How does prayer bring peace in the middle of a crisis like the COVID-19 Pandemic? How does prayer work? How can we pray to find relief and help?
Sometimes we are so worried, we find it hard to pray. I’ve had more than one concern like that recently. The what ifs and worries buzz around in our heads like infuriating flies. We find it hard to pray without anxious thoughts interrupting.
As I write, scientists say the COVID infection curve is flattening in many states, but many uncertainties remain, both nationally and personally. So, we worry.
Will my job or business survive? Am I safe? What about my vulnerable loved ones? Will there be a second wave of the virus? When will school open again? How will my children do with dropped months of learning? Will the economy bounce back, along with my retirement account? Are our leaders handling this correctly to keep us protected and save businesses and jobs?
We worry especially when things seem beyond our control, or our resources are limited.
So, how can we find peace in a crisis? Philippians 4 gives us the answer. Seriously, it is the solution. It is God’s spiritual guide for peace through prayer. It tells us how to pray when we are anxious and why prayer works to calm us.
“The Lord is near. 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.”Philippians 4:5b-7 NIV
You may have heard this before. You could repeat it by memory, flying through the words without thinking. Or its wisdom may be new to you. Either way, I want to invite you to work slowly through it with me, so we can unpack its treasure and find the peace it promises.
The Lord Is Near
First, Paul reminds us that Jesus is very close to us. As we start to pray, we should remember His promises: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20); “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . .My Father will love you, and we will come and make our home with you.” (John 14:18, 23)
Those are amazing promises when you stop to think about it. God is with us; Jesus is with us. They are not far away, unaware of what we are going through. They are close. This has always been true, but is even more true now that Jesus came as one of us, to share our lives.
“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'”Isaiah 57:15 NIV
Yes, Jesus is in heaven, but through his Spirit, He is also very much with us. Jesus is near. He is close enough to know our circumstances and our thoughts. He is close enough to care for and comfort us in trouble or tragedy. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 NIV)
Did you notice, Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything.” It is almost like a command, but probably more like a strong statement of permission. We don’t have to worry. We can stop worrying because Jesus is near. Remember those stories from the New Testament? He is the storm-stiller, the disease-defeater, our protector and provider. He did all those things when here on earth, and He still does.
So don’t worry. Pray.
Have you heard the phrase, “turn your worries into prayers.” That’s what Paul is inviting us to do. Don’t worry; instead pray. Then, he tells us how.
“In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (v. 6)
In Every Situation
We face lots of situations in life, right? Relationship situations, financial situations, life circumstance situations, situations beyond our influence and control.
What do we do with those situations? I’ll admit what I do, all too often. I turn it over and over in my mind, like a slow-cooking pancake. I try to figure it out on my own. I toss and turn over it in bed. Then I remember. “Pray.” In any “situation,” pray. If I can worry, I can pray.
By Prayer and Petition
Interesting Paul would divide prayer into two aspects. Sometimes we think prayer is all about asking.
Perhaps we have an incomplete picture of prayer. Prayer is remembering who God is to us, what He is like. Prayer is a relationship. It is talking things over with God as we would with a friend of close relative. Not because He doesn’t know, but to open up to Him. He wants to know us. He welcomes our heartfelt conversation about everything important or trivial in our lives.
I love this; a little long, but really good:
“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears, before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. . . . Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. ‘He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds’ (Psalm 147:3). The relationship between God and each person are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon earth to share His watch care, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.”Amazing Grace, p. 116
Petitions are another kind of prayer. Petition means asking. Lodging a request. “Ask,” Jesus said in Luke 11:9-11. Ask for what you need. If you can get anxious, you can ask.
Asking involves trust. God is a loving and good Father, and He will do what is best. He knows everything about us and what would be the finest for us in the long run. He invites us to keep our wants and needs before Him. Whenever we are anxious, or have a need, we can ask. . .and trust.
My sister, who has faced her share of trials, but has a great attitude of gratitude, reminded me of an old song last night as we were texting. The words to “Trust His Heart,” say beautifully that we can trust Him, even if we can’t understand what is happening to us. You can listen by clicking the underlined song title.
With Gratitude, Say Thank You
Have you ever left out an ingredient while cooking or baking something, only to have it turn out flat or taste wrong? The next ingredient in prayer that brings peace is crucially important. You can’t leave it out and have a good result.
When we pray, Paul says, we should always remember to be grateful and thank God for what He has already done for us. Blessings received, guidance given, requests responded to.
A story from Jesus’ life has always impressed me about gratitude. Ten lepers came asking Jesus for healing one day. Dr. Luke tells us, “They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'” (Luke 17:12)
Lepers were banned from society, and had to live alone or in groups. The fear of contagion led society to set up fear-based restrictions. Ill-informed medical and religious ideology taught that all leprosy was a curse from God and the result of sin.
Lepers who traveled around had to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” as they got near people. From all this, lepers had a deep sense of isolation and shame. People who live in Hawaii and know the dark history of Kalaupapa, an old leper colony on the Island of Molokai, understand this experience.
Jesus told the ten lepers to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed by God’s power.
“One of them,” Luke says, “when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.”
“Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'”
When I first heard this as a child, it impressed me deeply about the importance of gratitude, especially to God.
If you know God, or have heard the stories of those who know Him, you know He does a lot for us. Many times we don’t even realize what He is doing. But as we remember, it strengthens our faith and hope. “We don’t have anything to fear for the future unless we forget how God has led us in the past,” an old saint once wrote. I have found this is true.
When when you pray, thank God for His past help and blessings. For all the times He has been with you and the things He has done.
Supernatural Peace Will Come
Prayer is a conversation with God. We are not just launching our requests into the “vaposphere.” God is listening. Remember, “the Lord is near.”
So, when we pray like this, in trust, thanking Him for His love and care in the past, and leaving our requests at His heart, He promises to give us His peace. Here is the promise in Paul’s words:
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:7 NIV
“Transcends all understanding.” It is a supernatural peace that God gives. “Peace will guard your heart.”
Peace will guard your heart, because He will guard your heart. He is with you, helping you.
This is the core of what God is saying about how to find peace through prayer in Philippians 4. However, I left the bread off this tasty sandwich filling.
Sandwich filling is great, but it’s not complete without the bread. A while back my wife came home with some delicious herb bread. It made wonderful sandwiches. So now I want to show you how Paul begins and ends his teaching on prayer and peace.
The Top Slice – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all.” (Phil. 4:4-5a)
We can rejoice, which means to overflow with joy, because God is near; He hears our prayers; He will give us peace. Having a personal God who hears and helps us brings deep joy. Someone once said, happiness is based on circumstances. Joy comes from something much deeper–knowing a God who cares and is there for us in our lives.
Bottom Slice – “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or worthy of praise–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9).
Peace comes through prayer, but it remains with us because of a well-managed mental environment. There is a lot we can watch, read, or think about that really doesn’t promote peace. If we fill our minds with good, uplifting, ennobling things, peace will flourish there too.
So, Paul encourages his readers to remember all the things he taught them and fill their hearts and minds with it. Those things are found in Scripture. Reading, understanding, and taking in the words of Scripture will promote and grow peace.
God’s recipe for peace is: Be joyful, be aware of Jesus’ presence, don’t be anxious; rather, pray and ask for what you need; be thankful; and fill your heart with good.
Are you hungry for peace? That is a recipe that will always work.