As the coronavirus pandemic and racial unrest going on all across America continues, we find ourselves living in highly stressful times. One only needs to turn on the TV or go on any social media site to find plenty of reasons for our stress. In fact, a look at an article published on June 2, 2020 titled, “Pandemic, Recession, Unrest: 2020 and the Confluence of Crises,” by Susan Milligan, Senior Political Writer at U.S. New and World Report is just one of a plethora of articles related to the current crises going on around America.
I find myself not wanting to turn on the news on TV very often anymore as I don’t want to add more stressful news to what I’ve already heard is going on out there; yet, a “head in the sand” approach accomplishes nothing.
For Christians, our first avenue of defense is prayer. There is a lot of power in prayer, and it is not a static activity. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), “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.”
“Anything” can be, well, anything… coronavirus, the unrest that is going on around the country, a job loss, a death in the family, uncertainty in any given situation. In fact, it can be any kind of upheaval big or small–the list of things that can cause us stress is endless.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” (Phil. 4:6-7, NLT)
This verse is special not only because of what it reveals about God, but also for how it empowers us in difficult times. We are told that speaking with God, telling Him what we need and praising Him for what He’s done, will allow us to experience a peace that goes beyond our own understanding, outside of what we can even imagine.
When we face hardship, this is a verse we can look to. When life overwhelms, this verse reminds us to turn to God, ask Him to help us, and think about the positives. The last of those may seem like an odd thing to do in times of trouble. Praising God in times of calamity isn’t our reflexive response.
I don’t believe that Paul, the author, tells us here to think about the positives because then our situation won’t seem that bad, or because it will take our minds off of the trouble, or anything like that. I think it’s more likely that it helps us to view things in a different light and begin to plot a way forward. What can we do to bring good into a negative situation? In a time of scarcity or lacking, what do we have to build with?
While this verse can bring comfort out of context, it can be understood more completely as part of the larger chapter. Paul goes on:
His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Paul reiterates that we should focus on the good, focus on building towards what is right. Even when our hearts are in the right place, it’s all too easy to begin with the negative. Paul says here to flip that on its head, to fix our thoughts on what is lovely, pure, and admirable, and to put those things into practice. Won’t that, in turn, crowd out and eliminate what ails us? By doing this, we add light to the darkness and we show ourselves and others the best way forward.
He then writes of how God has shown him how to live when times are great, and when they’re not. Whether he has a full stomach or is starving, when he has plenty or little. It’s worth reading the whole chapter. This ties in well with the idea that God provides us with a peace that goes beyond what we’re able to understand. After all, shouldn’t we feel more anxious when we’re feeling insecure? When we’re not healthy, or we’re experiencing financial hardship, or having problems with our relationships?
Human wisdom would tell us that we should be worried in those situations. But God tells us to spend time in prayer, to think of what we have, and to take action from a higher, enlightened perspective. By taking time to think things through and pray, we receive a calming guidance about where we are and what to do next. This allows us to center ourselves and face our troubles with confidence—a confidence that we ourselves may not even comprehend. This removes the power that the world claims to hold over us and gives that power to its rightful owner, The Lord above. (Quote source here.)
We tend to want to understand (and try to control) everything that is going on around us, and we don’t want to be kept in the dark about anything. However, life is full of complex, convoluted, and larger-than-our-own-lives situations that all too often we don’t understand and we can’t understand. Our understanding is finite. However, God’s understanding in infinite.
In an article published on June 2, 2016, titled, “9 Bible verses to help us understand how unlimited God is,” by Patrick Mabilog, contributor on ChristianToday.com, he writes:
In our own limited human understanding, we often find ourselves putting God in a box and limiting Him, but the Word of God tells us that we serve a God who is unlimited in power, capacity, knowledge, being, compassion, grace and holiness.
It’s been said that trying to understand the fullness of God is like trying to put the whole pacific ocean into a glass of water. It can never happen and it will never be possible. We will never truly understand God fully. How is He three Persons at once? How is He without beginning and end? How could He have created the world in just a few days?
We try to understand God, but there just comes a point where we leave the books on the table, put our hands up in worship and say, “Lord, how majestically unlimited you are.” Yes, it is indeed hard to imagine and basically impossible to truly fathom God’s whole being and person. Yet we can trust that God is indeed limitless both in power and in His love for us. When we really get a hold of that, we will realize how much we should never be afraid of anything in our lives.
Here are nine scriptures that will help you to stop putting God in a box and remember just how mighty and great He is.
1 Corinthians 2:9. “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—”
Isaiah 55:9. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Ephesians 1:18-19. “I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe. He displayed this power in the working of His mighty strength.”
Colossians 1:17. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Job 36:22-24. “God’s power is unlimited. He needs no teachers to guide or correct him. Others have praised God for what he has done, so join with them.”
Ephesians 3:19. “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”
1 Kings 8:27. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!”
1 Timothy 6:16. “…who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”
Back to the subject of prayer–prayer can take place anywhere, in any location, at any time, in any situation, and it does not have to be formal or even spoken out loud. I often pray silently. In answer to the question, “What is prayer?” GotQuestions.org answers with the following:
The most basic definition of prayer is “talking to God.” Prayer is not meditation or passive reflection; it is direct address to God. It is the communication of the human soul with the Lord who created the soul. Prayer is the primary way for the believer in Jesus Christ to communicate his emotions and desires with God and to fellowship with God.
Prayer can be audible or silent, private or public, formal or informal. All prayer must be offered in faith (James 1:6), in the name of the Lord Jesus (John 16:23), and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). As the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia puts it, “Christian prayer in its full New Testament meaning is prayer addressed to God as Father, in the name of Christ as Mediator, and through the enabling grace of the indwelling Spirit” (“Prayer” by J. C. Lambert). The wicked have no desire to pray (Psalm 10:4), but the children of God have a natural desire to pray (Luke 11:1).
Prayer is described in the Bible as seeking God’s favor (Exodus 32:11), pouring out one’s soul to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:15), crying out to heaven (2 Chronicles 32:20), drawing near to God (Psalm 73:28, KJV), and kneeling before the Father (Ephesians 3:14).
Paul wrote, “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 4:6–7). Worry about nothing; pray about everything.
Everything? Yes, God wants us to talk with Him about everything. How often should we pray? The biblical answer is “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We should keep a running conversation going with God all day long. Some find the ACTS formula of prayer helpful, but there is really no special formula for how to pray in the Bible. We should just do it. We can pray under any and all circumstances. Prayer develops our relationship with God and demonstrates our trust and utter dependence upon Him.
Prayer is the Christian’s way of communicating with God. We pray to praise God and thank Him and tell Him how much we love Him. We pray to enjoy His presence and tell Him what is going on in our lives. We pray to make requests and seek guidance and ask for wisdom. God loves this exchange with His children, just as we love the exchange we have with our children. Fellowship with God is the heart of prayer. Too often we lose sight of how simple prayer is really supposed to be.
When we make petitions to God, we let God know exactly where we stand and what we would like to see happen. In our prayers, we must admit that God is greater than we are and ultimately knows what is best in any given situation (Romans 11:33–36). God is good and asks us to trust Him. In prayer, we say, essentially, “Not my will, but your will be done.” The key to answered prayer is praying according to the will of God and in accordance with His Word. Prayer is not seeking our own will but seeking to align ourselves with the will of God more fully (1 John 5:14–15; James 4:3).
The Bible contains many examples of prayer and plenty of exhortations to pray (see Luke 18:1; Romans 12:12; and Ephesians 6:18). God’s house is to be a house of prayer (Mark 11:17), and God’s people are to be people of prayer: “Dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love” (Jude 1:20–21). (Quote source here.)
When stress tries to overwhelm us, the best and most immediate solution is to pray. In fact, we should pray even when we aren’t feeling stressful. We should pray when everything appears to be going right. We should pray no matter what our circumstances might be. And even if you have no clue what to pray or even the right words to pray, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB):
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
I also find myself praying Psalm 23 often and even in silence in my bed at night, and I personalize it:
Lord, You are my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
You makes me lie down in green pastures;
You leads me beside quiet waters,
and You restore my soul;
You guide me in the paths of righteousness
For Your name’s sake.
Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
And my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy
will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
While 2020 has certainly given us a lot of challenges so far in the first six months, nothing is too hard for God. So if you’re feeling stressed out, take time to pray right now. God is always available. I’ll end this post with these words from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV): Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances….
For this is God’s will . . .
For you . . .
In Christ Jesus . . . .
YouTube Video: “I Will Fear No More” by The Afters: