A lot has been happening over the last few days:
On Sunday we had the opportunity during our Valley Worship service to pray for the Wright family—for James and Julia, for Jessica, Heidi, Ben and Barny—as they step back from their many years of ministry here amongst us in the Itchen Valley.
Julia herself was our preacher, giving us some wonderful encouragements from Paul’s words in Philippians 4 about how to develop an ‘inner life’ which is calm and free from anxiety (transcript can be seen below). It was another example of what we shall miss from both James and Julia’s ministry—their living the life of Jesus amongst us. And it was so good that Alex Pease was able to lead us at the end of the service in praying God’s blessing upon them.
On Monday many of us were glued to our screens as we watched the state funeral for the Queen. Several of us found the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury to be so fitting—pointing clearly to the Queen’s quiet but confident faith in Christ—and others have highlighted how moving was the service in St George’s, Windsor.
You may be interested to read these reflections by Maj Gen (Retd) Tim Tyler who was lucky enough to be in the Abbey for the service. https://starandgarter.org/media-centre/our-blogs/her-majesty-funeral/
You may also appreciate the opportunity to see the words of the hymn we sang on Sunday morning (to the tune of ‘I vow to thee, my country’). Several in the congregation spoke of how powerful they found it to sing these words for this unique occasion:
We stand to mourn a sovereign,
a nation’s guide and friend,
who through long years of tumult
was faithful to the end.
We offer our thanksgiving
for all that she instilled:
her constancy of service,
her lifetime’s vow fulfilled.
Now from our world departed –
though never from our hearts –
receive her in the peace, Lord,
your love alone imparts.
And as we mark a passing
of sceptre, orb, and throne,
we’ll find in her compassion
a pattern for our own:
that all who stand in mourning,
or languish now in fear,
may know again your promise
to wipe away each tear.
With her we’ll join in witness,
Christ’s mercies our refrain:
great Sovereign of the nations,
eternal is your reign!
I love this picture by Charlie Mackesy.
He addresses the irony that we only see the outside of people, but the inside is where everything is happening.
And today, I’m going to talk about this idea of our ‘inner life’ – or as the horse says, ‘what’s going on beneath’.
Our inner life comprises of our thought life and our emotional life.
Our thoughts and emotions are hidden from the world – like a secret sanctuary.
Our inner life is hidden from all – apart from ourselves, and also God.
In this passage from Philippians, Paul draws our attention to our inner lives. And Paul offers some hugely sage advice, which is just as appropriate to us today, as it was to the Christians in Philippi nearly 2000 years ago.
Let’s first look at the goal that Paul sets for our inner life.
He paints a picture of someone whose inner life is overflowing with peace.
Where there is no negativity, no pessimism.
There’s no anger or grumbling irritation.
There is no anxiety.
It’s an inner life full of integrity, where no dark thought is allowed to linger.
I wonder if, as I described that inner life, if part of you thought, ‘I’m not like that at all. I’m quite pessimistic at times. I definitely grumble’
Or maybe you struggle with anxiety. Anxiety about your health, your children, or your finances.
Or perhaps you often have a sense of overwhelm at all the demands on your time and living in the fast paced 21stcentury.
Let me describe again the kind of inner life that Paul describes:
A mind and heart that overflows with peace.
A mind with no negativity. No anger or grumbling. No anxiety.
A heart and mind full of integrity.
That kind of inner life might feel out of reach.
And it’s something that most people long for, regardless of their faith.
The secular bookshelves are overflowing with books that focus on our inner life:
Self-care, wellness, mindfulness, the rise of yoga.
However, thankfully, we don’t need to spend money on the latest self-help books.
Right here in this passage, Paul gives powerful and effective strategies that will shape our inner life for good.
I’ve made an acronym to help you remember Paul’s guide to edifying our inner lives.
It is Paul’s CARE TIP.
CA stands for Combat Anxiety.
This is actually the biggest section of my talk today, because anxiety can be one of the biggest attacks on our inner life.
Anxiety is a buzz word in society today.
Whilst preparing this talk, I typed into google, “Stats on Anxiety”.
Google took 0.7 seconds to find over 39 million results.
An article from the Guardian says:
“There has been an “explosion” in anxiety in Britain over the past decade.” The causes for which being: the financial crash, austerity, Brexit, climate change and social media.
However, anxiety is clearly not a new phenomenon.
Paul addressed it 2000 years ago.
Paul gives the clear command, ‘Do not be anxious about anything’.
Nothing is allowed to sneak in. Whether big or small. Nothing should cause us anxiety.
And Paul gives two practical ways to combat anxiety in verse 6:
The first is to be Thankful. “With thanksgiving”
Commit every situation to God. “Present your requests to God”
2000 years later, this first strategy – showing gratitude – is being promoted, almost as though it’s a new idea of modern thinkers.
You can now buy gratitude journals, where you record 3 new things each day that you’re grateful for.
But Paul says it right here in Philippians. He tells the Philippians to present their requests to God, ‘with thanksgiving’.
So, when anxiety threatens to rock your boat, start calling out things you’re grateful for.
And then, simply present your requests to God… whatever is causing you anxiety, bring that need to God.
Lay it at His feet, and trust in His provision, His love and power, to meet your needs.
Paul says, that if we Combat Anxiety in these two ways, what follows is the promise of God’s peace.
v.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
That peace transcends all understanding – so the situation causing us anxiety won’t necessarily have changed. It might still seem impossible.
But despite that, despite all reason and understanding, there is a greater peace.
And that peace guards our hearts and minds – like a sentry.
This in itself shows that anxiety is a form of attack on our minds. It isn’t something that comes from within us that we have no power against.
No, anxiety is an external force, it can only attack from the outside.
And therefore, we can guard against it. God’s peace becomes a barrier, that protects us from anxiety
As we continue to look at the other parts of Paul’s teaching here, you’ll see that all of it plays into this idea of combatting anxiety.
R stands for Rejoice in the Lord
In verse 4, Paul says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice!’
Paul tells us to Rejoice in the Lord.
Not to rejoice in our own achievements, not to rejoice in our beautiful homes, or our jobs, or the things we can buy with money.
Not even to rejoice in other people.
Yes, we can be grateful for these things, and we ought to be grateful for these things, as I just mentioned. Gratitude is vital.
But our solid rock, our firm foundation, is Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection. The eternal life He has won for us.
The source of our joy, is Jesus.
Everything else in life will pass away – so if we look for joy in those other things, when they fail us, our inner life will crumble.
But Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is our constant.
He is who we rejoice in.
E stands for the Example of Others
In verse 9, Paul encourages the Philippians to look at his life as an example for them to follow.
The Philippians knew Paul personally, so they didn’t just have his teaching, but they had a real, living person they knew. They listened to his words and saw how he lived his life.
We have Paul’s teachings, so we can use them to help shape our inner life.
But we should also seek out other Christians, people who are alive today, who live in an exemplary way – and we should get to know those Christians and strive to emulate all that is godly in them.
T stands for Thought Life
In verse 8, Paul addresses our thought life.
What we think about is ultimately what we become.
And Paul says, 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.
We are surrounded, each day, by images and words from the media, from conversations and events. And these images and words can so easily fill our minds with wrong thoughts.
But we can resist them.
Martin Luther said:
“You can’t stop a bird flying overhead, but you can stop it nesting in your hair.”
The way to get wrong thoughts out of your mind, is to get right thoughts in to your mind.
Your mind cannot be unoccupied.
…well Jim would beg to differ on this. I used to often ask him, “What are you thinking?” and he would reply, “Nothing.”
I argued that it’s impossible to have no thoughts in your head, but he is adamant that it is possible, and his mind is often in that state.
So I’ve now stopped asking him what he’s thinking.
However, I still take my stand that our minds cannot be empty. And so, if we don’t occupy our minds with good things, the enemy will fill them with bad ones.
So follow Paul’s advice and fill your mind with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.
Invite Jesus into your thought life. If you’re not sure about the value of some of your thoughts, ask Jesus. Should those thoughts be abandoned, or explored?
What we think cannot be seen by others – it’s part of our secret life with God.
And our unseen thoughts are like the roots of a tree, or a foundation of a house. They are unseen, but they give us the strength to withstand the storms of life.
I stands for Integrity
In verse 5, Paul says, Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
When I read these words, I was struck by Paul’s instruction to be gentle to all people.
We shouldn’t treat some people a certain way, and other people a different way. There’s no room for double standards.
The way we speak to the man collecting our rubbish, should be with the same gentleness and grace, that we speak to our friends with, or our children, our bosses at work, anyone.
We need to remember that every person is created in the image of God.
And Paul reminds us that the Lord is near.
Jesus is with us always. He listens to all our words and watches all our interactions with others.
If we strive to have integrity in the way we interact with those around us, it will strengthen and sanctify our inner life.
P stands for Peaceful relationship with others.
In verse 2 we see Paul pleading with two ladies who have argued about something, to resolve their differences, and to be at peace with each other.
Paul also asks the other Christians in Philippi to help restore the friendship between these two ladies.
I am not a confrontational person. I tend to avoid conflict because I much prefer being at peace with people.
And if I realise I have caused hurt to someone, I have such an uneasy feeling inside me. I feel so unpeaceful, and I long to seek reconciliation with that person.
So I can fully understand Paul’s desire for disagreements to be resolved. If we want a peaceful inner life, we need to be at peace with others.
And as Christians, we need to especially watch our relationships with other Christians, because disagreements, disunity and unforgiveness can really weaken the church and destroy our own faith.
But the warmth of close Christian friendships strengthens the church, they build our faith, and they are one of the vital secrets to a strong and secure inner life.
So those are 8 tips from the apostle Paul to help us have a strong, secure, peaceful inner life, full of integrity and love.
Whilst the first one directly addresses Anxiety, you can see how the other points all feed into combatting anxiety and growing instead an inner life of peace.
Combat anxiety, Rejoice in the Lord, follow the Example of others, watch your Thought life, live with Integrity, and live at Peace with others.
As I was writing this talk, I couldn’t help thinking about the Queen, and what her inner life might have been like.
Whilst our inner life is hidden, it affects what flows out from us, and the kind of fruit we bear on the outside.
And looking at the fruit of the Queen’s life, her inner life must have been rooted in the peace of God.
Sarah Noble showed me a book, which shows many of the prayers that the Queen prayed just before her coronation, and also words that the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote for her.
As our whole nation reflects on the life of the Queen, and celebrates all that she was, let us use her, as one of our Examples that we look to.
As I end now, can I pray for these words of Paul to help mould us:
We thank you that you are the Prince of Peace, and a Wonderful Counsellor.
I lift up each one of us here today and ask that your Holy Spirit would breathe your life in our inner beings.
Would you fill each of us with your peace, your joy, your thoughts, and your truth.
Help us to put you on the throne of our hearts and minds.