I used to belong to a community group that worked to help people get out of poverty.
The perseverance, courage, and determination I observed exhibited by some of those in poverty was nothing short of heroic. They had achievable goals in mind, and they were not going to let obstacles stop them.
Some others, however, felt like they had to get their attitude right before making big changes. They failed to recognize the limitations of “positive thinking.” Sometimes we have things we need to do but don’t feel like doing, but we do them anyway, with our emotional following later.
Another misapplication of positive thinking comes with what I would call the “Disney Principle.” This principle tells us we can achieve anything as long as we believe in ourselves. It sounds wonderful and encouraging. The only problem is that it doesn’t match reality. Certainly, we can fail at something because we never try, or we give it only a half-hearted effort. But we’re not omnipotent or invincible. Some things are beyond us.
In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul admonishes the Christian community in Philippi with two bold exhortations: to rejoice and to have no anxiety.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)
Is Paul telling us to follow the Disney Principle? No! His charge comes from a firm position. First, we can rejoice because the Lord is near to us. Nothing can come between us and Christ unless we choose to separate ourselves from God through mortal sin. When we pray, we pray to a God who loves us and will always look to give us what is best for us. He is all-wise and knows what we need. He is all-powerful and able to do whatever is needed. With all of this, we can be fully confident in God’s response when we pray.
Peace Surpassing All Understanding
Paul not only says that when we pray that we will have peace, but he calls it a peace that surpasses all understanding.
We can get beyond many obstacles to peace just by following God’s commands, for His commands are directions for the healthiest way to live. Nevertheless, even those who do all the right things may still have emotional lows, face overwhelming circumstances, and find themselves underpowered to overcome their limitations. There is a supernatural dimension to the peace God gives that goes beyond all our effort and understanding. How do we gain access to this? We can only find such peace in God, so let us turn to Him with all our heart, mind, and soul. Let us surrender our anxiety and selfish desires. Then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.