This morning I had a chance to preach a message based on Philippians 4:1-9. Toward the end of this text the apostle Paul challenges his readers not to be anxious about anything and suggests that instead they should pray. This, he was convinced, was one of the pathways to “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.” After saying this Paul offers another suggestion that will go a long way in helping people deal with worry. He challenged the Philippians to refocus their thinking saying, “whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Paul does not give concrete examples of what to think about, just general categories. For that reason we cannot say with certainty whether he might have considered elements of God’s Creation as genuine options. I would suggest that this is a valid option indeed. In fact, for me personally, I am often able to overcome anxiety by thinking about the flora, fauna and landscapes I have viewed in the past or can see in the present.
I won’t try to give corresponding examples from nature for each of Paul’s generalities but will offer a few illustrations that come to mind. If I want to think of something that is “pure” I cannot think of many things more pure than freshly fallen snow. If I need to think of something “lovely” my mind may take me to Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies, to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, or perhaps to Wonder Lake looking up at Mt. McKinley. I have been blessed to witness countless examples of loveliness in God’s Creation.
If I want to ponder something that is “admirable” here, too, I have limitless options in nature. I may think of the shape, color and scent of many different wildflowers. I may just as well ponder the height, width, circumference and beauty of myriad trees I have seen. I could just as well dwell on the loyal devotion of many different animal species to their young or perhaps the way various creatures are able to adapt to extreme conditions.
When it comes to thinking of things “excellent or praiseworthy” there is once again no shortage of possibilities. I think now of having watched bald eagles soar across the sky, seeing glaciers calve into the sea, being mystified by the swirls and twirls of the northern lights, or the equally magical twists and turns of the desert Southwest’s slot canyons.
I’m sure when the apostle Paul gave his instructions to the Philippians to think on the various generalities he listed that even if he did have in mind things found in the natural world that he also was thinking of other things as well. I just offer to you the suggestion that in God’s Creation we find many examples of items that are right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. By focusing on these things we may very well be able to overcome some of the worry or anxiety we all inevitably face in life.
(I took the top image at Lower Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona. The middle image was taken at Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies, while the sheep were photographed at a friend’s farm in Virginia.)