Philippians 4:6&7 “but in everything, 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.”
“I have a question to offer you. It is contained in three words: ‘Do you pray?'” So begins a powerful message of J.C.Ryle’s (“A Call to Prayer,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 2002, 32 pp.). Do you worry? Yes? Even though the Lord Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not worry”, and also his apostle Paul tells us in the words immediately preceding our text, “Do not be anxious about anything” (v.6)? Worry is a sin, but the apostle is never merely negative, and in this text he is setting before us the alternative to anxiety. The alternative to our cares is our prayers. The cure for worry is spiritual worship. That is the way to deal with something as common as Christian proneness to worry which faces us all at many different times. There is a great principle in the Bible and it’s this: ‘Prayer and worry are mutually exclusive.’ Don’t be anxious, but pray. The two things simply cannot live together. Either the worry is going to destroy the prayer, or the prayer is going to destroy the anxiety. In other words, worship is a divine deliverance from worry. One result of coming to the living God in prayer is that the worry shrinks and dies at the feet of Jesus.
Consider, for example, the whole problem of our past sins, and how we can foolishly drag them up, week by week, with heavy thoughts and sighs. God may have cast them into the sea of his forgetfulness, but we keep drawing them to the surface and worrying about them. I am saying that it is a matter of fundamental spiritual logic and Christian practice to take by faith what God says he’s done with our sins. He has “hurled all our iniquities into the depths of the seas” (Mic. 7:19). He says, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist” (Isa. 44:22). There is not a microbe of sin left. It is all swept away. What is left is clean enough for holy Jesus to eat from. No power in earth or hell can ever produce those defilements again. They are gone for ever. They are irrecoverable. For example, if a man is going to be charged with some crime then there must be some evidence against him of his wrongdoing. For us there is none at all. There is no evidence. There is not even an unsolved crime. There is nothing at all. The whole event is a closed case; the investigation, the judgment and the sentence have all been completed. You are not going to be charged with it – ever. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has taken care of it. Golgotha has answered our crimes and before God they are no more. They will never be brought into the light of God again. So there will be no condemnation. I am saying that an antidote to worry is the promise of grace, which becomes yours by trusting the glorious Saviour. He has said those words of complete and eternal forgiveness. You must take his words to the mercy seat in doxology. Praise, adoration and thanksgiving are the answer to worrying about our old sins.
Some people say, “I have prayed, but it doesn’t work.” My colleague in the ministry in a sister church of ours in this town was visiting a couple who have gone to church all their lives, who had been involved in a road accident in which an old person was killed. He had known these people for many years, and at the end of his visit suggested that he pray with them before leaving. “O, we don’t believe in that,” said the man who had accidentally killed this woman. “We used to once, but we’ve given up all that.” How fearful, a life without God! A world of chance. Some live, and some die, without any meaning or purpose. My daughter teaches the reception class of four year olds and she teaches them the Bible, and they respond with the deepest enthusiasm. They cry to her for Bible stories – “please can we have the Bible” – and they have a simple trust in God. Their parents thank her for the spiritual interest and conversations these children bring home from school. But as they grow older the pressure of the present evil world can result in that knowledge of God being replaced by a sad cynicism and a hostility to supernatural Christianity, just like that old couple; “We’ve tried prayer, but it didn’t work.” How can we approach these words of the apostle where is ransacks the biblical terminology on prayer to make this activity so crucial to the life of the Christian? Let us go beyond the confines of this verse first of all and say this:
1. YOU MUST BE SURE YOU HAVE TRULY PRAYED.
You said some prayers. You asked God for certain things, but did you pray? Men and women may spin prayer wheels but is that praying? At five times every day some religions expect their followers to repeat some words, but is that prayer? They may sing and chant before dawn and their words may echo around an old building, but is it prayer? It may look devout; we can be moved at the sight of them on their faces; but is it prayer?
You protest that God hears and answers the prayers of everyone, but Jesus saw a Pharisee standing in the temple – where everyone could see him, and praying out loud – where everyone could hear him, and Jesus said that that man prayed to himself. King David, in one of his psalms, said that if he cherished iniquity in his heart then the Lord would not hear him (Ps. 66:18). Think of a man cherishing his violence, and his drugs, and his greed, and then praying, “God grant that I shall win the lottery this week. Oh Lord, won’t you give me a Mercedes Benz?” The Lord will not hear him. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, not his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear you” (Isa. 59:1&2). Remember the days in which Isaiah preached? They were days of ungodly formal religion, with no morality and much hypocrisy, when God spoke through Isaiah and said to the people, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers I will not listen” (Isa. 1:15). Why should the mighty Maker of the universe listen to your prayers and answer them? God is under no obligation to answer your prayers. Why should he give a wicked man like you what you want? You are making a convenience of God. True. I am saying to you who have stopped praying that you must be sure that you have truly prayed.
What is true prayer? Some of you know this priceless answer: “Prayer is the offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.” That is the Shorter Catechism, answer 98. In other words, have you gone to God and confessed your sins to him and sought his forgiveness in Jesus’ name? Have you stopped making excuses for your behaviour and your unbelief and asked God to show mercy? Have you asked God to give you a new heart, and make you a new creation? Have you asked God that Jesus Christ might become your Saviour? What would you think of a woman who married a man for access to his credit card and his big house and boat? You would say that she was marrying him for his money. She did not want him, she wanted what he had. She did not love him she loved herself. So it is if you are praying to God for stuff you want, but not wanting God himself. The Lord Jesus said that no one comes to God but by Jesus Christ. Is that how you are going to God, in the name of Jesus? Have you begun to understand how your sins have divided you from God?
There are a series of books written by a missionary named Paul White, called the Jungle Doctor books. In one of them the animals in the jungle wake up one day to find a huge wall has been built mysteriously across the jungle and they cannot get across to the water-holes and feeding grounds they visit every day. What a dilemma! I am telling you that a great wall has been erected by your sins between you and God. Every sin on every day has put in another heavy brick cementing it in place and the wall gets higher and stronger as the years go by. Your life is lived in the shadow of unforgiven sin. Your iniquities have separated you from your God. Only the mighty grace of God can remove it. Cry to God in Jesus’ name. That is the beginning of prayer. Ask him to save you from your sin and open a way for you to come to him by Christ. Plead for his mercy and don’t stop until you have an inward assurance that he has heard you. That is the beginning of prayer, making sure you truly pray. But let us go on, still going beyond the frame of our text:
2. YOU MUST BE PRAYING ALWAYS.
In other words, it is not enough occasionally to say a prayer. A prayer at the close of the day is not enough: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I ask the Lord my soul to keep.” That is not good enough for a child to pray let alone a man. There was a man who had been taught such a prayer when he was three years of age, who boasted when he was 73 that he had not missed a night without repeating that prayer before sleeping. Then the Holy Spirit showed him that he was a sinner who needed the mercy of God. He lived the last years of his life knowing more than the form of prayer. He knew the power of the Spirit of true prayer. He would say, “I am the old man who said his prayers for seventy years, and yet all that time never prayed at all.” Nor is it enough to pray only in church on Sundays, nor to find a church building and slip in and pray there. It is not enough to pray when you are in battle and the bombs are falling around you. Pray always! It is not enough to pray when there is any desperate need. Pray without ceasing. Pray when you rise; pray when you go out; pray when you come in; pray at work; pray at play. When was the last time your prayed explicitly and at length over the issues meeting you this week and in the year ahead, in your family, and your work, and your future? Did you recount them to God? Did you lay your burdens on him? Did you turn often to such prayers? Men should always pray and not faint, said Jesus.
Paul is talking here about time spent alone with God. When did you sit at Jesus’ feet? I was reading a memory jotted down by the writer John White. This is what he says: “When I was a medical student in England, someone in the Inter-Varsity group gave me a card which changed my life. The card was impressive. It was pale green, deepening to dark green at the edges. On it were a couple of quotations from the Gospels indicating how Jesus, on earth, once spent all night in prayer. Underneath the texts was one brief sentence ending, ‘. . . God helping me I resolve to spend at least twenty minutes daily in prayer to God.’ Below this was a dotted line where I signed my name . . . Thirty years have passed. Today a quiet song of joy is still flowing from my heart because of the ongoing revolution that little green card began. There are a number of ways of looking at it. I must have had a need in me, some inner longing to which the card appealed. Again, the need must have been met since my changed behaviour has lasted long past my initial resolve” (John White, “The Fight,” Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester 1977, p.19).
Now I have no doubt that people are converted to God in an evangelistic service where the gospel is preached, and that subsequently they walk to the front at the evangelist’s invitation. But no one has ever been saved by getting out of their seats and walking to the front, not is it a helpful activity to encourage, because it confuses an inward work of God (which man is helpless to do) with the outward action of man (which he can do). If I thought you would become a more prayerful congregation if you all signed prayer cards promising that henceforth you would pray twenty minutes each day then I would have put a prayer card in each pew in the congregation. But my concern is always to address the reasons for our constant battle with prayerlessness and they are such realities as the waning of our love for Christ, and our infatuation with the world, and the weakness of our faith, and our forgetting the living God. My concern is always to make this Lord alive and present and worth knowing and serving. It is then that you will want to pray to him. You won’t need a card, and even if you have signed a card years ago the constant temptations to estrangement from God will lead to prayerlessness. It is always a battle to pray always, and not faint. How easy to faint.
My concern is that I develop a spirit of constant prayer. It is called in Scripture a walk with God. Enoch walked in assurance, Abraham in perfectness, Elijah in fidelity, the sons of Levi in peace. You remember the great words of the psalmist in the opening words of Psalm 91, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” We are talking about making our homes as close as we can to God, so that we’re living under his shadow. When God moves, we move. Where God stands, we stay. We pitch our tents close to the bleeding side of Christ, and that is the safest place to be in all the universe. You cannot live a safer life than abiding under the shadow of the Almighty.
We had a night out on Thursday, Iola and I, and also a number of the rest of us. We went to hear an ambassador giving a talk on his life and work. His wife was also with him. He showed pictures of his work. He has been an ambassador to Austria for two spells, and the second period of duty there is now coming to a close. We learned so much from him. I wish more of you had been there but some of you were ill, and others had other important things to do. His name is Dr Christopher Pegington. His life was changed when he became a student here in Aberystwyth in 1964, and soon he was called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in England and Austria. He showed us a photograph of a most impressive fortress five hundred years old, situated on the top of a volcanic plug, not far from Bruckl. It has never once been taken, though besieged on a number of occasions. It has more than a dozen different gates which have to be battered down, all heavily guarded, to gain entry. It is virtually impregnable. Of course it is not enough to look at that castle there high above the valley. When the enemies flood in you have to leave your farm, and flee to that rock of ages and be safe behind its great gates and walls. You stay there until the danger is over. You do not enter the fortress for five minutes each day and then pop out again! So it is with the God who is a Mighty Fortress. It is not enough to know he answers prayer. We are surrounded by the enemies of our souls, and so we have to live in his shadow, and dwell in the place where he keeps us safe. Hiding in Thee! Hiding in Thee! Thou blest Rock of Ages I’m hiding in Thee. So you must be praying always, when you get up, as you start the day, when you go to your different vocations, when you go shopping, when you are working on your homes, or in your gardens, when you read the paper or listen to the news, when you read a book or a magazine, when you switch on the Internet – men must always pray and not faint. But now let us get into our text. Paul tells us this:
3. YOU MUST BE PRAYING FOR EVERYTHING.
Let me share a section of John Glyn-Thomas’s sermon on this text with you. I would have missed the significance of this word ‘everything’ had I not read his words and I am grateful to him for having pointed them out to us – though it is evident from the nice contrast within the text itself: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything” pray . . . In other words, do not worry about anything: pray about everything. John Glyn-Thomas says, “A Christian should pray about everything. The Bible says, ‘Cast all your anxieties on him’ (I Pet. 5:7). If anything is big enough to be a worry to you, whether it is large or small in the eyes of other people, it is big enough for you to take it back to God in prayer. The devil has been very subtle in this respect; he suggests to us that God does not care about the details of our lives. He is such a great God. How can we bring our petty troubles into His presence? Are we carnal and immature Christians if we bring such trifles to God in prayer? There are several answers to this question.
i]. Life is made up of little things, trials or tribulations of all sorts and sizes, and to cut God out of them is to cut God out of the greater part of our lives, which is what many of us are doing. Paul says ‘in everything’. Life consists far more of the many little things than it does of the occasional big things.
ii]. Many small worries added together can be overwhelming, so each one of them has significance, and if only one of them is sufficient to disrupt our peace and fellowship with God then it is important enough for us to be concerned about it.
iii]. God states explicitly that He is concerned with small things. It was the Lord Jesus who said that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His Father knowing; that the very hairs of our head are all numbered. He told us to pray for our ‘daily bread’. He is concerned about all these small things because they are vital to us, they are part of our lives. He saw the sorrow in the heart of the widow of Nain as she watched her only son taken for burial, and He was moved with compassion. Even on the cross there came into His heart a concern for His mother, that she would be lonely, and He told John to look after her. Is God concerned with little things like loneliness? This was the Son of God. To say that God is not interested in little things is to reject God’s word and example. To think that He is not interested in the details of our lives is false spirituality. He said, ‘I do nothing without my Father.’ Do not let us try to be more spiritual than the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says that God knows about the details of your lives – go back to Him about them.
iv]. Whether they are big or small worries which are left in our lives, unrelated to God, they all take on big proportions. The mistake of Saul and the whole army of Israel, including all his great men, was that they measured Goliath with themselves, but David measured Goliath with God. ‘Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’ (I Sam. 17:26). No wonder the devil doesn’t want us to bring our problems, great or small, to God, because he does not want us to see them in their proper perspective. But that is the way to see them as they affect the children of God. David immediately brought God into the situation and this altered everything. When he went forward he went with God in his mind.
v]. Prayer is the way to turn our anxieties into the means of grace. The very worries themselves carry us back to God; they become the words of our prayers. Paul says that every anxiety is a personal invitation from God to come before Him in prayer, to call us back into His presence, to talk to Him about it.” (John Glyn-Thomas, “Rejoice . . . Always! Studies in Philippians 4”, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1989, pp. 53-55). But more than pray about everything:
4. YOU MUST PRAY IN EVERY KIND OF WAY.
“by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (v.6). Let us look at these different terms for the devotional life:
i] The first is the general word for personal devotion, ‘prayer’, not in this instance is the apostle referring to the specifics of petition, or confession, or presenting requests to God or lamentation. Paul is coming to that in a moment, but first prayer itself, that is the posture of the creature before his Creator, the sinner before the Holy, Holy, Holy God. Paul is talking of being still and knowing that the Lord he is God. Paul is reminding us that prayer means worship and adoration – “How great Thou art!” Dr Lloyd-Jones often said about this priority words like these, “If you have problems that seem insoluble, if you are liable to become anxious and overburdened, and somebody tells you to pray, don’t rush to God with your petition. That is not the way. Before you make your requests known unto God, pray, worship, adore. Come into the presence of God and for the time being forget your problems. Do not start with them. Just realise that you are face to face with God. The idea of being face to face is inherent in the very word ‘prayer.’ You come into the presence of God and you realise that presence and you recollect that presence – that is the first step always. Even before you make your requests known unto God you realise that you are face to face with God, that you are in his presence and you pour out your heart in adoration. That is the beginning” (D.M.Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Peace,” Hodder, London, 1900, pp.171&172).
That is how the Lord Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” This is the model prayer, the example prayer, and it’s supposed to make our lives different, and our prayers different. What are we understand this word ‘hallowed’ to mean? It means that we set apart our great God as glorious and holy and unique, full of majesty and glory. One of the few times we ever run across this word outside the Lord’s Prayer is in Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’ and his use of the word ‘hallowed’ will help us understand its meaning. He said, “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow this ground.” What Lincoln was saying was that the battlefield on which he and his friends were met had been dedicated, consecrated, made sacred, by the brave young men who had spilled their blood on that field. It was worthy of the serious, almost reverent attention of those who visited it. The field of Gettysburg was hallowed ground. When you visit it even today – and Walt Chantry took me around it a couple of years ago because it is not far from Carlisle, Pennsylvania – you feel awe and overwhelming sadness for the events of those few days in the mid-nineteenth century.
So when we begin our praying then let the hallowing the name of God be supreme in your mind. We are praying that he will receive the glory and the praise, will have that holy, reverent attention of all men everywhere. This is a prayer for the glory of God, whatever our little troubles may be, that God may be glorified in this world. In other words, for us, Almighty God is not an afterthought when we pray. Our chief concern is not what we think we need, but that the praises of our great Father in heaven might be proclaimed everywhere. We are bringing the living God into our situation. We are getting our priorities right. We have come to understand and adore the character of God from our exposure to the preaching of the whole counsel of God and reading the Bible, and that is where we begin to pray. I believe that that is the kind of prayer that has the effect William Cowper writes about when he says,
“And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.”
Satan doesn’t bat an eyelid when people repeat some words they have learned as a child. That is not a prayer, it is a mantra. But when we are overcome by the greatness of the One to whom we are speaking and fumbling with our words trying to address him aright – Satan trembles! Then how dangerous glossalalia is because it gives a confidence that I am praying a super-prayer to the Ancient of Days. The truth is every Christian says, “We know not what to pray for as we ought.”
ii] Petition, or, better, ‘supplication’; I think that that captures the desirable attitude more than ‘petition’ because it helps to underline our great helplessness, the omnipotence and transcendence of God, and the deep longing we have for our requests to be answered. What we creatures do is to supplicate before God, we plead with God to grant these things to us. People in the hills around us can send a petition up to London to stop more wind turbines being spread over the mountain ranges around us. That is petition, but when we cry to Almighty God then it is supplication. We cannot bring one person from death in sins to life – and so we turn to God in supplication. We cannot make one Christian more Christ like; this is God’s grand prerogative and in that honour none shall share – and so we turn to God in supplication. John Gwyn-Thomas says, “there is an overtone – a sense of need and human inadequacy, an urgent need which God alone can supply, so there is also a sense of humility before him – we cannot command God but simply beseech him. Supplication involves the whole personality of man, his mind, heat and will. Our prayers must come not only from our lips but from the depths of our beings, realizing that as children of God we have a right to come into his presence and bring our petitions before him” (Gwyn-Thomas, op cit p.56).
There was a great Welsh preacher of the nineteenth century called Henry Rees, and when he was an old man a theological student named John Prichard went to see him and ask for some advice about beginning in the ministry. They sat one at each side the fire. Henry Rees said to him, “So your mind is bent upon preaching the Gospel? That is the most serious and solemn duty in which any man can ever be engaged.” And, with his hands crossed over his knee, and rocking himself to and fro (as was his custom), he said, “Praying, praying; praying, praying; praying, praying,” and so on, repeating it many times. “We are not aware of the thousandth part of the power praying has upon preaching.” Then, moving backward and forward, he again went on, repeating the word, “Praying, praying; praying, praying; praying, praying,” and so on. “If I were called upon suddenly to preach on any great occasion . . . and had only two hours of time to prepare for it . . . I should spend them every moment in praying. Praying, praying; praying, praying”, and so on. And his tears the while were flowing fast. Then, restraining himself a little, he said, “I cannot tell you of any particular volumes to read; I do not know very much about books, but try to read those works which will be most likely to nourish and strengthen the spirit of prayer in you. The great thing with preaching is praying, praying; praying, praying.” John Prichard says that these were the most awful moments he ever experienced in his life.
iii] Thanksgiving. Can’t you appreciate the wonderful psychology of the apostle Paul? He is saying, imagine someone going to the Sovereign Lord with a grudge in his heart against God? If we are talking to the Ancient of Days feeling bitter, feeling that God is against us, then we might as well stop praying then and there. We approach God with thanksgiving. We have problems, yes, but stop a moment! Is that all we have? Are there problems, problems everywhere? Nothing but problems? Have we never had any blessings? Do we have none at all now? Shouldn’t you pause for a moment and thank him that you are not at this moment shrieking in the flames of hell in agony knowing that you are the pit for ever and ever? Shouldn’t you thank him for temporal mercies without number, eternal and glorious blessings of redemption and a living hope? Mustn’t you, before you tell God your anxieties, pause and tell him how deep is your gratitude to him for what he has done for you? “Thank you for this, and for that, and for this other blessing.” Then you remember all God’s past kindnesses to you, the way that he has veiled your sins from those who love you the most. Think of all his goodness to you today! But most of all for his redemption. What has he done for you? Delivered you, yes, snatched you from the power of darkness. Isn’t that a fearful state? To be in the power of darkness in all your thoughts, and values, and enthusiasms, and amusements, and gifts and ambitions – under the power of darkness. But Christ came and snatched you, like the angel snatched Lot out of Sodom. He snatched you like a man snatches a brand from the burning, and often again when the darkness again deepens – as of Sodom and Gomorra – and it starts to fill our hearts, then the Good Shepherd comes again in his pity and takes our hand and delivers us from the power of unbelief and brings us back under the shadow of the Almighty. Much to thank him for!
When you do that you discover a fundamental principle of prayer, that you never supplicate God without thanking God. It is often one of the most difficult lessons in the Christian life, as we move through periods of desolation and loneliness and darkness without any light, we start to thank God because there is light. There will always be light. There are no circumstances in which the Christian cannot thank God. Paul was in his prison cell reminding the Philippians about thanking God. He was chained to a soldier when he reminded them to thank God. He was unable to preach, and he lived on prison fare when he reminded them to mix thanksgiving with his prayers. He was a beneficiary of the eternal mercies of God. Paul was forgiven, he was justified, he was an heir of everlasting life, he would soon be with the Saviour he had seen on the road to Damascus. Everything was working together to further that inescapable glory. Should we not thank God? In everything give thanks.
iv] Present your requests to God. In other words be sure to tell him exactly what you want. Don’t be vague. It is often in the spelling out of what you want that you can judge whether this is a real request to make to God or illegitimate. On Mount Carmel Elijah told God exactly what he wanted, “Please send the fire down.” When Elisha was surrounded by the kings of Syria he requested that God open his servant’s eyes. The man knocking at his friend’s house at midnight when the family were all asleep in bed, made his requests very specific. “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread!” (Luke 11:5). Can you see the Lord Jesus on that mountain during that night of prayer continuing all night. Do you see him? Can you make out what he is asking? He stands up. He kneels down. He falls on his face. He knocks at the thick darkness. All that night he prays, saying such things as these, “Peter? Should I make Peter an apostle? Thomas, should I make him an apostle? Father, what of Matthew the publican, and isn’t there a risk if I also call Simon the zealot? And what of Judas? Father should I make Judas one of the twelve?” How specific were his petitions.
The man needed three loaves. What is your need? Name it. Spell it out. Let your own ears hear it, and should some ear in the family overhear it, it will do them good to hear that sound in your room at midnight. Never mind the lateness of the hour, present your requests to God. Keep knocking on the door and rouse the sleeping friend. Get him out of bed and to the door with the bread in his hand. Be utterly shameless about it, to knock so loud, so late, so continually. You will say to yourself, after all these years of neglect of prayer I should not be casting myself on God and bringing these desperate needs constantly to him. No! It is the devil makes you think like that, like the devil made that old couple say to my colleague, “No, don’t pray with us. We have given up praying,” though the woman lies dead!” Blush with shame but you must have those things! So make it the beginning of prayer, the return of true prayer, the start of salvation. And what joy when the door creaks open and the hand with the loaves of bread comes out, and the door is closed again and you have all you need! What relief! How much more will the most loving of all Fathers give good gifts to his children – such a Father, such a magnificent Father as ours!
So keep on knocking on heaven’s door and bring your petitions to him. Do we knock for holiness? Do we knock for gentleness? Do we knock for self-control? Do we knock for love? Do we knock for the destruction of the power of remaining sin? Do we knock for love for Jesus Christ, for love to our false friends? And to our enemies? For the complete cleansing of our hearts of all hatred, and strife, and bitterness, and jealousy, and anger, and envy, and grumbling, and judgment, and covetousness? Do we present our requests to God? For a clean heart? For a heart dead to the world? For a heart of compassion for sinners? Do you spell out your requests to God? Do we request knowledge and wisdom and that every false and half-baked and erroneous view that we are still clinging to should be purged away? How can I be delivered from sinful anxiety? By presenting requests to God.
Then God knows how to answer, and when, and why. As John Montgomery Boice pointed out, wen Paul brings his petition to God to come to Rome as an ambassador of Christ he prays for three things in Romans 15. One, that he would be rescued from the unbelievers in Jerusalem. Two, that his service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the Christians there, and three, that by God’s will he would come to Rome with joy and that he and the Roman Christians would be refreshed (Roms. 15:31&32). Those were the proper Christian requests, and how were they answered? Firstly, Paul fell into the hands of his enemies and he spent two years in prison in Caesarea as a result, but his life was spared. We are not told whether his work in Jerusalem was accepted and pleasing to the Christians there, but the third request for a joyful journey to Rome was fulfilled via a fearful storm and a shipwreck, as a prisoner of Rome, via much hardships and delays. Was Paul a man of prayer? Yes. Did he pray in the Spirit? Yes. Did he cherish iniquity in his heart? No. Yet God answered his petitions in God’s way for God’s glory. Finally this great promise to all who pray like this:
5. THEN YOU WILL FIND THE PEACE OF GOD GUARDS YOUR HEART AND MIND.
You began with your worries, then you were taught that worrying was sin. So for everything you prayed making your specific petitions to God, mixing everything with thanksgiving and this wonderful thing happened, the peace of God came to you and guarded your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. God’s peace is a reality. God creating all things out of nothing is a reality. The Bible is a reality. The resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first day of the week is a reality. A fellow Christian is a reality. God’s peace is as tangible a reality as those.
It is a wonderful concept that God is a God of peace. You go into him and he is peace. You go in and in, and he is peace. You go in and in and in, and he is peace. You go in and in and in and in, and he is peace. You go in and in and in and in and in, and God is peace. In other words, there are no neuroses in God; no obsessive fears in God; no distracting anxieties in God; no gnawing tensions in God. There is peace, right down in the profoundest depths of the mind of God. Peace! There is total love between Father and the Son, and Spirit and Father, and Son and Spirit. The Son never grumbles to the Father about the Spirit. The Father never tells the Spirit that the Son is getting too loving. There is nothing at all like that: utter peace between the members of the godhead. He is the blessed One, completely integrated, totally fulfilled and happy unified personality. And in heaven there is total peace between all the angels and the spirit of just men made perfect; no envy, no grumbles, no tensions whatsoever. Peace fills heaven and the heaven of heavens.
It is that peace that God gives to us. He dispenses his own peace to us. Of his fulness of peace every one of his people receive. They are more in number than the sands of the seashore, and yet they are a finite number, but God’s peace is infinite. When he has given it to all his people there is still immeasurable peace to bestow. You take to God your worries, so unmanageable, so uncontrollable, unpredictable and destructive. You take them to God and make a request, leaving it with him. He accepts your cares and in their place he gives to you his peace. It seems incredible, so much so that some of you don’t believe it happens. But if Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ, and these words are Spirit-breathed words then this word tells us that God’s peace will keep your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. God keeps your heart – and your mind too. An undivided mind, the gift of God. He does it!
The picture is of security staff, sentries on duty, bodyguard, all of whom have this one great call to guard the Christian. The sentinels of peace are on the watch and they cry, Halt! to the worries as they get near and they drive them away. They do this “in Christ Jesus.” This blessing comes only through union with Christ. In other words it is one of the consequences of being joined to him. His life of peace comes to us. This is the grace of God.
The Lord takes our problems to himself, and in exchange he gives us his own immeasurable peace. All our troubles do not fret him in any way at all. He takes them all to himself. He can cope, and he gives us peace. He does it definitively for the first time when we come to him labouring and heavy laden, and he gives us rest. This is the wonderful life of the believer. Instead of worry we get peace. Instead of anxiety he gives us rest. Salvation is making people whole.
Archbishop Trench once wrote these words, and they have been a help to people ever since, framed and hung up as a motto in many a home:
“Lord, what a change within us one short hour
Spent in thy presence will prevail to make!
We kneel, how weak! We rise, how full of power!
Why, therefore, should we do ourselves this wrong
Or others, that we are ever overborne with care,
That we should ever weak or heartless be,
Anxious or troubled, when with us is prayer,
And joy and strength and courage are with Thee!”
6th April 2003 GEOFF THOMAS