Philippians 4:6-7– Keep calm and pray…always!
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There is something very antagonistic about being told to “calm down” when you feel angry, annoyed, or anxious. This short phrase tends to have the opposite effect on me when I’m feeling stressed – and I suspect most other people –and I tend to respond with a short, sharp “I AM CALM!” on a good day, and perhaps something less polite on a bad day!
This bible passage starts with the command to “rejoice in the Lord always” and “not be anxious about anything”, which can elicit a similar response to being told to “calm down”, especially when our lives can be consumed by stress and worry.
How can we rejoice and not be anxious when it feels like the world is falling apart around us?
Paul’s instruction to “rejoice” is not empty words of advice, or a head-in-the-sand type of approach where “everything will work out in the end if you keep your chin up”. He is not telling us to be “happy” either. Happiness is not the same as joy. You cannot be happy when you are suffering, but you can have joy.
Happiness is a fleeting emotion and joy is a deep seated contentedness and confidence in the love God has for you. God doesn’t promise happiness to those who follow Christ, but he does promise peace and joy.
Paul says that the way to deal with anxiety is to pray.
“…but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”
Notice that there are three components to prayer in this verse. Prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.
PRAYER – Paul is talking about entering into the presence of God and filling our hearts and minds with Him. We are to soak our minds in God’s presence which is why he says “in everything”. We should be so in tune with God through prayer that every aspect of our lives can be brought to him in a continual conversation through the Holy Spirit.
Bringing ourselves before God helps us to refocus and get perspective. Freedom and release from anxiety comes when we spend more time thinking about who God is, rather than how big our problems are.
When we spend time in the presence of God we realise our sinfulness and are brought to a place of repentance. When we hold onto worry, we are saying to God that he is not big enough to deal with our sins. This is why he commands us not to worry and is so eager for us to deal with it.
PETITION – This is the aspect of prayer where we make our requests know to God. This isn’t a shopping list of wants that we submit like our monthly expenses claim, but an earnest seeking of God for answers to things that are on our hearts.
Having come to God in adoration and worship, our requests should be more in line with his heart and his will for us, because frivolous and selfish requests will be shown for what they are. When we pray and ask God for things that are in line with his nature and will for our lives, amazing things happen.
We need to learn patience and perseverance in prayer, especially in an age where everything is instant. We need to wait on God for his timing and the answers to our prayers. He very rarely does things to our timescale and we mustn’t worry when we think he hasn’t heard our petitions, or is not giving us what we think we need.
THANKSGIVING – If we are not careful we can fall into the habit of always asking but never showing gratitude.
If we are coming to God with an attitude of worship and adoration, this should flow naturally out of our prayer life, because we will be in awe of all he has done for us.
Thanks needs to be made as you make the request. It is not simply gratitude for the prayer that he answered last week. It is a prayer of trust and thanking God for what he is going to do, and thanking God for what he has done through Jesus.
A thread that runs through all these aspects of prayer is obedience. These instructions are not suggestions – they are commands and are quite specific. Rejoice, pray, do not be anxious. This process begins with obedience and when we follow these commands, we will find peace in God.
What is the result of this prayerful approach?
When we come to God with our anxiety and worries, prayerfully presenting our requests to him we with thanksgiving we will have “the peace of God which transcends all understanding”
“TRANSCEND” – means “to be or go beyond the range or limit of something” God’s peace is far bigger and better than anything we can grasp or image. When we give our worries over to him in this way he overcomes our anxiety and “guards our hearts and minds”
It is filling your heart and mind with the truth of the Gospel in Christ Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to work.
THIS IS THE KEY – “IN CHRIST JESUS” Without Jesus, we cannot have this relationship with God and find peace. If we look back at Genesis and the account of Adam and Eve, they broke the perfect relationship and peace that they had with God, by ignoring his instructions not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The perfect relationship of peace was broken, but Jesus restored this on the cross. We now have access to God through the sacrifice of Jesus and the Holy Spirit living and working in us.
The night before Jesus was crucified he said to his disciples:
John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful”
He was about to be put through an agonising torture and death and yet he was able to speak about peace in the midst of his turmoil. Matthew 26:38 says that Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. His anxiety was so great that he sweated blood! He prayed in his hour of greatest need (John 17) and presented his requests to the father.
He identified with our anxiety and gave up his perfect peace, by allowing himself to be separated from His father, taking on the sin of the world so that we might have everlasting peace.
That is the astonishing message of the gospel of peace! Although we still live in a world where we face anxiety and worry, we can have confidence that if we stay close to God and walk in step with him, we will have peace and joy.
Anxiety can cripple us and be a huge barrier to peace and joy if we don’t allow God to deal with it. Take a step of faith in dealing with any anxiety or worry that you may be carrying with you. God doesn’t want you to be anxious, so bring you worries to him in prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. If you are obedient to this advice your hearts and minds will be guarded in Christ Jesus and you will find peace that transcends understanding.