How Should I Pray? (Philippians 4:1-7)

What kind of week have you had? When the Daily Mail published a photo me alongside one of Jeremy Corbyn, I thought maybe they were nominating me to run as deputy leader of the Labour Party… until I read the caption. Yesterday Oliver Kamm, writing in the Jewish Chronicle described me as an “insanitary crackpot”. I think the he meant “insane” rather than “insanitary”.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Wednesday I became a grandfather for the first time. Louise who lives in Hong Kong gave birth to a little boy names Toby.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Thursday I visited the HQ of the Barnabas Fund in Wiltshire to discuss with their leaders, setting up a new charity to support human rights in countries where Christians are persecuted or are a minority. It will be called the Peacemaker Trust. 
Barnabas are helping with the legal costs of registering the charity. Two Archbishops have agreed to be Patrons and three Bishops as well as 15 politicians, academics and lawyers have agreed to serve on the Council of Reference.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

And tomorrow I have my ministerial appraisal with +Andrew. It will be my first in four years.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

I’ve shared some of my week – what about yours? Has it been an anxious week for you? Any sleepless nights? As we near the end of our series of studies in Philippians, we will discover how to sleep peacefully. We will see there is no greater antidote to worry than a conversation with the Lord.

Please turn with me to Philippians 4. First, I would like us to observe the reason for praying regularly. Second, the rhythm to praying regularly. And third, the result of praying regularly. Lets read the paragraph and get these verses in context.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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. 8 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. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9)

  1. The Reason for Praying Regularly

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer…” (Philippians 4:6).

What is anxiety? The word translated here literally means “to be pulled in different directions”. What are some of the thing that pull you in different directions? People’s expectations, our own expectations, our hopes, our fears, can all pull in different directions. Worry literally pulls us apart.

The old English word from which we get our word “worry”, is even more graphic. It means “to strangle or throttle”. Isn’t that what it feels like when you are worried? Paralysed from the neck down? Worry has definite physical consequences. Headaches, neck pains, ulcers, indigestion, nausea, even our coordination is affected.

When Paul says “Don’t worry about anything” he means literally “everything”. Worry is forbidden. Why? Because from a spiritual point of view, worry is the result of wrong thinking or wrong feelings. Worry is the greatest thief of joy. When we worry we are really saying “God, you’re not big enough to handle this one.” But it is not good enough just to tell ourselves to “stop worrying”. That kind of reasoning will never catch the thief who has robbed our joy. Worry is an “inside” job, and it takes more than good intentions or a positive mental attitude to overcome it. The antidote to worry is prayer, conversational prayer, spontaneous prayer, regular prayer.

If anyone had an excuse for worrying it was Paul. His friends at Philippi were disagreeing with one another, and he was not there to help them. On top of all that, he didn’t know if he was going to live long enough to see them anyway. Paul had every good reason to worry, and you and I do too, but he didn’t and we shouldn’t. If we are to conquer worry and experience a secure mind, we must prayer regularly. The reason for praying regularly – anxiety.

2. The Rhythm to Praying Regularly

Paul uses three different words to describe how we should talk to God. These words provide both variety and a rhythm.

2.1 Adoration
This carries the idea of adoration, devotion and worship. In verse 5, he has already instructed us to Rejoice – in fact twice.“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:5).

Prayer must always begin with adoration, for it forces us to realize who it is we are talking to. Its only when we are single-minded that we can adore Him. A while ago I was visiting a local school. I noticed the children addressed the head teacher as “Sir”. A good idea? It shows respect, but it also reminds young people who they are speaking to. We need to do the same. Whenever we find ourselves worrying, our first action needs to be to get alone with God and worship Him.Adoration dwells on the greatness and the majesty of God. We begin worrying because we have forgotten that we are related to the One who alone is big enough to solve our problems.  Instead of rushing into his presence with our shopping list of requests, the first step is to calmly and in deepest reverence, adore Him.

2.2 Petition
It is then that it is appropriate to share our needs and requests. There is no place for half-hearted, or general prayers. The word ‘petitions’ has with it a sense of urgency, and intensity, of concern. When people came to Jesus, what did he ask them? “What do you want me to do for you?” It is helpful to have that question in our minds when we pray. To avoid prayer becoming monotonous, for many years I have used a simple system to enable me to be systematic in daily intercession.
You may like to adapt this, print it and keep it in your Bible as a book mark and aid in your own prayer life. Using the Church Family Directory on a daily basis – praying for the people mentioned by name – one page a day  – is also a simple but effective method.
I am sure you can improve on this or personalise it – but I commend it to you to assist you in being regular in private prayer. At the heart of prayer is intercession. Prayer, petition and

2.3 Thanksgiving
Our Heavenly Father enjoys hearing us say “thank you!”. It is a sign of our trust and appreciation. Too often we are eager to ask and slow to appreciate. Because we forget His provision in the past, we inevitably doubt His faithfulness in the future.

Three dimensions to the rhythm of prayer – adoration, intercession, thanksgiving

The reason for praying regularly – Anxiety.
The rhythm to praying regularly – Diversity.

3. The Result of Praying Regularly
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

This is the consequence of prayer. This is our motivation for praying regularly. Instead of anxiety we experience victory. Instead of panic we experience peace. The word “guard” is a military term and describes a garrison of soldiers. God will literally guard you with his peace. The secret is not “prayer” in itself, as if it were some magical technique to get what we want. That is why I don’t like the phrase “the power of prayer”.

You wont find it in the Bible. We experience the power of God when we pray.
We experience the peace of God when we pray. Because we encounter the presence of God when we pray. Knowing the peace of God does not mean the absence of conflict on the outside, but it does mean a quiet confidence on the inside. Regardless of our circumstances, regardless of what other people say about us, regardless of what the world throws at us, we can experience the power of God, the peace of God and the presence of God when we pray.

In Britain we take for granted the privilege of being able to pray openly. In many countries, Christians are liable to be arrested and imprisoned if they are caught praying together. They can more easily identify with the prophet Daniel who found peace through prayer.

When King Darius announced that his subjects should only pray before a statue of himself, what did Daniel do? He had every reason to be anxious. But instead, he went to his room, he opened his windows, and prayed as before. He broke the law because he would rather obey the Lord than his earthy master. Daniel 6 says he prayed and gave thanks before his God, and made supplication. Prayer-supplication-thanksgiving. And the result was perfect peace in the midst of difficulty. Daniel 6:18 tells us that while Daniel had a good night’s sleep, tucked up in a soft warm bed of lions, the king in his palace of luxury could not sleep! So if you can’t sleep tonight, remember Daniel’s example and Paul’s model.

The reason for praying regularly – Anxiety.
The rhythm to praying regularly – Diversity.
The result of praying regularly – Victory.

Lets pray.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds safe in the knowledge and love of God and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord as we learn to be faithful in prayer. Amen

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