Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. Increase the days of the king’s life, his years for many generations. May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever; appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him. Then will I ever sing praise to your name and fulfill my vows day after day.
It’s when we’re under a lot of stress that we most desire the sanctuary our faith in God can provide. David felt this way and asked God to take him to a refuge he could not reach on his own, a “rock higher than I”.
The advantage we have over David is that we’re told how to find such a place whenever we need it. Paul put the instructions in his letter to the Philippians, who were facing daily persecution of a life threatening nature.
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” he wrote, “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 everything, 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.” (Phil 4:4-7)
The peace that transcends all understanding is truly a place we cannot reach on our own. It’s an inner quiet that sustains us in spite of circumstances, conditions, or what other people say, think, or do. But by rejoicing in every situation, even the ones causing the intolerable stress in our lives, we can get there. A friend paraphrased this passage to help me remember the instructions. “Be fearful of nothing, pray about everything, and be thankful for anything.” Well said.
But Paul gave further instructions. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil.4 :8-9)
With all due respect to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Paul discovered the Power of Positive Thinking. Somehow he knew that with all the potential God has invested in the human mind, there’s one gigantic limitation. At the conscious level we can only think one thought at a time. That means that by concentrating on the true, noble, pure, and right things in our world, we’ll be unable to scare ourselves into believing that the catastrophic consequences we’ve conjured up will actually come to pass. We’ll remember that God has promised to work all things together for our good, (Romans 8:28) and experience a strengthening of our faith instead of descending into the vortex of our fears. Fear and faith cannot exist in the same mind at the same time.
Focusing on the positive also helps us overpower another of our enemy’s weapons, the debilitating emotion we call worry. Research has proven that for the average person 40% of the time spent worrying is spent on things with such a low probability of happening, they’re not worth considering. Another 30% is spent on things that have already happened and there’s nothing we can do to reverse them. 12% more on things that are irrelevant; it doesn’t matter whether they happen or not. 10% of our worrying time involves things that aren’t our responsibility, and finally only 8% of our worrying time is spent on things that are real and also our responsibility to correct.
But by the time we get to those, most of us are so exhausted from worrying about the things we can’t control, we’re too weak to fix the things we can. Following Paul’s advice on positive thinking helps us avoid this trap, too. Good man, that Paul.