I’d just like to share a little of the outtake from my devotional time this morning; writing it down for you here will help cement it in my own mind & heart.
How do we not lose hope during discouraging times? How do we stand firm in our faith when it appears that all hope is lost? I see 6 keys to remaining firm in our faith in the passage in Philippians 4:1-9 that begins in verse 1 by telling us to “stand firm in the Lord.”
- In order to stand firm and not lose hope, we must put our hope & faith “in the Lord.” If we put our faith in other people, organizations, governments, guns, riches, or any other earthly thing, we will find ourselves lacking and losing hope. However, we can put our hope in the God who made the heavens and the earth and for whom nothing is too hard.(Jeremiah 32:17). We can stand firm in our faith in our God who is love and who loves us. (1 John 4:8, John 3:16) If God loves us so much that He gave His Son to die to pay the penalty for our sins, you know that He is not going to leave us helpless in the midst of a storm or troubles. Isaiah 59:1 reminds us that He is not too weak to save nor too deaf to hear us when we need Him.
- The second key to standing firm in our faith is to agree with one another in the Lord. (v. 2) While it is true that we are created with different abilities and personalities, and we will disagree on some things just as the early disciples did, we must remember that we are taught over and over again in the New Testament that we are to love one another (John 13:34-35) and that we are to be of one spirit with each other. (Ephesians 4:4, Phil 1:27, Phil 2:2, 2 Corinthians 12) This is not an easy thing to do, I know. But if we would take time to listen and converse with each other, I think we will come closer to achieving victory in this area. When one member of the body is suffering or weak, it/we need to know that we are not alone, that our brothers and sisters are with us. If we are fighting about some matter, then the strength that we have as a whole is weakened.
- Verse 4 gives us the third key to standing firm: “rejoice in the Lord!” This is closely tied to the first key, that we are to be firm “in the Lord”, but I see a slight difference here. Not only are we to be firm in what we believe about who God is, we also need to rejoice about it! Put it into words! Put it into writing! It has been my experience as a teacher that if a student not only reads the content that they need to learn, but also speaks it out loud, uses it in multiple ways, then they will learn it more surely, and the new content will move into their permanent memory. As a language teacher, I learned early that it was not enough for my students to be able to pass a test about verb tenses, for example. When I saw them using them correctly in their speech, then I knew that they really had learned the concept! AND, I learned that they wouldn’t learn the concept until they did use it in speech. As I speak out in worship what I believe in my heart about the Lord, it becomes even more solid as a part of my permanent memory that cannot be shaken. I remember that as I was learning Chinese in Taiwan, I would hear or read new vocabulary. I thought/believed that I knew the new word, but there was always a lack of confidence until I had actually spoken and used the word and saw that I was correct. And the more times that I used the word correctly, the more confidence that I gained! When I verbally give the Lord praise, I am cementing my confidence in the belief I have of who He is! Rejoice in the Lord!
- The fourth key can be found in verse 5. “Let your graciousness be known to everyone.” Some versions also use the word, “gentleness.” You may think as I did when I read this, “What does being gracious and gentle have to do with keeping my faith strong?” As I have thought about this, I think it comes from what is in our hearts that produces the gentleness, or not. If my heart is full of myself and thus pride and selfishness, I will be more apt to not be very kind or gentle or gracious when things don’t go my way. And if my eyes are on myself and what I can do or think I need, then they are not on the Lord. I may be able to stand firm for a time in my own strength, but if I want to stand firm in the Lord in all circumstances, then I must have my eyes on the Lord’s power & provision, not my own. If I am not practicing gentleness, then that is a sign that there is an issue in my heart that needs to be dealt with. When I am gentle and gracious, it indicates that my heart is right with my Lord and His people.
- The fifth key can be found in verse 6. We are to pray and make our requests to God with thanksgiving. When we find ourselves beginning to feel anxious, Paul tells us to take our worries to God, and talk with Him about these things. AND be thankful! And no matter how dire a situation may seem, there is always something we can be thankful for. I can hear you thinking as I did, “Oh, but there might be a time when there really is nothing to be thankful for!” Yes, about the situation, that might be true. But I can ALWAYS be thankful that I can take my impossible, hopeless situation to my all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present God who is ready and willing to hear my prayer! (Isa. 59: 1, Jer. 33:3) I do not have to wait until I can enter a temple, and I do not have to wait until I can prepare an offering. As a loving Father, God will take care of me, no matter the need or situation! I can stand firm in that!
- Finally, verse 8 of Philippians 4 tells us to think on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. The devil loves to attack our minds and fill them with doubts, negativity, and wild imaginings. I’ve just been through a time in my own life where I have struggled with all three of those as never before. And I could not stand firm in my faith if I was thinking about all of the possible things that could go wrong. In order to get out of that pit, I’ve had to consciously focus my thoughts onto what is right. To help me do that, I have literally posted Scriptures all over my apartment, on the walls of every room. As I have thus begun to focus on what God’s Word says, I am able to stand more firmly in my faith in the Lord, and that has also helped me to be able to see the good in situations & people that I previously could not see. The apostle Paul also taught about this concept in 2 Corinthians 10: 3-6 and tells us that me must “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” And only when we are obeying Christ will we be able to stand confidently firm in the Lord.
Now those are tracks in the sand that I can follow….