Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop I have an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dip into theology and am presently reading for my Masters in theology at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. Most often found on the beach, a soccer field or my couch.

Philippians 4:4-7 Devotional

Philippians 4:4-7 Devotional

Philippians 4:4-7. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Reflection. These verses begin on a familiar note within Philippians. Paul exhorts Christians to rejoice—twice (4:4). Throughout we have noted that the Christian’s joy is not superficial or forced. Nor should we confuse it with happiness. It is an emotion anchored in God, along with the certainty that his promises and purposes are not only reliable but will result in never ending praise.

Paul then calls for “gentleness.” This may link back to 4:2-3, where Paul urged two conflicting believers to be reconciled out of a desire for healthier local church community. But even if it is not explicitly tied to that purpose, Christians ought to be gentle. Such gentleness will surely create a strong platform for Christian community. Two marks, then, according to 4:4-5, of Christians should be the joy they find in God and the gentleness with which they treat others.

A third mark comes in 4:6-7. Prayer. Growing up nominally Christian I knew the Lord’s Prayer long before I knew the Lord. Thus prayer is much more than saying the right things. It’s about knowing the person you are speaking to. This explains the awkwardly placed phrase, “The Lord is near” (4:5). Even though Paul will go on to speak about a peace that transcends understanding, we pray to a God who is imminent. More than this, he is a God who invites us into an intimate, deeply personal relationship. Therefore we need to stop worrying about saying the right things when we pray, adopting the correct posture and stringing a bunch of Christian sounding words together. Instead, let us remember that our God is near and prayer is a way for us to enjoy his personal presence.

The exhortation to pray is coupled with the prohibition against anxiety (4:6). Earlier Paul reflected on his own anxiety (2:29). Therefore the Christian is not a Stoic. Anxiety is inevitable, especially when we possess a genuine love for the wellbeing of others. Rather, Christians ought to prayer in “every situation” (4:6)—perhaps especially when there is reason to worry. We might call prayer an antidote to anxiety. D. A. Carson put it excellently when he said that there are two kinds of anxiety: one drives us to prayerful dependence on God and the other drives us away from him. Paul is calling for the former. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer…present your requests to God…And the peace of God…will guard your hearts” (4:6-7). Our hearts are vulnerable to anxiety, uncertainty, and worry. So we must petition our listening Father.

Another detail worth reflection is that Paul exhorts prayerfulness, “with thanksgiving” (4:6). We have many reasons to worry. And anxiety might be reflexive. Yet we ought to approach God with gratitude and thanksgiving. We do not bargain with God. Nor does thanksgiving only flow from answered prayer. Praise ought to be coupled with petitions. We can rejoice as we make our requests. For we have already seen that true Christian joy is not contingent on God answering our prayers or changing circumstances and situations. This would imply that we don’t really want God—that his praiseworthiness hangs on something outside of himself.

If you think that God only deserves praise when he grants your requests then you aren’t pursuing God but his gifts. Prayers and petitions should be mingled with praise and gratitude. The simple fact that God invites us to come before him with our requests at all demands such a recognition. We rejoice in God and not what he might give us.

Finally, Paul writes, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7). This point follows directly from the previous one. The combination of “peace” and “prayer” might bring spiritual retreats to mind, as if we will find calmness for our souls in quiet and uninterrupted meditation or repose. This is only partially true. There is more to this peace that transcends understanding, it is “of God” and “in Christ Jesus.” This peace is nothing less than the reassuring and restorative presence of God in prayer. Prayer is the means by which we come before God, communing with and being comforted by the same personal presence.

The subtitle to Jordan Peterson’s incredibly successful 12 Rules For Life is The Antidote To Chaos. I think if I were to write a book on prayer that would be the subtitle, even the title. For in these verses Paul reminds us that the Lord is near. Far from being ominous or even mysterious, this presence reassures those who pray. So take your anxieties to the God who is near. And do not forget to go before him with gratitude. For he grants a peace this world cannot give.

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