************ Sermon on Philippians 4:4-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 9, 2010
"Present Your Requests to God"
I Prayer Instead of Anxiety
A Did you watch the stock market this past week? It went all over the place – up and down, but mostly down. At one point on Thursday it had lost almost a thousand points. It is off by a thousand points for the week. There were many anxious investors this past week.
Let's admit we live in anxious times. Every week we hear about more job losses – especially in the public sector. Every week we hear about foreclosures. Economists and bankers predict there will be a commercial real estate crisis that is far greater than anything that happened with the housing market. Gold prices continue to be at record levels as investors flee other sectors. Small business continues to be burdened with more and more government regulations – to the point that many owners wonder if they can stay in business.
Now, if anybody had an excuse for anxiety, it was the Apostle Paul. The Christians at Philippi were disagreeing with one another. Two women at the church there (Euodia and Syntyche) were fighting and bringing division into the church. On top of this, Paul had to face division among the believers at Rome (Phil 1:14–17). Added to these burdens was the possibility of his own death! Yes, Paul had a good excuse to worry. Yet, he chose not to be anxious!
What is anxiety? The Greek word translated as "anxious" in Philippians 4:6 means "to be pulled in different directions." Our hopes pull us in one direction; our fears pull us the opposite direction; and we are pulled apart! The Old English root from which we get our word "worry" means "to strangle" If you have ever really worried, you know how it strangles a person! In fact, worry has definite physical consequences: headaches, neck pains, ulcers, even back pains. Worry affects our thinking, our digestion, and even our coordination.
From a spiritual point of view, anxiety is wrong thinking in the mind and wrong feeling in the heart when it comes to circumstances, people, and things. Anxiety is the great thief of joy and peace. It is not enough, however, for someone to tell us to "quit worrying" because that will never capture the thief. Worry is an "inside job," and it takes more than good intentions to get the victory.
B So, what are we to do in times of anxiety? In one of the better known passages of Scripture Paul tells us:
Philippians 4:6-7 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This certainly sounds easy enough, doesn't it: prayer + thanksgiving = peace. Go through the steps one by one and you get peace. Peace that passes all understanding. Boy, that sure sounds good doesn't it?! Who wouldn't want this peace? Who wouldn't pursue this peace? All you have to do is follow the formula: prayer + thanksgiving = peace.
There is one problem: this formula, this step-by-step process, does NOT work! As more than one person can testify. Someone said to me:
When I am anxious I pray. But then my mind goes back to what could happen, and before I know it I am anxious again. So again I pray and again I become anxious.This sounds like an endless cycle with the addition of guilt that makes the anxiety even worse.
"Hold it," you might say, "you forgot the thanksgiving part." So, many Christians also count their blessings. Or, they make up a list of things to be thankful for. But they still remain anxious.
Do you see the problem? The formula does not work. Can we say "prayer + thanksgiving = peace"? Many times the answer is NO.
I call this the "pill" approach to Christianity; or, the "magic pill" approach. What is done today for a myriad of personal problems? Doctors and psychiatrists often prescribe pills. Depressed? Take a pill. Overweight? Take a pill. Obsessive Compulsive? Take a pill. Attention Deficit Disorder? Take a pill. Stomach or heart or blood pressure problems? Take a pill. Isn't this what is being done here? God is viewed as the Great Pharmacist. And, the Philippians 4 formula is treated as if it were a pill.
That's not the way Scripture is supposed to work. Scripture is not a pill for our problems. Scripture is not a formula for us to follow when we become anxious. Instead, Scripture is about God – the triune God – the Father Who made us, the Son Who redeems us, the Spirit Who sanctifies us. Scripture is about meeting and knowing and trusting this God.
Thus, when we read a passage such as Philippians 4, we need to look for God and not a formula or a magic pill.
II The Lord is Near
A Gospel commands such as "do not be anxious," quite often are preceded by the reason for the command. Do you see the reason we are not to be anxious? Paul says, "The Lord is near" (Phil 4:5). Meaning what? He is near in time. He is near in space. He is close, near, nearby, nearer, ready.
Last week we looked at Revelation 22:7. Remember this verse?
Revelation 22:7 7"Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book."Why do we live the Christian life? Why do we "keep" the words of the Revelation – which means to persevere and be overcomers? Out of gratitude for the cross and the grave. But also, says the Bible, because the Lord is coming soon.
Our text is another instance why the coming of Jesus – the soon coming, the quick coming – is a reason to live the Christian life. "The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything" (Phil 4:5-6). The Lord, the King and Ruler of the universe, He Who redeems us, is near. He is coming soon. He is near in time. So, "do not be anxious."
But the Lord is also near in space. He promises to never leave us or forsake us (Deut 31:6,8; Heb 13:5). He promises to always be with us (Mt 28:20). He promises that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35). Isn't it true that the presence of another person lessens our fears? Fear doesn't want a series of impersonal steps; it wants a person. Walk into a dark alley or unknown room by yourself and you are afraid. Hold someone's hand while you are in that dark place, and the fear goes away. If we are comforted by the presence of a mere human, who might be less strong and less brave than we ourselves, how much more will we be comforted by the sworn presence of the Lord Jesus Christ?
This is the path towards peace. This is the path that takes away anxiety. Focus on Jesus. Focus on Jesus Who is "God with us" (Mt 1:23). Focus on Jesus Who is near – in time and space – and your worry disappears!
B Let's focus, for a moment, on this end result. Paul says,
Philippians 4:7 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Do you remember when and where Paul wrote these words? As a prisoner. In Rome. Chained to a Roman soldier. Guarded day and night. Paul uses the same image here. Paul states that "the peace of God" stands guard over the two areas that create worry – the heart and the mind. When we focus our heart and mind on Christ, we experience "peace with God" (Rom 5:1). This does not mean the absence of trials on the outside, but it does mean a quiet confidence within, regardless of circumstances, people, or things. The presence of Christ – the near presence of Christ – means peace and therefore the absence of worry.
III Right Praying
A Within this context – of focusing on Jesus, of having a right relationship with Jesus, of not being anxious – Paul tells us about the right way to pray. I want you to notice that Paul uses three different words: prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.
The first word is "prayer." The word "prayer" is the general word for making requests known to the Lord. It carries the idea of adoration, devotion, and worship. Whenever we find ourselves worrying, our first action ought to be to get alone with God and worship Him. Adoration is what is needed. We must see the greatness and majesty of God! We must realize that He is big enough to solve our problems and deal with our worries. Too often we rush into His presence and hastily tell Him our needs, when we ought to approach His throne calmly and in deepest reverence.
The second word is "petition" – an earnest sharing of our needs and problems. There is no place for halfhearted, insincere prayer! While we know we are not heard for our "many words" (Mt 6:7–8), still we realize that our Father wants us to be earnest in our asking (Mt. 7:1–11). This is the way Jesus prayed in the Garden (Heb 5:7), so that while His closest disciples were sleeping, Jesus' sweat was falling like drops of blood!
After adoration and petition comes "thanksgiving" – expressing appreciation to God (cf Eph 5:20; Col 3:15–17). Certainly the Father enjoys hearing His children say, "Thank You!" When Jesus healed ten lepers, He was hurt that only one of the ten returned to give thanks (Lk 17:11–19); we wonder if the percentage is any higher today. We are eager to ask but slow to appreciate.
Now, an example of this. I want to hold Daniel before you. When King Darius announced that none of his subjects were to pray to anyone except the king, Daniel went to his room, opened his windows, and prayed as before (Dan 6:1–10). Note how Daniel prayed. He "prayed, giving thanks to his God" (Dan 6:10) and "asking God for help" (Dan 6:11). There you have it: prayer, petition, thanksgiving.
B Did you also hear the qualifier for prayer, petition, and thanksgiving? Paul counsels us "in everything ... present your requests to God." "Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything!" is his admonition. We are prone to pray about the "big things" in life and forget to pray about the so-called "little things" – until they grow and become big things! Pray about everything. Stay in a mindset of prayer all day. Don't just pray in times of crises. Don't just pray when the President calls us to pray. Pray about everything.
But remember the context I already mentioned – the person and presence of Christ. Therefore, the most crucial prayer for every situation and action is "Hallowed be your name" (Mt 6:9).
C Finally, we also need the right attitude when we pray. Paul mentions two things: joy and gentleness. Time allows me to only mention gentleness.
In mind is meekness, humility. The best example is Christ. Remember how Paul puts this earlier in Philippians? Talking about Christ and His humility, Paul says,
Philippians 2:6-8 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
What does this have to do with prayer and anxiety? We always want to take matters into our own hand. We want to determine the future. We often try to tell the King of the Universe what He is supposed to be doing, how He is supposed to be doing it, and when He is supposed to be doing it. We want to protect our kingdom rather than advance His.
Let me state a very important point. Do you know what anxiety often shows? It shows that our agenda is more important than God's. It shows that our plans take precedence over God's. It shows that our hopes and dreams and plans come before God's. If we are humble before God, our first concern is God and His Kingdom and not ourselves.
I like how the Apostle Peter puts this towards the end of his first epistle:
1 Peter 5:6-7 6Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.Peter asks us to do just one thing – humble ourselves before the Lord. And when we do – when our focus is God – our anxiety is gone!
On this night when we pray for crops, industry, and government we want to aim at something higher. We want to aim for God and the peace of God. And when we do, we keep anxiety far away!
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