when prayer is the answer
Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel, Sunday morning, February 13th, 1955.
"Be not anxious about anything; 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." Philippians 4:6-7
THE Apostle includes this injunction in his letter to the Christians at Philippi. Philippi was the first place in Europe in which, so far as we know, he ministered the Gospel. Drawn to Macedonia by the vision of the man of Macedonia, he opened the truth in Christ to a company who met for prayer by the riverside. There his first convert Lydia, was the subject of Divine grace as the Lord opened her heart to believe the things that were spoken by Paul. It was at Philippi that Paul and Silas found themselves in prison and, in the midst of their praise and thanksgiving, the prison doors were opened. The gaoler would have killed himself, but Paul quickly showed him something more preferable than death, even life anew in Christ. So it was that Lydia and her servants and the gaoler and his wife and family and staff were found of the Lord and became the first Christian Church in Europe. And what a delightful company it was and how full of grace and how rich in spiritual treasure, you may discover from the reading of this letter.
It must also be observed, however, that Paul wrote this letter to his fellow believers while he himself was in prison. His own position was perilous and his needs were daily increasing. In such condition, as you will see from the concluding verses of this epistle, Paul proved the loving, gracious consideration of the gaoler and his fellow believers who sent "once and again" to meet his need. So that the text before us is not submitted by an apostle whose life was a bed of ease, but, on the contrary, is the sober declaration of one whom, as he writes, is in captivity, chained perpetually to a Roman soldier.
In such circumstances, not knowing what may befall him, or when he may hear the step of the executioner outside, he exhorts these Philippians not to permit anything to cause them anxiety. The Authorised Version translates these words. "Be careful for nothing," but the root of the word rather means "distraction," with a corresponding concentration on the occasion of the anxiety. Is it possible to live without worry? How is the Christian to stand up to a permanent breakdown in health? Can one face bereavement, or serious economic consequences, without a care? How is the believer expected to react in the face of a sudden experience that shatters the whole outlook on life? But what is anxiety? It is one of those emotions that express suspense in its intense form. We know what confidence is as we face life without a care and all seems to be in our favour. We know how, when there is a check, we still bolster ourselves up with hope; but if conditions deteriorate, we face anxiety in a state of suspense in which we fear that all that which once encouraged our confidence may be swept away. And if we are not careful, anxiety can pass to despondency, the realisation that our hopes are crashing, and finally to despair as we come to the conclusion all is lost.
In this setting, anxiety is always a crisis much more within ourselves than ever it is in the external issue, and it is at that moment we are to be sure that God does not intend us to be dominated by anxiety. It is not the will of our heavenly Father that we should be worn down by worry. Paul desires us to know, however, that such a deliverance from anxiety is for true believers only. Others have good reason to be anxious not merely for the things of time, but even more for the things of eternity.
Secondly, the answer is through prayer and finally it is a Divine ministry which may be ours in the result. And bearing in mind these things, we may be able to see into the experimental truth that Paul so gloriously declares. We are bound to believe that if any Christian is bowed down with anxiety, he must bear the responsibility himself for there is a way out from all corroding care. We are to be anxious for nothing! In support, Peter would add his word: "Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you." It is not God's will that we should live with our minds obsessed with some anxiety, which is wearing us down, and extracting every vitality from our beings. Having made such assertions, however, it is important that we should, in a real and practical manner, study carefully the statement Paul makes. And first there is what may be termed
1) THE GENERAL ATTITUDE OF THE BELIEVER
It is true that in an emergency we may dial 999 and within a few moments the fire engine, the ambulance, the police car, will be at the door. But all those services, quickly as they arrive in the crisis, are the result of prolonged preparation and training. If we are to prove God in an emergency, there are some general considerations of preparation, in like manner, for the believer. As you look into this chapter, those considerations will be clear.
First, there is the general trend of our thought life. Verse 8 tells us the things upon which we should train our minds to dwell. Things honest, pure, just, lovely and of good report are the things that should occupy our minds. The Christian begins in recognising that the thoughts, unknown to others that are in our minds and hearts, have a great bearing upon our experience. Each one of us can tell how we stand in this matter by noting the trend of mind in rest. When our attention is disengaged, the mind goes back to its usual haunts and every one of us knows what those haunts are. Freedom from anxiety begins in the discipline of the mind as, recognising our tendency to think on things that are not pure and true, we take our thought life seriously and gain the mastery in the mind.
Secondly, we must cultivate the habit of covering everything in our lives in prayer. "In everything by prayer" says the apostle. It is a simple duty the believer may encourage so that day by day the whole of life is mentioned at the throne of grace, the providence for the day, the ventures to be made, the duties to be performed. All these matters that do not seem to call for prayer the routine of life, the rupture of which may mean disaster, all these are daily to be brought before the Lord in prayer. No man really lives beyond the circumference of his prayers. Cultivate the habit of committing everything to God in prayer especially those matters that go so smoothly, are well within your control and you feel there is no need to pray about them. Learn to obey the apostle as he says: "In every thing"!
Thirdly, there is to be thanksgiving in our hearts. Cultivate the thankful heart. "Count your blessings." Look back through each day and mention before the Lord as many things as you can for which you are truly grateful. And if you do not feel it necessary to do that, then thank Him for every mercy, which, if it were taken from you, would in the least degree alter life for you. Thank Him for the eye with which you continue to see, the ear with which you can hear, the mind with which you maintain a proper relationship with your world. However hard life may be--and it can be hard, and let me add, for many people in this Church as elsewhere, it is hard--let us see to it that we thank God for the blessings we have. A praising, thankful heart is a blessing in itself.
As I follow the apostle's thought in this chapter, I judge these are the preludes to the fulfilment of the promise in the text. If we have no special anxieties just now, be sure you will never deal with them when they do come, as they will come, unless you have first disciplined the thoughts of the mind, daily covered everything in prayer, and cultivated a joyful, thankful heart.
2) THE ACTION OF THE BELIEVER
The cause for anxiety arises! What a task it is to deal with it. If the Christian has never been concerned about the things I have mentioned, if spiritual experience has been largely superficial, the moment of anxiety will be and always is the moment of great distress. The fact is that the trials of life are too much for us, and if we have nothing but human strength with which to face them, we shall quickly be broken. To realise that some loved one has passed from you, as it seems for ever, or that you are the victim of some dreadful disease, or that a child of yours is bringing disgrace upon you, all these, and many other crises like them, will shake the human heart to the very foundations. You cannot sleep, and if you do, you awake in the night to find yourself pressed in by a thousand furies as the darkness adds to your troubles and fears. But if through the years the general attitude to which I have referred has been practised, then the believer will be steadied in the mercy of God. Although the first shock may, and probably will, find them engulfed in their humanity, yet they will inevitably come to such an assurance as the text and take action upon it.
"Let your requests be made known unto God." Shocked and broken as we are, we must make our petition in the crisis to God. We know the instruction of the psalmist in Psalm 37, to trust in the Lord, to delight in the Lord, to commit our way unto the Lord and to rest in the Lord. All these commandments are exceedingly difficult for any saint of God, but nevertheless, as we pray for strength to do this, and recognise that this is what we ought to do, should do, and must seek the grace of God to accomplish, God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The believer learns that all the commandments of God so far beyond our own power to achieve are just the matters in which, as we simply trust Him He will do for us. Are we called to rest in the Lord and simply find our common humanity cannot do it? Let us ask Him to do it for us!
Composure of mind and heart will be ours as we lay the need before the Lord and make request of Him. Let us be sure that we do make request of Him. Nothing pleases God more than when in trouble the believer immediately turns to Him. In our little way we like to know of anybody who is ill or in trouble so that we may visit them. But how sad it is to hear that somebody has been ill, and has pledged a friend in no circumstances to let us know of their need because there is some peculiar kind of satisfaction in counting how many days elapse before they are, missed and visited! Well, that is comparatively a small matter as far as a human being is concerned, but how sad it is when God is treated like that. When the trouble has come and the Christian seems to choose to be immersed in the trial and the sorrow and, as far as any definite and specific approach in humble faith to God is concerned, nothing is done. There is a tremendous power in intercession, and all who are engaged in it know how wonderfully God answers prayer, but God does expect His child to pray to Him direct. He longs to hear the cry of the oppressed and the afflicted. Probably nothing delights Him more than when the child of God whose heart has always been filled with thanksgiving, turns to Him in the moment of special need and makes his requests known to God.
3) THE ANSWER OF GOD
And here Paul speaks from revelation as well as experience. Actually he is declaring, what in the prison in Rome he is proving, that God does take up an active ministry in the behalf of all those believers whose attitude and appeal to Him have been according to the Word. Then the peace of God will be communicated.
Let it be noted that this peace of God passes all understanding. That is to say, this peace is experimentally much more effective than anything achieved b worry. God's peace is not a device or recourse because all else has failed ; it is the effectual answer to any and every situation into which the believer may come. It garrisons the heart and mind. It stands sentry over the affections and thoughts of the believer who otherwise would be anxious. For one thing it communicates a sense of composure. All the peace that inheres in the being of God is communicated as a reality to the hitherto troubled heart. It is better than oil on troubled waters. The anxiety that threatened has been so approached that instead of being a burden, it has become an open door into which God might come into the heart with a revelation to the mind and enrichment to the whole being.
It immediately places the whole issue not in a temporal setting, but in an eternal circumstance and God gives the long view, that perspective essential to a true assessment of any trial. With that, in the case of a mind thinking after the things of God, come surging into the mind the appropriate promises of God and as faith begins to take hold of them, strength is renewed. Indeed, we seem to know God better as we sense in our spirits this more intimate experience of His grace.
And all this through Jesus Christ! That, of course, is an intimation of His mediation; for all of God is mediated to us in Him. As partakers of the Divine nature, we are capable of receiving this ministry in Him, and glorious indeed it is. In the first place His mediation means that our trouble will turn us to a renewed consideration of our lives in the light of our redemption. Although God does not penalise His child, yet the unveiling of any sin to a conscience made sensitive to God in trouble will mean reconciliation at a deeper level of spiritual experience than ever before. That must bring with it incalculable blessing as the spirit of the believer is relieved of some of its fetters.
Then it means that the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer will minister His comfort in the way the anxious one's most needs, filling the being with love. That inward peace which is the counterpart of the peace of God is ministered in response to faith, and with this ministry will come renewed, even miraculous inward energy to meet the crisis that has threatened.
To this will be added the uplift of the communion of saints because, as we have thus cried out to God and made our requests known to Him, every ministry of heaven is ours. Those on the other side who perhaps through our prayers, perceive our need, minister their help and support.
And finally there are those ministering spirits the angels, who, in the wonder of providence, perpetually seek to help and inspire. And with all this, the heart and the mind, the affections and the thoughts, are guarded. The peace of God is a sentry protecting our hearts and minds from every evil. Our dire need has not been a downfall, but the occasion of a unique and remarkable experience of the goodness and love of God.
And with this wonderful assurance granted in mercy, let every child of God say good-bye to needless worry. He can be confident that every occasion of need is to be the revelation of an infinite supply that not only meets the need in itself, but unveils the infinite communion of God as never before.
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