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|27th June, 1999|
This is an age of anxiety. So many people are troubled, disturbed, feeling guilty and cannot find peace and rest. What they cannot understand is that through spiritual breathing they can find rest, forgiveness and peace. A healthy spiritual life depends upon what I have called spiritual breathing. Regular prayer builds a strong spiritual life. It starts when a person breathes in wonder and awareness of God. It continues as we hold our breath in adoration and quiet infilling of God's spirit. Then we exhale in confession, supplication and thanksgiving. That relaxes us, because we breathe out toxins that have been poisoning our spirit, we are telling God about all that troubles us and we are left with a feeling of thanksgiving and relief.
As a result, rest comes to our spirit, due to a sense of forgiveness and peace. Forgiveness is assured because of our prayers of confession. The Bible promises that "if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 Rest comes because of the assurance by the Lord Jesus of our forgiveness and acceptance by God. John 5:24-25 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." We have heard His Word and believed in God who sent Jesus into the world, therefore we will not be condemned but already possess eternal life. That is the promise of Jesus. We can now rest and enjoy His peace.
Nothing answers the need of the anxious hour than a discipline, regular prayer life. Spiritual breathing puts life into our spirits. The Apostle Paul understood. He lived constantly facing violence, anxiety, privation and the threat of death. But his inner poise and serenity were obvious to everyone. Many wanted the secret of his inner calm. He gave that secret to the troubled church in the Macedonian city of Philippi. PHIL 4:4-9.
1. LEARN TO REJOICE.
v4 "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Believers are to "rejoice in the Lord always" and to "again, rejoice." The double emphasis on rejoicing may imply that a single injunction might prompt the question "How can we rejoice, in view of our difficulties?" So he repeats the command, because in all the vicissitudes of the Christian life the believer could have inner peace and rest, whether in attacks from enemies of the true faith, personality clashes among believers, persecution from the world, or threat of imminent death - all of which Paul himself was experiencing at this very time - Christians are to maintain a spirit of joy in the Lord. Christians are not immune to sorrow nor insensitive to the troubles of others.
Yet Christians count the will of God their highest joy and so know inner peace and joy in every circumstance. Christians who live with deep, inner joy have an internal strength that nothing can overcome and nothing destroy. Peace fills their lives.
2. LEARN TO BE GENTLE.
v5 "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." Believers are to be gentle to all. The term "gentleness" is difficult to translate. It means kind, forbearing, big-hearted. I translate it as "magnanimous". The problem is that the word "gentle" in English as changed meaning. It is a soft word now, but it used to refer to a person who was so strong they could afford to be big-hearted. A gentleman was a man so strong nothing could cower him and make him mean-spirited. Christians are to be so strong they can yield their personal rights and to show consideration to others. That includes even persecutors, false teachers, enemies. That was the example we see in Jesus as He faced and Cross and prayed forgiveness for His enemies. Such an attitude cannot be defeated.
Paul encourages his readers by reminding them the second coming of the Lord is near. There is a glorious prospect in view for believers at Christ's return. When Christ comes He will settle all differences and will bring the consummation that will make most of our human differences seem trifling. No wonder we can be at peace and rest in confidence.
3. LEARN TO DEFEAT ANXIETY.
v6 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Believers should be prayerful instead of anxious. Prayer defeats anxiety.
Christians do not have to fret and worry about our circumstances. Instead we trust our Father because He hears our prayers for what we need. The answer to anxiety is prayer for what we need. But "thanksgiving" should accompany our praying, for we know whatever God sends is for our good.
4. LEARN TO ACCEPT PEACE.
v7 "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." When we pray we turn from anxiety to prayer with thanksgiving. The result is that we have a serenity of mind. We are at rest. When we accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord we are given the peace of right relationships with God. God gives us His own peace. Now when we pray we discovered a serenity of soul and a peace of "which transcends all understanding." For the peace of God not only suffices but far surpasses human comprehension. It acts as a sentry to guard the believer's personality from all anxiety and despair.
5. LEARN TO THINK POSITIVELY.
v8 "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." Believers must think and do what is morally and spiritually excellent. This involves centering their minds on positive things and then putting into practice what they have learned from Paul's teaching and example.
Paul gives us an outline of positive thought. My dear old friend who helped me so much as a young Superintendent, Dr Norman Vincent Peale of New York, showed people how they could find inner peace and power through positive thinking. All these virtues are found in the New Testament teachings of Jesus. We are to think of whatever is "True" or valid, reliable, and honest. Truth characterizes God Rom 3:4 and should also characterize believers. "Noble" is used in the New of church officers, that is, possessing a quality that makes them worthy of respect. "Right" refers to what is upright or just, conformable to God's standards. "Pure" emphasizes moral purity. "Lovely relates to what is pleasing or agreeable. "Admirable" denotes what is praiseworthy, and rings true to the highest standards.
Paul concludes "if anything is excellent and praiseworthy" then we should continually center our minds on such thoughts as these. We can defeat narrow, negative thoughts that poison the mental processes by thinking as Christians should - positively!
6. LEARN TO REST.
Finally, Paul teaches us how to find peace and rest by summing up: v9 "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." Since Paul himself had been their teacher and example, what they had learned from him they were to keep on practicing. Christians learn the truth, put it into practice, and then find the God of peace is with them.
Olusegun Obasanjo was languishing in a prison cell for a crime he did not commit. But last month Obasanjo was elected president of Nigeria and he attributes the turnaround in his life to his faith in God. The story begins 20 years ago when Obasanjo became the first African military leader to turn over political power voluntarily to a democratically elected government. He retired to his farm like Nelson Mandela. But it wasn't long before the Nigerian military once again seized political power. Obasanjo became an outspoken critic of the military regime, accusing the leader, Sani Abacha, of turning Nigeria into a giant prison.
Abacha had Obasanjo imprisoned. International diplomatic pressures spared his life. In prison he experienced a life-transforming spiritual renewal of a personal faith in Christ. He said imprisonment was "God's way of slowing me down to hear His message and His words." Nigeria's military rule came to an end with Abacha's death in 1998. Obasanjo was released from prison and ran for president. His election is almost as improbable as his conversion. Half of Nigeria's population is Muslim and Muslims dominate public life. Yet Obasanjo persuaded Nigerians to make him the nation's first democratically elected president in 20 years. After his election last month, Obasanjo called for a moral rearming of Nigeria. He's made human rights a top priority in that country, especially religious freedom. African experts sing Obasanjo's praises. President Jimmy Carter says, "I don't think there is an African leader, with the possible exception of Nelson Mandela, who is better respected as Obasanjo."
President Obasanjo gives Christ the credit for his remarkable story. He quotes Scripture in his speeches and in interviews. Not long ago he even shared his testimony before a screening of the "Jesus" film, saying, "Without Jesus, as president I can do nothing. With Him, I can do all things." Obasanjo has about him a remarkable inner peace and calm that is obvious to all who meet him. He has discovered the secret of God's rest and peace through constant prayer.
God may be using Obasanjo's conversion in a prison to reverse the fortunes of Nigeria, the largest country in Africa. In turn, that transformation may spread across the entire African continent. Obasanjo's godly leadership has the potential to work great changes in a country where one in six Africans live.
This is an age of anxiety for all of us in whatever continent we live. So many people are troubled, disturbed, feeling guilty without inner peace and rest. Yet through spiritual breathing they can find rest, forgiveness and peace. Regular prayer has us breathe in wonder and awareness of God. It continues as we hold our breath in adoration and quiet infilling of God's spirit. When we exhale in confession, supplication and thanksgiving, we breathe out toxins that have been poisoning our spirit. We tell God about what troubles us and we finish with thanksgiving.
Then rest comes to our spirit, peace comes to our mind and serenity floods our soul. We posses the peace of God which passes all human understanding.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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