Have you ever had one of those moments when you are talking to someone only to realize that they left the room and didn’t hear a thing you said? Or you were on a call that dropped, but you didn’t know it for the longest time? It’s awkward and embarrassing and ultimately you realize it was a pointless waste of time. Talking to yourself on purpose may help you process things. But talking to someone else by yourself makes no sense and accomplishes nothing.
I love that there are verses we celebrate and remember and quote. But the risk of creating the bumper sticker or coffee mug quotes is that we fail to see/remember the fuller context. One such verse that hit me today was Philippians 4:6-7.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
By itself it’s very encouraging and hopeful. But by itself it also pits anxiety against the action of prayer. “If I just pray more.” “I am struggling because I need to pray more.” We tend to turn this into a “I need to do more” situation. It is so works and self dependent. What’s one of the first things we tell people when they are struggling? “You need to pray.”
Now, it is true that prayer changes our hearts and we find a peace. The action of prayer is powerful. But the fuller context here has nothing to do with our effort. Prayer is a response, not a self-medication for anxiety!
Verses 4 and 5 are key. Particularly 5. Paul exhorts us to Rejoice! Why? Because the LORD IS NEAR! Because the Lord is near we can rejoice and should rejoice! Because the Lord is near we don’t need to be anxious, and instead pray. Because God is ever-present we can be confident that prayer is not pointless exercise. I don’t need to wonder if He will hear me or care for me or act on my requests. I don’t need to feel like He has left the room and I am only talking to myself. I can be confident that my call is always connected.
When I recognize that God is NEAR, I rejoice and commune and petition and give thanks! Because He is near, I experience peace and protection. The entire passage pivots on that phrase, “the Lord is near”.
“The LORD is Near!”
Now there is a bumper sticker for you!
Side Note: Song playing when I read this passage: “Father, You’re all I need, my soul sufficiency. My strength when I am weak. The love that carries me. Your arms enfold me until I am only a child of God.” (Child of God, from Hungry, Vineyard UK) God is so near, He is hugging me until all I am aware of us is my relationship with Him. Nothing else enters in, instead it is all pushed away.