I used to be a news junkie. I think it started long ago when I was serving a missions
internship in Austria, far away from home and having only one source of news—the BBC. My fellow interns and I would gather around the portable radio on numerous late afternoons to listen to the latest updates on world events. As I grew older, watching the nightly news became routine, and reading the morning newspaper with a cup of coffee a welcomed pleasure. However, in recent years, I have grown more weary, first with the presidential election in 2016 and now with the pandemic. I find myself skimming the headlines more and watching full episodes of the evening news less. The rancor of national politics and the “wall-to-wall” coverage of the pandemic make the news of the day increasingly depressing and wearisome. I find myself more and more needing a mental and emotional break from bad news, angry people, and political pettiness.
Thankfully, the Apostle Paul offers some guidelines for navigating these negative and stressful times:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do 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.
Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)
What the world wants us to do, with the strong backing of our enemy, is to focus on the immediate things happening around us—the threats to our wellbeing, the injustices we or others face, and fears of the future—and to be consumed by them. And how easy that is to do!
Yet, if we consider the context in which Paul is writing, we see a different approach. He was imprisoned in a Roman dungeon. His circumstances were anything but encouraging. Friends had abandoned him. His living conditions were horrid. And his future looked bleak. It would have been easy for him to be consumed with his situation. However, what we see is a man focusing his attention on the Lord in very specific ways, ways that can help us as well in navigating our present circumstances.
First of all, he rejoiced in the Lord. Despite of his troubles, he knew his God and knew he was at work in the world and in his own life. This alone provided him with reasons to rejoice. It also provided him with a sense of peace in the midst of turmoil. He wasn’t anxious or on edge, but rather at peace because he sensed the presence of the Lord.
Secondly, he spent much time in prayer, bringing both thanksgiving and requests for help to God. He didn’t merely cry out for help, but took time to express thanks to the Lord for what he had already provided.
Thirdly, he focused his mind on that which is good. He was surrounded by negativity, despair, cruelty, and hopelessness in that Roman prison; yet, he chose to focus his mind on much more positive and uplifting things.
This is such good counsel for all of us living in this world. While I don’t think he is saying we are to stick our proverbial heads in the sand, I do think he is telling us how to counteract the negative consequences of living in a fallen world. Rather than being consumed by all the clamors of the world, take time to step away, if only mentally, and focus on the Lord, his goodness, his mercy, and the hope there is in knowing him. By doing so, we can replace anxiousness and fear with peace, hopelessness with hope, and complaining with thanksgiving.
In my mind, that is a much better state of being than the more common alternative.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version 2011.