In yesterday’s post, we began to consider God’s prescription for anxiety provided in Philippians 4:6-7, which involves two steps for the immediate war against worry. The first step is to worry about nothing.
STEP 2: Pray about everything (6b-7). The second part of verse six says, “But in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul used four different words to explain what he means by praying about everything. This describes the four ways we should pray about everything.
- Invoke God as the One you worship (prayer). The word prayer refers to call upon the One that you worship. In other words, the more you worship God the more you will pray; the more you worship the idols of your heart the more you will worry. What this teaches me is that when I allow anxiety to control me then I am acting more like an idolater than a worshipper of God. Let us call out to God as the man of God did in Psalm 27:7-8. Jesus taught the same in Matthew 6:9 when He said, “Pray then, in this way, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.’” The word hallowed means “set apart.” It comes from the word for holy and means to set apart as distinct. In other words, invoking God as the One you worship means to go to Him in prayer saying, “My Father, You are holy, You are distinct, You are my God, and I worship You. You alone have the answers to my problems.” That is how true, worry-killing prayer begins.
- Cry out to Him in your time of need (supplication). The second way to pray about everything is to supplicate, to cry out to Him in your time of need because He is the One that cares. “But in everything by prayer and supplication.” The word “supplication” implies that a real need is present. In other words, this kind of prayer is provoked by the reality that you are lacking something that is essential. God creates times of neediness in our lives not so that we will worry, but in order to cause us to draw near to Him in prayer. In prayer we say, “Father, this is my need. I bring it to You.” We do this not because He is unaware, but because we need to acknowledge our dependence upon Him. Prayer is an act of submission, dependence, and worship. When we pray we admit our helplessness. And God delights to listen and come to our aid.
- Always include thanksgiving (with thanksgiving). Thirdly, Paul says we ought to pray with thanksgiving. “‘Thanksgiving’ does not mean to say ‘thank you’ in advance for gifts to be received; rather, it is the absolutely basic posture of the believer and the proper context for petitioning God.” In other words, we pray to God while being thankful, while living in an atmosphere of gratitude. THIS IS THE KEY INGREDIENT in worry-killing prayer! And yet since the very first time I put these verses to memory I left out those two words “with thanksgiving” and have since then (28 years ago), have struggled to re-memorize it accurately. Sadly, I often leave it out of my prayers as well. When I worry, when I am overtaken by fear, when I have a panic attack, I do pray. I pray a lot! But I don’t pray with thanksgiving—not consistently, that is. I cry out to God. I plead with Him. I beg Him to come to my aid. But I do not consciously fight against my anxiety with deliberate, specific thanksgiving. And, therefore, my anxiety maintains its powerful hold upon my heart. This pattern needs to change.
- Make your specific requests known (requests). Fourth, “let your [specific] requests be made known to God.” We need to make our requests known to God not because He needs more information, but because we need Him. We need the humility that prayer effects in us. The word (aitema) only occurs two other times in the New Testament. In Luke 23:24 it is used when Pilate pronounced the demand of the people to release Barabbas, which was a very strong request. The other is 1 John 5:15 where, following his confident assertion that God hears us when we ask according to His will, John says, “If we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” Make your specific requests known to God. Verbalize them to Him while recognizing that confidence in prayer comes from Christ, not from yourself. Admit your weakened state and your desperate need of empowering grace. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15, 16).
God knows our needs, but He also knows our struggle with anxiety. And Jesus, our fully human, perfectly righteous Savior also knows the weakness of our humanity. If we cry out to our faithful God in our times of anxiety He will come to our aid.
Tomorrow we will see the peaceful results of fighting worry this way.
[This blog post series is based on a recent sermon that you can listen to here.]