Prayer: God’s Answer for Anxiety

June 6, 2004 / No. 3205

Dear Radio Friends,

     There are certain passages in the Bible that are so well known.  One of them is Philippians 4:6, 7 where we find God’s prescription for worry.  “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  What a beautiful promise we have there in God’s Word.  How precious!  Be worried about nothing.  Bring all of your cares in prayer.  Do that.  And the promise:  I will keep you in perfect peace in Christ Jesus.

     Perhaps, though, as you listen today in the midst of your present trial, you question whether or not that Word of God is true.  You say, “That’s too easy.  That’s not realistic for my situation.  That’s a simplistic answer.”  Maybe you say, “The apostle Paul, when he wrote those words, wasn’t experiencing what I am today.  Besides, I’m not the apostle Paul.”  You say to me, “Don’t worry?  Just pray?”  Or, perhaps you say, “It doesn’t work.  It’s not true.  My worries come right back to me, and I don’t feel the peace that God promises.  It’s either because my worries are simply too great, or I’m not strong enough.”  Is this promise true?

     If you are thinking along those lines, then I want to remind you of two things.  First of all, and not as importantly, Paul’s burden that he was experiencing as he was inspired to write those words was probably greater than any burden you or I will ever have to bear.  I do not like to make comparisons.  Making comparisons is not good.  But, if we want to make a comparison here, Paul, when he wrote the words of our passage today, was opposed every step of the way.  He was in prison, he was single, he had no family, he was an older man.  He was in a position where men would say to him, “You ought to shoot yourself and be done with it.”

     But secondly, I want to remind you of something more important.  This is God’s Word.  This is the voice of our Savior.  He brings the word through the apostle Paul, for sure.  But it is His Word.  “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing … let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God … shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  That is true for every child of God.  Will we call God a liar?  That is exactly what we are going to have to do if we say that this passage is not true.  God speaks, and God promises peace through prayer.

     The passage speaks to us today about worries.  Worries and cares and anxiety, fears and panic and despair and heartache, our minds obsessed with our difficulties.  Oh, we have so many of them.  From the oldest even unto the youngest; from married to single — anxieties!  Anxieties about our marriage.  Anxieties about our children.  Personal anxieties.  Worries and concerns about our church.  And the list goes on and on.  God knows every one of them.  He sees us worry.  He sees us try to get our mind around those things and move those things and cope with those things.  He sees our minds and hearts like a pot with worries bubbling and boiling out every day.  He sees how weak and how foolish and how sinful we can be.

     And He says, “Now listen!  Pray.  Pray again.  Think of Me.  And I promise you the peace of God.”  Prayer is God’s prescription for worry.

     Now when we read the passage, perhaps you had a question.  For the apostle begins with these words:  “Be careful for nothing.”  What does that mean?  Our children would immediately ask, “What does that mean?  My dad tells me that I’d better be careful always!  I’m told that I have to be careful in my homework.  My mother says, ‘Be careful in how you do your chores!’  I am told that I must be careful over my body and over my possessions.”  And the answer to all of that is, Yes, indeed, we are to exercise the utmost care in our earthly stewardship and calling.  But the word “careful” here means “worry, anxiety, fear (fear especially of what is going to happen), preoccupied, obsessed with anxiety, overwhelmed, when everything just becomes too much and I can not see any hope.”

     To understand what God commands when He says here, “Be careful or worry for nothing,” we could first of all look at different usages of the word in the Scriptures.  The Lord used the word in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25, “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought (there is the word) for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.”  The Lord meant, “Do not become overly worried.  Do not begin to be anxious over earthly things.”  Again, we find the word in Luke 10:41:   “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things.”  Those were the words of the Lord Jesus Christ when He was in her living room that day, teaching.  Martha’s sister Mary was seated at Jesus’ feet drinking in every word of the Savior, and Martha was scurrying about trying to serve everybody a cup of coffee and a roll.  Everything seemed overwhelming to her.  She was troubled, she was agitated, she was beside herself, she was gripped by worry.

     Our text explains to us what anxiety is in verse 7 when it says that the result of prayer will be the peace of God, which keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Worry, then, has to do with our hearts and our minds; with our spiritual center, our heart; and with our intellectual center, our mind.  Worry is when our hearts and minds begin to interact in the wrong way.  Our heart, as I said, is our spiritual center.  It is the source of our desires and our will.  Out of the heart we begin to desire a certain object, a certain thing, a certain way.  Then in our minds, the instrument by which we judge things, we see and we begin to evaluate.  Our minds see the circumstances of our life and we judge whether or not those circumstances are going to help us or hinder us in obtaining what our heart desires.  Anxiety and worry is when I see all those things that I believe will hinder me from getting my heart’s desires, in fact, all those things that are contrary to my desires and are going to crush me.  Or, we say, “I don’t want this to happen.  But I can’t see how it’s going to be avoided.”  We worry.  We become anxious about so many things.  They pile up.  They weigh us down.  They overwhelm us.  They press our soul into despair and fear.  There is no area in our life free from worry.

     We see it in the world, especially since September 11 — the fear of the terrorists and a nuclear bomb, and what next.  Or the fears can come to us in the economy — will we have enough to feed our families?  Will I be able to get a job?  Can I pay the bills?  Can I handle the stress of my job?  So many worries and so much anxiety come from our marriages and our families — our grown children in their marriages.  Or, thinking of our children — how are they going to turn out?  Whom are they going to marry?  And what about the burdens of our own married life — what is going to come of this?  Then there can be the personal burdens, the trials — will I be able to cope?  Can I go on?  We worry over our health.  We worry over the health of our children.  We worry about accidents.  We worry about death.  Young people worry about dating — is there anybody who is going to want me?  Or, my future — what does the Lord want me to do?  How am I to determine?  What about the rest of my life — what is it going to be like?  No one is exempt.  Children worry.  They worry over their parents.  They worry over school.  They worry over being liked.  They worry about liking themselves.  Worry is so very common and so very strong.  It becomes like a prison holding us in.  We cannot escape.

     The Word of God comes and says, “Be careful for nothing.  Don’t worry but pray!”  So common is our worry that we might say, “What’s the use in telling us that?  It’s our second nature to worry.”  But that is where we must correct ourselves.  It is not our second nature to worry.  Let us say it the right way:  It is our old nature to worry.  It arises out of our sinfulness and weakness.  Examine your worries for a moment, will you?  They all have to do with the future.  They all have to do with God.  And they all are involved in His call that we are to trust His wisdom and rely upon His faithfulness and to give ourselves, by faith, entirely into His hands.  They have to do with what God might or might not do and with those things that we cannot control, which is, really everything.

     Our worries so often have to do with our forgetfulness.  It is like Alzheimer’s.   Now I would not desire to make light of that dreadful disease in any way.  And, oh the need for the patience and the mercies of God if the Lord sends that affliction in His good pleasure to us.  But my point is that spiritually every one of us is like that.  We do not remember.  All of God’s children have spiritual Alzheimer’s.  We cannot remember five minutes ago of the Lord’s goodness as we are in a present distress.  We forget a lifelong faithfulness of God in the face of a great burden that strikes me today.

     God says, “Don’t worry.  Pray.  Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”  Prayer brings us to God.  It brings the child of God to see things in the light of God.  Prayer is the means of God to give us His grace for anxiety.  That is the answer.  Only God can help us with our worry.  Go to God in prayer.  The answer, then, for anxiety is not that we try to tough it out.  We say, “I’m going to put these things out of my mind.  I’m not going to knuckle under to my worry.  I’m not going to allow these affairs of my life to ruffle my feathers.”  That is not the answer.  The answer is not alcohol.  It is not drugs.  It is not some lust of the flesh to medicate ourselves, to alter our mood.  And the answer is not:  “Well, I’ll go to the mall and buy things to make me feel better, or I’ll turn to entertainment and sports to put all of these worries and concerns aside.”

     No, God speaks.  And God says, “Come to Me with your worries.  Bring them all.”  “Cast thy burdens,” says the psalmist, “upon the Lord.  He will sustain thee.”  Pour out your heart to God, God is a refuge for us, says the psalmist.  “In everything,” says the apostle Paul in Philippians 4, “come to God with all of your worries and all of your needs.”  Come with supplication, we read.  Supplication is the pleading out of a great sense of need and helplessness.  It is a sincere prayer.  Supplication is not flowery words.  It is not empty words.  But it is exactly what is on your heart.  Bring your request.  Do not leave anything out.  Tell Him your trouble and your woe.  Do not put on a front with God.  Do not pretend to be something you are not in the presence of God.  Come to God.  He knows!  He loves you as His child in Jesus Christ.  Prayer is the heart of the child of God being drawn to God.  Therefore it is intensely personal and private.

     Let your requests be made known unto God, says the apostle.  That obviously means that we must be conscious of God and we must know Him as our almighty, faithful, wise, and eternal heavenly Father.  The danger is, of course, that we think of God wrongly — that we begin to think of God after ourselves.  So this command means that we must pray over an open Bible.  So often we are tempted to view Him incorrectly.  We are tempted to view our eternal God as an indulgent earthly father who gives simply everything that the child wants and who would not want anything to happen contrary to the child’s will and who is there simply to pull his child immediately out of his problems.  We begin to think of our heavenly Father that way.

     No, we need more and more to know Him truly as He is in His Word.  Pray to God as He is made known in His holy Word.  Know Him as the almighty, gracious, loving, all-wise, and almighty God, whose way is perfect, who controls all things, and whose ways are rooted in the glory of His name.  Prayer, and knowing God, are like glove and hand.  Know Him in His Word and go to Him as He has been revealed to you in His Word.

     And that means this:  As you pray, you must always see God in His mighty purpose in Jesus Christ, the Son of His love.  God’s eternal purpose, according to the Scriptures, is to bless His people in Jesus Christ and to glorify His name in the church.  Pray, then, from the foot of the cross.  Go to God in the face of Jesus Christ.  Pray in the faith that God has saved by grace from sin in Jesus Christ and now wills all things in the life of His children to glorify Himself.

          Then you can understand the words, “Pray with thanksgiving” even in your deepest needs.  Come to God with thanksgiving.  Do not be pessimistic.  Do not pray simply, “O Lord, it’s all no good.  It’s all wrong.  How can this be?”  But pray this way, “O Lord, I know that in Thy cross Thy love has been shown to me.  I know Thou art God who works all things to the glory of Thy name and for my eternal good.  I can’t see that with my earthly eye, Lord.  I can’t get my earthly mind around that.  I pray that Thou wilt give me grace that I might believe Thee.  Help me, Lord.”

     He is the God who is ever faithful.  Pray to Him in the face of Jesus Christ.  Do that.  God says, “Pray.”  He says that in His eternal love, for He knows exactly what we need in all of our worries.  We need to pray.  We should ask ourselves, Do we?  How often do you and I do everything else first except pray?  How often our minds take off a hundred miles an hour concerning all the things that are bothering us and then our heart begins to speak, “What’s going to happen to me?  What’s going to come?  What about my desires?”  And sometimes we get so worked up and so overcome that we cannot pray.  Perhaps we need grace, then, to call for the elders that they can pray for us.  We need grace to stop and pray.  The hymn is true, you know:  “Oh what peace we often forfeit; oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

     And the promise?  Peace.  The peace of God that passeth understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  What is the peace of God?  Well, I cannot explain that to you.  The apostle himself says it passeth understanding.  I can say some things about it.  But it is something ultimately that every child of God experiences and knows by grace.  It is the peace of God.  God’s peace is His absolute serenity, in the knowledge that His glorious purpose that He has willed in Himself will be realized.  It is the complete absence of fear, turmoil, unrest.  It is tranquil and serene.  It is the assurance that all is well and that His name is and shall be forever glorified.  That peace of God is something that now floods our souls.  It is there.  Prayer brings God’s peace to our souls.  In prayer God says, “You are mine.  You belong to Me in My Son’s blood.  I’m going to take you home and I’m going to work everything for your good.  I am faithful and true.  My purpose will be attained.  I am with you.”  You see, prayer brings God to my heart.  And with God comes peace.

     The promise of God is peace through prayer.  Rest in God and you will, in His arms, experience peace.  You will experience peace in all of your circumstances.  You will experience a peace that is simply beyond your ability to explain.  In prayer God will grant you the peace to keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, so that now upon the walls of your heart and mind stands the peace of God that has been attained through Jesus Christ.

     What is the Word of God?  Let us get it very straight.  First, let us see that our worry and our anxiety are rooted in our own sinfulness and weakness.  Second, let us be resolved, by the grace of God, to bring all of our fears today, all of our worries, all of our troubles, all of the things that overwhelm our hearts, to God, the true God, in prayer.  Third, let us prove God now.  Let us put Him to the test.  Do not say, “This word of God isn’t true.”  Put God to the test.  Bring your worries to God and see whether or not the promise of Him who is faithful and true abides real.  See whether or not God will indeed give to you the peace passing understanding — peace through prayer.

     Let us pray.

      Father, we always are in need of the instruction of Thy Word.  We are little children.  We are so readily and often overwhelmed with our own fears and worries.  We can do nothing, Lord, apart from Thee.  Direct us, O Lord, to Thee, to Thy eternal purposes of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.  Give us to see that the foundation of Thy salvation is rooted in Thy own eternal love in Christ and that as the mighty God, Thou wilt work everything in our life for the eternal glory of Thy name and our full salvation.  Give us, then, to believe in Thee, to bring our needs to Thee.  And, Lord, as Thou hast promised, grant us Thy peace.  Amen.