This sounds way too simple.
When someone has a problem, most of us would prefer to offer help that intrigues, surprises, or at least sounds somewhat intelligent. Philippians 4:6 seems to fall short of these goals.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Or to paraphrase: “Are you ready for this one? It is super important, really helpful. You are going to love it. Ready? Don’t be anxious…pray.” To which the anxious person might respond, “Wow, just a second. Could you say that again? I want to write it down!” Or the person might brush you off as trite and simplistic.
Have you tried it when you are anxious?
Have you ever countered anxiety with thoughtful, Scripture-led prayer? If so, you are in the minority. It turns out that this seemingly simplistic and available teaching is one of the hidden and underused treasures of Scripture. It only sounds trite if you haven’t practiced it.
Okay, it is simple, but like “love one another,” it takes a lifetime to master, and those who consistently respond to anxiety with prayer are the sages in our midst. Too often we brush off this passage and wait for something we think has more oomph to it. Meanwhile, this wonderfully compact teaching stands waiting for us.
The last twenty years of my life have been spent, in part, shortening the lag time between the appearance of anxiety and the onset of prayer. That gap has gone from two days down to one, then down to an hour or two. Occasionally, prayer comes even before my anxiety is full blown. When that happens, I marvel at the power of God that equips me to do what is counterintuitive. Left to myself, I can only spin out doomsday scenarios with the hope that in my agitation, my frenetic mind will stumble onto some answers.
Have you tried it knowing that the Lord is near?
Prayer begins with the realized hope of the Old Testament: our God is near, very near (Phil 4:5). For the ancient Israelites, either the enemy was near or God was, and if God was near that, indeed, was good, but it was also a little risky. Maybe he would get too near, which might get dangerous (see Lev 16:2; 1 Sam 6:19). The final sacrifice of Jesus removed those Old Testament fears when Jesus removed all barriers between the Father and ourselves, and he is now with us, even in us.
The God of the universe has come very near. Could there be a more profound answer to our anxiety?
Next time anxiety comes knocking, consider that the Lord is near. Then make petitions, surround them with thanksgiving, and finish with “not my will but yours.”
Have you tried it when you are depressed?
If it is unnatural to pray when you are anxious, it is much more so when you are depressed. Anxiety feels alone but still hopes that there is someone who might be near. Depression feels alone but has abandoned all hope of help.
Are you depressed? Pray. This is no guarantee that depression will immediately lighten, but it is sure to inspire hope as you witness the power of God in your life.
This may all sound too simple, but it is true. The Lord is near. If you are anxious, pray. If depressed, pray. Welcome to the deep wisdom of God.