There are times when it seems as though all the bad news in the world comes scrolling across my screen. Tragedies both natural and instigated by man seem to pile on top of one another until it is overwhelming. When a particular story or issue strikes a chord, my heart aches, and I want to do something about it. But situations are too big and attitudes too entrenched for one woman to make that much of difference, which can lead to discouragement and even cynicism. I've been feeling this as of late, which is why my pastor's sermon on Philippians 4 was very timely.
Given human nature and the state of the world, joy isn't my normal default nor is it something I easily slide into. Joy in the Lord needs to be pursued intentionally, and one way is described in verse 8.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Phil. 4:8 (KJV)This is more than avoiding the bad like an ostrich that sticks its head in the sand in denial. I've tried that, not literally, but I could only keep but so much at bay. This involves actively seeking the good, which is also more than the power of positive thinking.
If anyone was a realist, the Apostle Paul was. He had no illusions about his circumstances. He was in prison. He fully expected to die a martyr's death. He was deeply concerned that the believers in Asia minor would remain steadfast in the face of increasing persecution. But even in his incarcerated state, which would have been horrific by today's standards, Paul found true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and good things to think upon. And God has given His people these joy-producing things to think on today.
Just consider these verses in Philippians (NASB):
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 1:6
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 1:12-14
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 2:9-11
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. 3:20-21
Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 4:6-7
These are words of assurance and hope that are worth clinging to when the world seems so dark. And these are only a few verses from just one book. How much more in the whole counsel of God!
While it is vital for me to "think on these things" as an individual, the benefit is multiplied in community. For example, my small group met and discussed the sermon on joy. One young sister, more than 40 years younger than me, shared how this sermon seemed tailor-made for the challenges she has been facing in a new school. But this circumstance has also driven her to pray, seek out other believers, and look for gospel opportunities. I think everyone in the room was moved by her testimony, and we left that evening praising God because we could share "these things" together.
There are still times when I get stirred up and need to deliberately step away from the endless media stream of what is wrong with the world. Yesterday in fact. But stepping away doesn't mean I stop caring. Rather it gives me the opportunity to actively seek the good as I take my burdens and prayers to the One who is perfectly just, righteous, and compassionate. The One who holds the world together and governs its events. And the One who is coming again.
"if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."