A Spirit of Thankfulness: The Key to Managing Our Worries

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)

With the advent in communications we have plenty of opportunity to worry on a global scale. The invention of the printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the television, airplanes, computers, satellites, Internet, and e-mail, all provide a wealth of worry woes. There are more occasions to worry about peace, famine, economics, politics, and financial portfolios than ever before. It seems that the more we know, the more we worry. And the more we worry, the less we trust. What follows are some observations on Paul’s instructions to the Philippians (and God’s instructions to us).

  1. Paul says to the Philippians that the alternative to worrying is prayer. It is difficult if not impossible to be a chronic worrier while having a prolific and abiding prayer life. At its most basic level, prayer is an expression of our trust and dependence upon God. Consequently, prayer and worry are as opposed as light and dark.
  2. We are to pray about “everything.” God will not be excluded from one detail of our lives. Of course, when we do exclude Him, anxiety plants its feet firmly in our soul eclipsing our joy. Prayer is not an escape mechanism whereby we seek to live above the circumstances that cause us worry. This passage does not deny the anxieties of life, but tells us what to do with them.
  3. The attitude in which we present our requests to God is one of “thanksgiving.” How can we possibly be thankful to God for the things/people that cause us stress without simultaneously holding to a strong sense of God’s sovereignty?
  4. It was in the midst of extreme suffering that the Hebrew believers were encouraged to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15). This effectively entails an attitude of thanksgiving for how God sovereignly uses the pressures of life to bring about our growth and his glory (see also Gen. 50:20). Hence, thankfulness is related to our sense of God’s meticulous sovereignty, and our sense of God’s meticulous sovereignty is related to our joy. Thus, we can hardly have joy (a deep and profound trust in God’s meticulous sovereignty) without thankfulness.
  5. Paul insists the result of rejoicing in the Lord (4:4), pursuing gentleness (4:5), and prayerful thanksgiving (4:6) is supernatural peace. It is supernatural because only God can give it thorough Christ (Jn. 14:27; Col. 3:15).
  6. There are conditions (4:4-6) under which God’s peace obtains. However, we must distinguish between conditions and causes. That is, we should not think that there is a mere formula for causing or experiencing the peace of God. Since our natural proclivity is to complain under pressure rather than rejoice and give thanks, it will always be the case that our rejoicing and thanksgiving is done by God’s gracious and empowering Spirit and never produced from within us. We cannot draw a straight line of cause-effect between our rejoicing and our joy. It is God who produces the peace; not us.
  7. Perhaps most important, this is a peace that results, not from answered prayer, but from resting in God’s control. Put differently, the peace of God is certain whether our requests are granted or not. It is a peace that guards our minds and hearts from worry and anxiety over our circumstances.

May God grant you a spirit of thankfulness that is grounded in God’s loving hand over your life and may you truly experience the peace that only God gives!

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare of the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I am trusting him.
(Psalm 91:1-2, NLT)

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