When magazines and television broadcasts highlight the lives of celebrities, peace is not mentioned as one of the advantages of “the good life.” But followers of Jesus have access to something amazing: the possibility that we can be anxious for nothing. We can learn rest and peace as we submit to his instruction in everyday life. We can learn peace. Jesus can teach us how to live a life of peace.
The Apostle Paul, writing to a healthy group of believers in Philippi, gave these words as his final command:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, 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.” (Philippians 4:6–7)
These are famous verses. Perhaps you have heard of this incredible promise of “the peace which transcends understanding.” But has anyone taught us how to receive the gift of God, this perfect peace? Or for that matter, does anyone teach–practically–about how to be anxious for nothing?
As we read this passage in Philippians, we could easily think of the first words as a command: be anxious for nothing. But it is not a command; it is an outcome—an outcome that depends on living out the words that follow. We can be free from anxiety through prayer and thanksgiving.
Be Anxious for Nothing Is an Outcome; Not a Command
1. “Be Anxious for Nothing” starts with prayer.
For many followers of Jesus, prayer is more a source of frustration than peace. We know that we are supposed to pray, but who has instructed us in how to pray? For some of us, our prayers are driven by need or fear. For others, prayer is a duty and a mystery.
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. As they spent time with Jesus, they saw a qualitative difference in prayer as they understood it and prayer as Jesus practiced it. Fortunately, we have a record of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Luke 11 is a particularly useful passage on prayer. Jesus asks us to imagine that we a have a friend—the kind of friend we can approach even in the middle of the night. He reminds his disciples that there is a perfect parent in heaven who longs to give the Holy Spirit in response to our requests. One reason we do not experience the peace that passes understanding after we pray is that we have not learned how to pray as Jesus taught.
2. Thanksgiving empowers us to “be anxious for nothing.”
The passage in Philippians also reveals the key ingredient in prayer: thanksgiving. A thankful heart is the foundation for peace in God’s Kingdom. As we “present our requests to God,” we are instructed to do so with thanksgiving. Requests, with thanksgiving. These need not be opposed to each other.
Thanksgiving changes the atmosphere whenever it is present. Thanksgiving orders our world properly. God does not demand thanksgiving. Instead, he is teaching us that a heart thankful toward him is a heart in right relationship with him. Do we need to petition God? Absolutely! But the life-giving way to bring our requests before him is with a genuinely thankful heart. Many followers of Jesus pray from a place of worry and care, and they consequently emerge from prayer even more anxious than when they started! We can learn to be thankful. We must pursue this heart-quality if we are to follow him.
The good news is that we can learn the things that make for peace. When we learn to pray the Jesus way, filled with thanksgiving, we can learn how to be anxious for nothing. We can cultivate thankfulness that springs from the heart. We can experience transcendent peace. He calls us to learn from him. We can be anxious for nothing.