If you asked yourself, ‘What are some of the things that people try to find joy and fulfillment in?’, provided you live in a somewhat developed part of the world, at some point you’d probably include in your list – things. Stuff. Possessions. Money. Gold. Shoes. Tools. Old baseball cards. And so on. Despite Jesus’ instruction that life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions (Lk. 12:15), it’s not uncommon to find those who live like it does. Jesus’ words, you could say, are corroborated by Solomon’s experience. He was a man who had just about everything he wanted and found that everything wasn’t enough.
If you asked yourself, ‘What are some of the things that people try to find joy and fulfillment in?’, provided you live in a somewhat developed part of the world, at some point you’d probably include in your list – things. Stuff. Possessions. Money. Gold. Shoes. Old Baseball cards. And so on. Despite Jesus’ instruction that life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions (Lk. 12:15), it’s not uncommon to find those who live like it does. Jesus’ words, you could say, are corroborated by Solomon’s experience. He was a man who had just about everything he wanted to have, and found that everything wasn’t enough.
Does it matter what others think of you?
Some would vehemently argue saying, ‘No, of course not! What others think of me is not my problem it’s their problem.’ Others might not verbalize their response saying, ‘Yes, I am overly concerned about what others think of me,’ but they may live that way without ever articulating it. Potential reactions aside, what, then, is the Biblical answer to the opening question?
Last year, the average length of unemployment in the United States was about 25 weeks. During that time people who are unemployed can experience great anxiety, fear, depression, increased apathy towards working, and a number of other despondent feelings. Thoughts like, “There’s no way out of this,” or “I’ll never find a job like that again,” or “I have no idea how we’re going to make ends meet,” can bombard a person’s mind, resulting in a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6)
It appears, given the 24/7 news-cycle in our society, that we have the option of worrying about more things than any previous generation on planet earth. Not because our exact situations are as worrisome as they could be, but because we are afforded plenty of other options to consider, both locally and internationally. In recent years we have heard numerous threats of nuclear warfare from North Korea, we have seen China’s militarization in the South China Sea, Russia’s aggression towards neighboring Ukraine and its involvement in the conflict in Syria, societal destabilization in Venezuela, and that doesn’t even include talk of Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism. On our own shores, there is concern relating to the prospect of a terrorist attack, at least in some places – an increasing cost of living, continuing moral decline, concern over the way in which media outlets seem incensed to fan flames of societal discord, and so on. All that of course does not include health concerns for ourselves, health concerns for others, the amount of sleep we got last night, exams, relationships, responsibilities, and the list could go on and on. Yet, in our text, we’re exhorted, even as the Philippians were, to “be anxious for nothing.” It does help to know that this wasn’t coming from someone who was bursting at the seems with outward prosperity, writing in between lounging and dining. This came from an imprisoned apostle. And it does help to know that contextually it comes right after Paul was addressing interpersonal issues in a very healthy church (Phil. 4:2-3). Euodia and Syntyche could apply this text to themselves as they likely wrestled with the anxiety that comes from interpersonal strife. Clement could apply this text if, say, he worried about dutifully executing the charge that Paul gave him to help these women.
But keep in mind, Paul’s charge wasn’t a stand-alone exhortation. He went on to write, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God”, and then after giving that exhortation, he provided the result in the following verse saying, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (vs.7). Now there are dynamics that are important to note, i.e. how Paul uses the general word “prayer” and then a specific application of that – “supplication,” or how thanksgiving should be a continuous ingredient in the varied recipes of prayer, and so on, but what we’ll draw particular attention to is how, as presented in these verses, the divine grace of God’s peace is preceded by the divine grace of prayer.
Consider the two extremes that Paul pointed out. First, he wrote not to worry about anything, then he exhorted to pray about everything. Textually, it’s that ‘extreme’ of praying about everything that leads to a peace that guards the heart from worry. It’s a supernatural peace, one that surpasses understanding. One that appears coterminous with a heart that has, and is, becoming increasingly accustomed to speak to God. At the end of day, what Paul is calling the church to is not primarily transactional, but relational. The peace comes as we become accustomed to appreciating, believing, enjoying, and resting in the relational access we have to God. So, should the outward circumstances not change, the inward perspective will. The divine grace of peace that surpasses understanding will set a garrison around your heart and mind that will empower you to resist the temptation to worry.
Now, it doesn’t take too long to find out that this doesn’t work like, say, a vending machine. Granted, sometimes you may leave the place of prayer with a measure of peace that you did not have going in, but don’t be discouraged if you find that the cares you casted at the Lord’s feet, found their way back unto your shoulders. Just because you prayed about what worries you, doesn’t mean it will never worry you again. You may have to keep fighting to be “anxious for nothing” as the same assault assails you. But you can expect that as you become accustomed to communing with God throughout the day, while also setting aside specific time to sit as His feet, there will come peace.
Therefore, resist the temptation to hasten through your day, trying to ‘fit in’ a 5 minute quiet time, but instead develop the habit of continually telling God what your concerned about. Not as an exhibition of ‘prayerful complaining’ but as an exercise of casting your cares upon Him with thanksgiving. Pray about matters that appear daunting and pray about matters that seem of less importance. Pray about things it appears you can’t handle, and pray about the things it appears you can handle. In other words, pray about everything.
May you be exhorted today to believe that as you continually let your requests be made known to the Father, through the Son, He will grant you peace to guard your mind from worry and grace to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all things.