“Are you someone who looks at a cup half empty, or half full?”
I remember when this question was first asked to me. I have to be honest I had no idea how to answer it. I never looked at the cup half empty or half full, it was always just half to me. I was clearly overthinking the question. But I’ve come to realize what they were asking me was how do I look at a situation? Do I focus on the negative or the positive of any given circumstance?
If you watch the news regularly, you’ll notice that the majority of our news networks focus on the negatives that plague our nation… our world. Ratings seem to indicate more people like to hear about a negative story than a positive one. Culturally, we rarely find something positive and emphasize it, instead we live in an often critical, pessimistic, jaded, and cynical society. But here’s the problem. When we focus on the negative, when we worry… we’re stepping away from and even shielding ourselves from the presence of God. A negative focus creates a prison in your mind that taints every gift, every experience, every blessing, and every relationship that God gives.
Worrying not only takes a mental toll on you, but a physical one as well. It affects your appetite, sleep, job performance, and even causes anxiety. Yet many of us continue to regularly subject ourselves, and at times are encouraged, to worry; and when we do, it often causes things that are out of our control, to control us. Sunni-Muslim Theologian Said-i Nursi was quoted saying, “Worry is itself an illness, since worry is an accusation against divine wisdom and a criticism of divine mercy.” I think what Nursi was saying was very similar to what Paul said in his letter to the Philippians.
Paul who is in prison, is writing this love-letter to the church in Philippi. This was a church that Paul founded and he personally knew the people in the community. He frequently tells them that he loves them and longs to be with them however his mission is elsewhere during the time. What is strikingly odd and somewhat contradictory to how our culture operates now, is how optimistic Paul is… he always appears to see the cup half full. In Philippians 4:4, Paul tells his dear friends to “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” . Now for us on the outside looking in, of course we can agree with this—Rejoice! Yes! God’s got it!! But when we’re in the midst of something that seems unbearable, it’s a lot harder to put your circumstances aside, not worry and focus on the love of God.
“Paul, I am sick… I lost my job… my family has abandoned me, and you want me to rejoice!?! WHAT????” Now before you say, “He doesn’t know what I’m going through!” let’s rewind a bit, so we can fully understand the context. Paul is in a Roman prison—not for stealing, not for injuring someone, not for a DUI—but for preaching that Christ is Lord. That Christ is the true king, not Caesar—a “crime” punishable by death! He is facing a life sentence in the harsh environment, being confined and placed in a jail cell, but yet he says not to worry but rejoice. Not only is he asking us to rejoice, but to “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”(Phil 4:6-7) He ends his plea with “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4: 8-9)
There is a cultural value in self, which leads to worry because we don’t have all the answers. We’re naturally curious beings, we want to know everything. That’s why google became such an important commodity in our lives. But the bible says we are to walk by faith, not by Siri (or sight). So Paul’s answer to this, worrying, is prayer. He essentially says - don’t worry about me, but pray for me... don’t worry about you, but pray for you… and don’t worry about the mission, buy pray for the mission. And Paul, being a former Pharisee, was an expert on God’s word. So I’m sure he had Psalms 55:22 in mind, where it says to “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you”. Martin Luther also sums this up simply by saying, “Pray… and let God worry”.
You may consider past circumstances, religious background, family, and friends to be a burden and may allow them to attack your peace, but Paul says to turn it over to God, and rejoice! By us worrying we’re telling God that He is not the one in control, we are. Don’t look at verse Phil 4:6 as an alternative of ‘do not be worried, but rather pray’, but look at it as a command with an explanation of how to do it, which is, ‘do not worry BY praying’.
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.