Over the last two weeks we’ve been looking at Paul’s secrets to worry-free living. First, we focus our attention back upon Jesus and rejoice in Him and all He has done, is doing and will do for us. Then, we employ a different strategy. Instead of allowing our minds to be filled with worries, we take each worry and turn it into a prayer.
In 480 B.C. the outmanned army of Sparta’s King Leonidas held off the Persian troops of Xerxes by fighting them one at a time as they came through a narrow mountain pass. Commenting on this strategy, C.H. Sprugeon said, “Suppose Leonidas and his handful of men had gone out into the wide-open plain and attacked the Persians–why, they would have died at once, even though they might have fought like lions.” Spurgeon continued by saying that Christians stand in the narrow pass of today. If they choose to battle every difficulty at once, they’re sure to suffer defeat. But if they trust God and take their troubles one by one, they will find that their strength is sufficient.
That’s what Jesus meant when he said:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)
Worrying about tomorrow just empties today of its strength. Turn each worry into a prayer request and lay it before Almighty God.
Here in Philippians 4 Paul says…
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul mentions three kinds of prayer in verse 6: prayers (proseuche) which is just general communication with our Father; supplication (deesis) which refers to specific requests and finally “thanksgiving.”
Paul adds “thanksgiving” which leads us to conclude that, as there are many forms of prayer, there is a need for us to pray a lot.
But it also reminds us that we need to not only ask, but when God answers we should give thanks.
Pagan prayers are destitute of thanksgiving (cf. Romans 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:2), whereas truly Christian prayer breathes thanksgiving because thankfulness is the posture of grace. Thus, at the root of our prayers must be thanksgiving for what God has done for us in Christ through the gospel.
In fact, every activity is to be freighted with thanksgiving. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
All our requests are to be made known to God and adorned with lavish praise to God for the innumerable hues and shapes of his grace.
I think Paul is using these three terms to indicate that supplication is a specific way of making our requests known to God, but we can do it either in a selfish, demanding way, or in a humble, thankful way.
As a parent, which would you prefer?
Now, when we get to the place where are prayers are littered with thanksgivings, it is a sign that we are gaining victory over anxiety. Why? Because it shows that we believe God is on our side doing good to us. It shows that we trust His promises and believe He cares for us.
In his first epistle, Peter said: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Why do we cast our anxieties on him? Because we believe that He cares for us. And believing that leads to giving thanks.
Pastor Steve Coles notes:
Thanksgiving in a time of trials reflects three things: (1) Remembrance of God’s supply in the past. You think back over His faithfulness to you up to this point and realize that His mercies have sustained you. He has been with you in every trial. He never abandons or forsakes His children, even if we face persecution or death for His sake.
(2) Submission to God’s sovereignty in the present. To thank God in the midst of a crisis or trial is to say, “Lord, I don’t understand, but I submit to Your sovereign purpose in this situation. I trust that You know what You’re doing and will work it together for good.” We are not just to thank God when we feel like it, but also when we don’t feel like it (1 Thess. 5:18).
(3) Trust in God’s sufficiency for the future. A thankful heart rests upon the all-sufficient God, knowing that even though we don’t see how He is going to do it, He will meet our every need as we cast ourselves on Him.
I love Jeremiah 32:17, especially when I think about its context. Jeremiah was shut up in prison. Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem which was about to fall (32:2). In that situation, the Lord told Jeremiah to do something that everyone would have thought was crazy, to buy a field from his uncle. Anybody knows you don’t sink your money into real estate when a country is about to fall to a foreign tyrant. But God wanted to show His people that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (32:15). Then Jeremiah prays, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (32:17). Jeremiah was trusting in God’s sufficiency for the future.
Now, what happens when we do this? What happens when we turn our worries into prayer, lay them in Jesus’ hands and trust Him to accomplish good in our behalf?
We experience God’s peace.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is the result of rejoicing in Jesus and learning the new strategy of praying instead of worrying. We get to experience God’s peace.
Do you want peace? I think you do.
There are four things Paul says about this peace in verse 7. First, it is the peace “of God.” It is the peace that He possesses and then shares with us. Secondly, it “surpasses all understanding.” Like other aspects of God’s nature, our understanding is finite and limited. We can understand it to some extent, but it “surpasses ALL understanding.” And finally, this peace “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Fourth, this peace is found and experienced only “in Christ Jesus.”
First, this is the peace “of God.”
Our God is at peace. He is not pacing the floors of heaven, wringing his hands, biting his nails, wondering how things got so out of control or how things will turn out.
That completely calm, unflappable peace will “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
“What is God’s peace? The unruffled serenity of the infinitely-happy God, the eternal composure of the absolutely well-contented God.
Now, you understand there is “peace with God” and there is “the peace of God.” “Peace with God” is a matter of our justification and reconciliation with Him. Because we put our trust in Jesus and proclaimed our loyalty to Him, we are now no longer enemies but friends.
Then there is the “peace of God.” This is the peace, the calmness and serenity of mind that God gives to us so that we can be at peace just as He is.
Jesus told his disciples just before he died…
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 hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
They had never seen Jesus troubled and worried. He wasn’t rattled by contests of the mind with the religious teachers. He didn’t start to fret when he was arrested and tried. Even on the cross, Jesus didn’t worry about His followers or His life.
He gives His peace, not the kind the world gives.
A New York Times article in 2003 claimed:
Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history.
You see, the world’s peace doesn’t last long. It is soon interrupted with conflict.
Also, the world’s peace isn’t very deep.
The Old Testament concept of shalom refers to a wholistic health, harmony with God, the world and others. It is not merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of deep harmony. It restores us to the Edenic condition before the curse so that in every way we experience harmony.
The second thing we see about this peace is that it “surpasses all understanding.”
This kind of peace cannot be duplicated by man. Until we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we won’t experience or understand this peace. Even as believers, our understanding is limited because we are finite.
But what this is saying is that God’s peace is unlimited. There may be a zillion things to worry about…God’s peace can cover it all…and then some. Or a lot.
It isn’t that it is senseless and therefore impossible to understand, but that it is beyond our ability to understand and to explain, but it can be experienced.
Bob Deffinbaugh comments:
Paul is telling us something very important about the relationship between prayer, peace, and our mental and emotional energies. Worry consumes both mental and emotional energy (our heart and mind). Worry seeks to solve the problem we are dealing with by attempting to understand it, to figure it out. Very often, worry is consumed with theoretical and hypothetical possibilities that will never come to pass—wasted energy.
In prayer, we turn those things over to God which are bigger than we are, which are beyond our comprehension (see Romans 8:26-27). God, who is vastly greater than us, takes our concerns and gives us peace in return. This peace transcends our mental powers and our emotions. What we cannot do in and of ourselves, God does, in answer to our prayers. I should add that God does not promise that He will give us a full understanding of those matters we bring to Him in prayer; He only promises to give us peace.
This is especially comforting in those tragic situations in which we just cannot understand “why?” it happened. When we cannot possibly explain the “why?” we can have a peace that is also unexplainable.
Finally, that peace will “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
That verb is a military term. It was used of the protection of a garrison, or a prisoner. In fact, at that very moment Paul was chained to a Roman soldier, guarded day and night. Unlike military guards, who might go to sleep or be too weak to ward off an enemy, God’s peace will keep every worry, every fear, every anxiety away.
This peace guards our “hearts” (our affections) and our “minds” (our thoughts), by reminding us of the promises and power of Jesus Christ.
These are the very two areas that are most affected by worry. It infects our thoughts and our emotions. But if we pray, then God’s peace floods into our thoughts and emotions, giving us a sense of calmness even when everything around us is falling apart.
Gerald Hawthorne comments:
“Together these words refer to the entire inner being of the Christian, his emotions, affections, thoughts and moral choices. This inner part of a person, then, so vulnerable to attack by the enemy, is that which God’s peace is set, like battle-ready soldiers, to protect.”
Greg Herrick notes:
Paul uses a military metaphor in describing God’s peace, which is almost personified…The Philippians living in a garrison town, would be familiar with the sight of the Roman sentry, maintaining his watch. Likewise, comments the apostle, God’s peace will garrison and protect you hearts and your minds.
Bunyan’s use of this picture in the appointment and patrol of Mr. God’s-Peace in the town of Mansoul should be read in conjunction with this verse.’ Nothing was to be found but harmony, happiness, joy and health’ so long as Mr. God’s-Peace maintained his office. But when Prince Emmanuel was grieved away from the town , he laid down his commission and departed also. It is a salutary reminder that we enjoy God’s gift in Christ Jesus, i.e., by our obedience to him and submission to his authority.
And that is our final point: as with all of God’s gifts, they come to us “in Christ Jesus.”
This is one of Paul’s favorite phrases, “in Christ” and “in him.” The expressions “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” and “in him” occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone, and are indispensable to an understanding of the New Testament, says John Stott. To be “in Christ” does not mean to be inside Christ, as tools are in a box or our clothes in a closet, but to be organically united to Christ, as a limb is in the body or a branch is in the tree. It is this personal relationship with Christ that is the distinctive mark of his authentic followers.
And this is the only way that we get to experience this peace. It comes by being “in Christ.” We are baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit at the moment we believe and “in Christ” we gain all things good, all spiritual blessings.
So it is only possible for believers to experience this peace. In fact, one must experience “peace with God” before it is possible to experience “the peace of God.”
If you want victory over worry and you want to have the steady enjoyment of God’s peace, then here is Paul’s prescription: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Don’t miss the words “in everything.” In everything . . . let your requests be made known to God.” Pray about everything. Stay in a mindset of prayer all day. Don’t just pray in crises. Pray about everything.
Prayer is the choice we make instead of worrying. Every time our minds race to worry and anxiety, we can turn those very worries into requests to God, and then thank Him for caring for us and taking care of us in the very best way possible.
Then we will experience His peace.
Don’t carry burdens you were never intended to carry. You have an alternative. There is a better strategy. And that is unloading your burdens onto Jesus Christ.
We are reminded in Psalm 94:19
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.
For every care there is a consolation. For every problem there is peace. But we cannot get there except through prayer. Tell him what bothers you, and thank Him for His care and all His resources.
In the made for TV film, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace, there is a scene late in the movie when Bonhoeffer was in prison and he hears through the concrete wall the weeping of a prisoner in another cell. Knowing that this prisoner would soon be executed, Bonhoeffer placed his hands on the wall and prayed: “Lord, it’s dark in me; in you is day. I am alone, but you will stay. I am afraid; you never cease. I am at war; in you is peace.” Slowly, we see a pair of hands reach up and touch the opposite wall.
As dawn breaks, a single rifle shot shatters the morning calm. But the guard who had heard and watched Bonhoeffer the night before said: “I thought you might like to know. The boy from the next cell—he was very calm. It surprised everyone. He was executed this morning.”