Jesus wants to give us his peace and his confidence. He wants to help us overcome fears, doubts, or painful memories that rob us of our confidence. Paul wrote about God's peace and his desire to strengthen the Philippians because he saw how the Lord had given him divine strength and peace, and he knew that the same could happen for them.
It's quite possible that at one point in his life, Paul did a lot of the work on his strength. But as time went on and as he matured in the Lord, Paul doubtless learned how to rely on and submit to God's grace and his strength. By the time he wrote this letter, he had been a Christian for more than twenty years and an apostle and missionary for more than ten. Surely by now he had learned how to live in God's presence and how to bring God's presence and strength into his daily activities. In this article, we want to try to identify two key practices that helped Paul gain such confidence in the Lord—and that convinced him that everyone could become just as peaceful and strong as he was.
A Life of Prayer. Before anything else, Paul was a man of prayer. He told the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord "always" because he himself learned the value of such an attitude. He told them to present their petitions to God because he himself had experienced God answering his prayers over and over and over again.
Paul knew that when he worshipped and honored God in prayer, the floodgates of grace opened up for him. In a sort of divine exchange, Paul gave God praise and worship, and God exchanged it for peace and confidence. And it was this peace and confidence that helped Paul stand firm and not be overcome by fears or by a troubling situation.
This peace that Paul received is far more than the ability to remain calm. It came from knowing that God was with him. It came from knowing that God saw Paul's predicament and was ready to give him divine strength to endure whatever he would face.
Often, when we correct one area of our life, other areas seem to fall into place as well. This is especially true of prayer. It has a way of affecting just about every other part of how we think and how we act. That's why Paul exhorted the Philippians to pray. He knew that if they took up an attitude of rejoicing in the Lord and presenting their needs to him, they would begin to think differently.
As it was for Paul, so it is for each one of us. If we want to do all things in Christ and in the strength of his Spirit, it begins with prayer.
Guard Your Thoughts. Just as Paul learned how deeply prayer could affect his thoughts and actions, he also learned how his thoughts and actions could have a powerful effect upon his prayer. Clearly, there is a reciprocal relationship between prayer and the way we allow our minds to function. According to Paul, the more we fill our minds with virtuous and holy thoughts, the more we will find God's peace and strength at work within us. The Holy Spirit taught Paul that dwelling on noble and good and pure things filled him with God's presence, just as he taught Paul that prayer could feed and support all that was noble, good, and pure in his daily life.
It was this circle of prayer and a hopeful disposition that enabled Paul to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:12). It was this circle of prayer and a hopeful disposition that strengthened him whenever he was tempted to give up, feel overwhelmed, or lose his confidence.
The best part about the "secret" behind Paul's confidence and peace is that it really isn't much of a secret at all. It's the same method that Peter, John, Andrew, and all the first Christians discovered. It's the same method that has been passed down through the ages through Scripture and the witness of the saints. And it's the same method that is available to us today—a method filled with hope and promise for all of us.
God wants us to know that our life depends on our prayer with Jesus as much as our bodies depend on the air we breathe and the food we eat. So hold your prayer in high regard. Then, after you pray, try your best to guard against any negative thinking, whether about your life or about other people. Try to resist any temptation to become negative, cynical, jealous, disheartened, or anxious. Try instead to fill your mind with good and noble and holy thoughts. Think about how much Jesus loves you. Think about the promise that you can do all things in Christ. Contemplate the beauty of the natural world, and let your heart be lifted up as you do.
As we approach our challenges, the prospects of succeeding or failing, of being content or feeling overwhelmed, can weigh on us. It's in these trying situations that we will see our efforts at prayer and our practice of filling our minds with godly thoughts pay big dividends. It's in these situations that we will see the strength of Christ working in us and empowering us to accomplish tasks that at one point seemed all but impossible.
A Case Study: Tom. Tom Smith, a salesman, tells us how difficult a time he was having at work, as dealing with clients every day made him extremely nervous. Whenever he had an important meeting planned, Tom would spend part of the evening before trying to prepare himself. But no matter how hard he tried to calm down, his stomach would churn over the fear of failing—to the point that he began to need medication to calm his nerves and settle his stomach.
But then, one Sunday, after hearing a simple homily about God's desire to give us divine strength to overcome, Tom began to pray with St. Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Immediately, he felt God's comfort, and each day his sense of confidence and strength grew. Tom isn't completely "nerve free" now, but he is being comforted and strengthened by the Lord. As a result, his fears and stress have diminished to the point where he no longer needs medication.
One day, a few weeks after that homily, Tom was in a particularly demanding sales meeting with a client when he began to feel anxious again. Midway through the meeting, Tom excused himself. Everyone assumed that he needed to use the restroom, but instead Tom quietly went into a nearby office. Alone in the room and nervous as could be, he began to pray, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Just then, one of the clients, himself returning from the restroom, saw Tom alone with his Bible and asked, "Do you mind if I pray with you?" Together, Tom and this other fellow prayed for five minutes, leaving everyone else wondering what had happened.
Tom didn't close the deal that day, but he did experience Jesus giving him peace to overcome his racing mind and his nervous doubts. Plus, he made a new friend in this other client who prayed with him.
I Can Do All Things in Christ. Brothers and sisters, let's all take Paul's philosophy to heart. Every day, let's proclaim that in Christ we have the power to keep the things that please God on our minds—the truths of our faith; ways of acting that are right, honest, and pure; and the promise of God's love and protection—even in the tense and demanding moments. Let's ask God to help us so that our lives give him glory and praise. Most of all, let's ask the Holy Spirit to teach us how to guard our hearts and minds so that we do not get anxious when we face the problems and challenges of life.
When St. Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord and to think about all that is good, true, holy, and pure, he is telling us how to behave. But he is doing something far deeper than that as well. Paul isn't just telling us what to do. He is telling us the kind of person we all should be. God wants us to become a people who find joy in their relationship with Jesus. He wants us to be a people who take his words and put them into practice. He wants us to be a people who are pure and holy and who shine like stars in the universe.
We really can do all things in Christ. We may not be perfect, but with the strength of Jesus, we can walk in this world with his joy, his confidence, and his peace. And nothing will be able to take that away from us.