What would you guess might be the most popular Bible verse, according to YouVersion’s 400 million users?
Philippians 4:6 is the answer. The verse says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
What does its popularity say about us?
Volcano burns honeymooning couple
The day’s news seldom lacks for “anxious” headlines. For instance, a Virginia couple on their honeymoon in New Zealand were severely burned by the volcanic eruption on Monday that killed at least six people. Twenty-five people are currently hospitalized in critical condition.
A three-year-old boy whose mother was strolling him through a Manhattan crosswalk was struck and killed by a truck Monday, shortly after the two had finished eating breakfast at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. And six people were killed in a shootout in New Jersey yesterday, including a police officer, two suspects, and three civilians. The dead officer was Detective Joseph Seals, age forty, who was married with five children.
Tragedy makes the news daily, but we face more systemic issues as well. For example, a new study shows that death rates are increasing for middle-aged Americans of all racial and ethnic groups. Suicide, drug overdoses, and alcoholism are the main causes, but heart disease, stroke, and other medical conditions are contributors as well.
Clergy are certainly not immune. For instance, a mental health summit for pastors was held last Friday at Wheaton College. About four hundred ministry leaders filled a sold-out auditorium; the event was live-streamed to seventy-seven churches around the world. It responded to a recent report that about half of all Protestant pastors feel as though the demands of ministry are more than they can handle; 54 percent find their role to be frequently overwhelming.
US Catholic priests are likewise dealing with stress, burnout, depression, and substance abuse issues. An escalating shortage of priests is exacerbating demands on Catholic clergy as well.
“The Lord is at hand”
Where can we find peace in such perilous times? Yesterday, we discussed the urgency of seeking to live by the word of God. Today, we’ll focus on seeking the help of God to obey the word of God and experience the peace of God.
Like every word in God’s word, our favorite verse for the year has a context. In the Greek, Philippians 4:6 actually continues a sentence Paul began in the previous verse: “The Lord is at hand.” The phrase means that God “is present in this time and place.”
This restates Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), as well as our Father’s assurance, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10). As a result, Paul’s thought continues, we can choose to “not be anxious about anything.”
However, the fact of God’s empowering presence does not mean that we have no responsibility in advancing his kingdom.
“Valiant men” were “expert in war” but “cried out to God”
In 1 Chronicles 5, we read that “the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had valiant men who carried shield and sword, and drew the bow, expert in war, 44,760, able to go to war” (v. 18). Unsurprisingly, when they “waged war against the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphis, and Nodab” (v. 19), “they prevailed over them” (v. 20a). Here we see the importance of developing our skills until we are “expert” in them.
But the rest of the verse gives the underlying reason for their victory: “For they cried out to God in the battle, and he granted their urgent plea because they trusted in him” (v. 20b). As we give God our best minds and skills, he uses us to do more than we could do without him.
We find this divine-human partnership at work all through Scripture.
Moses was skilled in Egyptian culture, then God used his courageous leadership (Acts 7:22). David was a brilliant warrior, theologian, musician, and statesman who depended deeply on God’s strength (Psalm 25:5). Daniel was a skilled scholar (Daniel 1:20), but also a fervent intercessor (Daniel 6:10). Paul was trained by the most acclaimed scholar in Judaism (Acts 22:3), but he knew he could do all things only “through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
“This small way that leads to real peace and joy”
As we work, God works. As we give God our best and trust him for his best, we experience his power and know his peace.
Christmas illustrates our theme. Micah 5 contains the famous prediction that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of “one who is to be ruler in Israel” (v. 2). But two verses later, we learn how the Messiah would fulfill this calling: “He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (v. 4).
As a result, “he shall be their peace” (v. 5). The peace of God comes to those who depend upon the power of God.
Henri Nouwen: “It is hard to believe that God would reveal his divine presence to us in the self-emptying, humble way of the man from Nazareth. So much in me seeks influence, power, success, and popularity. But the way of Jesus is the way of hiddenness, powerlessness, and littleness. It does not seem a very appealing way. Yet when I enter into true, deep communion with Jesus, I will find that it is this small way that leads to real peace and joy.”
Will others find the “peace and joy” of Jesus in you today?