Anxiety, Prayer, and the Peace of God
So, what are the consequences or results of turning to prayer in the midst of anxiety? Let's look again at Philippians 4:4-7 for the answer.
"4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7).
Paul describes it in one gloriously beautiful and reassuring phrase: the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds in a way that no human mind can fully comprehend.
Did you know that this phrase "the peace of God" occurs only here in all the NT? He's not talking about peace "with" God. That is presupposed. If you aren't at peace "with" God you can't experience the peace "of" God. If the enmity between you and God has not been removed by faith in the blood of Christ's cross you can't experience the sort of peace Paul has in mind. That feeling in your heart of ease and contentment and all's well in the world is a lie. If you haven't invested your trust in Christ as your treasure and your only hope for forgiveness of sins, what's going on in your mind and heart is a psychological delusion, a deceptive trick that ultimately lead you straight into eternal death.
But for those who've been reconciled to God through faith in the blood of Christ shed for them on the cross, there is God's very peace that now enters their hearts and rules and reigns and triumphs over all anxiety.
You do realize, do you not, that Paul isn't talking so much about the peace that God gives as he is about the peace that exists in God himself. It is "God's" peace, not so much because he gives it but because he experiences it. This is the tranquility and joy and calm and serenity that characterizes the being of God himself. And yes, he does give it; he does impart it; he does infuse it in us when we pray to him. People, think of what Paul is saying:
When we fervently and honestly and passionately pour out our requests to God, something of the very nature of God himself, his inner peace, what he himself as God experiences, comes into us and takes up residence and governs our hearts and overcomes and replaces our anxious thoughts and enables us to experience the depths of that spiritual serenity that God himself feels and enjoys. This is what Isaiah spoke of when he said of God: "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock" (Isa. 26:3-4).
Something else is said about this "peace" of God that becomes ours when we pray: it far surpasses and outstrips and transcends all human comprehension. The human mind can't fully grasp it. The human hand can't reproduce it in a factory. The human eye can't begin to envision what it looks like. As much as we pride ourselves in our scientific and technological achievements, this peace is something that will never be reduced to merely human terms or explained by even the greatest and most brilliant minds.
This peace isn't some cheap psychological trick to get you past a few problems in life. No diagnostic manual or self-help book can reproduce it. It is God-shaped and God-given.
And look at what this peace "does," yes, "does," for it is not impotent or quiet or weak or inactive: it guards your hearts and minds.
This would have been an especially vivid image for Paul as he wrote these words, for he did so as he sat in chains in a Roman prison. The city of Philippi was home to a Roman garrison and the sight of soldiers keeping careful watch over the area would have been a common phenomenon for these Christians. Hence, God's peace, like a garrison of soldiers, will stand guard over your hearts and minds. In the midst of God's peace you are as secure from worry and fear as any well-armed fortress.
What precisely does this peace guard as a garrison of soldiers? Not our bodies, because we can still fall sick or suffer damage from a tornado or be cast into prison for our faith and even martyred. Not our possessions, because the enemies of the church can still steal and confiscate our property. Not our bank accounts, because the economy can still collapse. Not our reputation, because we are still objects of slander and gossip and abuse.
Rather this peace guards our "hearts" and "minds" which is Paul's way of referring to the core of our spiritual life, our values, our passions, our thoughts, that place of deep intimacy with Christ himself. Spiritually speaking, God will never permit an assault on his children to be successful.
But don't be misled into thinking that this is a promise or guarantee for just anyone. This is not a universal promise that just anyone can lay hold of. This is a protection which comes from the peace of God that is found only in Christ Jesus. If you don't know Christ, if he isn't your treasure, if your faith isn't grounded and fixed in him alone, this passage promises you nothing.
Finally, observe what Paul doesn't say about prayer. He doesn't say that all our requests will be answered in precisely the way we articulated them. He doesn't say that the problems and perplexities and pain that may have caused the anxiety in the first place will suddenly and forever disappear. What he does say is that a loving heavenly Father will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus as you face and endure and patiently persevere in the midst of whatever this world throws in your direction.
As we bring this to a conclusion, permit me for just a moment to remind us all once again of the simply stunning, utterly breathtaking reality that undergirds everything Paul says here. He is telling us, without hesitation, without tongue in cheek, without the slightest tinge of insincerity or rush of sensationalism, that God has designed and ordained this universe in such a way that he will act and intervene on our behalf when we ask him to. Unbelievable!
That truth apart from which nothing here makes any sense at all is that God has promised to do for his children, for those who are in Christ Jesus, marvelous things that we simply cannot do for ourselves. And no less true is the fact that if we do not pray as we are here instructed to pray he quite likely will not do for us what we need done.
Does it not blow your mind when you hear Jesus say something like: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7)? Do you and I really take James seriously when he tells us, "You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2)?
The all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving God who called this universe into existence out of nothing wills for your prayers to be the occasion of his acting on your behalf.
So, don't delude yourself, dear friend. Never assume that God will do for you apart from prayer what he has promised to do for you only through prayer.
About Sam Storms
I am an Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian, Christian Hedonist who loves his wife of 42 years, his two daughters, his four grandchildren, books, baseball, movies, and all things Oklahoma University.
In 2008 Sam became Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam was recently elected to be Vice-President of the Evangelical Theological Society. Read more...