I was recently speaking with a friend about some stressful situations I had encountered through my work over the past years. It was refreshing to speak of the stress in the past tense rather than present.
Looking back, however, I’m grateful for the stressful experiences, but at the time it felt like more than I could bear. Perhaps you can relate.
In speaking with my friend, I brought up the fact that God has used those experiences to shape my thinking to be more dependent upon Him. More specifically, He used Philippians 4:6-7 to chisel away at my tendencies toward self-reliance and pride:
“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.”
The first statement is bold: “Do not be anxious about anything.” Left to itself that would be impossible in a fallen world. However, Scripture continues to give us the “how” in the next statement:
The only way to cast off anxiety is to cast it onto Christ through prayer and supplication.
In my experience, God was using stressful situations to bolster my prayer life into a robust, meaningful relationship. One of the most powerful pieces of this passage is the phrase “with thanksgiving.” Although it seems like the least possible reaction to stress, it turns out that thanksgiving becomes a form of changing your mind (the concept behind repentance) from pity to praise.
I have found that in my most difficult times, God uses thanksgiving in my prayers as a sort of relational “ice breaker” that melts my stubborn heart. Then, and only then, should I proceed to “let my requests be made known to God.”
At that point, the Bible changes gears and shows us a beautiful promise:
And the peace of God . . . will guard you hearts and minds.” That is exactly what my stressed-out, overwhelmed, and depressed soul needed: a peace that I could not provide for myself. Yes, the peace of God not only provided as a passing whim or momentary inspiration but also as a guard for my heart and mind! That means not only will God give me peace, but he will also guard me from being overwhelmed again.
This is the kind of peace that the Bible describes as “surpassing all understanding.” It’s a peace outside ourselves that conquers all fears, anxieties, pressures, frustrations, and disappointments.
Finally, these verses point out the source of this great peace: Jesus. He is, as Ephesians 2:14 states, our peace who has broken down every wall. His peace begins with the satisfaction of God’s wrath on our behalf (Romans 5:8) and as a result makes possible a peace that undergirds our most difficult situations in this life.
Just as He calmed the waters by speaking, “Peace, be still,” so too can He still the turbulent waters of you heart. Ultimately, however, there is a greater purpose to the peace: that we would be drawn even more to worship the One about whom we may wonder, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27).
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