Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)
I hope you have enjoyed our last four weeks in the book of Job as much as I have. It has been too long since I’ve engaged that text, and I found really digging into Job’s story has helped me get a clearer picture of how I relate to God. All-too-often I become frustrated, or disheartened, by the news and what I see going on in the world around us. Job’s story, however, helps to remind us that, although we are not in control, we live in a world of both heartbreaking suffering and heart-stopping beauty. I am reminded that our role isn’t to be in control of the universe, that is God’s job. We are called to live fully in this world, trusting in God’s love and abundance.
One thing I have found through the years and been reminded of frequently in recent days, is that in many ways our focus determines our reality. In other words, we tend to notice the things we are looking for in life. So, if we think that the world is a dog-eat-dog place, where people trample others for their own selfish gain, that is what we will experience. If, on the other hand, we believe that people are basically good and look for a way to help others, that is what we will find as well.
That’s what Paul is saying to the Philippians as he concludes his epistle to the church. Paul encourages the church (and encourages us) to think about what is good and noble, pure and pleasing. This is not a denial of the very real heartache in the world today. Rather it is a conscious choice to focus on what is good and uplifting. Because, that is where we will find God at work. God is in the midst of our pain, yes, but when we look with eyes focused on what is good, we will see how God’s presence is redeeming that pain and transforming the brokenness.
When we follow Paul’s advice or when we lament like Job, we see God and experience God’s redeeming presence. And as we draw near to God, as we pray for one another and for ourselves, we embark on a journey from death to life. When we place our focus on God, we begin to see and sense God’s presence in unexpected places.
This is not only true in our day-to-day lives, but in the church as well. If you’ve been around a community of faith for any time at all, I suspect you’ve encountered a conflict of some magnitude. Whether it was about how the finances were being used, or the color of paint in the nursery, we tend to be very passionate about our church. That is a good thing. Mostly.
The problem happens when our passion differs from someone else’s passion. Over and over again through my life and ministry I’ve heard the same kinds of things said when that happens. We assume that it is a lack of caring, or that “they” are not as invested in the community as “we” are. Imagine, if you will, what it would be like if instead of looking at the negatives, we searched for the positives. What would it be like if we began with the assumption that it is precisely BECAUSE they care, that we are rubbing one another wrong.
Let’s commit to one another, and to God, to focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commend-able, excellent, and worthy of praise. As we do, I have faith that God will transform us, both as individuals, and as a community of faith.