A tray of soil and young plants
Encouragement

Cultivating a Heart Full of Peace and Joy

by Brad Simon

One man dared to stand alone.

It was a dark and treacherous time for his nation. Persecution was rampant, and the oppressive government was quick to torture and kill those who believed as he did. Suffering was severe and widespread for his people, and war loomed on the horizon. Yet one man had the nerve, the audacity, to write from his prison cell these words, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 CSB*).

How could the Apostle Paul write that? He had been shipwrecked, ridiculed, run out of town, and beaten to near death. And now his future was uncertain as he sat in prison, and yet an incredible joy infused his life.

Paul could write those words because he had discovered the true source of peace and joy. On a dusty road to Damascus, Paul saw the light and discovered that joy does not come from personal achievements nor outward circumstances. True joy and contentment stem from an inner peace that can only come from God. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you,” ( John 14:27) and “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” ( John 15:11).

While all Christians receive the joy and peace of God, it is not always manifested through them. Paul wrote, In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content (Phil 4:12). Being content despite his circumstances and manifesting a spirit of joy, is something that Paul learned. It was a daily choice he made.

When a person accepts Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit plants the seeds of joy and peace in their heart. It is God who causes those seeds to grow into a full harvest. However, as all farmers know, you don’t plant seeds in the spring and go away expecting a fruitful harvest in the fall. Instead, farmers work all year long cultivating the soil, adding fertilizer, removing rocks, clearing out the underbrush, spraying for weeds, and irrigating the crop to have a fruitful harvest.

God causes the crop to grow, and when the work has been done to prepare the soil, the crop is plentiful, if not the crop withers and dies. Like the farmers in the field, Christians must cultivate the “soil” of their hearts for the crop of peace and joy to be manifest in their lives. In writing to the church at Philippi, Paul presented four strategies, the secrets he learned, to cultivate his heart for living a life full of joy and contentment.

Four Strategies for Cultivating a Heart Full of Peace and Joy

1. Till the soil. Paul wrote:

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 call in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)

Early in his life, the Apostle Paul strived to climb the ladder of success. He was educated by the foremost teachers of the Law and became a model Pharisee, a man to look up to. With all that Paul accomplished, he could say, “I have reasons for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (Phil 3:4).

Our past is like a well-traveled path where the soil is hard and beaten down. The more we focus on ourselves and our past accomplishments, the more our hearts become hardened to the Word of God. The truth of Scripture cannot take root in our lives, and His joy and peace elude us. Like Paul, we must choose to forget our past and till the hardened soil of our hearts by focusing our thoughts on God and looking forward to what He has planned for us in the future.

2. Don’t get choked up. Paul wrote:

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)

The Roman Coliseum, where gladiators fought to the death and troublemakers were fed to the lions, was within earshot of where Paul was held. Daily he heard the screams of those in battle and the cheers of those whose enjoyment came from the suffering of others. Were those cries of suffering from people he knew? Would he be the next one to face the lions? Yet Paul could sleep soundly at night because through prayer he turned his worries and anxieties over to God. Paul understood that it was not the Roman government that controlled his future, but God alone.

Like thorns and weeds that grow and choke crops in the field, worry and the cares of this world choke the Word of God from our hearts and steal our joy. We must daily choose to remove the weeds of anxiety from the soil of our hearts by turning our worry list into our prayer list and  leaving our anxieties and concerns with God. Then, the very peace that permeates the mind of God will begin to envelop our hearts and minds.

3. Remove the rocks. Paul then wrote,

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:11-13)

While the world saw Paul chained to prison guards, Paul saw a captive audience chained to him with whom he could share the good news of Jesus Christ. Every six hours a new audience was brought to him, and as he described it, It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ (Phil 1:13). Paul ignored his circumstances, and as a result he was accomplishing his ministry and Jesus Christ was being glorified! What better reason is there to rejoice?

When we focus on the circumstances around us, the trials of life become like rocky soil not allowing the Word of God to take root in our hearts, and our joy withers away. Like Paul, we can have peace knowing that our joy is not dependent on our circumstances. We remove the rocks from our hearts by choosing to focus on God instead of our situation, knowing that He will give us the strength to endure whatever we face, and He will be glorified.

4. Enrich the soil. Lastly, Paul wrote:

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. (Phil 4:8)

Paul chose to let his mind dwell on the good things in life, instead of focusing on all the distressing problems around him. Paul strived to adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). He frequently meditated on God’s Word and reminded himself of those believers he so dearly loved and how they continued to grow in the faith.

When we meditate on Scripture and think about other Christians and the mighty work they do for God, our hearts become like rich fertile soil. Then God’s Word can grow and flourish into an abundant crop of peace, joy, and contentment.

As a result, we will be able to say along with Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).

Prayer:

Dear Father in Heaven, forgive us. For so long we have allowed the cares of this world to steal our joy and happiness. Help us to focus on You instead of our past accomplishments and current circumstances. May the Holy Spirit guide our prayers as we turn our worries over to You and help us to meditate on Your Word. Thank You for the example of Paul and, like him, may we cultivate our hearts so that Your love, joy, and peace flourish into an abundant crop and are manifested in our daily lives. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Questions:

1. Which of the strategies Paul mentioned do you struggle with the most?

2. Which of these strategies have you found most helpful for you to manifest joy and experience peace in your life?

3. What other “gardening tips” or strategies have you found helpful for peace and joy to grow and flourish in your heart?

4. What Scripture verses have been most helpful to you to assist you in cultivating a heart full of peace and joy?

*All Scripture verses are taken from the CSB.
**Note: This excerpt comes from Feed Your Soul with the Word of God, Collection 2 (Buford, Georgia: Lighthouse Bible Studies, 2023), 66-70.

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