The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a surprising tool in their arsenal called the Waffle House Index to determine the effect of a storm and the likely scale of assistance required for disaster recovery. The idea is that if you get to an area affected by a storm and Waffle House is closed, then it’s really bad. The index has three levels, based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm:
- GREEN: full menu – Restaurant has power and damage is limited or no damage at all.
- YELLOW: limited menu – No power or only power from a generator, or food supplies may be low.
- RED: the restaurant is closed – Indicates severe damage or severe flooding.
The point is that even Waffle House can’t, with full integrity, use a word like “always.” In fact, the things in the world about which you can use fully inclusive terms like “always, all, never” are very, very few. And that’s what makes a passage like Philippians 4 all the more striking:
Rejoice in the Lord always. 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 every situation, 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).
This passage leaves us no wiggle room:
- Rejoice in the Lord always
- Let your gentleness be known to everyone
- Don’t worry about anything
- In everything pray
There are no “if’s” or “but’s” here; there is no allowance for special circumstances; it’s all inclusive. Now what are we to do with that?
It’s a hard thing for us, if we are honest with ourselves, because we are wiggle room people. We might be mostly joyful; or mostly gentle; or mostly calm, but there are those special circumstances that push us over the edge. Or there are those special people that push our buttons. So what are we to do with a passage like this that doesn’t make allowances for those kinds of circumstances?
The first thing we ought to do is to recognize that what Paul is describing here is more than just individual actions; it is a posture of living, and those are different things. The word posture is defined like this: “position, condition, or state, as of affairs.”
In a physical sense, your posture is how you generally hold yourself. It’s not a static term, meaning that you always are sitting or standing or bending. All of us do those things a thousand times a day. Your posture, though, is the general position. In fact, it’s your posture that influences the way you hold yourself in all those other movements. It determines just how you stand or sit or bend.
That’s true in a physical sense, but it’s also true in other ways. You have a mental posture. You have an emotional and spiritual one, too. And most likely, you have a specific posture when it comes to the relationships in your life. This is your default condition as it relates to that person or people, and depending on who they are, it might be a posture of welcoming, of joy, of defensiveness, or resentment, or anywhere in between. Often, though, we don’t even realize that we have a posture; we only react in the moment. But our posture is what preconditions the way we respond in those individual moments. You’ve got a posture when it comes to your boss. And your spouse. And your closest friends.
Now here is how it relates to us when it comes to believing the gospel – when we believe the gospel, it’s not just that our actions change; it’s that our posture changes. It’s that the thing behind those actions is radically altered. Another way to say it is that Jesus isn’t only interested in us doing the right thing; he’s interested in us becoming the right people. The gospel, then, is not just a message of eternal destiny; it’s a message of internal identity. It doesn’t just change where you’re going; it changes who you’re becoming.
The gospel changes our posture, both immediately as it comes to our standing before God, and over time as God works in us to conform us into the image of Jesus. This is the journey we are on, friends. To not just rejoice; not just give thanks; not just act gently; not just pray – but to be those kind of people.