Anxious, Angry, and Annoyed. These are common responses to the question, “how are you today?” Perhaps the frustration is with the constant barrage of numbers and images tallying up the tragic loss of life. Perhaps the conflicting information and overwhelming amount of data about the latest crisis leaves you overwhelmed and bewildered. Maybe the anger comes from the conspiracy theories being peddled with respect to who is doing ABC or who is not doing XYZ – and why? Perchance the Deja-vu (Ground Hog’s Day) experience of today being like yesterday, like last Thursday, or like five Tuesdays ago is driving you and others in your household a bit loopy. Possibly you are bored. I am still haunted and humbled by my granddad’s corrective to me as young boy, “Chuck, only boring people get bored . . . how can you be bored with so much to see, so much to do, so much to read, so much to explore?” I will leave it to your good judgment to ponder and process grandpa’s words and wisdom.
In Philippians 4 Paul calls the anxious, attacked, and annoyed church to prayer, as well as to ponder and practice certain things. Let us take a few moments and ponder what the Apostle calls us to ponder. Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 – ESV)
May I ask how many of our daily data diets consist of the ingredients mentioned in this list? Some—not all, but some—of our anxiety, anger, and annoyance is due, I suggest, to an imbalance in our information and entertainment consumption. Refocusing our attention and affections may just help to calm some of our anxieties, rebalance our emotional scales, and reorient our hope.
The repetitive nature of Paul’s ‘whatever’ invites us to ponder the known universe. Seriously, the known universe. Paul’s list is not meant to be exhaustive, but exemplary. Search the universe to find these things, these excellencies. These things are not exclusive to Christians or ‘Christian’ resources. Sadly, sometimes there is a lack of truth, beauty, and excellence in things labeled ‘Christian.’ Paul is calling us to a much broader exploration. We are called, gifted, and equipped to consider truth, beauty, purity, and love wherever they may be found. Certainly, our explorations are to be shaped, guided, and informed by the Scriptures, but that is not the whole realm of our pondering. We may find these things in the realm of nature, revelation, relationship, music, athletics, science, literature, film, culinary arts (the list goes on) – whatever is…
This is really a call to wisdom, discernment, contemplation, and exploration. Ponder these things! It reminds us of the Sage in wisdom literature imploring us to ponder the ant, the sluggard, or the drunkard. Certainly, there is something to learn and gain by pondering and then acting upon these reflections. Or ponder Wisdom in the flesh, Jesus, calling upon his disciples to consider the lilies of the field, the sparrow, or the wise and foolish builders. What does our Lord want us take away from this wondering I wonder? Let us not simply read the passages, but practice the exhortation. We can do this on a walk, through reading a book, by watching a movie / program, by dialoguing with others and more. Take your time and ponder the ant, sluggard, lilies, bird in flight, the constellation Orion, the Orca etc. Sometimes we will find a sober and sad end to our ponderings, sometimes we will be delighted with laughter, sometimes we will be awestruck by beauty, sometimes we will be perplexed. However, my guess, hope, and prayer is that we will be less anxious, less angry, less annoyed, and less bored by the immediate.
Dr. Hywel Jones, in his excellent commentary on Philippians notes that there are six virtues mentioned, which can be grouped in three pairs of two each.
The first pair is whatever is true and honorable. Dr. Jones notes that, “. . . this pair refers to things from the point of view of reality – what is ‘true’ is what is real, and what is real is what is important.” The ‘true’ would have to incorporate the reality of creation, the fall, redemption, and ultimately the consummation. The ‘honorable’ addresses that which is awe-inspiring, which certainly includes creation, providence, and redemption in their multifaced comprehensiveness. The Apostle is not being Pollyannaish and seeing blue skies and unicorns everywhere. Whatever is true – would include the reality of living in Once Eden, as Pastor Zach Eswine thoughtfully calls this present evil age. This is where Jesus came to dwell too. Jesus was living and praying and struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane, not in the Garden of Eden, and so are we. So, pondering that which is true includes the horrible realities of our own sin, the horrors of being sinned against, and the pressures, perplexities, and paradoxes of living in a sin cursed world. Certainly, an aspect of pondering the truth considers these realities. That is why some literature, plays, operas, music, and movies that reveal the nature of depravity are so powerful. Precisely, because they ring true.
Just and Pure, the second pair, are “things in their moral character and effect” (Hywel Jones). In other words, ponder things that are pleasing to God, as well as being fair, beneficial, helpful, and fruitful for others. After all, we are created in the image of our Triune God who is inherently and eternally relational and who has created us to be in relationship to him and to others. In our society we often make heroes out of the wicked, the profane, the slacker, and the immoral. Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the selfless heroes in Scripture, in history, in art, and in literature. Obviously, none of these heroes are perfect, save Christ, but their stories, struggles, sorrows, and successes are worth our concentrated contemplation.
The third pair is lovely and commendable. Dr. Jones writes, “. . . lovely and commendable describe things in the effect they evoke in oneself and in others.” Whatever is love-inspiring and whatever is of good reputation, ponder these things. How often do we get dragged further into the morass of gossip, slander, rage, malice, hatred, suspicion, and indifference? Too much of that diet will surely make us anxious, angry, and annoyed. My wife and I have a whole catalogue of life-affirming movies which we often watch on Saturday nights. After a difficult week living in Once Eden and seeking to prepare our hearts and minds for the Lord’s Day, we will often end our week with something that is love-inspiring and life-affirming. We serve a God who is the author of life and who is love. We are made in his image and recreated in the image of the one who is the resurrection and the life. These things should resonate within our entire being as we ponder that which is lovely.
In the end, we find that Paul is really calling us to focus on our Lord as creator, sustainer, and redeemer. He is excellent, he is worthy of praise, he is awe-inspiring in all of his words and works. In particular, these virtues, though they may read like a list of virtues common in first century philosophy and painted on the halls of our schools today, moreover they reflect the perfection and perfections of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Isn’t he true (the way, the truth, and the life); honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy? As those who live between the tick of Jesus’ first coming and the tock of his second coming, we have fixed points of reality upon which to ponder all things. The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ are in our rearview mirror (there is therefore now no condemnation for us – we are regenerate, justified, indwelt, adopted, and loved). The return of the king and glory are illumined in our headlights, the next great event on the Redemptive Historical calendar. Paul wraps this exhortation to ponder these things between the twin realities of the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guarding our heats and minds in Christ Jesus (7) and the profound, reality altering promise that the God of peace will be with you (9). We have peace with God through Christ Jesus, he is guarding our hearts and minds. Furthermore, not only do we have peace with God, but the God of peace himself is with us. What can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Nothing! Ponder these things my friends. Perhaps the anger, anxiety, annoyance and boredom will give way to a more fully orbed peace of heart and mind, which are yours in Christ Jesus.
Chuck Tedrick has served as pastor of Calvary URC in Loveland, Colorado for nearly the past decade. He has an MDiv from Westminster Seminar California (2010). Chuck is happily married to Michele, who serves as the Director of Marketing for White Horse Inn.
 Eswine, Zack. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes. P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2014.