In Philippians 4:6-7, we find additional help for our soul’s battle with anxiety, specifically the divine help that comes as a result of prayer. Yesterday, we took heed to God’s command to rejoice at all times (v. 4) and put on the character quality of gentleness (v. 5). Today, we need to take heed to God’s command to be anxious about nothing, but prayerful about everything.
The Lord is at hand; 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.
You may have noticed that the command to not be anxious is preceded by a direct promise of the nearness of the Lord and the surety of His return (which the apostle called our attention to, earlier, at the end of the third chapter). What a wonderful promise in our times of anxiety and an incentive to pray! God promises that His peace will take control of our hearts and protect us from anxiety as a direct result of prayer. The text reveals two steps for attacking anxiety when it attacks you.
Worry about nothing (6a).
Verse six commands, “Be anxious for nothing.” The noun form of anxious, or “care,” is probably connected with merizo, which means to draw in different directions or distract. The verb “to be anxious” means, therefore, to have a distracting care. Anxiety divides our mind and heart causing us to feel and sometimes even appear to be double-minded. At heart level, anxiety is fundamentally a form of fear which is often rooted in unbelief. Since the Lord is near and trustworthy, the apostle commands us to be anxious about nothing—nothing in our present, our future, or even our past.
Can a person really be consumed with worrying about their past? For sure. It is called regret. Martyn Llloyd-Jones, who was a medical physician before God called him to be a pastor, wrote about this in his helpful book entitled Spiritual Depression. “Let us then lay this down as a principle. We must never for a second worry about anything that cannot be affected or changed by us. It is a waste of energy…You can sit down and be miserable and you can go round and round in circles of regret for the rest of your life but it will make no difference to what you have done.”
Sometimes we waste time and energy worrying about our past failures. Or we may be anxious about our present circumstances or needs. Or we may fear what the future may hold—or not hold—for us.
Though the word anxious is used in a positive sense in Scripture, of legitimate life concerns, most often it is used in a negative sense. One key example is the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34, where it is used five times to confront the worrier’s lack of faith, or fear of the lack of God’s provision. Take a moment to read this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, taking special note of three causes of anxiety which Jesus exposes: life’s cares, which God has promised to provide (vv. 25-34); lack of faith (v. 30); and worldly priorities (vv. 32-33). Much of our anxiety may be traced back to fretting over things that are beyond our control, but are rather under God’s control. Anxiety may also arise from immature faith and discontentment.
So, perhaps you are wondering, does this mean I should live an irresponsible life and just expect manna to fall from heaven every morning? Well, no. We are called to be faithful and responsible. But we can also take that too far. Psalm 127:2 warns us, It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. In other words, we must not worry about what is not ours to worry about; that is, God’s promised care and the responsibilities of others. We must do what God has commanded us to do and rest in His promise to care for us.
Be anxious for nothing. That is step one in God’s answer for anxiety. Step two is to pray about everything.
Pray about everything (6b-7).
The second part of verse six commands, “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.”
We are instructed to worry about nothing and pray about everything. Paul uses four different words to explain what he means by praying about everything. This describes the four ways we should pray.
- Invoke God as the One whom you worship. The word prayer refers to calling upon the One whom you worship. In other words, prayer is part of worship. The more you pray, the more you worship God, which in turn leads to more prayer. The more you worry, the more you are really worshipping the idols of your heart. Instead, worship God. Trust Him (Psalm 27:7-8). Invoke God as the One whom you worship. Seek His face. Cry to Him in prayer.
- Cry out to Him in your time of need. The second way to pray about everything is to cry out to Him in your time of need because He is the One who 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 realization that you are lacking something essential. 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 (Psalm 28:2; 39:12).
- Always be thankful. Thirdly, Paul says we ought to pray with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving should be the heart’s posture of the believer. In other words, we pray to God while being thankful, while living with the attitude of gratitude. This is a key element in attacking anxiety before it attacks you. When you become anxious, do you immediately pray? When overtaken by fear, who is the first person you turn to? What can you thank God for—no matter what the need of your heart or your current trial?
- Verbalize your specific needs. Fourth, “let your [specific] requests be made known to God.” Again, 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. Therefore, make your specific requests known to God. Verbalize them to Him while recognizing that confidence in prayer comes from Christ, not from yourself. God knows our needs, but there are many times He will not meet them apart from prayer. He is absolutely sovereign, but in His sovereignty God has also ordained that some things not happen until we pray.
What will be the result of this kind of prayer? The peace of God will take control of your heart and mind, forcing anxious thoughts to leave and keeping new ones from entering in. The peace that comes through prayer has three characteristics: it is an indescribable calm, it protects our emotional and mental stability, and it uniquely belongs to believers. We’ll consider these three characteristics in detail tomorrow.
This post is adapted from last Sunday’s sermon, which you may listen to here.