Prayer and the Peace of God
‘Be careful for nothing; 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
How thankful we should be that the Bible addresses the Lord’s people, not as if they are what they ought to be, but as they really are. Of course the Bible constantly urges God’s people to be what they ought to be, but it also recognizes that they are not what they ought to be. And the provision made in the gospel for sinners — and for sinners who believe in Jesus — is a provision that suits them as they are, in all their sin and frailty and weakness.
The Bible recognizes that the Lord’s people will have anxieties and cares. But they should not; they have trusted their souls to the Lord for eternity, and why then do they need to be anxious about the things of time and sense? But the Lord, in his condescension and grace, deals with us as we really are. Therefore the Lord knows that his people need the exhortation, ‘Be careful for nothing’. And they need provision to be made to preserve them from that carefulness. That provision is set before us in these verses.
We may notice 1) The frailty and the danger that the Lord’s people are in, which is addressed in this exhortation. 2) The preservative or cure that the Lord has provided for their tendency to be full of care. 3) The encouragement to make use of that prescribed preservative and cure.
The Frailty and Danger
Peter says that the Lord’s people may, for a season, be in heaviness through manifold temptations. God’s people are surrounded by trouble, trial, temptation and difficulty — some more than others, at some times more than others. But although chosen by sovereign grace, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are human, in a state of sin, and we are frail.
We ought to have a proper concern for the things of time and sense. If anyone should be careful, considerate and diligent about earthly things, it is the servants of the living God. They have to give themselves to doing what is required of them in this world. But the problem is that they are liable to the kind of care that is forbidden — what nowadays we call worry, anxious care — the kind of care which sets our minds in a storm, which disqualifies us from thinking clearly, which comes between us and the confidence in God, the submissiveness to the will of God, and the devotion to God that we ought to have. The Lord himself said that one of the effects of the cares of this world is to make the Word of God unfruitful. We hear it and read, but our mind is in such a turmoil through the things that are seen and temporal, through the anxieties we have, that we do not benefit as we should.
Of course, some people are temperamentally more inclined that way than others. In great mercy, the Lord takes account of his people’s temperaments. But, while circumstances may occasion the carefulness, the causes of care are within their own hearts: a lack of submission to the Lord, of dependence on him, of assurance that he is in control, that he is doing all things well and making everything work together for the good of his people. The reason for care is not that circumstances are difficult but that our mind is not set on God as it ought. However difficult the circumstances, the person is preserved from care when the mind is set on God. However trifling the circumstances, we are liable to be anxious when the mind is not set upon God.
Now this carefulness is useless for those who trust in the Lord. It does no good: it does harm. But what we are looking at just now is the fact that we are prone to be full of care. The Lord has saved his people by his grace; he has given them a hope for eternity, and yet how small the things that can cause them, as the Psalmist says, to reel and stagger like one drunk!
The Preservative or Cure
The Lord does not say, Pull yourself together; it is the world that says this. But people in this condition cannot pull themselves together. The Lord says, ‘In every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God’. He is exhorting his people to think about him and come to him in prayer. What we need is to have our minds fixed upon the Lord: ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth Thee’. Very often, when we are worried, we have to acknowledge that the cause of our trouble has filled our minds; it has displaced God from our thinking. If God is in our thinking at all, it is at the periphery. But the cure, the preservative, is to have God central to our thoughts and hearts.
That of course is one of the chief functions of prayer. The Lord is not saying we have to run away from our problems, but to flee to him; we have to go to his throne of grace. We have to take account of God’s sovereignty, wisdom, power, grace and, when these become real to us again, they show us that — although the circumstances may not have got any better — there is no need for anxiety, because everything has been left in the hands of the Lord. So the exhortation he gives is, In everything, to let our requests be made known to God — whatever is liable to cause care and concern.
Perhaps part of our trouble is that we think we can only bring some things to the Lord in prayer; we may feel ashamed to bring other things to the Lord. But he says, ‘In every thing‘ — whatever is making you anxious — ‘let your requests be made known unto God’. Turn the anxiety into a petition. It might be about something profoundly spiritual; it might be about something very temporary and temporal, but he says, ‘In every thing’, whatever the Problem is. John Kennedy says somewhere that we so often try to take upon our tiny shoulders the burden which we should leave upon the Lord. And that is the problem — our shoulders are not adequate to carry any burden if we face it in our own strength. But whatever is a burden to us, let us pray to God about it — ‘let your requests be made known unto God’.
This is not for God’s information, not merely for psychological release. Some rationalistic people do not mind people praying; some psychiatrists may think: If you want to pray, pray; and that will give you some sort of psychological relief. Prayer no doubt does give relief, but this is God’s commandment — not to inform him, but because he says he will be inquired of by the house of Israel to do this for them. He has given promises, and we have to ask for what he has promised. The Lord’s way is to promise and to plan, but one of the means he has ordained in the fulfillment of that promise and the working out of that plan is to make his people ask him to do it. It is an expression of their dependence, of their confidence and of their readiness to trust in him — in his wisdom, power, grace and faithfulness.
You may say, I do not know what to ask. But the Spirit himself ‘maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’. We may be all confusion at times, unable to express our need, and we know that what we say does not express our need — perhaps we cannot say anything — but the requests the Lord heeds may not be properly-framed requests. Yet they are the yearnings of our souls for him to deal with us as he sees our need. Someone has said that, if we ask the Lord, sometimes he will give us what we ask, sometimes he will give us something just as good, and sometimes he will give us something better. Although what he gives us may not seem good to us, we can be sure that the Lord will give what is good.
‘Let your requests be made known,’ Paul says, ‘by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving’. We believe that it is prayer in a general sense that is meant here — not specifically asking, but the whole attitude we should have in prayer — coming to God in the attitude of reverence and confidence, of worship and submissiveness. Prayer is not just asking for things; it is the soul coming to God in the attitude of dependence, of worship, of devotion, with reverence and godly fear, desiring God’s glory. We should be putting ourselves at the footstool of divine grace.
Our requests are not to be presented to God in a self-centered manner, but in the spirit of devotion to him, recognizing that he is God, and that what we ask from him, we ask with the desire that it might contribute to his glory. Supplication is an aspect of asking; we are coming as beggars. We are not claiming a right; we have no right to be heard; we have no claim upon God in ourselves at all. All we can do is ask for mercy. We can only ask God in his sovereignty and grace to hear our cry and help us in our time of need.
Why should he help us? We only know that we need his help and that, in his sovereign mercy, he is the helper of the needy. If he will help us, it is because he wills to help us — because of his own gracious inclination to do so. We have promises to encourage us; he has tole us that he will hear our cry; he encourages us to seek his mercy. We have great need, and he has great supplies for our need, but the supply comes to us from his great resources through the channel of mercy. He is on a throne of grace; let us make our requests known unto him with supplication, begging for mercy.
Paul also tells us to come with thanksgiving. Perhaps that is what we often neglect when oppressed by a sense of our need and conscious that the Lord has all the grace we need. Thankfulness will affect the attitude in which we approach him. We have many reasons to thank him, but sometimes we come in a complaining spirit, and sometimes as if reproaching the Lord for his delays. The old saying states that delays are not denials, but we very often reproach the Lord for his delays. We are so conscious of the need that we can practically forget all the reasons we have for being thankful to the Lord for his goodness to us in the past.
In a situation of great need, you ask yourself what reason you have for thanksgiving. We all have great reason for thanksgiving: we are still in the room of mercy; we are not in hell! We can start there. If that would work on our minds, how it would bring us to the throne of grace in a begging spirit. Then we would begin to think of many other reasons for giving thanks to the Lord. Whether we are his people or not, there are so many things we should be thankful for; and if we are the Lord’s people, how thankful we ought to be that he has rescued us from the pit of destruction, and has given us the hope of an inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled and which fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us — and that he has given us Christ.
Let us not come before God as if he has done evil to us, but let us come remembering the many reasons for thanking him. And thanksgiving will put us into a right frame of mind for coming to God. What an encouragement to think of the reasons we have for thanksgiving! Even if it is the case, and it is not, that we have nothing else to be thankful for but that we are not in hell, we can start from that point, coming to the Lord with our need. What encouragement we have to make our requests known unto him!
This is the preservative, the cure, that the Lord prescribes for his people when they are prone to anxiety and worry: seek God in prayer instead. Come before him with thanksgiving, with adoration, with begging, with your requests and make them known to God. Turn everything into a request to God. Whatever is troubling you today and whatever will trouble you in the days to come, the Lord is saying to us, ‘Be careful for nothing’ — instead of being anxious about the matter, ‘by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.’ If we can only do like the king who spread out the letter before the Lord, that is what we are to do. Spread the cause of concern before the Lord, though perhaps we do not know what kind of help to ask for. It is not because he needs to be told, but because we need to be brought into a state of trust and submission.
The encouragement to come to God in prayer is: ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’ Here is something that will preserve, guard, protect, keep you, so that these causes of care will not be able to get at our hearts and minds; they take possession of our thought; and we cannot get rid of them. They are with us during the day and the night, and the more we try to put them out of our minds, the more they trouble us.
Well, here is something to protect your heart and mind; they are kept, or guarded, so that things that have a potential to disturb us will not be able to do so. What will keep us from being disturbed? The peace of God. It is wonderful to think of the peace of God as the possession of a sinner, when we think of our natural state of alienation and enmity against God. God is angry with us; we are in a state of war, under his curse; but here is the peace of God, and it is founded in the person and work of Christ!
We can think of the peace of God as it is in the fountain, in God himself — the peace which God himself has. And it should make us very thankful to think of God as full of peace. Nothing can disturb the mind of God or his blessedness. As the fountain of peace, he gives his people peace by drawing them into fellowship with himself. There is no peace anywhere, except as it is derived from him. And the peace spoken of here is the peace that God gives. ‘The thoughts that I think toward you,’ he says, are ;thoughts of peace, and not of evil.’ That is the beginning of our hope.
Then we think of peace as the relationship established between God and his people in Christ. These thoughts of peace are translated into reconciliation. We are justified and, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace from God the fountain, peace with God established in our justification, established on the basis of the righteousness of Christ. He is our peace — that is what we should remember. Peace is not some sort of abstract thing; it is not a mere relationship; it is embodied in the Person of Christ. If we have Christ, we have peace with God. If we are in Christ, we are in a state of peace with God. We may not always feel that but it is always the case, because nothing can affect it. Christ has made peace through his blood, and the peace is established for ever. It cannot be broken; God will never turn against his people.
That peace becomes an experience in the believer’s soul — peace of mind, conscience and heart. That is what we often think of as peace and, because it sometimes goes away, we think our peace has gone. Peace with God is grounded in Christ; it is always the same. But our grasp, our appreciation of it and our experience of it changes. There are times when the believers feel at peace with God. The peace of God occupies their hearts and minds. They feel assured that God and themselves are reconciled. Whatever happens to them, whatever God does with them, they are sure that he and they are at peace. Their conscience is clear through the blood; their mind is in a peaceable condition because it is set upon God. The fact that we are at peace with God, and God with us, means that nothing will ever be able to harm us.
It must have been very difficult for Job, for example, to believe that when he lost everything. We can read the Book of Job so easily, yet let us stop to think of what he actually went through when he lost every possession every member of his family, and latterly even his sense of God’s favor. He lost everything that was precious to him. Yet in heaven, God was saying, ‘Hast thou considered My servant Job,that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?’ He was embraced in the love and favor of God — God was looking at him peaceably and favorably, even when he was allowing the devil to destroy everything he had. Whether Job could understand it or not, God was keeping him from harm; God said to the devil, You can go so far, but no further; there is a limit. God’s protection and his peace kept him from anything that would do him real and lasting harm. It is not easy to believe that, we are quite sure, when everything is falling down around one, as it did around Job. But the devil could not put a finger on Job, except what he was permitted to do by God. He was at peace with Job, looking upon him with great favor.
Probably peace as a matter of consciousness is particularly before us, when we are aware that God is at peace with us, and we with God — that is what keeps our hearts and minds. The problem is that our troubles and trials disturb our peace so often; they take away our sense of God’s favor and love. Then they can overwhelm us! As long as we have the assurance that God has loved us with an everlasting love, that God the Son has redeemed us by his blood, that God the Holy Spirit has regenerated us and dwells in us, and are conscious that there is peace between us and God, then our hearts and minds are kept from being overwhelmed by what would disturb us.
‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ This is the language that consciousness of this peace allows a believer to use. It is when we wonder if he is for us that we become disturbed by the things of time and sense, and things in our experience. But if we are assured he is for us, we believe that nothing in heaven or earth or hell can disturb or harm us. He who gave Christ to us, as the ground of peace, will with him freely give us all things. ‘The peace of God shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’
In conclusion I want to mention two things about this peace: it passes all understanding, and it operates through Christ Jesus. Obviously we cannot comprehend this peace or its power. Our minds cannot grasp the reality of this peace, its nature and its effects. It is not a little think, and the same is true of every grace. Everything God is, everything he does, everything he gives is beyond our power to comprehend exhaustively. We can know it, but not exhaustively. Our intellect cannot fathom the depths of the peace of God. Is that not a great encouragement? We will never exhaust what is in the peace of God. We will never come to such circumstances that the peace of God will not be adequate to keep us — it passes understanding. No one who has ever lived, or ever will live, can say they have seen the end of the peace of God. It is beyond understanding.
But the peace of God does what our understanding can never do. The peace of God goes beyond all intellectual powers in keeping the heart and mind of the believer. The world encourages us to reason ourselves into a state of peace. But no reasoning will produce the kind of peace spoken of here. No amount of argument with ourselves will produce the state of mind described as the peace of God. No matter how correct our understanding of the Scriptures, that in itself will not bring peace. Some people say the lack of peace is due to a faulty understanding of the doctrine of justification. Perhaps it is. But a correct understanding of this doctrine will not in itself bring peace. If that is true of biblical doctrine, how much more of human arguments. Our understanding can never do what the peace of God can do; it passes all understanding; it goes beyond all intellectual capacity to understand it or to accomplish what it brings about.
The other matter is: the peace of God operates through Christ Jesus. It is very encouraging that the peace of God is beyond our understanding and every capacity of ours. But what brings it home to us and makes it effective in our experience is that it is through Christ Jesus. If we have Christ we may enjoy this peace. It is through Christ that peace with God has been established, and it is through Christ that peace with God is enjoyed. And it is by focusing on Christ that we begin to enjoy this peace, both as an objective relationship and as an internal, subjective feeling and experience.
So when Paul exhorts us to pray, and encourages us with a sense of what the peace of God can do, he shows us that we need to be taken up with Christ. If we pursue peace in itself, we will not find it, because it cannot be found apart from Christ. That is another of our problems when we are worried about things. We sometimes try to deal with the problem by our own thoughts and we do not succeed. The Lord says that it is through Christ that peace comes, and therefore our hearts and minds should be occupied with Christ. He is central in everything. He is the answer to all his people’s problems — he may not take the difficulties away but he enables his people to cope with these difficulties. When we rest on Christ and are taken up with the glory of his person and work, the peace of God will keep our hearts and minds. If we are looking for peace, we do not find it; but if we are looking for Christ, then we also find peace when we find Christ.
We obviously do not know what the future holds. It is very likely that the future will bring what will cause us concern. Christ said, ‘In this world ye shall have tribulation’, and some people know that much more than others, but all on the way to heaven will know it to some extent. There is trouble of some kind ahead of everyone, and some of the Lord’s people will have a very dark passage to go through in the days to come. But however difficult it may be, however inclined we may be to sink under it, what an assurance is here! If we are taken up with Christ if we cast all our cares upon him, then the peace of God will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sometimes it is a great surprise when Christians come through trouble. Perhaps they were very timid and weak, and everyone is surprised by how they respond to the crisis: they overcome it. No one perhaps is more surprised than they are! But the peace of God which passeth all understanding keeps the heart and mind through Christ Jesus. We see that in our own lives, and in that the world must be a great burden to the Lord’s people.
What is to become of the cause of Christ if things go on as they are? It is a sad reflection on us that we are often much more concerned about personal matters than about the cause of Christ. It will concern the Lord’s people, but it is included in this: ‘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.’ That is what equips us for warfare, for difficulty and temptation. The peace of God ‘shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’.
This article first appeared in the January 2018 edition of the Free Presbyterian Magazine and has been reproduced with permission.
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