Somebody said something to me ages ago; maybe a year ago. It’s been sitting in my head ever since. The other day, I read this same thing again and had one of those ‘Oh‘ moments. You know, one of those times where my eyes stop in their tracks when I’m reading and I just sit and stare for a bit while the penny drops.
One of my favourite bits of the Bible is the book of Philippians. Upbeat, encouraging, reassuring. All about living as a Christian in a non-Christian world. I like that Paul isn’t very deep or theological in this book, but he knows that the Philippians are finding things hard and he wants to lift them up. Of the book of Philippians, one of my favourite bits is the bit about not worrying. As you are well aware, Lord, this bit could have been written just for me; indeed I think it probably was. You had me in mind when you had Paul write it down.
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
‘Philippians 4: 6-7
I like it. I’m not very good at it, but I think that because of you, I’m better at it than I was. Not as good as I will be – with your help I’m going to crack this, more or less, this side of heaven. Maybe. But that’s not the point.
The point is that I need not be anxious because you are for me. You are looking after me. You know what I need, and you want me to trust you with all my anxieties. You want me to come to you and talk to you. Offload. Communicate. And in exchange for me dumping my worries on you, you’ll give me peace; a peace that the world doesn’t know about, something that we can’t imagine or understand. You will wrap me in this peace and keep me safe.
Sounds like I get the best of that deal. I give you the rubbish, you give me peace. Why don’t I have peace? Because I don’t give you the rubbish. I just cart it round myself, now and again show it to you, maybe even push it your way, but I fail to leave it with you. As a result, I am not particularly peaceful.
So right now, here it is. My bag of anxieties. The stuff you know about. The stuff that’s in my head, worrying me, dragging me down, making me feel heavy of heart and furrowed of brow. You know how all these situations turn out, Father God, don’t you? Sometimes things are in my control and I need you to help me sort them out, but more often than not the stuff that wakes me in the night are things that I have no control over at all. I cannot be responsible for other people’s decisions and how they affect others. I cannot make people do what I want.
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’
So I present my requests to you. I try to be thankful. I am getting better at noticing you in my life – in each day you are there; I get glimpses. I know that you don’t come and go – nipping down to say hello in this morning’s spectacular rainbow and then disappearing off for an appointment elsewhere. I know that you’re there all the time – here right now – I just need the eyes to see. If my eyes are always focused on my problems, my troubles, the sackful of anxiety that I lug around with me, then I miss you so often; I miss you so much.
If I could see you as much in the recycling and cooking and shopping and laundry as I see you in the rainbow and the dew on a spider’s web and the golden sunrise, I might be freer, less anxious. More Saint-Paul-content-whatever-life-throws-at-me. Sorry if that sounded a bit flippant.
|The Lord is near.|
So this is where the stop in my tracks moment came in. Philippians 4:6 is everywhere, isn’t it? Don’t worry. Pray. And God will give you his peace. Good advice. The best. I have it on a bookmark and it’s in my journal and I have it on a little prayer card in my Bible. But you know what I found out about this? It’s always been there but unobservant me missed it.
The verse right before this wonderful passage is:
‘The Lord is near.’
The Lord is near. Then, ‘Don’t be anxious…’
I’ve often wondered how amazing it was to be one of your followers, Lord Jesus. How it seems to me, with the benefit of hindsight and a million explanatory works of literature and a local church and so on, that it must have been so much easier to understand what you said, so much easier to look to you as an example, when you were Right Here. If you were sitting next to me right now I’d have so many questions for you. After you help me up off the floor, and after we’d made a coffee, I would love a long, long chat. And if you’d then come with me all the places I need to go, the phone calls I need to make, the people I need to see, the daily stuff that I have to do – then how much easier would it be? How much more confident I’d be. How empowered would I be if you were right next to me? If every time I falter or start to get anxious you whisper in my ear?
I’m here. Don’t worry.
I’ve always thought I’d love to have been with you for those three years when you did your thing. I like to think I’d have poured my perfume on your feet. I’d like to think I’d have baked a cake for you and sat and listened to what you had to say as well. I’d be Mary and Martha and the woman at the well and the one who touched your cloak and the one who was devoted enough to find your tomb at first light to take care of you, only to find you risen. I’d like to think you’d have had my heart in that way. In reality, I don’t know. It must have been pretty scary back then.
So, suddenly, it struck me. The ‘don’t be anxious about anything’ is one of the hardest battles I fight in my life, and through two people, a year or so apart, you’ve reminded me that you are right here. You’re walking alongside me. You’re there. You’re near. And in that context, don’t be anxious.
‘I’m here. Don’t worry.‘
When my daughters wake in the night with a bad dream and shout for Mummy. I gather them up and I hold them close and I say, ‘It’s alright. I’m here.‘
‘The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything…‘
It’s alright. You’re here.
I want you to be here. I don’t want to be strong. I don’t want to have to make decisions. I don’t want to be brave and independent and all those things. And here you tell me that I don’t have to do any of it by myself. You’re near. And that’s why I shouldn’t worry.
It makes a difference to me. It makes a difference to how I read this incredibly familiar passage. I know that there are other ways of thinking about these two sentences; that ‘The Lord is near’ might be a reminder to the Philippians that they should behave well towards others because you are soon to return, is another interpretation, but I’m not going into all the theology. I don’t know very much. What I do know is that something has changed for me.
If you are here, near, then it’s easier not to be anxious. If you were sitting next to me right now, I’d be in the safest place in the world.
And you are.
The Lord is near.
You’re never far away. The rainbow, the vase of lilies in front of me, the joy of my little girl as she danced down the road this morning with her Winnie-the-Pooh umbrella. You’re in all those things, but you’re in the empty room and the sound of the tumble dryer and the rain on the window as well.
So, thankyou to the two wise ladies that drew my attention to these few words. Thankyou for lighting them up so that I can see, even when my eyes are half closed.
Thankyou for the rain and the sun and the rainbows. Thankyou for coffee and words from friends, even friends-across-the-sea that I’ve never met, but who reach out with wisdom that you use so powerfully. Thankyou for a handful of Bibles and the freedom to read them, where St Paul and the Philippians were being persecuted for living as Christians and so many still are, today.
Most of all, thankyou for being right here, right now.
Let’s swap, as you suggest. Here’s my worry. No, really, here it is.
Can I have the peace now?