I don’t know about you, but when I hear news reports about how bad things are, it really “bums me out”. You hear it all the time. The world is getting worse and worse. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of media telling us how bad things are. Sometimes death, sickness, and lost relationships rear their ugly heads; our world begins to feel like it is crumbling in around us. But the Bible tells us to rejoice. How do you do that? What can we do? How can we cope?
The Book of Philippians gives us some great coping skills. I came up with an acrostic to help me remember. Hopefully it will help you, too.
C - Confidence in God’s providence
Philippians 1:6 says that He began His plan for you to be His. Notice that He began it, not you. As Christians we have heard the statement, “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” We have heard it so much that it has almost become a cliché, but it shouldn’t. God has plans for us, plans to give us a hope and a future. Trust Him because He will be faithful to complete it. His plan for you is to be fully His now and for eternity. Trust Him, He can do it.
Philippians 1:14 tells us not to grumble. A good way to avoid grumbling is to look for ways that God is being (or can be) glorified through my circumstances. By the way, being involved in a church gives us the privilege to encourage each other and to “spur one another on.” In Philippians 1:27-30, Paul reminds us that by standing together with other Christians, we encourage each other and build our confidence in God. We can find encouragement in others who have experienced the same struggles we have.
Philippians 3: 3-9 - Remember that our confidence needs to be in Christ and not in ourselves. If we are not careful, we may let our confidence go to our heads. We must not become self-sufficient, forgetting that our sufficiency is in Christ. With that in mind, we can rest assured that God WILL supply ALL our needs. (Philippians 4:19)
O - Optimism
Thankfulness and joy are concepts that appear over and over in the Book of Philippians. It is difficult to stay in the depths of depression when you are living a life of grateful praise in Christ.
Years ago, after I had been in ministry for a while, I began to realize that I had faced some battles in every church in which I served. It really began to bring me down. After some long soul searching, I decided to write down all of the good things that I had learned in each place. As the old hymn says, “it will surprise you what the Lord has done!” I discovered that, during some of the toughest times, God was shaping me for what was to come. Although I have to revisit that list ever so often, this exercise has revolutionized my outlook. (Just a side note: If you are serving God, you will face spiritual warfare—battles—wherever you are, but just remember that the battle is the Lord’s.)
Philippians 1:3-11 reminds us to pray for people we know.
Philippians 1:18—Attitude, attitude, attitude…Let’s not worry about what others are doing. We must focus on the spreading of Christ’s good news, not our own agendas.
Philippians 1:25-26 says to focus on others’ needs…are you seeing a pattern here?
In Philippians 2:14-16 we are challenged not to complain or argue. Complaining will only cause more problems for the complainer, because a grumbling spirit will only cause the effects of the battle to be worse. We’ll miss God’s blessings if we stay focused on the problem. And it will not help others…it will only color their attitudes.
Have you ever had a bag of potatoes and you began to smell a horrible odor? You look all over, you just can’t pinpoint it. Finally after very close examination, there is a very small and very rotten potato in the middle of the bag. If you do not remove the bad potato immediately, you will soon have a bag full of rotten mush and an odor that will linger.
Finally, Philippians 4:10-14 reminds us not to look for greener grass. God can give us the strength to thrive in the midst of the battle. If we look closely, we may find that the greener grass on the other side of the fence is just thriving weeds!
P - Prayer
Pray for others. If we are praying for people, it will help our attitudes toward them; moreover, they need our prayers. Sometimes we pray that God will change the other person, but most of the time prayer changes the one who is praying more. (Philippians 1:4-6, 9-11)
If we really trust God to answer our prayers, we will experience peace. (The Living Bible says, “Don’t worry about anything, pray about everything!” Philippians 4:4-7)
E - Externalize
Let’s stop thinking only of ourselves. Have I said that before? OK, now I’ve started meddling! Paul was in prison, but he was concerned about encouraging the readers of his letter. Which brings me to another “E” statement: Encourage others. You may find yourself forgetting about your own problems.
Find time to comfort those who are hurting.
Fellowship with others: Find Christian friends and look for things you may have in common.
Fellowship with the Spirit: Allow God to speak to you. Pray, reach, search…constantly.
The Holy Spirit within us will produce tenderness and compassion. Why? If Christ lives in us, we will take on His traits. Matthew 9:36 says that Jesus saw the people were “like sheep with no shepherd” and had compassion on them. Mark 1: 40-42 shows us that Jesus touched and healed leprosy; He saw their need, touched them and healed them. And in Philippians 2: 5-8, Paul reminds us that Christ had a servant attitude and humbled (or emptied) Himself, and that He was not self-righteous. Jesus exemplified obedience to the Father.
Well, there you have it. Hopefully you were able to COPE with the length of what I have written. My prayer is that all of us (including myself) will remember this acrostic when we are tempted to give up.
To COPE, we need to be…
Confident in God’s providence.
Optimistic, because He is in control.
Prayerful, praying for others as well as ourselves.
Externalized, thinking of others. (It will take your mind away from your own problems.)
Just having a list will not magically give us coping skills. We must spend time practicing them.
Philippians 3: 12-14 says,
"Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly (upward) call in Christ Jesus."
If this passage of scripture rings true for you, you are well on the road to becoming well-equipped to COPE with whatever comes your way.