Stronghold 14: Philippians 4:6-7 (Don’t Worry, Pray).
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
This verse, more than any other, has been transformational for me. Of all my favourite verses, this is the stand-out. Of all my strongholds, this is the strongest and the one I most frequently visit. It’s not because it’s the most beautiful wording or because it contains the most profound theological truths, but because of the change it has wrought in my life.
We all worry. Most of us worry all the time about all kinds of things. How is today going to go, how is that person going to react, how can I meet that deadline, will I do well in that exam/interview/presentation/class etc., will I be able to pay my bills, will I get there safely, will my children/parents/friends be ok? I could go on – the list of things to worry about is literally as long as the list of things in the world – but I think you get the point.
When I was younger I used to worry a lot more than I do now. One day as a teenager, though, I discovered this verse in Philippians, and it changed my life. Not yet grasping its full richness, I basically paraphrased it as ‘Don’t worry, pray’. Turn every worry into a prayer. As soon as a worry starts to form, you turn it into a prayer. This became the watchword of my life, the very words I live by.
It doesn’t stop the causes of worry from happening, but it does radically change my reaction to them. Suddenly I was in control of my attitude, which became one of trust rather than one of anxiety. I’m not saying that I never worry; this isn’t a perfect system, but it did radically reduce the amount of worrying I do.
You see, if something is big enough to worry about, then it’s big enough to pray about. The scope and applicability of this verse is limitless – Paul says do not be anxious about ‘anything’, and that ‘in every situation’ we should present our requests to God. This covers the big things and the small things, it covers our work lives, home lives, family lives and any other compartment of your life that you can think of. It covers spiritual things, physical things, mental, financial, relational, environmental and vocational things. There’s nothing we should worry about – because God is in control – and there’s nothing we shouldn’t pray about – because He wants to hear about it all.
And as I’ve grown older and more mature in my faith so my understanding of this verse has deepened. It’s not just about praying through your worries, it’s also about how we pray. It says that we should present our requests to God ‘by prayer and petition’. I’m still not 100% sure how those things are different. How do we petition God if not by prayer? There’s no online petition function like there is for the UK government! Maybe some expert out there knows more, but for me it’s about how you pray. A petition is a serious prayer, spoken in earnest, and also a sustained prayer, one we persevere in. Some prayers are answered straight away, and others take time. That means our prayers can’t just be throwaway wishes but heartfelt requests that we pray for continually.
This has always been the instruction for God’s people, from Abraham who prayed for a child for decades, to the watchmen on Jerusalem’s walls who were to give God no rest until He restored the city (Isaiah 62:6-7) to the Thessalonians who are told by Paul to ‘pray continually’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The point is that we should keep praying about the things we really care about, not just because we want them but because the whole process builds our relationship with God and helps us to trust Him more.
It also says that we should pray ‘with thanksgiving’. While it’s fine to pray for what you need or don’t have, it should always be with an attitude of gratitude for what we have already. We have so much to thank God for that every request for something new should come loaded with thanks for the things we have already. This stops us feeling hard done by, it stops us having a poverty mindset, and it stops us taking for granted what we have. Turn your worries into prayers and into thanksgiving also. Tell your worries about all that God has done for you and how many times He’s come through for you in the past. Thanksgiving for past blessing helps us keep present difficulties in perspective and helps to pray for new things with the right attitude.
And the end result? The peace of God guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. This peace comes through Jesus and is possible for us because of Him. It brings peace both to our minds and to our hearts, our intellect and our emotions. God’s peace is all-pervasive and has the potential to reach and comfort every part of our lives. And it transcends understanding. We can’t get our heads around it, and it may seem counter-intuitive at times to be peaceful in the midst of great hardship, opposition or danger. But God can do amazing things. His peace is greater, deeper, longer and more profound than we’ll ever know, but that doesn’t stop us receiving it.
Do you want that peace? Well then you’ve got to turn to God in every situation. Whatever life throws at you, turn to God. Trade your worries for prayers. Train your fears to become faith. Tell God what you need and thank Him for what He’s already given you. Pray with persistence, perseverance and with perspective. And pray with eyes fixed on Jesus, who makes it all possible. That’s what unlocks the incredible peace of God.
This is a stronghold of peace. It should be such a regular part of your routine and mindset that turning to God in prayer becomes a reflex. Don’t let worry settle – turn it into a prayer straightaway. Come to this stronghold to be reminded that God cares about every little thing in your life and that He can transform your worries into the most wonderful kind of peace. When we approach Him with thankfulness and tenacity, God turns our anxieties into assurance. An assurance that He loves us, that He’s in control, and that everything’s going to be OK.
Never leave this stronghold. Given half a chance, worry will never leave you in peace, so claim the peace of God in Jesus’ name.
(come back next week for Stronghold number 15: Hebrews 12. You can find my first 13 Strongholds here: Numbers 6 , Psalm 23, Psalm 84, Psalm 121, Psalm 139, Proverbs 4, Isaiah 40, Jeremiah 29, Zephaniah 3, Romans 8:28, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 10:5 & Ephesians 6.