December 21, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Philippians 4)

Submitted by Susan I. from Gracepoint Minneapolis Church

Philippians 4:1-9

In this passage, Apostle Paul addresses joy (v. 4) and peace (vv. 7, 9), and exhorts the Philippians to do some things in order to experience this kind of joy and peace that transcends circumstances.

  • Why is it important to pray “with thanksgiving,” especially when I am feeling “anxious”?

It is important to pray “with thanksgiving,” especially when I am feeling “anxious” because when I pause to pray with thanksgiving, I am able to look at my life as a whole, and not just the thing I’m feeling anxious about. There are many times when I’m anxious about something, and I come to God in prayer and I focus on what I’m feeling anxious about – relational problems, a concern I have over someone, a mistake I made and I’m not sure how it will affect others, an area of uncertainty regarding my future. I quickly feel discouraged or overwhelmed, or unsure of how I am to process this or deal with my anxiety. But if I pray with thanksgiving when I am feeling anxious, I am able to shift my focus away from my anxiety and I’m able to zoom out on my life and able to lift up my eyes. So prayer isn’t just bringing my worries, cares and anxieties to God, but prayer is approaching God with an attitude of thanksgiving and trust, acknowledging who God is and how he has already blessed me, how he has already been at work in my life. In that context, I can come to him with my anxieties and ask for his guidance, ask for his strength, ask for his provision. And rather than being overwhelmed by anxiety, instead I remember who God is, I remember who I’m praying to, I remember how I have experienced God in similar situations, or even if not in similar situations, how I have experienced God in my life.

  • What are some concrete ways I can direct my mind as described in v. 8?

Some concrete ways I can direct my mind as described in v. 8 is through journaling. When I take the time to journal before I do DT, I have an opportunity to think about what is true in my life – what I’m really thinking and feeling, why I did or said what I did yesterday, why I responded the way I did, etc. – and I can then process it rather than just gloss over events and incidents in my life and be disconnected from myself.

I can direct my mind to things that are excellent by reading good books, especially as it’s winter break. I can read books like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and try to put together the logic and flow of the arguments rather than just read the book. I can direct my mind to people who are commendable – to people who are doing ministry in different parts of the world – by remembering them and praying for them.

  • What are some things I have “learned and received and heard and seen” in my leaders that I can “practice”?

Some things I have “learned and received and heard and seen” in my leaders that I can “practice” are being others-centered and relational. Ever since my freshman year, back in 1997, I have been the recipient of care and concern, prayer, many Bible studies and messages, many talks and conversations. Though I was standoffish, though I stiff-armed them during my first few years at our church, my leaders continued to care for me, to teach me God’s Word, to pray for me. And not just being on the receiving end, but I have learned and seen a lot about what it means to be relational, what it means to put yourself in the other person’s shoes as I have seen my leaders do that with different staff, different students, and as they teach me what it means to be a person of love. I can “practice” this by opening up my heart to people and letting them occupy my heart, noticing other people’s needs and doing something about it, changing my schedule for other people. I can practice what I’ve seen my leaders do in opening up their homes, not holding tightly to their plans or agenda or expectations.

Philippians 4:10-23

  • To what extent can I lay claim to the “secret” that Apostle Paul describes in vv. 11-13? 

To be honest, I have a long way to go in laying claim to the “secret” that Apostle Paul describes in vv. 11-13 – “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” The different circumstances in my life aren’t related to plenty and need in terms of money or material things, but it’s related to my personality, my character, my abilities, my skills. In terms of my life circumstances, I have nothing to complain about and in fact, I have a lot to be thankful for – I have plenty in many ways. But I was challenged by how Apostle Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” I can’t say that about myself as I so easily become discontent about my situation, about the resources or skills I have on hand. I often wish that things were easier, that things worked out smoother. I’ve never been in need in monetary or material things, but even when it comes to my “need” in terms of intangible things, they aren’t areas of real need, but just based on my perspective of what is a good or easy life. I need to grow in this area of being content in whatever situation I am in – to recognize what I have already received and how I have already been provided for, and to learn to receive and accept the lot I have received in life, to claim and trust that the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.

  • How did the Philippians distinguish themselves from the other churches with respect to their relationship with Paul?  What kind of relationship did Paul have with the Philippians as a result?

The Philippians distinguished themselves from the other churches with respect to their relationship with Paul by having concern for him, partnering with him in giving and receiving, and sending help for his needs once and again.

As a result of their concern for him and their commitment to him, the Philippians had a relationship of partnering with Paul where they came alongside him and supported him in his ministry. And as they expressed their concern in concrete ways, they brought him help and support he needed, as well as brought him joy that they were committed to him and to the gospel so that they would back it up with financial support. Apostle Paul describes the partnering as “giving and receiving” – they were able to have a close and open relationship with Apostle Paul where money issues or their own need didn’t prevent them from giving to Apostle Paul and the need that he had or the churches had. Apostle Paul could trust and rely on their commitment to him and the gospel as they showed it concretely through their support.

Philippians 4:14-19

“The verb sygkoinoneo [to share] is a com­pound of the verb also translated ‘shared’ in v. 15; equivalent nouns are used in 1:5 and 7 (‘partnership’ and, lit., ‘fellow participants’). The fel­lowship of those in Christ involves sharing with one another at all levels: The Philippians have shared Paul’s distress, just as they shared with him ‘in the matter of giving and receiving’.” [Leander E. Keck, “Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 544.]

  • What does it mean for those who are in fellowship with each other in Christ to share with one another at all levels?  How can I concretely practice this in my life?

For those who are in fellowship with each other in Christ to share with one another at all levels means to have a partnership in the gospel that goes beyond just agreeing about the gospel and having the same beliefs, but it means to labor together for the gospel, to share in one another’s distress and concerns, to share whatever means or resources we have with each other as we all seek to share the gospel. The different levels of sharing that happens is sharing in the same heart and vision, sharing the same purpose, sharing emotionally in one another’s lives, sharing materially with one another as others have need and not holding onto your possessions or resources as your own. It’s to have an attitude of – what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine – not just in terms of belongings, but in terms of concerns, in terms of burdens, in terms of working together to share the gospel.

I can concretely practice this in my life by opening up my heart to people – to their cares and worries, their burdens and distresses. This is one growth area for me as I often try to keep things easy for me emotionally. At times, I don’t even deal well with issues in my own life because I don’t want to have to deal with the mess, the problems, the potential ramifications. And this comes out in my relationships with people – where they mention something to me, or a thought occurs to me to ask about how something is going, but I don’t act on it, I don’t try to dig deeper, I don’t try to put myself in their shoes and think about what challenges or struggles they might be facing. But to have fellowship with others in Christ, I need to open up my whole life to people and open myself to others opening up their whole lives to me. People won’t be able to have fellowship with me if my heart is closed to them because I’m afraid of being disturbed, afraid of being overwhelmed by their troubles or their distresses. I need to concretely live this out by talking more with people, and asking more questions – getting into their lives and getting into the details of their lives. I need to concretely live this out by acting on different things I notice, or different promptings I have to move towards people and to ask them something or to offer them help.

Personal Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for reminding me that you are a faithful, trustworthy God. I often focus on my lack, my worries, my fears, and I forget the bigger picture of my life of how I have already received so many spiritual blessings.  I have many things to give you thanks for as I have leaders who through their lives have shown me how to navigate through different ups and downs, as I have a community with whom I can fellowship with in you and in the gospel. My life is so full and so rich, and I can be content in whatever situation because of my security in you. Please forgive me for the ways that I feel discontent because of my situation or because of my inadequacy or because of difficulties I face. Please forgive me for the ways I focus on myself and my situation rather than on the bigger picture of my life, and rather than focusing on things that are true about my life and about you, on things that are excellent and praiseworthy that will lift my eyes off of myself. I commit to lifting my eyes off of myself by lifting my eyes to others – to open myself up to fellowship with them on all levels, and to embrace the people in my sphere of concern. Thank you for this reminder of the kind of life you have blessed me with, and the kind of life and relationships you want me to have.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Submitted by Roy L. from Gracepoint Minneapolis Church

Philippians 4:1-9

In this passage, Apostle Paul addresses joy (v. 4) and peace (vv. 7, 9), and exhorts the Philippians to do some things in order to experience this kind of joy and peace that transcends circumstances.

•                Why is it important to pray “with thanksgiving,” especially when I am feeling “anxious”?

It is important for me to pray with thanksgiving because often what drives me to prayer is not wonderful circumstances that produce a natural sense of gratitude, but difficult or challenging circumstances that produce frustration or anxiety.  So when I come to God with these situations and requests, I need to be particularly careful about my heart and attitude towards Him.  In my anxiety I am quick to rattle off a wish list to God of things I wish He would do for me, to solve my problems, to get me out of a mess.  But when I pray without a conscious effort first to give thanks, I end up treating God like a cosmic vending machine, even as I ask for things supposedly in his name.

And even as I ask God for something, I must not forget to thank Him for what He has already given me.  Indeed, many of my prayer requests are “issues” for which I ought to be thankful.  For example, even as I pray about someone who I am trying to lead but is not responsive or interested in the Gospel, I ought to thank God that He caused this person to cross paths with me in life, so that I have an opportunity to build a personal relationship with him and intercede on his behalf.  It could have been that I never met this person, and today I would be unaware of his spiritual plight, much less trying to do something about it.  Or, as I pray for God to help me prepare for Bible study, I ought to always thank God for the astounding fact that I get to teach Bible study!  What an amazing turn my life has taken, that I now have the privilege of proclaiming the faith I once tried to mock and tear down.

  • What are some concrete ways I can direct my mind as described in v. 8?

Apostle Paul advises the Philippians to meditate on whatever is excellent or praiseworthy.  Unfortunately, the media outlets of our age are not so interested in these things.  Thus, I need to make a conscious effort to find that which is excellent and praiseworthy for my mind to dwell on, so that my mind is not instead filled with the garbage that passes for entertainment in the world.  In addition to DT, I am thankful for the weekly staff Bible reading times, which help me fill my mind with scripture that I would not otherwise have the discipline to read on my own.  I am also thankful for Bible Teachers Training and the challenge of having to teach Bible study every week, because I need to be familiar with God’s word myself before I can talk about it with anyone else, and it has forced me to think about God’s word and his truths throughout the day, as I drive or stand in line somewhere, and also think about how it is relevant and applicable to daily life.  I am also trying to be more alert and reflective when I read the news, and pay attention to conversations and events in my life, because I never know when a really good message illustration can pop up that illustrates something true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable.  I myself am blessed as I think about such things, and motivated to try to imitate them.

                What are some things I have “learned and received and heard and seen” in my leaders that I can “practice”?

I am thankful for the close community we have in a church plant setting, when I get to see everyone pretty much every day, and I am in the home of my leaders every day as well.  Due to this constant exposure, I have learned, received, heard and seen a lot.  I’ve learned and received much wisdom and advice, as I ask them for their thoughts on how to approach an issue in ministry and listen as they help me think through the implications involved in making a decision.  I’ve also received from them the benefit of their decades of ministry experience, and can learn the easy way by listening to how they made mistakes and learned the hard way.  I can put these things into practice by being humble and taking their advice seriously, and also trying to pass it on to younger staff by being interested in how they are handling ministry and life, and seeing if I can help or encourage them in some way.

I have also heard and seen my leaders’ way of life, how they really deny themselves daily to take up their role as the top leaders of our church, whether it means staying up long nights to finish the budget, or talking again for the Nth time about details like room reservations for next semester, or pouring out their hearts praying for and counseling the students and staff.  Even though I’m not faced with the same kinds of pressures they face right now, these are all things that I can and must imitate in my ministry, as God has also entrusted me with people to love and care for.  I can put into practice their heart of love and perseverance that refuses to give up on anyone, that is not daunted by challenges or setbacks, that never despairs but always hopes and trusts in God.

Philippians 4:10-23

                To what extent can I lay claim to the “secret” that Apostle Paul describes in vv. 11-13? 

I can lay claim to the “secret” of Apostle Paul to the extent I have experienced circumstances of hunger and need, of being brought low.  I have never suffered true hunger, but I have been in some times of need, or have been brought low in the eyes of the world, like when I was unemployed and dealing with my parents’ rejection and disappointment over my commitment to serve God instead of catering to their expectations and desires.  It was not a pleasant time, but looking back I am thankful for it because it forced me to struggle with this very issue, whether my relationship with God would be enough for me to be content, even when life is not turning out the way I wanted it to.  Through this time, I did experience the power of this “secret”–my relationship with God–filling me with a sense of peace and purpose, as I struggled with the truths I found in the Bible and through prayer to affirm the basic facts I’ve known all along–that God loves me, that God is for me, that God is watching over my life, that God has secured my eternal destiny in Christ.  I have not yet suffered privation and lack to any significant extent compared to Apostle Paul, but when such times come, I know that I can see them as an opportunity to be better acquainted with this secret, to experience the sufficiency of God’s love in all situations, and to be able to be at peace during times when the rest of the world would be filled with anxiety and despair.

                How did the Philippians distinguish themselves from the other churches with respect to their relationship with Paul?  What kind of relationship did Paul have with the Philippians as a result?

The Philippians distinguished themselves from the others by being the only one to enter into partnership with Apostle Paul in giving and receiving.  As a result, their relationship with Apostle Paul was such that they brought him great joy (v.10), and Apostle Paul loved and longed for them, calling them his “joy and crown” (v.1).  They shared a relational closeness available only to true partners in the Gospel, who have thrown in their lot together and committed to a common destiny of serving Christ.  I’ve experienced this with the Minnesota team, who I barely knew before coming out here 2.5 years ago.  As soon as we arrived, we knew we had all thrown in our lots together.  As we met for our first staff meetings and looked around the room, we all knew we were together with one another for the foreseeable future, for better or for worse.  And that common commitment helped us forge a bond and sense of oneness in a much shorter time than I expected.  I feel like I’ve known my fellow co-laborers for much longer, even though we’ve only survived two winters together.

Philippians 4:14-19

                What does it mean for those who are in fellowship with each other in Christ to share with one another at all levels?  How can I concretely practice this in my life?

At the most basic level, sharing with one another means not holding on to the time, money, and other resources that God entrusted to me as if they were my own, but to recognize that God gave these to me for the common good.  It means using my money wisely, spending less on myself and living a simple life so I have more to share with others.  It means being diligent with my time, learning to do things quickly and efficiently so I am more available to meet up with people or serve in other capacities.  It means putting my other talents and assets to work in ministry, whether it’s giving rides or giving a Bible study.

Sharing with one another also means taking up each others’ burdens through prayer.  Thanks to the Gracepoint Prayer List (GPL), each week I can share in the burdens of hundreds of brothers and sisters throughout our churches by lifting them up in prayer.  There are many brothers and sisters who are in need or brought low by life circumstances, and I ought to share their burdens to fulfill the law of Christ.  I myself have been the recipient of this kind of love from my leaders, peers, and the whole church, and I’ve experienced how strengthening it is to know that the entire body of Christ is lifting up my concerns in prayer out of love for me.

Finally, sharing with one another means that I take on my share of the burden in the ministry of our church.  Each of us may shoulder a different part, but there’s plenty of labor of love to be done, and especially as I see my leaders really denying themselves for the sake of the Gospel, I ought to share in their burden for our ministry and take more ownership.  This means I must not be content with being passive, just a good trooper waiting for orders, but sharing in their heart to improve our ministry, having more personal concern for each person who walks through the door, learning how to assess a situation to see what is lacking and how I can improve it.

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