From Anxiety to Peace (Philippians 4:6-7)
When I was preaching in Virginia, one of our sweet ladies was in the hospital and seriously ill. I went to visit her, and her husband of over 70 years was there. Nick was so worried about Norma he couldn’t stand it; this poor 95-year-old man was frantic and pacing the room. Norma looked at Nick and asked him if he had prayed about it. Nick said he had. Norma quite sharply said, “Well, quit worrying about it.” That was Norma—you prayed, and you stopped worrying.
But maybe that’s not you. Maybe you pray, but you still find yourself worrying. Worrying about the path your kids are taking. Worrying about whether you can stay faithful to your wife. Worrying about if you’re going to keep your job. Worrying about some health scare you haven’t shared with anyone.
This morning’s text gives an answer to all that worrying we do: Prayer. Paul teaches the Philippians that “When we pray, God turns anxiety into peace.”
Some will say that’s easy to say but hard to practice. I know that; Paul also knew that. As we read this passage and apply it, don’t forget that Paul wrote these words from prison. Paul knew suffering. He knew heartache. He knew anxiety. And, he knew prayer.
Scripture (Philippians 4:6-7)
“Do not be anxious about anything.” That’s a tall order, isn’t it? It was a tall order for Jesus—The night of his betrayal, he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt 26:38); Jesus was anxious as the cross neared. So, if we aren’t to be anxious and Jesus was anxious, how are we to understand this teaching?
What Paul is doing here is drawing a contrast between anxiety and prayer. What he means is, “Instead of worry and anxiety, pray.” What does Jesus do immediately after telling the disciples how anxious he is? He prays. Jesus provides a great example of how to handle anxiety.
Instead of worrying, “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
We can pray about anything. A few years ago, a member of my family called and told me about a teenage boy who asked the church to pray for his dog. I laughed and laughed; I thought it was a hoot that someone would actually ask for prayer over such a trivial thing. Prayer, you see, I thought should be reserved for “big” things in life. And a dog just didn’t rank high enough on the list to merit prayer.
However, when I remembered Paul’s words here, I had to repent. God says that “in every situation” I should come to him in prayer. You know also the words of Peter: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). I serve a God who is big enough to help in those “big” areas of life and a God who cares enough to help in those “little” areas of life. No matter the problem, no matter the odds, no matter how I feel, I can go to the throne of God with my worries.
“By prayer and petition”—The Greek word “prayer” refers to prayer generally, and “petition” means “supplication,” the asking for a specific need. In other words, we approach the throne of God and tell him what we need.
“With thanksgiving”—Too often I fear that we go to God as some sort of cosmic Santa Claus and take all our wants to him, he answers according to his will, but we neglect to ever thank him. We’re too often like nine of the ten lepers Jesus healed and don’t bother to give thanks (Lk 17:11-19). Yet thanksgiving must be a real part of our lives: “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18).
“Present your requests to God”—Take what you need before the throne of God. Yes, he already knows (Matt 6:8), yet taking our requests to God shows humility and submits our will to his will.
“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
When I was a young minister, I preached this text, and I believed I had to explain every word in every text. I spent a lot of time trying to explain this peace of God. A lightbulb finally went off when I read the text—This is the peace of God “which transcends all understanding.” This is a peace which can’t be explained.
While it cannot be explained, this peace is real for the people of God.
- “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
- “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
Paul tells us that if we wish to have that peace, we must take our concerns to God in prayer.
That divine peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The Greek term for “guard” is a military term which depicts soldiers guarding a city from enemy attack. There seems to be intentional irony here. God’s peace stands guard around our hearts and minds that we might have peace from our anxieties.
“When we pray, God turns anxiety into peace.” What a glorious thought! No matter my worry, no matter what’s taking place in my life, if I’ll turn to God in prayer, he will grant me peace that no one can explain.
How can you live this truth? Let me suggest the following exercise:
Write down your worries.
I know you have worries. “Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). “All [people’s] days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless” (Eccl 2:23).
You don’t need be to quote Scripture to talk about the universality of worry; you live that reality every day. From marriages to work to children to health to finances, we can find ourselves with great anxiety. Write down your worries (keep your paper handy).
Pray about that list.
When we face difficulty and worry, God expects us to pray about it. “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Lk 18:1). “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray” (Js 5:13).
Take that list and mention each of your worries by name before God’s throne.
Spend time thanking God.
That’s what the inspired apostle tells us to do: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6).
Thanksgiving ought to be a regular part of our prayer life. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:18).
When we’re facing anxiety and trouble, why would we thank God? He hears and answers prayer. He loves us. He cares about what’s taking place in our lives. He has a perfect will. He will put his peace in our hearts.
After you’ve prayed and given thanks, tear up your list.
I can’t promise you that everything will work out the way you wish, but I can promise you that God will give you peace that surpasses understanding.
The night before he faced the cross, Jesus fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). Twice more Jesus went and prayed saying the same words (Matt 26:42-44). But, you know that cup was not taken from Jesus. If the very Son of God prayed and he was told, “No,” don’t think for a moment that God will not tell you “No.”
But God gave Jesus peace. That very same night, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (Jn 14:27). How could Jesus give his peace to the disciples unless he had peace himself? Even in the midst of his darkest moment, even when he is about to bear the sins of the world, Jesus had peace.
It’s that same peace you can have through prayer! Do you know that peace?
Speaking of peace: Have you made peace with God through Jesus Christ? “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Do you need to come and make him your Lord that you might be at peace with God?