Faith to Feeling: Rejoice

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

How big is the gap between what you say you believe and how you’re feeling emotionally? That’s the question we’re going to tackle this week as we dig through part of Philippians 4.

ftf_350Paul wrote a lot about trusting God all the way into our emotional state of mind. Does it makes sense for someone to say that the God of the universe is also the Father who loves her best – and still feel depressed? angry? anxious? bitter? sad? giddy?

The Bible answers yes to some of those and no to others, depending on the source of the emotion and the depth of our faith. Today’s verse, for instance, is not a command to feel shiny happy all of the time. God doesn’t want us to paste smiles over what we really feel.

It is a command, though, to actively tell ourselves that being in Christ – having God as our Father – is always, always cause for celebration. No matter the ups and downs of our daily lives, exercising our joy response, whether that involves singing and dancing or just quietly remembering that we’re loved and okay in him, is a rational response to being a child of the king with a secure, prosperous, and eternal future.

Think: How would you describe your emotional state of mind today? How does what you believe about your relationship with God through Jesus impact you emotionally? Do you let it change how you feel? Can you stop it from changing how you feel?

Pray: Ask God to help you to rejoice in the Lord always. Then ask him again.

Do: Ask five or so Christians you know how they choose to “rejoice in the Lord always.” What does that mean to them?

Faith to Feeling: Emotions Under Control

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5)

When we read the word gentleness, I think a lot of us imagine fawns and fields of wild flowers and cradling newborns. Are Christians supposed to walk around like timid little rabbits all of the time? No. In fact, we’re called to strength.

ftf_350The idea of this word “gentleness” – which shows up in other versions of the Bible as “reasonableness” or “moderation” – is that we should be strong enough, in fact, to avoid extreme reactions to what’s going on around us. Yesterday, we saw that even the worst circumstances shouldn’t steal away the inner joy of those who know God as Father. Today’s verse says that steadiness should carry over to our outward emotional responses.

In other words, we should be able to build a reputation as people not controlled by our emotions. When we fly off the handle in a rage or melt into a pool of instant self-pity or even lash out at others in fear, disgust, or ignorance, we’re demonstrating a lack of faith in our God.

If he is in control and taking care of us – and if the “near” return of Jesus and the eternity that follows is what we’re living for – we’ll find the strength to control our emotional reactions.

Think: Do you sometimes think of gentleness as weakness? Do you buy the idea that it takes strength – and faith in God – to keep our emotions from taking us over in the heat of the moment? Why or why not?

Pray: Ask God to help you to let your gentleness be evident to all.

Do: Make a quick list of five of the strongest gentle Christians you know.

Faith to Feeling: The Worry Command

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

What? Can you really just tell someone not to worry about anything – not to feel anxious, at all – and expect that they’ll be able to stop it? Just like that?

ftf_350We have to assume that if God tells us not to be anxious about anything that it is actually possible. He doesn’t direct us to do what we can’t do. In fact, he gives us something to do with what’s bothering us instead of worrying about it:

Give it to him. Let him hold it; trust him to handle it. I’m not painting a meaningless word picture here; this is actually what we’re told to do: Ask. Ask again. Thank him for what he has already provided. Give the request for the thing that’s bothering you to God instead of worrying about it.

Too simple? It helps me to think of the thing I’m worried about as a physical object – a ball, a bag of flour, a brick – and I either hold on to it or hand it to him and then take it back and then hand it to him. I can’t trust him with it and be anxious about it in the same moment.

More tomorrow.

Think: Does a command like this not to worry feel unfair to you? Do you agree that it is not possible to trust God and to keep worrying at the same time? How important is it to God that we trust him?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to be anxious about anything, but to ask for his help for everything that bothers you.

Do: Think of something that’s bothering you and practice giving your request to God and not worrying about it for a while. Notice how it feels to really let it go.

Faith to Feeling: With Thanksgiving

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

“With thanksgiving.” In high school, those two words were voted “most likely to be ignored in Philippians 4:6.” (Yes, it was an odd category.)

ftf_350We’re so eager to get rid of our anxiety, to give it to God, to make our request of the ultimate authority, that we often rush right past “with thanksgiving,” one of the essential ingredients in shaking loose of crippling worry.

When we take the time, focus, and mental energy to start really thinking about the good things God has already given us – all the ways he has helped us during high-stress moments in the past – we start to realize again just how good and loving and powerful our Father really is.

I can trust him with the thing I’m worried about because he’s already proved his goodness to me in all the things I have to be grateful for.

Think: Have you ever noticed that making an effort to tell God thanks leads to a sense of peacefulness? How often do you practice thanksgiving when you’re feeling really worried and stressed out?

Pray: Ask God to help you to give your requests to him with thanksgiving as often as it takes to get rid of your worry.

Do: Make a quick list of ten things you can tell God thanks for today. Then tell him.

Faith to Feeling: Beyond Understanding

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ” (Philippians 4:7)

Of all of the promises in the Bible, this one might be the most immediately appealing to me. I want God’s irrational peace standing guard – it’s a military word – over my heart and mind.

ftf_350This is different from God’s promise that we have peace with him through faith in Christ (see Romans 5:1). That means that we are on good terms with him; he’s for us. All Christians are receiving that promise.

This one, though, is conditional. I only get it today if I practice what’s in the verse before it – giving my requests and thanks to God and letting go of my worry. Then comes this peace that doesn’t make any sense because my actual circumstances haven’t really changed.

But it’s a big, bulky well-armed peace – this peace of God – that stands guard over my thoughts and emotions. When I trust him with what matters most to me today, he floods me with the sense that it’s going to be okay. Who wouldn’t want that?

Think: You can’t pay for it, but what do you think the peace of God would be worth if you could? Why do you think sometimes we’d rather worry than have the peace of God?

Pray: Thank God that he gives us his peace when we gratefully trust him with what matters most to us.

Do: Pay attention to your heart and mind today and notice if they are protected by peace or dwelling on worry.

Faith to Feeling: Mind Control

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

For some reason, this verse is often used to talk about impure sexual thoughts and/or R-rated movies and/or violent video games. And that’s fine; it’s just not the point Paul was making, I don’t think.

ftf_350He’s talking about anxiety. Worry. Being stressed out. He’s just told us never to be anxious, but instead to give our requests and thanksgiving to God. The result? A mind-blowing peace that doesn’t even make sense but protects our thoughts and emotions from being controlled by worthless worry.

Now what? Now – with the protection of God’s peace – you can control your thoughts. Be careful not to jump back into the worry zone by jumping right back into worthless thinking. Instead, think about what is true (not what might happen), what is noble (not how bad people can be), what is right (not a sinful approach to fixing your problems) . . .

You get the idea. Once you have God’s peace, think God’s thoughts to avoid falling back into trusting yourself more than you trust him.

Think: Do you feel like you can control your thoughts? Do you have the self-control to tell your brain what to stop or start thinking about? If so, how do you use that power?

Pray: Ask God to help you to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy.

Do: Write these eight descriptors (true, noble, right, etc.) down on a piece of paper and carry it around with you this week as a way of reminding yourself to check your thoughts.

Faith to Feeling: Get Busy

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)

Today’s verse may be the most overlooked one of this whole passage on “faith to feelings.” But Paul’s instructions on how to take control of our emotions – especially our worry – isn’t complete without it.

ftf_350So far: Don’t stay worried. Instead, be intentional about giving your requests and thanksgiving to God. Then God’s peace will come to free your hearts and minds. Use that freedom to think about good things.

Finally: Get out there and do good things. Paul uses his teachings and example to sum up what it means to live as a Christian. Put it into practice, he writes. The final step to controlling your emotions involves taking action. Maintain your peace by getting out of your head and into doing good.

Think: Have you ever noticed that acting on what God’s Word teaches helps you to feel better emotionally? Have you been putting off obeying God or doing something he’s called you to do? What would it take to get out there and do that thing this week?

Pray: Ask God to help you to put into practice what you’ve learned from his Word.

Do: Make a quick list of three things you’ve learned from God’s Word that you could do today or this week.