Good cooks often add a surprising ingredient to a favorite recipe that changes the entire taste and makes it all work smoothly together. They usually keep it hush-hush.
I've been trying to unpack God's recipe for answers to prayer as Saint Paul understood and recorded it in Philippians 4:6,7. Anxiety seemed to be the launching pad for this verse on prayer. What did that have to do with anything? Was there a secret ingredient? I think I found it in plain sight. No secret about it!
Let's first take a look at the verses in the New American Standard Version:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Why did Paul zero in on anxiety (worry) when discussing prayer? He was echoing Jesus. In the sixth chapter of Matthew, twice Jesus commands, not merely recommends or suggests, “Do not be anxious.” He further questions, “Why are you anxious?” and then itemizes concrete examples so we won't miss what we are generally most anxious about: food, drink, bodily needs, clothing, life itself, the span of our lives, the future, our tomorrows—totally comprehensive. None of the basics are left out. Jesus tells us not even to speak of anxiety about such things or take thought about them. He contrasts the anxiety of non-believers, who “eagerly seek” after all such things, with what the children of our Heavenly Father should seek after. In our case, we are not asking God for something He doesn't already know we need.
So what does Jesus say we should rather do? GO BIRD WATCHING AND SMELL THE ROSES to understand what He is teaching us! We are supposed to look UP at the birds of the air and look DOWN at the lilies of the field. We should be far-sighted and have the eternal perspective and literal to be relevant. To put it into practice we should “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and all the above will be taken care of. Period. Full stop. No anxiety allowed. Worry replaced by trust in our Heavenly Father's care.
Saint Paul embraced and experienced Jesus' teaching and passed it on to us in this Philippians verse. Note the superlatives: NOTHING, EVERYTHING. He understood Jesus' antidote for anxiety—trust in God's providence. Only that would lead to PEACE! WHICH SURPASSES ALL COMPREHENSION!
But did you notice the secret ingredient that we must add if we want to pray God's way and receive God's answers to our prayers—plus peace? “With thanksgiving!” We are to link every request with an expression of gratitude! Such a simple secret! I shouldn't ask for anything without coupling it with thanking God for something specific: each request hand in hand with an item of thanks. Reasonable? Workable? Try it and see.
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.” “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” God put the secret ingredient out in plain sight in Scripture so that we wouldn't miss it. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”
What is it about this secret ingredient to prayer that I do not understand? I think I get it now!
Let's try to further unpack these verses by looking at them in the Amplified Paraphrased version of the Bible:
“Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything by prayer and petition [definite requests] with thanksgiving continue to make your wants known to God. And God's peace [be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding, shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Italics mine)
Let's not miss the two areas of our being that God's peace protects if we stop being anxious and implicitly trust God: our heart (emotional reaction) and mind (our worry center). The visual analogy is that God's peace is like an armed guard pacing back and forth to protect and guard the danger parts of our being that are vulnerable to anxiety. The verse ends by reminding us of the place we must be, “in Christ,” in order to offer our prayers and petitions to God in the first place.
Now that I've discovered “the secret ingredient” I'm going to try being more watchful to sincerely tag every request I make of my Heavenly Father with a corresponding expression of gratitude so that I qualify for the peace He promised. Will you try it with me?