Two days ago, I embarked on a five-parter with my GII shepherds on the topic of prayer, (loosely) based on JP’s chapter on Prayer in Desiring God. I’ll expand his excellent teaching in order to ensure that the lesson remains relevant and applicable to our context. This was a natural follow-up from my previous lesson on Philippians 4:4-7. Each time we meet for cell, I make us memorise scripture. Although these verses are familiar, I’m fairly confident they have taken a paradigm shift as they store these powerful, dynamic verses in their hearts.
“Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (English Standard Version)
Anxiety does nothing for you. On top of adding zero benefits to your situation, it also distracts your concentration and injures your soul. Paul dispenses such practical advice – anxiety is so useless and negative that it doesn’t even change or improve your situation. No wonder he warns you against it.
The remedy to being anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything. When we pray, we acknowledge a few things: (1) We openly admit that without Christ, we cannot accomplish anything; (2) We deliberately turn away from ourselves because we have the confidence that God will provide the help that we need – I call this, “Anti-self-sufficiency”; (3) We actively humble ourselves as needy and exalt God as wealthy. No wonder Paul instructed us to turn to prayer!
Allow me to rephrase “prayer and supplication”. Basically, it is to present the request for the first time and continue to present the request earnestly (until something happens, or until the Spirit changes the way you pray). And you do this in an attitude of “thanksgiving” because you recall the many times that God has answered your prayers in the past. This should give you the confidence to ask boldly – for God is a faithful God who would answer prayers (according to His will)! Remember also, that you are actually making known your requests and not telling God about it like He doesn’t know; this gives you the confidence that God already knows what’s in your heart; So your role then, is to verbalise your request(s), and to do it ardently, both audibly or inaudibly.
An easier way to understand “guard” is to imagine our hearts (or affections, passions and emotions) safely protected in a castle that has bricks made of God’s peace. The peace of God supersedes all human understanding, garrisons our hearts and protects it in Christ Jesus – what a powerful imagery! It’s not any other peace that will be in our hearts but that which is subjected to the rule and reign of Jesus. This peace is a result of the Holy Spirt that is at work within us.
We pray because we need God’s direction and support in our often misguided and heavy-laden lives. And the result is God’s peace – which is all that we really need. No wonder Paul exhorts us to rejoice in (verse 4)! Finally, the question then, in light of this knowledge, isn’t “Why should we pray?” but “Why shouldn’t we pray?”