Whatever Happens, Have a Strategy for Imperfect Situations

Philippians 4:2-7


Many years ago when our children were young and we were living in the church parsonage, Katrina worked all afternoon on her signature lasagna. She did everything from scratch, and we peeked into the oven and it was perfect—golden brown and hot and bubbling. She grabbed the potholders to take it out of the oven. 

It was absolutely perfect—and then it wasn’t!

I still don’t know what happened. Somehow it slipped out of her hands, flew through the air, and landed upside down on the kitchen floor. Katrina instantly burst into tears and it was one of the most pathetic things I’ve ever seen. We had to take the broom and dustpan and mop and dispose of it all, and all the time Katrina was just sobbing. I tried to console her and went out to get pizzas for supper.

Nothing is perfect in this life. Things get turned upside down all the time. Even a perfectly designed vacation is going to have a snag here and there. A perfect concert will have a discordant note somewhere, even if most people don’t realize it. And how often have I told people, “There is no perfect church.”

The church in Philippi was just about as perfect as we find in the New Testament, but there were a couple of women who had dropped the lasagna, as it were, and they were arguing about it. Paul wanted someone to console them and to send out for pizza. 

Look at Philippians 4:2-3: I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, to help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

These two women—Euodia and Syntyche—(we don’t know anything more about them) were causing some kind of division, and Paul wanted the others to help them resolve it. 

But now, beginning in verse 4, he goes on to tell us what to do in imperfect situations. We have a series of five statements that scholars call a paraenesis (para-nee’-sis), or a short set of instructions given in a staccato style. The apostle Paul often did this at the end of his letters. He had a lot more he wanted to say, but he was running out of parchment. So he begin using what we call today “bullet points.”

Perhaps the best illustration of this is in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

Here in the closing paragraphs of Philippians, Paul says some of the same things, and I want to show you five of them in this message. Philippians 4:4-7 says:

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.

1. Rejoice in the Lord always.

Rejoicing is something that doesn’t come to us naturally; it comes to us supernaturally. Happiness and sadness are natural emotions. They come to us naturally, and they are universal. But rejoicing is an attitude that is only available to those who are serious followers of Jesus Christ. It is produced within us by the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is joy. If you’re working at a fast food restaurant with 40 other employees, and you’re the only believer there, you are the only one who can represent joy in that establishment. If you’re the only believer on your team or in your family, you’re the only one who can experience joy.

It is a supernatural attitude that must be cultivated by training ourselves to respond to life with the words of Jesus in our hearts when He said, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

Paul had learned to do that, and he wove this theme into the entire book of Philippians. The word-group of joy and rejoicing occurs sixteen times, so much so that Philippians has been rightly called the “epistle of joy.” 

So here in Philippians 4:4, Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”

Notice the three modifiers.

  • We are to rejoice in the Lord. This is Old Testament language. The most visual description of faith in the Bible is in Habakkuk 3, when the prophet said, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” Even in imperfect circumstances, we can rejoice in the Lord.
  • We are to rejoice in the Lord always. That might be the most remarkable adverb in the whole book of Philippians. Joy is a supernatural attitude that’s like a fire in our hearts that never goes out. 
  • We are to rejoice in the Lord always, and we’re to double down on it: And again I say rejoice. 

I recall one day when I was depressed and anxious. I wanted the joy of God to fill my heart, but my heart was consumed with worry. Somehow, I don’t remember how it happened, the words came to me of the great hymn by Henry Van Dyke. It said:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,

God of glory, Lord of love;

Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,

Opening to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,

Drive the dark of doubt away;

Giver of immortal gladness,

Fill us with the light of day.

That prayer became very real to me. “Lord, melt the clouds of sin and sadness. Drive the dark of doubt away. Giver of immortal gladness, fill me with the light of day.”  The Lord answered that prayer, and in the years since I feel I’ve been growing in the joy of the Lord. We simply have to make up our mind to do it: Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!

2. Let Your Gentleness Be Evident to All

This is one of the most convicting verses in the Bible to me, because for much of my life I didn’t know how to be very gentle. The biggest barrier to gentleness is our anger, our tempers. The second biggest barrier is lack of training.

The Greek word for gentleness has to do with being gracious. It has to do with etiquette. I want to say something I think you’ll understand. When I was just starting out as a writer, a particular magazine asked me to review a book and, if possible, interview the author. I read the book and liked it, but when I tried to interview the author, he was very difficult. This was a Christian book, and I was going to write a positive review of it, which would have contributed to its success. But this man was rude. Being published had gone to his head, and he thought of himself as more important than he was. I came away from that experience as a young writer saying to myself, “I never want to be like that person.”

Gentleness does not mean a lack of strength or drive or determination. It means your strength and drive and determination is cloaked with graciousness. 

In Luke 4:22, the people were amazed at the gracious words that came from our Lord’s lips. And Colossians 4:6 (TLB) says, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

This is most important in the home and family, with our husband or wife or children or in-laws, and then in the church and community.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. Things are not perfect in this world, and nothing about our lives is absolutely perfect. Nothing about our health is absolutely perfect. Nothing about our finances is absolutely perfect. Nothing about our homes or churches is absolutely perfect. But harshness always makes things worse; gentleness always makes them better.

3. Remember the Lord is Near.

The third item in this paraenesis (para-nee’-sis) is actually a statement. The other items are commands, but now Paul interjects a statement. He says: “The Lord is near.” But I think he intended it to be something like a command. In other words, he was saying, “Remember something. The Lord is near.”

This is a very simple statement, but it is very difficult to interpret. About half of the scholars believe Paul was talking in eschatological terms, saying that the Lord’s return is near. Just a few verses before, at the end of chapter 3, Paul had told us to eagerly await the Savior from Heaven who will transform our bodies to be like His glorified and glorious body.

The other half of the commentators believe Paul was referring to the geographical presence of Christ, that He is near us by the Holy Spirit. His presence is near. The book of James tells us to draw near to Him, and the Psalmist said that the nearness of our God is our good. 

But I don’t think we have to decide about it. I think Paul was using a literary device known as a double entendre. Now, when we hear that term, we usually thing of an innocent statement that can be turned around to have a vulgar meaning.  But the phrase simply means a statement that can be taken in two ways. And we certainly know both interpretations represent reality. The Lord’s coming is near, and His presence is near.

Theologians talk about the imminence of Jesus Christ, by which they mean His coming is imminent. 

  • James 5:8 says, “The coming of the Lord is at hand.”
  • Revelation 1:3 says, “The time is near.”
  • Luke 20:40 says, “You must be ready, for the Son of Man when come at a time when you don’t expect Him.”
  • Titus 2:13 tells us to be waiting for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When I was a boy, my dad would sometimes travel to agricultural or educational meetings. Or he would travel to a denominational meeting and be gone several days. He always brought me back something, and the longer he was gone the more I missed him and the more I wanted him to get home. I remember once he came back and I said, “What did you bring me?” He grinned and opened his suitcase and there was magnetic gyro wheel. It was a classic toy, but I’d never seen anything like it. When you held it in your hands, you could aim it up or down, and the wheel would spin over the bars, and I spent hours playing with it. Now, I don’t know whether I was more excited about seeing my dad or seeing what he had brought me; but I do remember the sense of anticipation I had about his return. That’s the way we should feel about Christ.

But even now, before He returns face to face, we have Him near us by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It’s because of His nearness that we come to the fourth point of strategy:

4. Do Not Be Anxious about Anything

I’m a person who tends to be anxious about everything. The only good thing about it is this—it has driven me to study everything the Bible has to say on this subject. The whole Bible is given to keep us from fear and worry. This is the greatest anti-worry Book in the world. I’ve found strength and reassurance on every page. But there are three passages that seem to me as definitive words from God on this subject.

The first is Psalm 37: 

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.

The second passage is Matthew 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The third passage is this one in Philippians 4. I want to suggest that if you battle worry, take the flyleaf of your Bible and write the words “Anti-Worry Verses.” Start with these three—Psalm 37, Matthew 6, and Philippians 4. And when you find other verses that help you, write them down too, and create your own list of anti-worry passages.

5. In Every Situation, By Prayer and Petition, With Thanksgiving, Present Your Requests to God

The final strategy is: “In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Let me mention three things about this verse. 

First, it involves an exchange. We’re to go trade in our problems for prayer. The Living Bible says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.”

Second, it is comprehensive. Do not worry about anything—not one thing. Nothing. But pray about everything. Every single thing that bothers you. Notice those two words: Anything and Everything

Third, don’t forget to add thanksgiving to your prayers. This is master psychology. This is graduate-level information about the soul. 

Dr. James Moore was a noted Methodist pastor in Houston. On one occasion when he was traveling on a speaking engagement, he had supper with a young family. When they sat down at the table, the wife explained they’d been working on helping their children learn the important of prayer and thanksgiving before meals. Each night, they asked one of the children to say the blessing in a rotating fashion. 

As they bowed their heads, it was the little boy’s turn to prayer. He launched in and began to thanking God for every dish on the table by name—the roast, the mashed potatoes, the corn, the rolls and so on.

Then he gave thanks for all of the people present by name. This included his parents, siblings, their guest Dr. Moore and even their dog Spot. 

Finally, he moved on to all of the items in the home for which they should be grateful and again went into specifics by expressing gratitude for the table, the chairs, the silverware, the plates, and glasses, and on and on it went.

The siblings began to giggle. But when it was over, Dr. Moore admitted he was strangely moved. This four year old had reminded him of how important counting our blessings, all of our blessings can be. How much God has given us, and how little of it do we thank Him.

Dr. Moore was so moved, he later wrote a book about the importance of thanking God for even the simplest things in life.


And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

As we learn to do these five things, God does something unimaginable for us. He sends us His peace that exceeds human comprehension to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The word “guard” is a military word.  In 2 Corinthians 11:32, Paul said that the governor of Damascus ordered troops to guard the city gates, and the same Greek word is used here. The peace of God is like a sentinel, like a Ranger, like a Navy Seal, that goes with you everywhere to protect your mind and your emotions from being attacked by Satan’s weapon of worry. 

Do not fret… Do not worry about your life… Things are not perfect. No, nothing is perfect in this world. But we have a strategy for imperfect 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.