Prayer is the most ancient, most universal, most intense expression of the religious intellect. It touches infinite extremes, for it is at once the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try and the sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high. It is indeed the Christian's vital breath and native air.-J. Oswald Sanders (late Director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship)1
Indeed! Prayer is the very life blood of the renewed heart. For the maturing Christian it is as natural as breathing air and, like the human soul in general, it grows in the midst of great trials and struggles. Yet, I fear that if we were to take Mr. Sanders' words literally-"[prayer] is the Christian's vital breadth and native air"-many Christians would have suffered asphyxiation some time ago. `Tis a shame when there's so much oxygen to go around! But, as a fellow struggler, I am not here to upbraid, as it were, but merely to call us forward to a life of prayer and personal communion with God.
Essentially we go to God in prayer because our new heart's desire is to communion with Him, to worship Him, and to seek His glory. It is not primarily for "bread" that we follow him in prayer, but worship (cf. John 6:25-40). Nonetheless, his benefits are made real to us through the Spirit in bible meditation and prayer. And it is here that we often experience his victory over sin, that terrible "enemy at the gates." This is, in part anyway, Paul's point in Philippians 4:6-7.
4:6 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, tell your requests to God in your every prayer and petition-with thanksgiving. 4:7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
In this passage Paul gives us two commands-one positive and one negative-to which he, thankfully, attaches an exciting promise. In this short capsule we have God's practical wisdom for dealing with anxiety, that is, how to escape walking in the delusion that your heavenly Father is incompetent and can't deal with the evils in your life. Is that not one of the chief sources of anxiety, i.e., the belief that our God simply does not know what he's doing? He might know how to work out other people's financial blunders, parenting nightmares, job-related stresses, etc., but he simply cannot wrap the arms of his power around my hopeless situation. On the contrary, Jesus told us not to get all bent out of shape concerning our questions/problems/needs because our Father knows what we need before we ask him (Matthew 6:25-34). Arthur Sommers Roche once said, "Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained."
So Paul commands us to stop bowing down to worry, running to answer its every beckon call. Worry is like the typical two-year-old; it keeps you up nights, makes incessant requests for the forbidden, and is full of boundless energy, always requiring that you respond. But anxiety is no longer lord over you if you are in Christ Jesus; we are slaves of the Most High God of peace now. Sin, with its outstretched tentacles, has been cut down with the sword. Come, share in your King's spoils! The apostle says, "do not worry!"
Yet God's wisdom reflected in scripture is not just negative, but also positive. The command is not only "do not," but also "do!" It involves not only a "putting off," but also a "putting on." And this is where Paul's second command enters. We are not only to shed worry, like a stained piece of clothing, we are to pray about everything to God. Why don't you make it a habit, beginning today, to humbly approach God and lay your heart bare before him. Today, as you go about your work or leisure, tell him what's on your heart, your concerns, hurts, issues, and fears. He wants to hear. "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:8). Don't live life any longer as if he doesn't care or can't do anything about your situation! Come to the throne of grace to find mercy and receive grace to help you in time of need (Heb 4:16). And take special notice of the promise that attends itself, like a faithful Collie, to the command. When we bring all kinds of prayers and requests to him-with a thankful spirit-he promises to guard our hearts with peace-"not the absence of hostility, but the presence of calm."
Did you notice that intriguing promise? Peace, God's tranquility and harmony-here personified as a Roman sentry (and in short supply these days)-will take up station at the door of your heart and mind, forbidding your enemies enter, casting down worry's persistent naggings, and turning aside the onslaught of its fiery darts. Today will be a different day! Today will be a day in which your experience of God's peace will transcend all human reasoning. Bunyan's "Mr. God's peace" has been officially stationed in the town of Mansoul and harmony reigns.
Submit to God's peace, then, and call on the Lord's name out of gratitude and with various praises, requests, and petitions. In this way you will cut off all supplies and support to your enemy. Though the sound of Worry's march be in your ears, and though war wage all around you, he will not make entry. Peace will turn him away at the door. Again, pour out your heart to the Lord, expressing the "sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high." You will in no way be defeated, for God will grant you a "strange peace" by which to overcome. There will be no "torrent" of worry, as Roche said, but what began as a "stream" will itself soon dry up. God's peace, then, experienced through the privilege of prayer, is not our personal body-guard, if you will, but our personal "heart-guard!" Let him call the shots today!
1 J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 121.