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Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Taste for Tragedy

We want to read about it, hear about it, hear the survivor testimony, watch the movie, and even cry. We want to know about tragedy. Someone else´s suffering. It attracts. It draws us in.

Why? Perhaps it’s our fascination with news. Maybe it’s because we’re compassionate, and we want to empathize with fellow human beings. It could be because we’re curious, and we want to see how people deal with tragedy. I know I’m always looking for a pleasant ending—how someone overcame—and I’m disappointed if they don’t.

Maybe we’re so interested in sad news and bad news and people’s suffering that we miss what God clearly commands us to be interested in. Yes, the sad news attracts. Yes, we want to know. But, I think Christians need to discipline our minds onto a different track—and the Lord even gives us directions about how to do it.

Let’s look at Philippians 4. It’s a familiar passage, so let’s just delve into it in a little more detail. The Apostle Paul is speaking to the church at Philippi. It begins, Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown. This letter is written to believers (brethren). Then, immediately he admonishes them, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. These were times of persecution. Paul himself was in prison when he wrote this. He never sat down and wrote about the prison conditions. A couple of times he mentions sickness and feeling cold. He asks for a cloak and a copy of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 4:13).

Imagine if Paul were a blogger today. He’d capture the feeling of being in prison, the sounds, the smells, the treatment of other prisoners, and what it was like to lose a close comrade. It would be filled with emotion. He’d be transparent about his tears and inner struggles. He’d bare his soul about longing for freedom.

Instead, Spirit-filled, he writes, Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. This is how obedience to God contrasts with our human (and selfish) emotions.

Paul further admonishes: Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. He calls for balance in their Christian lives. Oh, how necessary! I feel I’ve spent my whole life searching for the correct balance. (I’ll probably achieve it in heaven.)

For worriers, over-thinkers, workaholics, and anxiety-filled people, he continues: Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. I don’t know about you, but I constantly need to go back to this verse. Instead of freaking out, I need to pray, ask, and give thanks—all three. The result of this kind of prayer is, And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. For me, it’s one of those tried and true passages of the Bible. When I’ve been spazzing over something, harassed by someone, and very upset, I go to this formula for prayer: pray and tell God all about it, ask Him for the need of the moment, and thank God. I might thank Him for listening, for caring, for actually loving me, for Who He is. I spend some time in praise. Afterwards, every time, I know it’s in His hands, and He gives me this awesome peace. It truly passes understanding.

Just about the time we think we’ve wrapped up the passage, Paul instructs about how to think. Drink it in. It’s the secret to a healthy mind and heart. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Christians today might rewrite that passage to say, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are shocking, whatsoever things are horrible, whatsoever things are unfair, whatsoever things are tragic, whatsoever things are destructive, whatsoever things are painful; if there be any sadness, and if there be any reason for mourning, think on these things.”

I fully realize that God has put us in the world. We actually need to be aware of what’s going on around us. We want to be prepared to help others. The Apostle Paul instructed believers to rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep (Romans 12:15). At the same time, we must discipline our minds towards what’s true, honest, lovely, pure, good news, virtuous, and praiseworthy. If we mastered only one verse in the Bible, Philippians 4:8, we’d be different people.

Following that admonition, Paul says the Christians should follow what he had taught and lived, and God through Paul gives a second promise of peace: Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

May the Lord help us change the way we think!


All biblical quotations not referenced are from Philippians 4:1, 4-9.

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