He’s STILL Got the Whole World in His Hands
Easter in just one week away – Please MOVE UP and Invite!
In uncertain times, God tends to get our undivided attention, doesn’t He? Most of us would have to admit that it was during a difficult time in our life, perhaps an illness, a job loss, or some other crisis that we really learned to pray. There is just something about uncertainty that causes us to look UP instead of simply looking AROUND.
In fact, let’s just do a quick survey. Has there ever been a time in your life where God got your attention for the first time, or regained your attention through some sort of difficultly? Maybe it was a dark place in your life, some kind of bump in road in terms of finances, health, family, or something else? If so, please raise your hand, or type “YES” into the online chat.
If you are on an airplane and you encounter a severe storm the captain do esn’t have to come on the intercom to ask people to pray. Everyone is already praying on their own! People who hadn’t prayed in a long time, are saying, “Hello God! It’s me. Sorry it has been so long. Can we talk…like RIGHT NOW?”
I know there are exceptions, but in those moments, even the most unspiritual people are suddenly ready to set aside all other concerns to focus their attention on God. When life is spinning out of control the natural tendency for most people is to move in God’s direction. I believe that is why God seems to accomplish more in our lives in the difficult times than He does in times of ease and comfort.
We don’t seem to learn as much, or grow as much, when things are going well. We learn the most about ourselves, about life, and about our Heavenly Father when times are tough. In fact, if you have ever drifted from God, that probably happened when things were going your way. On the other hand…
People tend to get focused on their relationship with God when times are TOUGH.
Some of the bad things that happen may cause a person to question God, but even in questioning God, at least they are turned in His direction. A significant portion of the Bible was written in times of uncertainty. Whether it is the Old Testament Prophets, the Law, the Apostle Paul, etc….
The Bible is a record of God’s FAITHFULNESS in uncertain times.
Your favorite Bible story, or the Bible story that you know the best, is a story of conflict. It’s a story where you were not quite sure what was going to happen. It is the record of men and women who somehow found God and identified God and discovered God’s hand and His activity in the face of uncertainty.
For those of you who attended Sunday School or Vacation Bible School as kids, we sung a song that you heard last Sunday – He’s got the Whole World in His Hands. Such a simple and profound truth. He’s Still Got the Whole World in His Hands. It is true. He does! But sometimes we forget about that. That is why we decided to do this series leading up to Easter. In the midst of all the uncertainty in our world today, we need to be reminded of this important and powerful truth.
What we’re experiencing in the world right now, from a Biblical perspective, is normal. In the face of all the turmoil and uncertainty, (whether it is Covid, economic instability, threats of war, etc.) as followers of Christ, we have nothing to fear. God has not changed, and He is an expert at taking care of His people during times of chaos, turmoil, and instability.
That’s why we have so much confidence in God and His Word. He is at work in ways we cannot see. And as believers, we trust that God really is working together for our good in all things. (Romans 8:28 (NIV) And for some reason, it seems like He gets more done in times of uncertainty than in times of peace and tranquility.
But what are we supposed to do while we wait for God to do something, or while we wait for Him to answer our prayers? What are we supposed to do when the uncertainty is becoming more uncertain? What are we supposed to do while the bank account continues to dwindle? What are we supposed to do when it seems like everything is going the opposite direction of what we think it should be? What do we do when it seems like God isn’t at work and He doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers? What are we supposed to do in the meantime?
There is a very specific answer to this question in Philippians 4. Philippians is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to a local church in a place called Philippi. If you know anything about the life of the Apostle Paul, the fact that he wrote these verses is what gives them credibility. You will recall that he penned these words from prison. And from that setting, while facing a trial and the potential of execution, this is what he had to say about uncertainty and specifically how he instructs us to pray in times of uncertainty.
In Philippians 4:4 He begins by saying…“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4 (NIV) If Paul had said “rejoice always”, we might say, Paul doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand. But he doesn’t say, “rejoice always” does he? He said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. We understand what that means more than we might think.
If I said, “rejoice in your new job” or “rejoice in your new car”, or “rejoice in your big bank account”, all of us would know how to do that. We know what it means to rejoice in something. People say what are you so happy about? Then you say something like, “I got a new job. She said yes! I made the team. I got the promotion. The deal came through. They accepted our offer.
We know what it means to rejoice in something. So, Paul says, I want you to rejoice in the fact that God’s mercy, love, and grace is active in your life. Just think about the significance of all that God has done for you. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And then for added emphasis, he says it a second time, “I will say it again. Rejoice!”
Sadly, we don’t stop to rejoice in the Lord very often. That may be because we have so many other things to rejoice about. So often, our joy is in so many things. We’ve got joy in our stuff, and joy in our vehicles, and joy in our house, joy in our gadgets, and in our technology, and in so much stuff! So, it is easy for these things to subtly become the source of our joy. We rejoice in so many of these things, and we fail to rejoice in the Lord.
I think Paul is letting us know that it is time to refocus our joy. Make sure your joy is rooted in what matters most. See to it that your joy is firmly placed in that which will last. We can choose today to be intentional about learning to rejoice in God’s goodness in our lives and Paul shows us how. Even though he was in prison, and even though things weren’t going his way, he had made the decision to rejoice in the Lord. You and I can do the same thing!
Paul’s next line is kind surprising. “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” – Philippians 4:5a (NIV) Gentleness has been defined as Christlike consideration for others. In some ways, I think this is a statement about character. Hard times should never be allowed to erode our character or integrity. If our joy is only associated only with good times, and good circumstances, then as those circumstances erode, so will our character. Our character is not to be based on external circumstances. It is based on what God has done and is doing inside of you. That is why we should rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.
Circumstances should never CONTROL the way we treat other people. Paul says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” There should be something unique, and beautiful, and good about the way we treat people regardless of our circumstances. Unfortunately, for so many of us, our kindness is often the result of our circumstances. When life is kind to me, then I will be kind to you. The problem comes when life is unkind to me and I use that as an excuse to be unkind to you.
Paul says you don’t want to allow something you have no control over, like your circumstances, to take control of your character which is to be a reflection of God’s grace inside of you. “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” – Philippians 4:5 (NIV) Paul is letting us know that God hasn’t gone anywhere. “Do not be anxious about anything…” – Philippians 4:6a (NIV) Don’t be stressed out or distracted by your emotions in the moment.
This is easy to say, but difficult to do. Whenever somebody says, “Don’t be anxious” or “don’t worry” about something, are you able to just flip a switch and stop worrying or being anxious in that moment?
Steve, don’t worry. Don’t be anxious. Thank you! That is such a great idea. I wish I had thought of that. I’ll just not worry about it. I am so glad you said that. Thank you for that valuable advice. Hey, would you take it a step further and even remind me to stop worrying several times throughout the week? That would be so helpful, and I would appreciate it so much.
Someone can say, “don’t worry about it”, because they really have no idea what’s going on in your life anyway. But if they heard the details of your story, they would probably be as worried as you are. Still, Paul tells us to avoid being anxious about anything.
In these next two verses, he gives us the secret to handling difficult times without allowing the difficult times to control us. We talked about this a few weeks ago. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6 (NIV) In every situation…that would include every marriage situation, every job situation, every school situation, every family situation, every friendship situation, every financial situation, and every work situation, etc.
Paul’s counsel is appropriate and can be applied to every situation you encounter. He tells us to replace our anxiety with prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. In other words, every time you are overwhelmed with anxiety, and every time you are overwhelmed with worry, and every time you just start to go under because you are overcome by your circumstances, here is what we are to do instead…He is not only saying don’t worry about it. He is saying do this instead.
In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. If all you see in there is prayer, you have missed the point and you will be frustrated. Of course, we will pray. In fact, based on your circumstances, you might have prayed more lately than you have in a long time. You might have prayed about this situation that is causing you anxiety for days, weeks, months, or even years.
Notice that Paul refers not only to prayer, but also petition, and thanksgiving. When you pray, what is it that you truly desire from the Lord. What is the deepest desire of your heart? On the surface, you may say, “I really desire a job.” But what do you really desire? On the surface, you may say, “I need to sell this house.” But what is driving that request?
This is bigger than telling God what you want in prayer. It is about digging deep and exposing the deepest desires of our heart – not only through prayer, but with petition and thanksgiving as well.
UNCERTAINTY can reveal Our deepest INSECURITIES.
Uncertainty brings our greatest fears to the surface. Few of us pray at the level of insecurity and fear. Most of us pray at the level of want. Jesus, this is what I want. Here is what I need. Please help me find my car keys, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Paul is talking about taking our prayers to the next level.
In a world like we are living in you might be feeling the earth shake beneath your feet. You may be feeling things you’ve never felt before. You may be having doubts that you’ve never had before. If that is the case, don’t just come to God and say, “here’s what I want.” Take it a step further and say, “here’s why I want it”. Let Him know what you’re afraid of. Pour out your deepest heart’s desire to God as you approach Him in prayer, and petition with thanksgiving. Not only does uncertainty have a way of bringing my deepest insecurities to the surface…
Uncertainty can reveal our HIDDEN VALUES.
When I move past praying “help me to find a job, help me to sell the house, help me to close the deal”, I can discover what is behind all those legitimate requests. And so often, if we are honest, our greatest insecurities, and deepest desires begin to come to the surface. This is when we find out what is really most important and what is really going on beneath the surface in our lives.
Whatever we find, let’s be willing to bring that to our Heavenly Father. And when we do, Paul offers this promise…“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 7:7 (NIV)
Do you realize the difference between the peace of God and peaceful circumstances? Peaceful circumstances mean that everything went well today.
That is the peace of the world. But only the peace of God can guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.
To guard means to “stand guard or stand watch over” our heart and our mind. One of the reasons we are so anxiety ridden today is because we’ve not allowed our Heavenly Father to stand guard over our hearts and our minds. We keep trying to send Him out to stand guard over our job, or that big project, or our kids. What would it look like for you to allow Him to stand guard over your heart and your mind?
What if that is the path to peace in the face of all the uncertainty in the world today? Did you know…Peace IS possible, even in the midst of all the uncertainty in our world. What if instead of being stressed out in those moments of high stress and high anxiety, you were able to learn how to pray until the peace comes?
What if you were to stay on your knees, not until the circumstances change, because the circumstances may never change? But what if you were to stay on your knees until a genuine change takes place in your heart and mind? What if you able to experience an indescribable peace, even in the midst of the most undesirable or uncertain circumstances? Don’t just say, “God, here’s what I want.” Dig deep. Ask yourself why you want it, and what are you afraid will happen if He doesn’t do what you want?
This is about learning to trust Him on the deepest levels possible. I can be at peace, not because THE WORLD changed, but because I CHANGED. Paul goes on to tell us that we can emerge from this kind of praying with a deep sense of the peace of God that surpasses all human comprehension.
“I learned that prayer isn’t about changing God, prayer is about changing me.”
That is what happens when you learn to pray until the peace comes. Here’s a place to start…
“Heavenly Father, I need you to ____________________.” Fill in the blank.
Then take it one more step…
“If you don’t, I’m afraid that ________________________”
What are you afraid of? What is the source your insecurity? Begin with your greatest anxiety. Begin with the thing that you are the most stressed out about. Begin with the thing that any time you have any margin of thought your mind just goes there.
Here is the point. Whenever life is UNCERTAIN, our God is not. God’s STILL got the whole world in His hands. So, let’s learn to pray until the peace comes. , even in the midst of all the uncertainty. God has not lost control. God is not asleep at the wheel. He is still in control, and He can be trusted.
When days are difficult, when times are uncertain, our responsibility and our opportunity is to pray until the peace of God that passes all human understanding, comes to reside in our heart. Pray until the peace comes. Let’s take time to go to Him in prayer right now.