Commands such as “do not be anxious” typically come after the reason why we don’t have to be anxious. In this case, the reason was slipped into the preceding verse: “The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5). That changes everything. The emphasis is not on how we pray. It is on the God who has come close, who hears, and who is with us.
It is one of the better-known passages in Scripture:
Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6–7)
That’s certainly easy enough: prayer + thankfulness = peace. Go through the steps, get to peace. Then why doesn’t the formula work? When I am anxious I pray, but my mind keeps drifting back to the anxious circumstance, and before I know it I am trying to solve the problem. After again confessing my distractibility, I get back to praying, only to have the cycle continue. Thinking I might do better at thanksgiving, I write out a thanks list, but the list rarely dislodges my anxiety, and for good reason. No matter how long the list, there is no guarantee that I will be spared my most recent doomsday scenarios.
Now what? I just tried one of the classic passages on anxiety and it didn’t work.
A-ha, there is a clue. I was looking for a pill. I visited God-my-pharmacist and asked what to take for my anxiety. That’s not the way Scripture works. I should have noticed it when I reduced the passage to a formula. Scripture, instead, is about the triune God. It is about knowing and trusting a person, and our formulas can actually turn us away from that person and cause us to rely on a series of steps.
So go back to the passage and look for the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).
The Lord is Near
Commands such as “do not be anxious” typically come after the reason why we don’t have to be anxious. In this case, the reason was slipped into the preceding verse: “The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5).
That changes everything. The emphasis is not on how we pray. It is on the God who has come close, who hears, and who is with us. The only thing that could separate us from His love and presence are our sins, and they have been washed away by Jesus’ blood.
Isn’t it true that the presence of another person in our frightful situations can lessen our fears? Fear doesn’t want a series of impersonal steps; it wants a person. Walk in an unknown dark place by yourself and you are afraid. Hold someone’s hand while you are in that dark place and fears ebb. If we are comforted by the presence of a mere human being, who might be less strong and brave than ourselves, how much more will we be comforted by the sworn presence of the reigning Christ?
This is the path toward peace and comfort. Meditate on Immanuel, which means “God with Us.” Remember how the Spirit of Jesus has been given to us (John 14:27). He is not limited by a physical body that confines Him to one place and one person at a time. He is with all God’s people all the time.
Immanuel Will Give us Manna
But what will He do when He is with us? Will He give us the money we need? Will He zap the person who wants to do us harm? Will He keep the kids from all accidents? We have a pretty good idea that the answer to these questions is “not always.” We know that bad things happen to God’s people. So what difference does God’s presence mean when, although He is the Almighty God, He doesn’t always use His power in the way we would like? We feel like we are left where we started—trusting in some steps that we hope will make us feel more peace. There must be more that God says.