Philippians 4:4-7, “Is It OK to Pray for a Carburetor?”
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
We spoke a little bit about these verses last week in the sermon entitled, “When You Can’t Get to Sleep.” We saw that Paul says you must “present your requests to God” “by prayer [or “worship”] and petition, with thanksgiving.”
In other words, “No matter what it is you’re concerned about, don’t be anxious about it, but go to God in prayer, worshipping and adoring Him, pouring out your problems to Him, thanking and trusting Him for His goodness toward you. And His promise is that you can experience the inner peace of God that transcends all understanding.
I’d like to focus your attention today on two little words of our text in particular: “anything” and “everything.”
Paul says, in Philippians 4:6-7, “6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Who, here today, can tell me one thing that’s not covered by those two little words, “anything,” and “everything?” Who can tell me one thing that we’re allowed to be anxious about? Who can describe for me one problem where we’re not allowed to go to God for help in prayer?
The Greek word is actually even stronger than the English word here. V. 6 actually begins with the Greek word, “may-DEN,” meaning “nothing!” In the Greek it reads like this: “Nothing be anxious about, BUT in all things” – that’s the Greek word, ‘pan-TEE’ – “in all things, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
So how many things are we allowed to be anxious about? Nothing! No things!
How many things that tend to make us anxious are we supposed to pray about? All things!
Everything you’re concerned about or anxious about – bring it to God.
Why don’t we do that? And if we do bring these things to God in prayer, why is that we’re often still anxious about them afterwards?
Why are we sometimes hesitant to bring ordinary things to God in prayer – things like carburetors, or car batteries, or computer glitches?
I remember a number of years ago, when a member of our church couldn’t make it to church on a particular day. She called me to let me know that she’d be unable to attend and she asked us to pray that God would get a carburetor to them the next day so that they could fix her car.
At first it struck me as sort of a funny thing to pray for. After all, there’s nothing all that “spiritual” about a carburetor. But then, the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a very good thing to pray for. And I was actually glad that she’d made that prayer request for something as ordinary as a carburetor.
Do we sometimes think, perhaps, that God doesn’t care about such mundane things as carburetors? Do we sometimes hesitate to bring certain concerns to God because we think, “Nah, I don’t want to bother God with a little thing like that. I’ll just bring the big stuff and the ‘spiritual’ stuff – things like earthquake victims, or somebody dying of cancer, or perhaps an unsaved friend or relative. I don’t want to trouble God about a little thing like a carburetor or a common cold.”
Or do we sometimes say, “I’ll just bring the ‘spiritual’ stuff to God”?
You know what I’m talking about – things like missionaries, or help in overcoming sin, or help in making the church grow, or things like that.
Now, obviously, we’re supposed to pray for the big things and the spiritual things as well, but our text says we must bring everything we’re anxious about to God in prayer. If we have a need of any kind, Paul says, we’re to bring it to God in prayer. If we have a fear, we’re to bring it to God in prayer. If we had a fight with somebody, we’re to ask God to help make things right. If we lose our car keys or our wallet, we should ask God to help us find them.
Let’s look at a couple of reasons why we sometimes fail to bring certain things to God in prayer.
Perhaps one reason is that we sometimes forget that God cares about the little things as well as the big things in our lives. In Matthew Jesus says, “26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
And in Matthew -30 He says, “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Sometimes we forget that God is everywhere and that He sees everything. He cares about the little things as well as the big things. He cares about the child’s broken baby doll as well as nuclear war. He’s never too busy or too tired to listen to all your cares and worries. This is God we’re talking about, not some fallible, earthly father. God doesn’t get upset when you bring your little concerns to Him again and again. If you’re His child – if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ and a member of His covenant – then He cares about you and He loves you more than you can ever imagine.
I Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Do you sometimes hesitate to bring something to God in prayer because you think He doesn’t really care about such things? Listen to a little child pray sometimes. It might be instructive for us as adults, sometimes, to take a lesson from such prayers. Little children don’t hesitate to pray for their pets, and for their broken toys, and even for their sore finger.
Another possible reason why people may fail to take certain things to God in prayer is that we’re Deists at heart.
Now you may say, “Whoa there! Not me! I’m no Deist!...Shoot, I don’t even know what a Deist is!”
Well, let me explain. A Deist is someone who views this creation as being like a big watch that God created and wound up, and then set in motion to run, all by itself, by the internal laws and principles that God built into it. The Deist believes that everything that happens in this world happens according to impersonal laws of chance and laws of nature, built into creation. According to the Deists, God really isn’t all that involved in the workings of this world, or, for that matter, in the workings of our daily lives. According to the Deists, God is far off and separate from His creation.
In fact, about the only time that the Deist sees God as involved and working in creation is in the case of miracles. He thinks of a miracle as God putting His fingers back into creation, temporarily, to do something special from time to time. And of course, since the age of miracles has ceased, the Deists believe that God is nowadays pretty much uninvolved with His creation. And since miracles have ceased in our age, there’s also not much sense in praying for things that aren’t likely to happen. If it’s something that doesn’t normally and naturally happen, then they think there’s no sense in praying for it.
They don’t pray for these things because they think that God isn’t going to step in and go against the normal and natural laws of nature anyway.
So while a Deist will often pray, quite confidently, that God would convert a certain person, he’d never dream of praying that God would convert a whole city or nation. He’ll pray that God would help his child to recover from the flu, but not that God would cure his grandmother’s terminal cancer.
Why? Because there’s very little chance that his grandmother’s cancer will go away after 20 years, while there’s a very good chance that his daughter’s flu will clear up in a few days.
People of God, we’re not Deists! We believe that God created the heavens and the earth and that God still personally upholds and governs them each day by His sovereign power. God never went off and left His creation to fend for itself! God never sat back to simply let nature take its course!
Here’s what we confess in our historic Westminster Confession of Faith, found in the back of your blue, Trinity Hymnals, on p. 675.
Let’s look at WCF V:I-III, which summarizes the Biblical teaching regarding God’s providence:
I. God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable [or unchangeable] counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. [In other words, there’s not a single person, creature, or action that occurs in all creation that’s outside of God’s immediate control. There’s not a single chemical reaction or even a puff of wind that takes place which God doesn’t personally bring about by His sovereign providence.]
II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. [That means that God uses various means to bring about His will, but He nevertheless controls everything that happens and He sees to it that everything occurs exactly according to His divine plan.]
III. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure. [Here, then, is the explanation of miracles. Miracles are not different from ordinary events in that God works miracles while ordinary events just “happen.” No, miracles are God’s working apart from the normal means He ordinarily uses to work His will.]
What this summary of Biblical teaching shows is that God is very present in His creation, working all things to His own glory, with a personal, hands-on approach. God ordinarily works in ways we learn to count on so that we can govern our lives accordingly. God ordinarily works according to the principles of gravity so that when we crack an egg over a frying pan, we can reasonably expect that it will drop into the pan and that it won’t fly through the air and smack us in the face!
God long ago promised us in Genesis 8:22, “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
So God can be counted on to work in ordinary, normal ways so that we may have order and organization in our lives, and so that we can practice scientific and cultural endeavors in obedience to His command to fill the earth and subdue it for the glory of God. But these things never just happen by themselves. They never happen by chance. They don’t even happen by some kind of impersonal laws of nature.
No, God, Himself, personally provides for all of His creatures day by day, hour by hour, from the greatest to the least of them. God ordinarily uses means, like doctors and nurses and medicines and herbs to heal people. He ordinarily uses farmers to grow food and He ordinarily provides money for us by means of giving us jobs where we can work and do something productive.
But God is also free to work without those means whenever He thinks it best. He did this in the OT and the NT when He worked His mighty miracles which attested to the message of His prophets and apostles. Now that the age of miracles has ceased, God does this today, as well, in a lesser sense, in His works of extraordinary providence. For example, He might bring healing to someone in a rather fantastic manner, completely apart from, or in spite of, all the doctors and medicines that modern science can provide.
And that’s why we may pray for things that are “unlikely.” That’s why we may pray for things that have “very little chance of happening.” We may pray for extraordinary things because natural law and chance do not govern this world. God does. And God can do whatever He wants to do, whenever He wants to do it.
We may pray, for example, for Sharon Church to have 100 members by the end of next year. We may pray for God to bring salvation to someone who’s been denying God all his life. We may pray to be cured of arthritis or terminal cancer.
God may decide to cure us, or He may decide to give us the grace to bear our health burdens joyfully. Or, He may cause our health problems to be the very things that draw us closer to Him in prayer. But no matter what happens, we’ll receive God’s best for us whenever we pray. And that’s one reason why Paul says we should pray, “with thanksgiving.”
There’s nothing God can’t do for us. There’s no good thing God would ever withhold from one of His children. There’s no way that God would ever cause His child a needless tear. If He brings sorrow into our lives, we know that it must be for a good purpose in the end.
God doesn’t work special miracles anymore, in the sense of those “signs of an apostle” that we see in the NT. That’s because the Scriptures are now complete and they’ve already been fully attested as revealing the true Gospel.
But God still can and does answer prayer, and He sometimes does so in quite extraordinary ways. Always keep in mind that when you pray, the answer to your prayer doesn’t depend in the least on the question of how likely something is to happen or not to happen. The answer to your prayer doesn’t depend in the least on how big or how spiritual it is either. The answer to your prayer depends solely and completely on whether or not your loving Father decides it’s in your best interests to give it!
Paul says, “6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Don’t hesitate to bring any and everything that concerns you to God in prayer. Nothing is too big. Nothing is too small. Nothing is too ordinary. Nothing is too extraordinary. God can and will bring about His very best in every answer to your prayers.
Oh, if only we believed that, how much more time we’d spend in prayer!
The words of that popular hymn are as true today as they were when they were first penned over 100 years ago [Blue Trinity Hymnal, #533]:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged:
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness –
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our Refuge –
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
Do thy friends despise forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.