Reflections to start the week
Monday, December 8, 2014
What people read and need most
Amazon recently released data indicating the most highlighted passage on Kindle ebooks. Guess which book contains that most highlighted passage? It is indeed that perennial bestseller, the Bible, which may or may not surprise you. Let’s take it up a notch with the next question: Can you guess which passage from the Bible has gotten all that attention? The Ten Commandments? The Beatitudes? John 3:16? The racy story of David and Bathsheba, or the love poems in the Song of Solomon? (Pause to imagine the Jeopardy music playing as you come to your response.)
According to the data, the most highlighted passage is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (text provided below). It’s a passage about anxiety, and what to do about it. No sugar coating. This is not Bobby McFerrin singing “Don’t worry. Be happy!” The passage recognizes that anxiety is part of life. It also recognizes that we are not left alone, not left without resources to respond. Perhaps the popularity of the passage arises from the fact that the passage actually suggests ways to navigate the anxiety. There are indeed pathways.
First, we are called to prayer and petition in the midst of the anxiety. We are asked to ask for help. That is a huge theological, creedal, pastoral faith statement. It says a lot about who we think God is, and how we see ourselves. It indicates that we can’t do this on our own. It calls for that self-understanding, a dose of humility. It indicates a confidence that there is someone listening, some presence, power, person attentive to the prayers and petitions, and that that someone is capable of response in some way. That’s a huge statement. Who can believe it?
Next, we are to pray in a spirit of gratitude, again a big statement of faith, calling us to remember how we have been blessed, to look in the spiritual rear view mirror and to recount the stories of how we have come this far. It reminds us that we are on the receiving end of grace. It calls us to set our anxiety in that context.
Third, we are invited into the peace of God which transcends understanding. Picture this. Paul is writing all this stuff from a first century prison cell. Imagine what such a place was like. He had plenty of reason for anxiety. Yet every other word in this letter (read the whole thing today if you have the time) seems to be about joy and rejoicing. That spirit had little to do with circumstances, with Paul’s situation, the external experiences. Don’t we all know folks who seem to have all the toys and prizes of life but are still totally unhappy? Haven’t you met people who face extraordinary challenges who rise above those obstacles with hope and joy. A woman wrote me last week about anxiety she experienced as a close family member went through surgery. There was a lot that was unknown. There was potential for dire consequences. In the midst of it, she reported being overcome with a sense of peace, even before she knew that the surgery indicated good outcome. Peace beyond understanding.
In this season of Advent, which calls us to the virtue of hope, may this surprisingly popular passage provide pathways to that kind of peace.
– Jay Sidebotham
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:6-7, (New Revised Standard Version)
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. -Philippians 4:6,7 (The Message)
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.