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I used to treat the instructions as a formula.
pray + petition + thanksgiving = peace
It’s from a famous couple of verses:
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.
~ Philippians 4:6-7
But when immediate relief from my anxious churning doesn’t arrive there is an awkward squirming inside. It didn’t work. Did I do my half of the formula wrong? Or does God not really answer prayer? It seemed so clear. He told me exactly what to do, I did it, it didn’t work. I didn’t want to admit it.
In light of my constant struggle against anxiety, I found the most recent lecture for my counseling class very helpful personally. It was on anxiety. I want to tell you absolutely everything I’m learning, but that would be impossible. So here is one small thing that might wet your appetite to take the class yourself!
Dr. Powlison addresses the verses sited above in Philippians, but he backs up. After all, it’s not as though as Christians we ultimately believe there is a “system” or a “formula” to fix us. No, we claim that our salvation is a Person. And he backs up to verse 5 where we find that Person: “The Lord is near.”
When I feel anxious, I am approaching a difficult situation as if it was up to me to ensure that it turns out a certain way. But ultimately I don’t have control over it. There is nothing I can do to guarantee that my baby girl will not die. And so I become anxious about her.
Paul begins by saying, “The Lord is near. You are not facing this situation alone. The One who holds every life in his hand, he is near.”
I may end up saying, like Job, “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” (3:25). The God who is in control may allow what I dread.
When my prayers treat God as a power to manipulate to ensure difficult circumstances won’t come about, I am still anxious. I am still trying to be in control. I am not trusting him. And if I do not trust him, it brings little comfort that he is near.
But if near to me is the Person who I want more than any set of circumstances I can imagine, and if I can honestly beg and plead with him for joy and peace unspeakable (even if it comes through heart breaking pain), than the nearness of the Lord makes all the difference in the world to turn the formula into a relationship.
There’s so much more. But that’s all for this post!
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