Why Pray? (Part Two)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication

 with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension,

 shall guard your hearts and your mind. Philippians 4:6

In part one, I addressed a couple theological ideas that challenge the wisdom or usefulness of petitionary prayer. First, if God has already determined everything that will happen, why pray? If God in His meticulous providence is in control of all things, whatever happens is His will. Thus, petitionary prayer is pointless. Second, if God is love and is already doing every loving thing for every person, why should we think that our prayers will move God to be more loving than He already is? Third, some assert that simple communion with God is a higher form of prayer than prayer that asks Him to do something. Seeking just the Giver, and not His gifts is more noble. Last, we are uncomfortable with the idea that some things, things God wants to do, might not happen if God’s people do not pray.

As persuasive as all these arguments may be, they all argue with Scripture and contradict the teachings of Jesus. The Lord’s prayer, after all, is 90% petitionary prayer. Whatever theological difficulties arise when we believe God hears and answers prayer, we must live with them and agree with Scripture that God responds to the prayers of people. Because God desires relationship with us, He calls us to pray. His kingdom advances on the prayers of His children.

Although we must put God and those for whom we pray first in prayer, it is true that prayer doesn’t just change “things”, it also changes us. Paul, in Philippians, presents prayer as the answer to anxiety. He challenges us to be anxious for nothing. In this Paul echoes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where He says, “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body as to what you shall put on.” Jesus concludes this exhortation by urging His disciples to seek first the kingdom of God, and trust God to take care of all their physical needs.

We should notice that Paul begins his exhortation to pray with “in everything”. I think this is perhaps the first key to prayer giving us peace. We can easily conclude some things too small to deserve God’s attention or we can wrongly divide our lives in secular and sacred realms. It can be tempting to leave God out business decisions. I have known Christian professors who separated their faith in God from their academic life. Bringing all areas of our life under the rule of God, brings the peace of God.

I think a second key to prayer producing peace in us is the phrase “with thanksgiving.” Some Christians have said this means we ought to be thanking God that He has answered our prayers. I see how this can be an expression of faith if done in response to some inner assurance from God about our request. But I think we should always be thanking God for all that He has already done and already given. As memories of God’s goodness flow into our prayers for current concerns, our soul begins to trust and rest in His faithfulness.

We also thank God that He hears our prayers and that He is with us. Honestly, God’s Word doesn’t promise us much this side of heaven. We have no promises that God will spare us from tragedy, sickness, accident, or injury. We are not promised that those we love will never suffer or die. But we are promised that God will never leave us or forsake us. We most easily enter the peace of His presence brings by wrapping our prayers in thanksgiving.

There are concerns and worries that God invites us into instead of out of. These are the concerns we have for those we love. Paul was afraid, for instance, that the church of Galatia was going to exchange salvation by grace for a salvation of works. In II Corinthians after listing many hardships he had endured, Paul adds, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the church.” In Romans Paul says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” because of love for the Jews, his kinsmen according to the flesh. This is the guy who right before this passage on prayer exhorts us to “rejoice always.” God has called us out of anxiety for ourselves into a loving concern for others. As we pray for those we love, we are given no promise that we will avoid heartbreak. We are given the peace of knowing God is with us and His heart is broken too. We are freed from anxiety about ourselves so we can enter the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. In that fellowship, we find a measure of peace even as carry God’s concerns in our hearts.

Another benefit of surrounding our requests with thanksgiving is that it makes us see. Gratitude opens our eyes to all that is around us. We may see, and love, those whom we have taken for granted. We can find each sunrise and sunset something to celebrate—maybe each breath. When we see and give thanks to all that is around us, we are more alive. We avoid the narrowing of vision caused by anxiety. Teckla and I once got lost along a beautiful creek in Ozark National Forest. But I only know its beauty from memory. At the time, the anxiety of being lost blinded us to the beauty of the creek, the limestone cliffs, and the canopy of hickories and oaks. A peaceful heart beholds the beauty of the moment.

Paul promises in verse seven that the peace of God will guard our hearts and our minds. We should notice that Paul uses the word guard—the Greek word Phroureo—which refers to a sentinel or posted guard. God’s peace is something more than a good mood, something more than the absence of worry. It is the active presence of God protecting us from fear and anxiety. The need for such a guard argues that our hearts and minds have an enemy which seeks to harm us. God’s peace is vigilant.

Because I tend to be overly analytical, I have often taken comfort that Paul says the peace of God passes all understanding. I can come up with a hundred and one realistic reasons I should worry. I can point out theological reasons why we should not expect God to carry the burdens we seek to place upon him. Sometimes I, perhaps all of us, just need to quiet our souls and listen to God.

Once our heart is settled into the peace of God, we discover that in the quiet God speaks to us. When all our anxious prayers are presented to God and the noise of worry stops, we often have ears to hear His voice. We may hear how God is calling us to become a part of His answer to our prayer. We may, like Isaiah, hear God ask, “Whom shall I send?” We may come out of our time of prayer energized and directed by God. Like Isaiah, we may say, “Here I am. Send me!”

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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