Philippians 4:4-9, “Pr
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
This passage of Scripture in Philippians 4:4-9, is what I call Scripture’s anti-anxiety prescription. It’s better than Prozac and more powerful than Xanax. Here, Paul gives us three little rules which, if we follow them, we’ll be able to handle anything that comes down the pike, and we’ll even be able to rejoice in the midst of our trials!
V. 4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Easy to say, hard to do, right? We’ve all gone through those times in our lives when it’s next to impossible to rejoice. I say, “It’s next to impossible,” because obviously, if we’re commanded to rejoice always, it’s not impossible. God never gives us commands that are impossible to obey.
So it’s certainly possible to “rejoice in the Lord always,” but it’s not necessarily easy, is it?
Paul continues, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
The KJV translates that, “5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”
That word, “gentleness,” or, “moderation,” may also be translated, “patience.” In this context, perhaps, “patience,” is a better translation. If you’re going to rejoice always, that’s going to require some patience. It’s going to require keeping your thoughts and emotions under control. So Paul begins, “Let your patience be evident to all.”
Then Paul reminds us that “The Lord is near.” “The Lord is at hand.”
That means, first of all, that the Lord is nearby, always present with us, watching how we respond to the things that He brings along in our lives. The Lord is present, paying special attention to how we handle the trials He allows us to suffer.
But it also means that the Lord is near in the way of being our Helper. He’s present with us in the middle of each and every trial. He’s standing by our side, He’s holding our hand, He’s working with us to help get us through it. So we can take great comfort in knowing that the Lord is near.
But the question remains, “How can we rejoice always? How can we rejoice, even in the midst of trials and troubles? How can we rejoice, even when we’re anxious or afraid or worried about something?
Paul gives us three rules to help us through such troubles. Those three rules are as follows:
Pray right. Think right. Do right.
Paul discusses all three of those rules in the following verses in our text. Let’s look at each one and see if we can’t implement these rules in our lives so that we, too, may, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
Rule #1 is: Pray right.
Paul says, in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
So the first rule is “Pray right.” Notice, Paul doesn’t just say, “Pray about whatever is bothering you.” He doesn’t just say, “Present your requests to God,” or, “Just leave your problems with God and then relax.” You must do all of those things, of course, but Paul is very specific about how to go about doing that.
He says you must “present your requests to God” “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.”
We looked carefully at each one of those words previously in our sermon on, “When You Can’t Get to Sleep.” So let’s briefly review those three principles of “praying right.”
Paul says you’re to “Present your requests to God” “by prayer, and petition, with thanksgiving.”
First, he says, “Present your requests to God” “by prayer.”
“Prayer,” here, is the Greek word, “proskunéo.” It actually means “worship and adoration.” When you’re anxious about something and you come into God’s presence to tell Him about it, the first thing you must do is to fall down before Him in worship and adoration. Think about His glory and majesty and power and wisdom. Think about His love and mercy and His grace and kindness.
The Psalms are literally filled with this kind of worship and adoration.
When we’re anxious about something and we come to bring the matter in prayer before God, we must come in humble adoration and worship Him. That means you shouldn’t focus on the problem first of all. Focus on God and on His love and on His mighty power and wisdom. Praise Him for the fact that, in His sovereign wisdom, He controls all things in our lives for our good and for our salvation, even the difficult times that we often must endure. Remember the fact that God has already demonstrated His great love to us by giving us His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. How will He not also, along with Him, give us all things?
So first of all, we must come to God “by prayer” – meaning, worshipful, adoring prayer.
Second, Paul says, “Present your requests to God” “by prayer and petition.”
God wants us to come to Him with our problems. And face it, for some of us, all too often, the only way He can get us to come to Him is by giving us problems! Problems are very often necessary just to get our attention! God wants us to recognize our complete and utter dependence on Him for all things. If we could handle all our problems in our own strength, we wouldn’t have much need for God, would we? We’d just go on in life, carrying our own burdens and bearing our own loads.
God wants us to know that, as our heavenly Father, He welcomes us, just as an earthly father welcomes his little child upon His lap and listens to his problems with a loving and sympathetic ear. Tell God what’s wrong. Tell Him what you’re afraid of, or anxious about, or upset about. Pour out your heart to Him, knowing that Christ the Mediator, Who died for you, intercedes for you at the right hand of God, and knowing that the Holy Spirit prays for you too, perfectly in the will of God, with groanings too deep for words.
Sometimes we might be anxious about our own salvation. We might be anxious about the fact that we’re not sure that we’re saved. Maybe we’re afraid to die and to face the judgment. Bring it to God. Confess your sins and tell God how guilty you feel about your sin. Ask Him to forgive your sins and to give you the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Ask Him to take away your fears. Bring your requests to God, “by worship and adoration and by petition.”
Third, Paul continues, “Present your requests to God” “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.”
An attitude of thanksgiving is an important part of proper prayer. Don’t go to God with a grudge against Him in your heart. Don’t go to Him with a chip on your shoulder and bitter feelings inside. Don’t go to Him assuming that He’s against you.
If we go to Him with that attitude, we may as well not go at all. We must go to Him in faith, as true believers, knowing that He’s on our side and knowing that He loves us and wants what’s best for us. And when we pray, He promises to give us what’s best for us.
Sometimes people misunderstand what it means to pray, in faith, not doubting. They think that praying with thanksgiving means that we have to be sure that God will grant us exactly what we ask for. They think that praying with thanksgiving means we must never doubt that God will give us what we pray for. And so they pray, “Lord I thank You because I know that You’re going to give me that job I applied for.” Or “Lord I pray in faith, thanking You, knowing that You’re going to give salvation to my Aunt Gertrude.”
No, we’re allowed to doubt a lot of things when we pray. We’re allowed to doubt that God will answer our prayers in the exact manner in which we hope He’ll answer them. God hasn’t promised to answer our prayers exactly the way we want. And we may certainly doubt our own worthiness to receive anything good from God. We may even doubt, at times, whether or not we’re true believers. But we must never doubt the goodness and grace of God, and we must never doubt His perfect love for us and His abundant kindness and tender mercies towards all those who come to Him in faith.
To pray in faith, not doubting, is to pray, knowing and believing that God is all wise and that God is all powerful. It’s to pray believing that God will bring about the very best possible result in response to our prayers. That’s why we pray, “Thy will be done,” when we pray. God’s answers may not be exactly what we’d hoped for. But that’s only because the answers He gives will always be better for us than what we had in mind!
Christian, never forget that! Never doubt the fact that God always has your best interests at heart. Never doubt the fact that God will work all things together for good in your life, in answer to your prayers. How can you continue to be anxious if you truly believe, not doubting, that God will answer your prayers in the very best way possible?
Isn’t that wonderful? Doesn’t that give you great confidence in prayer, when you can know that God will answer your prayer exactly in the best possible way, for your own good and for His glory? Go ahead and doubt yourself. That’s OK. You may even doubt the genuineness of your own faith, if need be. But never, ever doubt the wisdom and goodness of God! Remind yourself of His love for you and His past blessings to you, and go to Him with a thankful heart, praising Him for His goodness.
So first, pray with adoration and worship. Second, pray by bringing your needs and petitions to Him. And third, pray with thanksgiving, knowing that whatever God gives in answer to your prayer of faith, it will be His very best for you!
For example, if you’re anxious about getting your lab tests back because you’re afraid you might have cancer or some other physical ailment, you might pray along these lines:
“Dear Lord, I worship You because You’re all powerful and because You hold my life in Your hands, working out your wise plan for me in love. I know I’m a guilty sinner, unworthy of anything good from Your hand. And I know that my faith is weak and sometimes, when I look at my life, I even doubt whether or not I’m a true Christian. But I know that Jesus Christ is Lord, and I cling to Him as my only hope of salvation. I now bring before You my health problem. You know that I’m anxious about it. You know all my fears and my worries. But I know that You’re all wise and all powerful. So I know that You’re able to heal me completely, if that’s Your will. I pray now that You would bring back good results of this test. You know that my desire is that I may be strong and healthy. But I thank You Lord that even if the test results show a problem, that’s only because of Your wise and good plan for my best interests. And I thank You that whatever You bring about through these test results, I may rejoice that that’s Your best for me right now and that You will work it for good in my life. So enable me to rest content in however You answer this prayer. I thank You, and I praise You, and I trust Your good will. Your will be done, O Lord!”
And if we pray like that, God gives us a glorious promise in v. 7. God gives us His guarantee through this inspired letter of the Apostle Paul: “7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
God is saying, in effect, “If you pray this way, with worship and adoration, brining your petitions, with thanksgiving, you will have peace.”
Notice, the promise is not that your problems will go away, or that what you fear might happen won’t happen. The promise is God’s peace – inner peace – because you know you’ll be kept in God’s loving arms, no matter what happens. This prayer can be brought in faith knowing that God’s best will come to you. You can have peace inside because your heart and mind will be guarded by the peace of God, like a wall around you. V. 7, says, “7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, then, “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 heart to Him and explaining your problem to Him, at the same time 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.
So the first rule to remember, if you want to be able to “Rejoice always,” is to “Pray right.” Pray with faith and trust in God and with contentment and thanksgiving for whatever God, in His wisdom chooses to send you.
Rule #2 is: Think right.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
The second rule, then, is “Think right.” Most of the time people get depressed, it’s because they’re thinking about depressing things! They’re mulling over and over in their minds how bad their life is, or how much pain and misery they’re suffering, or how sinful and evil they are, or how sinful and evil others are who have treated them badly. They say to themselves, in effect, “Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. Think I’ll eat some worms!”
What they should be thinking about instead is some of these Scripture passages we just read. They should consider all the blessings they already have in Christ. They should remember that even trials and troubles have good purposes in our lives. They should remember that Christ died to take away our sins and our guilt and to forgive us for being the rotten, miserable sinners that we were and to transform us into God-fearing, God-glorifying men and women.
If you’re down and depressed because you think your life is in a shambles, perhaps you should turn to Psalm 73:23-28, “23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”
The Psalms in particular, and the Scriptures in general, are overflowing with uplifting thoughts with which we should fill our minds. I’ve said many times before that this text right here in Philippians 4:4-9 is a passage every Christian should memorize so that he can repeat it to himself often when he encounters trials.
Romans 8:28 is another text that should be memorized and meditated on often, so that it can fill our minds with noble thoughts, “28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
So Rule #1 is “Pray right,” and Rule #2 is “Think right.”
Finally, Rule #3 is: “Do right.”
Philippians 4:9 says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.”
Do right. Do what God commands you to do. Live like a Christian to the best of your ability and the Lord will enable you to rejoice always. And even if you slip up and fall into sin, which we all do, then do the right thing by confessing your sin to God and seeking His forgiveness for it. And then do your best not to sin again. But when you do, confess it again and ask God’s forgiveness again. The Christian life is filled with slips and falls. But we must get up and we must forge onward in our battle against sin. God blesses obedience, even our imperfect obedience. You can never lose by doing the right thing.
When you’re faced with a choice, to do right or to do evil, keep in mind that you’re only bringing upon yourself more trouble by choosing evil. Sometimes the temptation to do evil is very great, as we all know. But Proverbs says, “15 Good understanding wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard.”
If only we could learn that simple little truth. “The way of the unfaithful is hard.”
You might think it’s hard to obey God. And it is. You might think the way of the righteous is hard. And sometimes it is. But God says, “The way of the unfaithful is harder.”
Peter says much the same thing in I Peter 3:10-12, where he quotes from Psalm 34:12-16. He says, “10 For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”
“Pray right, Think right, and Do right,” says Paul, “And the God of peace will be with you.”
This is not a maybe here that Paul is giving us. He says, “Do these things and you will have peace. Do these things and you can rejoice even in the midst of your trials.”
Let’s be honest. Some people certainly seem to have more than their share of misery in this life. And maybe you’re one of those people. But God’s Word shows us how to respond in hope when we suffer. A wrong attitude toward our miseries only makes the miseries worse.
On the other hand, a right response to misery can turn any misery into the blessing of God in your life. There is hope for your broken, guilty life because Christ came to break the power of sin.
There is hope for your physical misery because you’re going to receive a new body. And even now, God perfectly controls your pain and works it for your spiritual good.
There is hope for your worried, frazzled, pressured life because Jesus said, “your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask Him.” So there’s no need to worry – no need to be anxious – no need to be afraid.
There is hope for all those who are disillusioned and disappointed with their lives. Anyone can have joy and happiness if they seek it God’s way, and if they remember what God holds for their future. God has given us His Word in Philippians 4 as a form of spiritual Prozac, to help us to cope with life. We need to simply learn to use it. Pray right. Think right. Do right. “7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”