4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Reflection: The Lord is near.
This is a very special passage to me. In my sophomore year of college I took a class called Instructional Bible Study. The goal of the class was to teach us how to teach the Bible to others. We were each assigned a short passage from Philippians, which we would then work with for the entire semester before teaching it to the rest of the class at the end of the semester. This was my passage. I looked at it from every angle from August to November – over three months of wrestling with four verses! We examined every word, every structure, and every nuance, while asking the Holy Spirit to be present with us in the process, guiding every step.
What jumped out to me then still sticks to me now. Paul inserts what might seem at first to be a random assurance of God’s nearness in the middle of this passage. Yet, it is the nearness of God that drives the whole experience of prayer, receiving peace, and rejoicing in gentleness. If the Lord is not near, then we cannot hope to produce those experiences on our own. Also, if the Lord is near, then we will want to focus on these experiences and not on the divisions the people of Philippi were experiencing. I was experiencing the nearness of God through the Holy Spirit as I rigorously studied this passage. My experience of communion and guidance from God taught me firsthand the truth of what Paul was writing. The same God who was near to me in study was near to me always – and I could find joy and peace in that truth no matter what I was experiencing.
This is why it is so important for us always to be in connection to God and communion with God. God is near to us. When we are far away from God, it is not because God is moving away from us or hiding from us. We are the ones who move away and have the tendency to hide from God. The Lord is near and wants to receive our prayers and petitions. The Lord wants to heal our conflicts. The Lord wants to guard us with peace. Our responsibility is to respond to the nearness of God with openness to God. When we ask, we’ll receive; when we seek, we will find; when we knock, the door will be opened to us.
God is reaching out to you, waiting for you to take his hand. This week sit in silence and stillness, feeling the nearness of God. Do not try to coax God – he doesn’t need it! Simply ask God to reveal his nearness to you. Rejoice in God’s closeness. Bear your soul to God. The Lord is near and listening, taking delight in you!
Journaling Focus: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Take some time to intentionally rejoice this week. Write a poem, a song, a psalm, or just a free-form expression of joy to God. If you need some help in structuring this act of rejoicing, consider writing it in these three movements: (1) What God has done for you; (2) Your response of joyful praise; and (3) What you will do in response to God’s work in your life. Remember that our rejoicing in God does not have to be a sappy, cliched response to God. Dig deeply into your life experiences, both the positive and negative, and find a way to rejoice in God regardless of circumstance. Remember the words of Job, who in the middle of his great distress was able to praise God: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
This practice allows you to listen to the Scripture for the week (in larger context) and to open yourself up to God’s voice in that Scripture.
Click on the audio link above and listen to the Scripture. As you listen this first time, ask God to point out to you a word or phrase from the Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a second time. As you listen this second time, ask God to reveal to you the holy intentions for this word or phrase that is being spoken into your life.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a third time. As you listen this third time, ask God how you might respond to this word or phrase being spoken into your life today.
Read and sing the hymn Sweet Hour of Prayer. By following the link, you can access the text and audio files for the hymn. Pay special attention to how this hymn reflects the different elements of this week’s Scripture passage – taking our requests to God, the joy we find there, and the nearness of God’s presence. What is God communicating to you through this song? What might you communicate to God through this song?
Prayer Focus: In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
We pray for others and for the situations in our world that concern us. But it is also important to pray for ourselves. This is not a selfish act. Praying for ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in give us the foundation to pray for others. If we have not been honest with God and found personal peace, then we will be in no spiritual condition to pray for others. This week, focus on your own needs in prayer. And in doing so, find the strength to pray for others and for our world.
Meditation Focus: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but I get a great visual image from this verse. Perhaps it is because we are in the Advent season, and we see stoic nutcrackers all around us, but I imagine tall, strong soldiers standing guard around my heart and my mind. They have been sent there by God and their name is Peace. When anything tries to enter my heart or mind, they halt those things and make sure they are of God. If so, they let them in. If not, they refuse them entrance. Likewise, they enter my heart and mind and look for those things that are not welcome. When they find those harmful things, they escort them out of my heart and mind and resume their guard. What image does this verse inspire in you? Sit with that image for a while and explore it more deeply – or do the same with the nutcracker soldier image. How is God guarding your heart and mind with peace?
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- How have you entrusted your cares to God?
- How have you felt the nearness of God?
- In what ways have you experienced true peace?
- How have you been gentle with others? Where has gentleness been needed?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
In college, the big trend was to find a “life verse” – a verse or passage that would guide who you are and who you will be in your relationship with God. Though it was trendy back then, it was not a practice without merit. I still go back to this week’s passage regularly, as well as Philippians 3:10-11. These have become “pillar verses” for my spiritual identity. Go back to a Bible verse or passage that has been very meaningful to you in your life and sit with it for a while this week. Why has this passage been so meaningful to you throughout the years? Does it still speak powerfully to you? Let this verse or passage speak a new word into you as you explore it again.
Breath Prayer: LORD God, may we hear from you.