Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Phil. 4:6).
“Do not be anxious about anything.” Wouldn’t you love to live life that way?
That’s not to say that your life would be free of trouble or that you’d never have to deal with worrisome circumstances. But when the trouble came you’d be undisturbed in the midst of it. The circumstances might be worrisome, but you wouldn’t be worried. As a practiced worrier, I can honestly say that I aspire to such a life. I want to live out Paul’s words, but I have a hard time actually doing so.
The Lord Is Near
When it comes to our battles with worry, Paul provided us with a clear and concise strategy for the fight. Our primary defense against worry is prayer – boldly coming to God with our concerns and our fears. Asking for what we need. And giving thanks to God in confidence that he will act for our good.
But while worry might often be the impetus for our prayers, it cannot be the basis or foundation of our prayer life. We do not pray because life can be worrisome. What’s more, there are expressions of prayer that don’t have anything to do with our fears or troubles.
To grasp the solid and unmovable foundation of prayer we need to back up just bit in Paul’s counsel to the Philippian church. Before he urges them to pray as a way to combat anxiety, Paul reminds them of a simple truth, a truth without which we will not pray. Paul reminds them that “the Lord is near.”
Believing that God exists, and believing that God is near are very different. Knowing that God exists might get you out of bed to go to church on a Sunday. But knowing that God is near will move you to pray, and pray boldly at that.
The Perfect Presence
Years ago when my kids were very young, the pool in the neighborhood where we lived was less than a mile from our house. We went to the pool almost every day during the summer, and that meant piling into our minivan for the short drive.
Summers passed and suddenly (it felt sudden to me) my children decided that they wanted to ride their bikes to the pool. I resisted this at first, but I knew that riding a bike to the pool was as inevitable as getting a learner’s permit would be on their 15th birthday. Marnie and I said yes to the bike ride. But without their knowing it, once they were on their way I got in my car and followed them, keeping them in sight until they arrived safely at the pool. I wanted to stay close to help if needed.
It didn’t take long for me to stop doing that. I became comfortable with their bike rides to the pool. When they reached the age that allowed them to be at the pool without a parent, I became comfortable with that too. Now my son attends a school that’s 500 miles from where I live. I’m glad he’s there. What hasn’t changed at all is my intent to be near to them – responsive and ready and available when they call. That’s just what parents do, even if imperfectly.
What we do imperfectly, God does perfectly. John Ortberg wrote a book titled God Is Closer Than You Think. When we know this is true we are far more likely to pray. The Lord is near, and the troubling realities that surround you do not prove otherwise. So instead of waving a white flag and giving yourself to your anxieties, pray. Make your concerns and your requests known to God.
Can you recall a time in your life when you knew with certainty that God was near? Remember and give thanks – and know that the Lord is just as near to you right now.
Merciful God, the words of the hymn describe our lives well. “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Remind us today that you are near. And let your perfect and faithful presence move us to prayer rather than worry, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.