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Jun 30, 2019

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Passage: Philippians 4:4-7

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Philippians--Roots of Joy

Keywords: prayer, joy, worry, peace, anxiety, thankfulness, gentleness, rejoicing


Thinking and feeling truth are two different things. This passage in chapter 4 of Philippians is freighted with feelings and emotions. So just how do we experience joy and peace all the time in life, not matter what's going on around or to us? This message is for people who want more joy and peace in their life.


Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Philippians 4:4-7

June 30, 2019

Get-Acquainted Question:  Who in life seems to be able to make you consistently smile or laugh?  Why?

Message, Part 1

How many of you answered to the Get Acquainted Question, “Who in my life seems to be able to make me consistently smile or laugh,” answered some child or young person?  How many answered some senior citizen or octogenarian?  How many answered, “Some adult between 25-65?” If you did, how many of those adults have a good sense of humor?

ILLYesterday’s birthday party for Christiana (6!).  The joy I had from playing with and watching 6 grandkids under 6 play with each other is unmatched by most of the human interaction I feel all week long.  (There was lots of laughter, smiles, jostling, running, giggling, etc…and, yes, a few tears too.  No child’s birthday party would be complete without those too, would it?).

            Today’s teaching text from Philippians 4 starts with a simple command in stereo:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!” 

Later in the morning we’re going to see just how freighted this passage is with emotion, some healthy and some not.  But for now, since we still have with us those younger ones that make many of us smile and laugh the most (i.e. children), let’s prepare our hearts to engage in obedience to this simple stereo-command about rejoicing. 

HOW do you know if someone is “rejoicing”?  (They have too  show it somehow…or you won’t know.)  This is one of those commands of Scripture that you can actually SEE if someone is walking in obedience or not.  Joy…and rejoicing…are usually visible qualities. 

HOW can you tell when two people are “in love”?  Again, something about the way they relate telegraphs that—holding hands, smiling, laughing, teasing, sitting close, etc.

How many of us did our parents discipline/punish by sending us to our room alone…or the corner alone…or a ‘time-out’ somewhere ALONE?  Isolation is one form of universal punishment whether you’re a prisoner in an isolation cell or a preschooler in your bedroom. 

            Human beings are hard-wired to be happiest “in community”…in meaningful relationships with other spiritual souls. 

Who was the happiest, most joy-filled being before mankind was created…before the universe existed?  GOD, right? 

Who is the happiest being in existence today

Who will be the happiest, most joyful/rejoicing being in eternity?  GOD! 

So doesn’t it just stand to reason that hanging out with God will be a joy-filled experience? 

A quick word-search of the Bible will tell you that nearly 200 times the English word “rejoice” is used in the Bible…and over 250 times the word “joy” is used.  That’s a lot of happiness, don’t you think?  And the vast majority of the times those words are used, they describe what happens either in the presence of God or as a result of experiencing something God does. 

Think of one of your favorite people in the world.  Would it seem like a burden if someone came up to you, handed you $100 and said, “I want you to spend the whole day with that person.  I want you to go watch a really good funny movie with them…then I want you to go enjoy lunch with them at a nice restaurant…then go play your favorite indoor or outdoor game with them…then go catch a really good comedy dinner theater with your favorite comedian who just happens to be in town”?  Would that be a burden?  NO!  Where do I sign up?!

Granted, joy/rejoicing may be different than just laughing at good jokes or funny lines.  But spending time with happy, funny, upbeat people usually makes for a good time, doesn’t it?  That’s WHY God can issue this stereo command to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  God is, I believe, the happiest, funniest, most enjoyable-to-be-around Being in the whole universe.  And He’s inviting us to, in every experience of life, come enjoy Him (even if nothing else in life is enjoyable at that particular moment). 

Remember, Paul is writing this command in the midst of a prison experience/house arrest.  He’s on the equivalent of “ankle-bracelet monitoring” in the Roman world…only he’s tethered to live Roman soldiers.  Yet he says this “rejoice in the Lord” experience is to be an “ALWAYS” sort of experience. 

So to help us connect a little today with the joy there is in knowing and experiencing God, the worship set today focuses on JOY—joy that comes through getting in the presence of…getting in touch with…God.  As we begin to do that during this hour, may God himself remind/convince us of the truth He gave us in Psalm 16:11, namely that God will  “fill [us] with joy” in His presence.  

[MAIN WORSHIP SET:  10,000 Reasons; God, I Look to You; What Joy!]


  • Thank Andrew for his very practical message on unity last week.
  • Ask: How many of you experienced God nudging you to either go to someone else and work on unity OR receive someone else who was coming to you to work on unity?

I love it when the Holy Spirit moves us to action…and we obey!  Well done, saints!

I “stole” the title for this message from a book I have benefited from in my own emotional development as a pastor.  It’s by Pastor Peter Scezzaro and called “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” 

            We’ve come to a passage today that is chuck full of emotional words and phrases.  Just what are they in these short 3 verses?

  • Rejoice (2x)
  • Gentleness
  • Anxious
  • Thanksgiving
  • Peace
  • Hearts and minds

Here’s the premise/theme of this passageThere are positive spiritual emotions (joy & peace) we can choose to either enjoy with Christ or forfeit.   

For a guy who tends towards depression as my natural response to difficulty in life (I had a really ‘good’ model growing up), Phil. 4:4 has been one of the more challenging commands of God for me to obey.  NOTE:  I took a HUGE step forward in obedience when I married Sandy!  Hanging around her for over 40 years now has definitely up-ed the “joy factor” in my life.  It’s just really hard to hang around her very long and not smile.  Joy can be contagious, if we let it.  Which is probably why this stereo-command to “rejoice in the Lord always” gives us the ground, the motivation and the cause for rejoicing:  it’s “THE LORD”!!!

            Rejoicing has everything to do with what “makes us happy” in life.  If we’re honest, we have to admit that happiness and joy, while often influenced by circumstances, are not ultimately determined by them. 


  • The difference I’ve seen at deathbeds and funerals between people who know their deeply loved family member or friend who is passing away or has passed away is now with Jesus…and those who “have no hope”, as the Scripture says (I Thess. 4:13). 
  • People who have “everything” our culture clamors for—money, fame, success, power—and yet are unhappy, cantankerous and often addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

Much of the difference has to do with two things that are really the same “coin”…or lenses of life-binoculars:

1.)  Holding fast to the right/proper objects of joy.

2.)  Letting go of the wrong objects/things (we’re wrongly looking to) for our joy.  
ILL:  Back to yesterday’s birthday party for Christiana.

  • If I’m another child going to that birthday party and I (naturally) think that birthday parties are always supposed to be about me…and I’m not the “birthday boy” that day, how happy is that party going to make me? [NOT at all…because the presents aren’t for me, the singing isn’t for me, the attention isn’t on me, etc.]
  • But, if I go to that party with the mindset that I want to give the birthday girl a special gift, make this party all about her, enjoy watching her have fun and be doted over, then that party will probably be a highlight of my day or week.

What’s the difference?  What I’m hanging onto and what I’m letting go of. 

Joy and rejoicing in life has everything to do with those two sides of the same coin:  what/who am I hanging onto and who/what am I letting go of.

ILL:  My experience with ministry in another culture, language and country.  As long as I held onto my expectations of ministry that were founded/grounded in English/USA/preaching/etc., I was pretty miserable.  When I exchanged those goals/expectations/ dreams for a different set of “desires/goals”, the joy in life returned. 

ILL:  The perhaps most famous of all 19th century missionaries, Hudson Taylor, lost his wife to death (July 1870) only 12 years into their marriage.  But he had become a man who knew not only the joy of deepest love with a wife; he had become a man who knew an even deeper joy of love with His God.  Listen to what he wrote about his feelings not long after his wife, Maria’s, death

My eyes flow with tears of mingled joy and sorrow. When I think of my loss, my heart--nigh to breaking--rises in thankfulness to Him Who has spared her such sorrow and made her so unspeakably happy. My tears are more tears of joy than of grief. But most of all I joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ--in His works, His ways, His providence, in Himself. (Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, the Growth of a Work of God [The China Inland Mission], pp. 199-200, emphasis his.)

APP:  Either on paper or in your head, answer 3 questions right now:

  • On a SCALE from 1-10, 1 being empty and 10 being overflowing, how “joy-filled” or “joy-empty” is your life right now?
  • WHAT is it that may be robbing your life of joy right now because you are not letting go of some expectation, some hope, some dream or demand, some person or promotion, that you think you really must have in order to be joyful?

It’s not enough to just get our eyes OFF the joy-killers.  We must put them ON the Joy-Giver—the Lord Jesus.

  • What are we doing presently to “fix our eyes of Jesus”…to come to God himself for our joy? Actually asking Him to BE our joy?  Actually asking Him to reveal misplaced affections of our heart?  Actually giving Him permission to change our heart’s desires?  Actually spending enough time in His Body, the church…around other rejoicing Christ-followers…in His presence quietly each day? 

Verse 5“Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.”

How is gentleness here connected to joy

  • Paul talked about love in vss. 4:2-3—the kind of self-sacrificing for the best of another that wasn’t happening between these two women leaders in the church at Philippi.
  • He talked about joy in vs. 4.
  • In vs. 5 he’s going to talk about peace.

Love…joy…peace…sounds like Galatians 5:22-23 (the fruit of the Spirit), no?  Paul is mirroring Galatians 5 here.  He’s telling us what our life, directed by the Holy Spirit (“filled” by the H.S.) looks like.  Rather than discord, it looks like love that defers to another.  The Spirit filled life is one that is fixed on Jesus…fixated with Him…and thus filled with the joy of living in His presence. 

            But this word here translated “gentleness” (NIV, NKJV) is also translated “forbearance” (NASB), “moderation” (KJV) and “unselfishness” (Amplified). It rolls together all the other qualities of the Spirit’s fruitpatience, kindness, goodness & gentleness

            Just think for a moment about the opposite of gentleness.  People who lack gentleness, patience and kindness are usually what kind of people?

  • Demanding
  • Rigid
  • Critical/harsh
  • Exacting
  • Proud
  • Black-and-white/my-way-or-the-highway type of people.

There is always only ONE WAY of doing something right—their way!  Non-gentle people have never felt the weight of their own sinfulness and embraced a standard of truth that is outside themselves.  They demand that everyone conform to their standard, their way of doing things.  This is an extreme manifestation of the problem we just finished talking about—holding onto my way of having/doing life at the expense of joy. 

            But gentle people have a joy about them that rigid, demanding, harsh people know nothing about. Gentle people don’t demand their “rights” at every turn; they let go of those rights so that others can experience life as God intended it.   

            We live in a nation that prides itself on “individual rights”…even to the extent of taking the most basic of human “rights” away from others—the right of unborn people to stay alive.  This is the elevation of a secondary right (a pregnancy-free body…right of privacy…right to my timing, my convenience, my education, my career, etc.) above the primary right (to life) to which all other rights should be subservient.  This is not the way of gentleness.

            But gentle people learn to submit their lives to the Holy Spirit, to let go of “their rights” and to be patient, kind and long-suffering with others…at the expense of costing them

ILL:  At the 1965 Wimbledon Tennis Finals, a linesman called “Fault” on a player’s second serve. The player was sure that his serve had been within the line, so he protested to the umpire, but the umpire upheld the linesman’s call and the server lost the point.

But his opponent was also certain that the serve had been fair and that he should not have lost the point. So when the next serve came over the net, his opponent stood aside and let it go by, conceding the point (story in Leonard Griffith, This is Living [Abingdon], p. 120). He had “the right” to take that point, but he knew it would have been wrong. So he showed forbearance by graciously refraining from insisting on his rights which would have been at the expense of what was truly ‘right.’

            So, what is the DANGER associated with gentleness/ forbearance/unselfishness?  (That we will get run over by more assertive, demanding, aggressive people.)  This is why the next phrase/truth of vs. 5 is so critical:  “The LORD is near.” 

ILL:  Anyone here ever had to contend with a playground or neighborhood bully growing up?  (The rest of you must have been the playground bullies! J)

[My experience with a kid who loved to bully me on the way home from school. He only did so when other adults weren’t around!] 

What difference does it make when the teacher or principle is on the playground, about 3 feet from the bully?  Well, it usually changes the bully’s behavior…unless he/she doesn’t see the teacher standing behind them!  In which case the bully gets ‘changed’…later…at the principal’s office! 

            I don’t think Paul is telling us to stop being bullies because God is right here watching and is going to whack us if we get out of line.  That’s not life in the Spirit.  I think he’s reminding us that the presence of the Lord Jesus, our God who suffered the abuse of a world of bullies, is right here with us, waiting for us to call out for His help…right here to render aid and help to live a life of gentleness in a world of bullies. 

            This doesn’t mean we should be doormats.  But it does mean we will suffer, often for doing the right thing, in a world where “might makes right” and “right is often called wrong.”  Doormats don’t stand up for justice or love or goodness or anything.  Gentle people fight for the rights of others at the expense of their own rights. They do right and are right at the expense of their own rights. 

            Gentle people find the presence of Christ in and with them is far more important to them than “being right” and demanding their ‘rights.’ 

Lastly, we come to vss. 6-7—a double command with a promiseDo not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.           

ACTIVITY:  Take a piece of paper and write down the following:

  • Three things that tend to give you anxiety or stress in life right now.
  • One thing that was provoking anxiety/stress in you 5 years ago this time (June 2014).

What do you notice about that list? 

  • You’ve got a bad memory!
  • Life is never without stress. (Counseling I will sometimes hear people express their desire for a stress-free life.  On which planet do you know where life is like that?  ) 
  • Stress apparently is/can be a tool of God for good in our lives.

Stress can lead to anxiety and worry OR prayer and peace. It all depends on how we choose to respond to it. 

So what’s THE PROMISE here?  Let’s look at that first in vs. 7“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

Let’s make a few basic observations about this promise:

  1. First, whatever this “peace” is, it is something that affects both our mind (thoughts) and emotions (heart). God is talking about something that allows our minds to stop churning and mulling and running over and over and over a problem.  But it goes deeper than that.  God is talking about a peace that brings calm, release from tension, and end to “the pit in the stomach feeling.” 
  2. God’s peace is not circumstance-dependent. Our put positively, God’s peace can happen in even the worst of experiences. 

God’s peace can be like the calm that happens in the eye of a hurricane…but without the damage before and after.

ILL:  weather channel show about “extreme weather” (it’s a guy-thingJ) – one of the many hurricanes that decimated Florida and the gulf states last year – amazing destructive power in the front edge…and trailing side of the storm.  But in the middle:  sunshine and calm.

  1. This peace is divine (“peace of God”). It belongs to Him and is His to dispense.  Nothing may have changed about the externals.  But what does change in the person who experiences God’s peace is something between me and God, me and my Savior.  This is a very different kind of peace from what you read about in the newspapers day by day. The world supposedly wants “peace” between people and nations.  But we fail to recognize that such peace must first be achieved between people and God.  Real peace of heart comes only from God, not people.   
  2. This peace is one that “transcends all understanding.” The compound Greek word here literally means that this “peace” excels over knowledge.  What does that mean? 

      I often get the question after someone has shared a particularly difficult or devastating situation they are in, “WHY am I going through this?”  Something in the human heart yearns for answers to the “why” question.  It’s sort of a giant hold-over from the 3-4 year old toddler stage! 

      Answers as to “why” may make some things more bearable, but not most.  Knowledge about why something difficult or devastating his happening to us can’t, however, deaden the pain.  Answers can’t bring back someone or something we’ve lost and are grieving.  Additional knowledge and answers doesn’t make injustice easier to endure.  More facts about why your parents divorced doesn’t make it easier to live with the consequences. 

      But this promise of peace goes beyond the power of “understanding it all.” This peace is far superior to even figuring out the “whys” of a situation.  And it certainly is more powerful to situations in which we seemingly have no answers at all. 

  1. Notice the 5th thing about God’s peace:  it “guards [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” 

This is military lingo here.  It’s a term used for “marching sentry duty” around someone or something.  It’s something Paul was pretty used to when it came to “guards”.  Remember, Paul was probably under house arrest in Rome when he wrote this letter.  Maybe there were a couple of guards at the door of his apartment.  Maybe there was some ugly Roman Brutus who was hanging around him all day like a bad odor.  Paul was personally acquainted with “life under guard.”

      So when he talks with us about this experience of peace that God promises, he reaches into his own experience and draws out a metaphorGod’s peace stands guard duty against those thoughts, those emotions, those demonic forces and those daily challenges to heart-peace.  But that is only WHEN we take care of the first 3 commanded conditions given in the text.  We’ve already seen 2 of them:

1.)  Rejoicing in the Lord

2.)  Living gentleness towards people

Now we come to the 3rd “bi-polar” command of this passage—one negative command & 1 positive.    Look at vs 6 again. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

This Greek word translated “anxious” means “to be pulled in different directions.”  It’s from two Greek words meaning “to divide” (merizo) and “the mind” (nous) (thus merimnao).  Our hopes, expectations, disappointments and fears will do that.  They will pull us in different directions. Hopes and expectations pull us toward joy and happiness and peace.  Disappointments and fears pull us toward anxiety and tension and discontent. 

      This is the same word John used to describe Martha in Luke 10:41 when she was “worried and troubled about many things” in making the meal for Jesus that day he stopped by for lunch.  It was also used by Jesus when he told his disciples not to worry about food, clothing, drink or shelter. 

      Pastor Warren Wiersbe talks about worry as “the greatest thief of joy,” one who does an “inside job” on our best intentions to be joy-filled.  The antidote to worry is what Paul will give us in the next verse – a heart guarded and secured by the peace of God. These are 2 mutually exclusive things:  we either 1.) have worry and anxiety, or 2.) have God’s peace.  One drives out the other. 

      So just HOW do we make sure God’s peace wins rather than our flesh’s worry and anxiety?   

      Instead of being care-laden we are to be prayer-filled.  Paul says, “You can either be anxious or prayerful, circumstance-driven or Spirit-dependent. 

      Even secular society and publications have acknowledged some of the change being connected to God by prayer brings.  A Newsweek article over two decades ago (January 6, 1992) gave front-cover prominence to the importance of prayer when it cited research that indicated that 78% of all Americans prayed at least once a week; more than half (57%) reported praying at least once a day.  And, interestingly, even among the 13% of Americans who claimed to be atheists or agnostics, nearly 1 in 5 of them prayed daily!  (Who do they think they are talking to?)

      The author went on to note,

“In allegedly rootless, materialistic, self-centered America, there is also a hunger for a personal experience of God that prayer seeks to satisfy…serious prayer usually begins after the age of thirty, when the illusion that we are masters of our own fate fades and adults develop a deeper need to call on the Master of the Universe.  In an age of relativism, God remains for many the one true absolute.  In an era of transience and divorce, God can be the only place left to turn for unconditional love.” 

      We don’t have time to unpack the words found here--“prayer,” “petition” and “requests.”  All of them, however, deal with things we lack which God has.  And all of them are to be done in an attitude & environment of THANKSGIVING.  But thanksgiving in ALL of life is only possible if you are a strong believer in the sovereign lovingkindness of our heavenly Abba Daddy.

Thanksgiving drags every experience in life back into God’s presence…with faith…for the glory of God. 

Thanksgiving is an act of faith which honors God rather than casting doubt or disbelief on His work in our lives.

Prayerful, truly thankful people are peaceful people because they find peace in God’s presence and faith-moved submission to Him.

Closing Illustration:   A family had put their Grandma on her very first plane flight ever.  She wasn’t at all confident about the new experience of leaving the ground on this pressurized aluminum tube.

When they met her at the airport on her return, one of the family members kidded her by asking, “Well, did the plane hold you up okay?” She grudgingly replied, “Well, sort of.”

“What do you mean, “Sort of,” one of them asked?  “Well, I never did put my full weight down on it!”

How many of us are like that year after year.  The truth is, we’re being sustained completely by God…whether we recognize it or not. But we’re afraid to put our “full weight” down on Him. As a result, we hang onto anxiety and forfeit peace, never really enjoying the amazing experience of flying and the 30,000 foot view God wants to give us in life’s journey. 


  • Go back to those 3 things you thought of earlier that tend to give you stress and anxiety in life right now. I want you to talk with God about at least one of them…maybe all three:
    • How about telling God what you are thankful for about each of those issues.
    • Next, how about asking God what HE wants to do in your life with each of those stresses?
    • Having heard from the Holy Spirit what He wants to do through those stresses…or even if you haven’t heard from God yet, go ahead and as your Father to do what you think Jesus would want done with that challenge.
    • Finally, how about thanking Abba Father again that your ultimate joy in life is in Him, not in any particular desired outcome of this situation?


HYMN:  When Peace Like a River