“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
I was discussing this verse with my kids today, and it occurred to me again that this verse doesn’t say anything about actually getting the stuff we want from God. There are other verses about God answering prayer, but this verse (one of the key verses in the Bible about prayer, I think) isn’t about answers to prayer at all. Its about our heart condition before God.
This verse uses some very absolute terms. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything…” When I was talking to my kids about the verse this was one of the points I stuck on, partly because its so easy. “What should we worry about?” I asked them. “Nothing,” was the obvious thing to call out. “What should we talk to God about?” “Everything!” Easy answers, but significant in their absoluteness. Like tends to happen when I teach my kids about ideas from the Bible I asked apparently simple questions and stuck myself with the implications.
In everything that comes up in our lives, comfortable or uncomfortable, expected or surprises, bliss or calamity, we are to bring our praise and concerns to God. We are to do so thankfully, trusting Him. And then having trusted him, we continue on our way not expecting everything to be fixed as we might have expected, but continuing to trust him.
I asked my kids, “So does this mean that we get everything we ask God for?” We’ve talked about this before, and they repeated my answer from before back to me (does that mean they understood, or just remembered the quote?). “No, because if we ask for a hundred pieces of candy God knows that would be bad for us.” “We’d get sick,” another one added. “No,” another one piped in, “’cause I want a thousand pieces of candy.”
We don’t trust God to give us what we want. We trust God to be God.
“Consider it all joy,” James tells us, “when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Joy and peace that pass understanding. Those would be great to have, wouldn’t they? These are the fruit of the Spirit. They are things that God will give us if we turn to him, along with patience, kindness, faithfulness, self control… It’s very noteworthy that this doesn’t include a smooth road with no bumps, roses without thorns, a life without pain or sickness or struggle. God, in fact, promises us trouble. But he also promises us peace and joy.
I think that our problem is that we’re looking for the wrong peace. We equate peace with a lack of problems. We think joy is a good feeling we get from people who love us and treat us well, and peace is when we have the stuff we need so we don’t need to worry about anything. Then people let us down and our joy vanishes, and we find out that peace doesn’t come with stuff. That’s because it’s a misplaced expectation. True peace, the kind that surpasses understanding, is not found in the events of this world or the people around us (even our brothers and sisters in Christ). It comes from God, through his Spirit into our hearts, not because of the circumstances but often in spite of the circumstances. After all, peace that is caused by and scales to the normal events of our normal lives doesn’t surpass understanding. That kind of joy and peace can only come from one who has boundless reserves of joy and peace and love he can pour out on us, and the circumstances we find ourselves in become irrelevant.
There is no need, nor room for anxiety or worry in the life of the Christ follower. We can trust God absolutely, not to keep us from discomfort and trouble, but to guard our hearts and minds through whatever comes and through all circumstances to give us joy and peace. He brings us safely through, transformed and whole, to completeness before him on that final day when he will welcome us home.
Our part is to turn to God, to surrender to him thankfully, and give him our concerns. “Cast all your anxiety on him,” 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “because he cares for you.” Complete peace calls for complete surrender. The pieces of our pain and trouble that we cling to and refuse to give to him will continue to cause us pain and trouble. God doesn’t require us to surrender our problems to him so that he can give us peace, any more than he requires us to accept his gift of life in the first place or to love him. We have free will. We can try to manage our problems ourselves, and keep our worries, or we can surrender them to him. Peace from God comes from surrender to God.
Bring it all to Him, and give it to him completely. He will take it all, and give you peace in return. He has promised it, and he always keeps his promises. Since I know that this is true, I know that if I still have anxiety that it means that I have not surrendered it to him. Works are a symptom of faith. Obedience to him is a symptom of loving him. Peace is a symptom of surrender and trust.