And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
Several years ago, my kids went on a summer mission trip to Romania. The date of their return flight fell right at the start of our planned week in Sea Island, Georgia. After the long flight that took them from Romania to Atlanta, we had booked an additional short flight down to Jacksonville, Florida where we would pick them up.
At that time, they were flying as ‘unaccompanied minors’ and we had received a letter from Delta Airlines that would allow us to go to their gate and meet them as they came off the plane – a once common practice now forbidden since the 911 attacks.
Their arrival in Jacksonville was late at night and when I arrived to get them, I was surprised to find the Jacksonville airport nearly deserted. It’s a much smaller airport that I expected, and the security points that allow access to the gates were entirely shut down.
Intent on getting to their gate, I made my way to a large concourse manned by a solitary TSA agent. In large letters above the concourse, all caps, was written NO ENTRY AT THIS POINT.
I approached the concourse marked ‘no entry.’ The agent spotted me.
The closer I got to the concourse the agent moved closer to me, finally stopping me with a blunt ‘can I help you?’ It was a cordial encounter. I think I looked harmless enough.
“The security lines are all closed, and I need to get to the gate to meet my kids. They’re unaccompanied minors and I have this letter from Delta that lets me meet them there.”
Remaining cordial, the agent answered without a moment’s hesitation. No head-scratching-what-to-do brainstorming on my situation. “No – you can’t do that. You can stand just over there, and they’ll walk out once they arrive.”
And thus ends the story. Hardly a thriller.
An Amazing Promise
While the story isn’t a very exciting one, it regularly comes to my mind when I read the words of Philippians 4:7. Paul has been giving counsel on how a deliberate discipline of prayer can counter our anxieties. He provides direct instruction on offering prayers and petitions with thanksgiving, and then he makes an amazing promise.
As we turn our worries into grateful prayers, God’s peace will be actively at work within us. This peace that goes beyond anything we can naturally understand will “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
The Greek word that Paul uses for “guard” is a military term. New Testament scholar Fred Craddock commented on the word by saying that God’s peace “will stand sentry watch” over your hearts and minds. Similarly, J.A. Motyer says that Paul’s language here pictures our mind as a besieged citadel, but “its sentries never sleep at their post.”
As we turn our worries into prayer, the peace of God takes its post and stands there faithfully when those worries try to breach our thoughts and our feelings. God’s peace stands at its post and says ‘no’ to every anxious thought and every anxious emotion. Our heart and mind are well guarded.
Not as the World Gives
Paul doesn’t pull this promise out of the air, or out of his own best hopes for us. Paul is teaching the Christians in Philippi (and he’s teaching us) what Jesus intends for us. Consider the following words, straight from Jesus himself:
John 14:27 . . . Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)
John 16:33 . . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)
Listen carefully and here’s what we hear: First, there is a kind of peace that the world gives. It’s the kind of peace we experience when we have a great job and plenty of money, when everyone in the family gets along and the car runs well. But we know that any of these things can be lost at any moment. And when that happens, we forfeit our peace.
Second, we hear that Jesus gives us a different kind of peace. This peace is unlike the peace the world gives. Paul called this a peace that surpasses or transcends all understanding. We might say it’s a kind of peace that really doesn’t make sense.
This peace will guard your heart and mind . . . your emotions and your thoughts.
When you turn your worries into prayer and make your requests known to God, will you get exactly what you’ve requested? You might, but you might not. But what you are promised is the gift of his peace that guards your heart and mind.
Maybe the place to begin today is simply to ask for that peace. Ask boldly, knowing that Jesus wants to give it.
We spend so much time, O God, chasing the peace that the world offers us. Even when we find it, it can be so easily lost. Grant to us a peace unlike anything this world can give us – the peace that transcends all understanding. May that peace stand watch over us, guarding heart and mind, through Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.