This week is our last week in this series on D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. I hope these chapters have been a blessing to you as much as they’ve been a blessing to me!
Today we’re going to look at two of the book’s last chapters, Chapter 19: The Peace of God and Chapter 20: Learning to Be Content.
The Peace of God
The key passage of this chapter is Philippians 4:6-7:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Over the past few posts, we’ve looked at lots of joy-robbers that can upset our soul and lead us into spiritual depression: trials, chastening, fear, and feelings. Lloyd-Jones describes this chapter’s joy-robber–what fills us with anxiety–as “the tyranny of circumstances” (261).
Oh, circumstances. Can anyone say, chronic illness? Undiagnosed health problems? Injuries that never heal or reveal other, greater complications?
While these specific situations may not be included in biblical passages, the Bible speaks to (and of) tough circumstances many, many times, in both the New Testament and the Old. Lloyd-Jones refers to the example of the psalmist in Psalm 3 who, despite his trials, wrote, “I lay down and slept.”
How can we not just lie down but sleep when the storm of circumstances is raging around us? What is the secret to this peace that Paul describes in his epistle to the Philippians?
Lloyd-Jones hands it to us through three sections of this passage: what we don’t do, what we do, and what God does.
1. What we don’t do
Paul tells us to “be anxious for nothing.” The word “anxious” is the same term that Jesus uses in Matthew 6:34 during His Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.”
It means do not be over-anxious, do not brood and ponder, do not meditate over-much upon, do not have this nervous solicitude about the thing.p 263
What brings us to this point of crippling anxiety? Paul’s words that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” exposes that the problem results from our hearts and minds, in what Lloyd-Jones calls “a very profound piece of biblical psychology” (263).
As this passage suggests, we can’t control our hearts–the central part of our personality–or our minds, our thoughts. Have you ever tried to force yourself to fall asleep at night when your mind is going, your heart is troubled, or–worst yet–your imagination jumps on board and starts throwing scenarios at you?
You know how it goes. No matter how hard we try, we can’t force our hearts and minds into peace–not just by night but also by day, as we (try to) interact with others and carry on with life with worries tugging at us and distracting us. If we’re not careful, such anxiety robs us of our joy, our testimony, and our value to others.
2. What we do
We know not to give in to this state of undermining anxiety, but what do we do instead? If we’re in this miry pit, how do we get out?
The answer, writes Lloyd-Jones, is not the common advice to “stop worrying.” Not only is it unhealthy, it’s sometimes physically impossible for us to stop worrying, no matter what we know or others tell us: what you’re worrying about can’t come true, your worry is a waste of energy, all the worry in the world won’t change the situation, etc.
These words may be true, but they don’t help us because they don’t address the root issue: the heart and the mind. Paul, however, does when he tells his readers to “let your requests be made known to God.”
If you think that sounds like prayer, you’re right! But Paul doesn’t stop there–he gives us further instructions of what prayer looks like and how it will help our state of anxiety:
- “by prayer” — this term means worship and adoration. Before we even mention our requests, we need to recognize who God is.
- “and supplication” — here, after we’ve worshipped God and taken time to be face-to-face with Him, we lay our requests before Him.
- “with thanksgiving” — thanking God is an essential part of our worship. We can’t expect to receive His peace if we don’t thank Him from a correct understanding of His goodness.
What do we thank God for? If you’re having trouble coming up with specific things, start with the basics: your salvation, God’s forgiveness through Christ, Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, your position and identity in Him. Sometimes it takes a bit of warming up before our gratitude can really flow.
The prayer that Paul advocates, in other words, is not a desperate cry in the dark, not some frantic appeal to God without any real thought. No, no, we first realize and recollect that we are worshiping a blessed, glorious God. We worship first and then we make our requests known.p 268
3. What God does
If we bring our requests to God in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, God promises His peace “will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Notice that Paul says nothing about the things that are giving us this anxiety. He doesn’t say that we’ll pray and then our tough circumstances will go away. In fact, he’s absolutely silent about what’s going on around us.
And that, writes Lloyd-Jones, is the best part.
The glory of the gospel is this, that it is concerned about us and not our circumstances. . . . Paul does not say that the thing feared is not going to take place, he says that we shall be kept whether it happens or whether it does not happen. Thank God, that is the victory. I am taken above circumstances, I am triumphant in spite of them.p 269
I love the imagery that Lloyd-Jones presents for how this amazing, circumstance-conquering peace of God guards us:
What will happen is that the peace of God will walk around the ramparts and towers of our life. We are inside, and the activities of the heart and mind are producing those stresses and anxieties from the outside. But the peace of God will keep them all out and we ourselves inside will be at perfect peace.p 270
Learning to Be Content
For the theme of the next chapter, Lloyd-Jones stays in Philippians 4, just a few verses later:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.Philippians 4:10-12
Paul’s condition of contentment
As Lloyd-Jones explains, the word “contentment” here gives the idea of self-sufficiency, having sufficiency in one’s self independent of surroundings or circumstances. This is not indifference to circumstances but independence from circumstances.
By all means if you can improve your circumstances by fair and legitimate means, do so; but if you cannot, and if you have to remain in a trying and difficult position, do not let it get you down, do not let it control you, do not let it determine your misery or your joy.p 279
Lloyd-Jones reminds us that Paul was in prison when he wrote these words, likely chained to two soldiers, one on each side. Yet he wasn’t chained to his circumstances–he could experience joy, peace, and contentment even in chains because his sufficiency was in Christ, in the one who controls all circumstances.
Paul’s journey to contentment
Notice that Paul uses the phrase “I have learned.” A better translation would be “I have come to learn.” How did Paul come to learn this secret of contentment? Lloyd-Jones gives us three answers:
We only need to read about Paul’s life (in Acts and other epistles, such as II Corinthians) to know that Paul did not have an easy life. In fact, the New Testament implies several innate difficulties for Paul: “[He] was sensitive, proud by nature, and, in addition, he was an intensely active being” (283). (This sounds like me!)
So whether from his own, inner personality or from other, external situations, Paul’s experiences pushed him closer to Christ and deeper into the trust and peace of contentment.
Sometimes we forget the role logic and sound arguments (of the good kind!) play in our Christian living. Lloyd-Jones suggests that Paul likely relied on a logical progression like the following:
- Circumstances are always changing and are therefore unreliable.
- My soul and my relationship with God are most important.
- God is my Father and cares for me.
- Even if I don’t know all of His ways, I know He allows only what is for my good.
- All of my circumstances are not random but part of God’s good plan of love for my sanctification.
- My changing, temporary circumstances can’t touch the eternal joy and glory waiting for me in Christ (284-85).
3. Christ’s example
The author of Hebrews tells us to be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (12:3). Paul did this–he looked to Jesus’ perfect example and applied it to his own life.
So can we.
Are you submitting to the tyranny of your circumstances or submitting your worries to God in worshipful, thankful prayer? Is your sufficiency 100% in Christ? How can you learn from experience, logic, and Christ’s example to be content in Jesus no matter your situation?
Thank you for joining us in this series! If there was a post or idea that impacted you, leave us a comment–we’d love to hear! Don’t forget that you can also buy your own copy of Spiritual Depression to be blessed by the whole book!