Stephen Caswell © 2004
Abiding, Not Striving or Struggling
Missionary pioneer J. Hudson Taylor of China was working and worrying so frantically that his health was about to break. Just when his friends feared he was near a breakdown, Taylor received a letter from fellow missionary John McCarthy that told of a discovery McCarthy had made from John 15 — the joy of abiding in Christ. McCarthy’s letter said in part: Abiding, not striving or struggling; looking off unto Him; trusting Him for present power … this is not new, and yet ’tis new to me.… Christ literally all seems to me now the power, the only power for service; the only ground for unchanging joy.
As Hudson Taylor read this letter at his mission station in Chin-kiang on Saturday, September 4, 1869, his own eyes were opened. As I read, he recalled, I saw it all. I looked to Jesus, and when I saw, oh how the joy flowed! Writing to his sister in England, he said: As to work, mine was never so plentiful, so responsible, or so difficult; but the weight and strain are all gone. The last month or more has been perhaps the happiest of my life, and I long to tell you a little of what the Lord has done for my soul.…
When the agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before. McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure, but saw the light before I did, wrote (I quote from memory): But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith but by resting on the Faithful One. As I read, I saw it all!.. As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured into my soul!
What is worry? The words to be anxious μεριμνάω means to care for or be concerned about. It literally means to be pulled in different directions. Our hopes pull us in one direction whilst our fears pull us in the opposite direction; and we are pulled apart. The Old English root from which we get our word worry means to strangle In fact worry has definite physical consequences: headaches, neck pains, ulcers, even back pains. Worry affects our thinking, our digestion, and even our coordination. How do you overcome worry? In Philippians 4:6a: Paul commands believers to be anxious for nothing. Very wisely, Paul gives us specific details how to replace our worry with peace. He shares 3 things needed to gain God's peace; Right Praying, Right Thinking, Right Living.
Firstly Right Praying
Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
Prayer His Real Business
William Carey was once reproached for spending so much time in prayer that he neglected his business. He replied that supplication, thanksgiving, and intercession were much more important in his life than laying up treasures on earth. Prayer is my real business! he said. Cobbling shoes is a sideline; it just helps me pay expenses.
Paul's command not to be anxious is coupled with the command to make our needs known γνωρίζω to God. However Paul is far too wise to say just pray about it. He uses 3 specific words regarding how to pray. Our prayers should include Praise, Petition and Supplication.
The word prayer προσευχή carries the idea of oratory praise or worship. This is where we lift up our voice to God in adoration, worship and devotion. We exalt the Lord for Who He is. This is very important. Often we rush to God's throne and present a long list of needs and concerns. When praise is what is needed most. Praise and adoration help us to see the greatness of our God. We then recognize that He is more than able to meet our needs. We see our problems in the light of a great and wonderful God who loves us and wants to help us.
The word supplication δέησις means petition or request. It is an earnest sharing of our needs and problems. 1 Peter 5:7 says this: Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. God is concerned for our needs and encourages us to bring them before Him. The Lord's Prayer emphasises this. Yet remember that the Lord’s prayer starts praising God. ie Hallowed and glory.
The third type of prayer Paul mentions is thanksgiving εὐχαριστία. This is where we thank the Lord for answered prayers. Christians are quick to ask God for help yet so often they forget to thank Him for His help. Jesus healed ten lepers yet only one came back to give thanks. Without thanksgiving Christians become very ungrateful and selfish. But when we thank God for His faithfulness we are blessed too. We remember how God has helped us in the past. This helps us to realize that He will help us again now. We have confidence to ask even greater things by faith.
Philippians 4:7: and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
After we commit all our concerns to God He will give us His peace. Paul says that the peace of God will guard our hearts [wrong feelings] and minds [wrong thinking]. But this promise requires us to hand over all our worries to God. Matthew 6:31, 33: Therefore do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Seek God’s kingdom first each day, pray that He will use you and He will provide your daily needs.
Hudson Taylor prayed about the big things and the little things, it made no difference to Him. Paul says we need right praying in our lives. We start by praising God then offer up our needs to Him with thanksgiving. Then we will know God's peace, which surpasses all understanding. It goes over the top like an overfilled glass.
But many people complain that they are too busy to pray. D.L. Moody said, If you have so much business to attend to that you have no time to pray, depend upon it, you have more business on hand than God ever intended you to have. Isaiah 26:3: You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. When we give our worries to God and trust Him, He gives us His perfect peace.
God wants us to pray at home alone and with our families. He wants us to pray in small groups with other believers. He wants us to pray at Church in united prayer. Praying with other believer helps us to pray unselfishly. This is why Christ promised to grant petitions to two or three who agree in prayer. Will God bless our lives if we don’t ask Him to? Isaiah 40:31: But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
The China Inland Mission had been going through some deep trials. Many missionaries had been killed whilst others had suffered greatly. At Mission Headquarters a special prayer meeting had been called to pray for the workers of the mission. After the meeting was over Hudson Taylor left the room singing the hymn, Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus. A new recruit from England approached Hudson Taylor and asked, How can you sing at a time like this? Don't you care that many of our brethren have died and others are suffering? Hudson Taylor said to the young man, Would you have me to be anxious over this matter? I have handed it over to the Lord. Worrying about it won't help anyone! In everything Hudson Taylor trusted God and gave thanks.
Do you become anxious or worried when trials come? or do you pray first? When you pray do you take time to praise God and glorify Him or do you rush into your requests immediately? Do you remember to thank God for answered prayers? How important is prayer to you? What impact does it have on your life and those around you? How important was prayer to your parents? What impact did it have on their lives and the life of the Church? Has the prayer life of the Church increased or diminished over the years? How many attended prayer and Bible study in the past? What about now? Will you come to the half night of prayer?
Secondly Right Thinking
Phil 4:8: Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.
Paul commands us to meditate on good things in verse 8. The word meditate λογίζομαι means to take inventory of, estimate, think on, reason or reckon. It refers to what our minds dwell on. After all the way we think greatly affects our lives. Solomon said this in Proverbs 23:7: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. Thoughts are real and powerful, even though they cannot be weighed or measured. Therefore we need to be careful what we think about.
Wind up thy heart towards heaven in the beginning of the day, and it will go the better all the day after. He that loses his heart in the morning in the world, will hardly find it again all the day. O! Christians, let God have your morning meditations.—Thomas Watson
The impressions of the morning are the deepest. Beginning the day with the Word of God, we begin on a high level. We begin with strength for the day’s work, and power against the day’s temptations.—Wilber Smith
Make it the first daily business to understand some part of the Bible clearly, and then the rest of the day to obey it. - John Ruskin Paul gives us a list of the things we should meditate on.
a. True - Satan is the great deceiver. He wants to bind people up with lies. That is why we need to evaluate our thoughts to make sure that they are true. Lies bind people. Jesus said that you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. We need to examine what is true.
Time for a Reality Check
In Scared to Life, Douglas Rumford cites a study that explains why we shouldn't allow fear to rule our lives:
-- 60% of our fears are totally unfounded;
-- 20% are already behind us;
-- 10% are so petty they don't make any difference;
-- 5% of the remaining 10% are real, but we can't do anything about them.
-- 5% are real fears that we can do something about.
b. Honest & Just. - This refers to things that are worthy of respect or right. Many things are not respectable and Christians should not think about these. It doesn't mean that we bury our heads in the sand and avoid what is displeasing. It means that we choose not to focus our thoughts on such things. We don't dwell on them since they don't build us up.
c. Pure, Lovely & Good Report - Purity refers to moral purity. Temptations to sexual impurity abound today more than ever. We need to guard our minds from these. Lovely means beautiful or attractive. Something that is good to look at and wholesome. Of good report means something worth talking about. Something that is appealing. A kind deed is worth contemplating.
d. Virtue & Praiseworthy - Something that has virtue will motivate us to do better. People who have integrity are worth talking about. Things that are praiseworthy we should commend to others. All of these things are excellent, of the highest standard.
To meditate on good things we must read our Bibles. Christian books and biographies can also nourish our minds. Christian music is another way to think on the word. These things lift us out of the mire of the world. Joshua 1:8: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Psalm 19:7-9 says: The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. Christians should major on high and noble thoughts, not the base thoughts of society.
Every year Television Stations see how much further they can lower the standards of morality and decency. I would suggest that very little of what is shown on TV would pass the standard of Philippians 4:8. Yet to our downfall most Christians spend more time watching TV and videos than they do reading the Bible or in prayer. If moral impurity comes into our home through TV or videos will this strengthen our Christian life? Is it any wonder that our minds are messed up?
Solomon said that as a man thinks in his heart so he is. Our thought life eventually determines our character. How much of what you think about is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, praiseworthy, virtuous and of good report? How much time do you spend reading God's word or Christian books? Do you listen to Christian music? Will you guard your mind? Will you evaluate your thought life with Philippians 4:8? What has priority in your thought life? What gets the most time? God’s Word or the world’s entertainment?
Thirdly Right Living
Phil 4:9a: The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do,
a. Reproduces Godly Teaching
Right praying and thinking are very important, but so is right living. The word do πράσσω means to practice, execute or keep something. Paul in effect was commanding them to reproduce his teaching and lifestyle. Because Paul practiced what he preached, he could say follow my example. There was no contradiction between the two. All Christians must apply God’s Word in their lives. Ezra 7:10 says: For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.
Prayer and Bible Study (meditation) should result in transformed lives. Otherwise we are only kidding ourselves. Our belief must affect our behavior. James 1:22-25: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. Right praying and thinking inevitably leads to right living.
Society moves at a frantic pace. We have instant coffee, one minute noodles, 1 hour photos, etc. But, Christian character can’t be rushed. Spiritual growth requires time alone with God. Prayer and Bible Study are essential to right living. It’s no use complaining that we are too busy.
Carry The Fragrance Of Christ
Dr. Charles Weigle, was once preaching at a Bible conference in Pasadena, California. He spent one afternoon visiting some of the famous rose gardens in that city. When he returned to the Bible conference later that day, a number of people inquired as to how he had enjoyed the lovely gardens. Mystified by their knowledge of his leisure time, he inquired as to how they knew where he had been. The response was, You have brought the fragrance of the flowers with you. So, too, can our lives bring the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ every where we go. This is true if we spend time with Christ each day.
The Promise Philippians 4:9b: and the God of peace will be with you. When Christians reproduce God's word in their lives the Lord blesses them. He gives us the joy of walking with us. The Bible says that Noah and Enoch walked with God. If we disobey God's word and live in sin can we really expect God to be near us? The peace of God is a good test of whether we are walking in God's will or not. When we are out of God's will He withdraws His peace.
b. Rejoices In God's Provision
Philippians 4:10: But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.
Paul rejoiced that God provided His needs through the Philippians. That’s a good perspective. Paul praised the Philippians for their gift, yet recognized that God had prompted them to give it. After all everything belongs to God anyway. So Paul rejoiced that God was taking care of him.
1. Content In Christ's Supply
4:11: Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
Paul said that he had learned to be content in all kinds of circumstances. The word learned μανθάνω means to learn by experience. Paul didn’t gain this contentment the moment he was saved. He learned it by going through hard trials and proving God's grace. The word content αὐτάρκης means to be contained, to be self sufficient. In the Greek culture it described someone who didn't depend upon substitutes like alcohol or drugs to get through trials. But the Christian is not self sufficient; His sufficiency is in Christ. Paul had learned to draw on his spiritual resources in Jesus Christ. Therefore he was content whether he had much or little. Jesus Christ would give him the grace he needed in either case.
Psalm 23:1 In Sunday School
After a Sunday-school lesson one week, a little girl was heard quoting Psalm 23:1, a familiar Bible verse that many children have memorized. Although the child did not quote it quite right, she had the right idea when she said, The Lord is my shepherd; I’ve got all I want. The truth we adults so often fail to remember is that God does provide all our needs, and we are to be content with his provision.
2. Confident In Christ's Strength
Philippians 4:12-13: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Paul's sufficiency lay in the vast resources of Jesus Christ. He was also confident that God would strengthen him for ministry. The words can do ἰσχύω describe the power of sufficiency, to be able. Whilst the word strengthens ἐνδυναμόω means to invigorate to put forth energy. Put together the Christian is able to do all things because of the strength that Christ empowers him with. Our sufficiency is in Christ.
Philippians 4:13 Amplified Bible: I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency.
Illustration From Nature
All of nature depends upon hidden resources. The great trees send their roots down deep into the earth to draw up water and minerals. Rivers have their sources in the snowcapped mountains. The most important part of a tree is the part you cannot see, the root system, and the most important part of a Christian is the part only God sees. Unless we draw on the deep resources of God by faith, we fail against the pressures of life. Paul depended on the power of Christ at work in His life. His motto was I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. But how do we draw on this strength? We abide in Christ and commit each day to Him.
As we saw earlier, Hudson Taylor struggled in his Christian life for many years. Then a letter from a friend opened his eyes to the adequacy of Christ. It is not by trusting my own faithfulness, but by looking to the Faithful One! This was a turning point in his life. Moment by moment, he drew on the power of Christ for every responsibility of the day, and Christ's power carried him through. We must do this too.
Do you hear the word of God and gladly receive it? Are you practicing it? The doers of the Word are blessed not the forgetful hearers. Do you rejoice in God's provision? Will you trust Him to meet your needs? Are you content in Christ's sufficiency? Can you do all things in Christ’s strength? Every believer can be sufficient in Jesus Christ!
Today we have seen Paul's cure for worry. Right Praying, Right Thinking & Right Living. Will you set the right priorities in your life? Will you seek Christ’s kingdom first and let Him provide for your needs?