxious, he tells them to be patient. Patient with people; patient with circumstances. So often, my gut reaction is to think, “Woe is me!” My problems, trials, and struggles seem so much worse in my own mind, even though they aren’t any different than what many people go through. I am not characterized by “reasonableness” but by hyperbolical self-pity, impatience, and aggravation.
In his book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chan puts it this way:
When I am consumed by my problems–stressed out about my life, my family, and my job–I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice. In other words, that I have a “right” to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities.
Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.
Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control.
Basically, these two behaviors communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance.
In the second half of Philippians 4:5, Paul gives the reason why we should be known for our reasonableness:
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand
There is no need to be constantly stressed, snapping at everyone around me, worried about every little detail, offense, and trial because very soon those things won’t matter any more. Jesus could come back at any time, or he could take me home at any time. How foolish will I feel when confronted with the fact that I spent more time in worry, self-pity, and aggravation over the temporary hardships of this life instead of focusing on blessings to come when I am in the presence of Jesus? It’s as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Keeping my mind on the eternal helps me to remain reasonable when faced with life’s trials because my focus is on Jesus rather than myself. And by remaining even-tempered and reasonable, it becomes easier to not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let my requests be made known to God so that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.