Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Lord is near

Afternoon, God.

Did you know, one of my favourite bits of the Bible is the book of Philippians. Upbeat, encouraging, reassuring, even though Paul was languishing in prison when he wrote it. How amazing is that?

The other day I was moseying through Philippians and I had one of those moments where the penny dropped. One of those moments that must make the angels giggle where I stop in my tracks and stare into space for a while until the new idea finds a place to live in my head.

It's 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 Paul knows that the Philippians are finding things hard and he wants to lift them up. 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 getting better and better. Maybe. But that's not the point. 

The point is that I need not be anxious because you are for me.  On my side. 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, if necessary. 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.

Would people describe me as a peaceful sort of person? Me, with my chewed fingers and frown lines?

I'm thinking no.  But I'd like to be a peaceful person. I'd like people to see the way I live, not weighed down with worry even in a recession, even in ill health; peaceful even at those times when life throws messy stuff at me. 

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 appear to be 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.'Philippians 4:6
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.' Philippians 4:5b
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? People wouldn't intimidate me if you were standing by my side all the time. 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 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 have to do this life thing on my own. 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.

Always near. Even then. 
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, 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, no matter where I am or what I'm doing. 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 rain on the window as well. 

Thank you for the rain and the sun and the rainbows. Thankyou for coffee and words from friends that you use so powerfully. Thank you for my Bible and the freedom to read it, where St Paul and the Philippians were being persecuted for living as Christians and so many still are, today.

Most of all, thank you for being right here, right now. 

Let's swap, as you suggest. Here's my worry. No, really, here it is

The peace of the Lord.






Edited and reposted from last year.


10 comments:

  1. Just loved this post - beautiful. And especially enjoyed the toilet roll ;-)

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    1. Well - God is in the ordinary. :-) Thanks Ruth.

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  2. One of my favorite songs is Kari Jobe's "I Know that You are For Me." It speaks to this very word. Lovely, lovely post.

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    1. Thanks, Ginger. I'm having a bit of trouble with this at the moment. I'll look up the song you mention.

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  3. It sometimes is amazing what "hoarders" we are when it comes to spiritual junk. We want to keep the junk around just in case... So it piles up, it stinks, and it becomes such a stench in our life and others too, we just ignore the mess.
    I love the lyrics to an old gospel quartet song by the Blackwood Bros.; Learning to Lean. The verse goes something like this:
    Sad broken heart ed at an altar I knelt, I found peace that was so serene. And all that He asks for is a child-like trust, and a HEART that is learning to lean.
    It is a LEARNING PROCESS as we walk out our faith. What a great job you have done to convey that message. Mel Thompson

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    1. 'Learning to lean'... I love that. Thanks, Mel. I lean every which way but the only One who will keep me upright is God. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  4. Helen, This is perfect. I too have never looked above this worry passage - glad to say the penny is dropping across the ocean too! Thank you for this huge insite.

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    1. Thank you, Ben. Pennies from heaven?! Sorry...

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  5. I have had 3 conversations this week about whether or not worry and fear are sins. Haven't come to a conclusion yet but they're certainly not things we should be doing too much of! And why should we when we have a God who will take them from us??

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  6. This is a great reminder, Helen. God's peace surrounds us like a soft, billowy cloud. The world clamors at our door, but God's peace is there because He is near. I think of Isaiah 26:3 where He says He will keep us in perfect peace as we keep our minds on Him. Wonderful promise. Great reminder. Love to you, Amy

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