Philippians 4.6-7 is one of the best known and “oft used” passages in the New Testament. It begins with a problem – anxiety, is followed by a fail-proof remedy – pray; and concludes with what the troubled heart requires – peace. In the previous column we identified the problem, anxiety, so now we will move to the cure, which is prayer with a glad heart.
That prayer is the cure for anxiety sounds so simple. Just pray. But prayer is a mysterious thing. It takes so many forms all the way from a priestly incantation to a simple, Help me Lord. Sometimes it is answered immediately but usually not. My mother prayed a certain prayer all the way through the second half of her life, but it wasn’t answered until years after she left for heaven. At times we think that if we just prayed with more urgency, God would answer. That seems to be implied by the double emphasis in v. 6, “prayer and supplication.” Most believers have experienced on at least one occasion, an immediate and dramatic answer to prayer. Mine was a quick clearing of rainclouds for a special youth rally. You could actually see the clouds just go away (and they returned about 30 minutes after the rally). However at many other times we’ve prayed only to feel that heaven must be closed for the day.
My sense is that God uses prayer as much for the one praying as for the one being prayed for. How could it be possible that time spent with God would not deepen our fellowship with him? That’s what happens in our daily life. To share life’s experiences with another is to strengthen that relationship. Time with God can’t help but leave us a bit more like him. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote of the Great Stone Face and how it transformed the young man who spent hours gazing at the rocky resemblance of their traditional dignitary until in time the townspeople realized that this young man had become the one they had expected for ages.
It is interesting that our prayers are to be made with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for prayers answered? Yes. But also thanksgiving for the prayer we are now making. But what if God doesn’t answer? He always does, it’s just that the answer may be “Not quite yet” or “Not in the way you expected.” Every prayer is answered and aren’t we glad that a number of them were answered in a way that differed from what we expected! What the Father says is that the result of our prayer is an unimaginable peace that acts like a sentinel guarding the palace of our heart. No enemy can breach the defense. Note that the “answer” to prayer is not the answer we may have been expecting, but the “peace that comes from having asked.” My favorite singer is Johnny Ray Watson, and the song he sings that thrills my heart is, “He’s got it all in control.” He’s a six foot five African American with a deep voice rising from a caring heart – what a gift, what a rich experience. When I pray, God has Johnny remind me that “He’s got it all in control.”
So let’s pray with glad hearts so God can remind us once again with an awareness of his wonderful peace that the answer’s on its way.