We have thus far viewed God’s perfect peace through the stories of ordinary men and women: Gideon and his outnumbered 300, to Elisha and his servant surrounded in the natural by the Syrian army while in the spirit they were surrounded by the host of heaven, to Peter walking on the frothing waves, to Paul and Silas beaten, bloody, in pain, in shock, shackled in the innermost cell of prison praising the Lord, to Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy communing with God while walking outside on a frigid morning in a Nazi concentration camp, to the ten spies who believed their doubting eyes contrasted with Caleb and Joshua who believed God more than what they saw, to King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah when fell on their faces before God when they were unjustly challenged by three overwhelming armies whom God wiped out when Judah chose set their eyes and minds to believe God and praise the Lord in spite of impossible odds. From countless enemies on bloody battlefields to Nazi concentration camps to bombastic giants against people who felt like grasshoppers, to raging seas, to a murky prison, in all this we have learned that we are not to be anxious about anything. This anxiety is that which consumes our minds, steals our peace and causes us to believe problems are bigger than God. The issue becomes a skyscraper and we appear to ourselves as insignificant ants because we place the magnifying glass of our focus upon it and not on God.
Godly Concern That Leads to Godly Prayer
But, God calls us to do the reverse. Though it’s totally natural to be concerned. Even Paul was concerned. In many epistles he states he is concerned for the churches (2 Corinthians 11 is one such place). This is the same word used for worry in Philippians 4:6. The difference is, Paul took his concerns to God, and took productive, God-inspired, Spirit-directed action regarding his concerns.
So, yes, we’re going to be concerned. But, we are not to let it become all consuming. Rather, we are to, like Paul, take our concerns to the Lord–and leave it with Him, even if that means we must leave it time and again and again and again and again.
So, then, why is it that so few Christians actually abide in God’s promised peace? Has He, who cannot lie, not fulfilled His word to us? Or has something else gone wrong?
I had thought initially that there were missing puzzle pieces regarding the topic, and I wondered where to find them. But, just as in the case of my Mom’s friend who had health-improving vitamins in her cupboard yet had not touched them, even so, God has and is extending His peace to us, but we will not receive it. His peace remains in our cupboards, and when asked about it, we point to the bottles of peace on the shelves. Nevertheless, God gives us the prescription of Philippians 4:6-9, but it is up to us to take it. The puzzle pieces were not missing; they instead, had been overlooked.
Philippians 4:7 and Isaiah 26:3
In Philippians 4:7 we learned that God guards us with His peace. That is what “keep” means here in Isaiah 26:3 when it says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace.” The guard that God sets round about us is the guard called peace. His peace protects us like a Roman guard set to watch the gate of a city. Nothing would get past those Roman soldiers. But, if people were outside the gate, the soldiers could not guard them. The guard was set for the city, and all inside the gate would be safe. To “stay” our mind on God, to “trust” in Him, is to be at rest in Him, to abide. Only the branch abiding in the vine will find the life giving sap of the tree. And just as only the abiding branches survive and thrive, only those who were within the gates of the city would be protected by the protection of the fearless Roman soldiers. Even so, only those who abide inside Christ and are hidden with Christ in God, who surrender all of their concerns and fears and anxieties will know the protection of God’s incomparable and unconquerable peace.
So, how do we as branches remain in the vine? How do we abide behind the gate with the Roman guard as protection? How do we abide in Christ? Obedience. And one such obedience is that of not worrying, but instead, of casting all of our cares upon the Lord because He cares for us: to let Him be our focus, instead of our worries, to let Him be magnified instead of our problems, to let Him be exalted instead of our fears.
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
There is a hymn entitled “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” It was written by Helen H. Lemmel. “The author and composer of this hymn, Helen H. Lemmel, relates that one day, in 1918, a missionary friend gave her a tract entitled “Focused.” The pamphlet contained these words: “So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness. “
These words made a deep impression upon Helen Lemmel. She could not dismiss them from her mind. She recalls this experience following the reading of that tract:
“Suddenly, as if commanded to stop and listen, I stood still, and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody. The verses were written the same week, after the usual manner of composition, but none the less dictated by the Holy Spirit.””
O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!
Refrain: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
Through death into life everlasting He passed, and we follow Him there; O’er us sin no more hath dominion— For more than conqu’rors we are!
His Word shall not fail you—He promised; Believe Him, and all will be well: Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell!
“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus: Featuring Loyiso Bala, Neville D., and Ivan Siegelaar,”
In the Spirit of this hymn, let us indeed, turn our eyes upon Jesus, even now as 2020 turns into 2021. Though much is uncertain and everything up in the air, Jesus is still worthy of our focus and will keep us in perfect peace if our eyes remain on Him, and Him alone.
Our God is a powerful God of peace, and He promises this powerful and empowering peace to all believers, even in the Last Days. We have learned this truth through the stories of Gideon and his 300 men up against a murderous multitude, Peter walking on the stormy sea, Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy in a German concentration camp, Caleb and the ten spies about to enter the Promised Land, Elisha, his servant surrounded by the Syrian army that in turn was surrounded by the Lord of Hosts. God has freely offered us this peace, and so I began to puzzle over why it seemed we as Christians do not rest in His peace all of the time. Something appeared to be missing. Just as my Mom’s friend had health-improving, doctor-prescribed vitamins in her cupboard yet had not touched them, God has prescribed us Philippians 4:6-9 and stocked our cupboard with His peace, but we have not made use of it.
Last time I mentioned four overlooked pieces to the puzzle of perfect peace, and then focused on the first puzzle piece, “do not be anxious about anything.” With the insightful stories of Caleb and Elisha, light was shed on how what we focus on is magnified in our eyes. No matter how small the matter, when we hone in on it through our magnifying glass, it becomes overwhelmingly huge. Our faith is then placed in how big that problem is instead of being placed in the greatness of God. Instead Isaiah 26:3 says that when our minds rest on the Lord and we confidently trust Him, that we will be guarded by God’s peace. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”
Today we’re going to look at puzzle piece number two: Thankful Prayer.
“…in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…”
There are five life-altering words listed here in puzzle piece number two, five foolproof steps (Renner calls them “steps” which seems an appropriate term) we are to do when anxiety threatens to sink our ship: prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, requests, and made known.
Step number one: prayer. The word that Paul uses for prayer in this passage is the word for prayer used upwards to 127 times in the New Testament. It is the compound of two words. The first word of the compound means “toward” and renders a sense of closeness, even face-to-face. “One scholar has noted that the [this] word is used to portray the intimate relationship that exists between the members of the Godhead. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.…” The word “with” is taken from… [this] word… By using this word to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is telling us that theirs is an intimate relationship. One expositor has translated the verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was face-to-face with God.…” (Rick Renner, “Five Important Steps to Move from Fear to Faith,” https://renner.org/five-important-steps-to-move-from-fear-to-faith/). The second part of the compound word is an ancient Greek word which means, “a wish, desire, prayer, vow.” “It was originally used to depict a person who made some kind of vow to God because of a need or desire in his or her life. This individual would vow to give something of great value to God in exchange for a favorable answer to prayer. Thus, inherent in this word is the idea of an exchange — giving something to God in exchange for something wanted or desired,” (Renner, “Five Important Steps…”).
Now, I used to work for a prayer group that believed in something called “seed faith.” Basically that meant that someone calling in with a prayer request was to give some money in faith that God would in turn answer their prayer for wisdom, healing, salvation for a family member, or to cast out a devil etc. However, giving God money to do something like heal you is not Scriptural, nor is that what is being referred to here. Jesus never had anyone pay Him for healing nor for a deliverance. The only ones in Scripture who required payment for their spiritual services were the false teachers and false prophets (as found in Jeremiah specifically). Furthermore, when we give monetarily, we are not ever to expect money to be given back to us, but instead are to look forward to treasures in heaven. That being said, God does want us to be givers and He does bless people who are givers. But, this is a topic for another time!
Interestingly enough, there is a give and take in prayer—just not a giving of money in order to pay for what you want. God does want us to give something to Him, namely our anxiety and our burdens. When we come face-to-face with God in prayer, He wants us to give Him our cares, our anxieties, our fears, and our desires in exchange for His peace.
The second step is supplication. This word pictures a person who is begging or earnestly beseeching God for something. Shamelessly, the person boldly cries out to God for help. In James 5:16 this word is translated as “fervent prayer.” “…The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Again, this is a type of prayer.
A story that depicts such supplication (though the word is not used in the story) is found in Luke 7:24-30. “And from thence…[Jesus]…arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.25 For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet:26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.27 But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.28 And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.29 And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.30 And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.”
The third step laid out in this passage is that of thanksgiving. Again, it is a compound word used here wherein part of the word means “good or well” and the other part means “grace” and conveys the picture of “an overwhelmingly good feeling about something” (Renner, “Five Important Steps…”). Essentially, one gives thanks for God’s grace (“2169. Eucharistia,” https://biblehub.com/greek/2169.htm), for His promise to answer and for His hand of favor upon us that renders us able to boldly approach His throne. It is worshipful. “By using this word, Paul teaches us that when we earnestly ask God to do something special for us, we must match it with an earnest outpouring of thanks. Although the request has only just been made and the manifestation isn’t evident yet, it is appropriate to thank God for doing what we have requested. Thanking Him in advance demonstrates faith” (Renner, “Five Important Steps…”).
The fourth step is requests, which comes from the Greek word meaning “to ask, request, petition, demand.” “In the New Testament…[this] word is used to portray a person who insists or demands that a specific need be met after approaching and speaking to his superior with respect and honor. Additionally, itexpresses the idea that one possesses a full expectation to receive what was firmly requested,” (Renner, “Five Imporant Steps…”). In other words, through Jesus we have a God-given right and God-given favor that lets “…us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16). Again, this is another type of prayer.
And the fifth step is that of making known. It literally means, “To come to know, to make known; to declare.” In the words of Rick Renner, when we declare our fervent requests to God, we “broadcast it so loudly that all of Heaven hears you when you pray,” (Renner, “Five Important Steps…”). Not only this, but this type of knowledge is experiential. Thus, God wants us to tell Him about our experiences, our needs, our pains, our desires, our tragedies, our feelings. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Let Us Now Apply Puzzle Piece #2:
2 Chronicles 20:1-26 gives an excellent picture of how to apply what we’ve learned today. So, we conclude with the reading of the testimony of Jehoshaphat and the assembly of Judah. May we take to heart their example of prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, requesting, and making known our needs to God in faith that He will do what we request.
“1 It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. 2 Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria… 3 And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. [Do Not Be Anxious] 4 So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord. [Making Known] 5 Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? 7 Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? 8 And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us–sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine–we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’ [Prayer] 10 And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir–whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them– 11 here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” [Supplication and Requests and Making Known] 13 Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord. 14 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah…in the midst of the assembly. 15 And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow go down against them…17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” [Do Not Be Anxious] 18 And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. 19 Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high. [Thanksgiving] 20 So they rose early in the morning and went out…and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” 21 And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: “Praise the Lord, For His mercy endures forever.” 22 Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. 23 For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them. And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another. 24 So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped. 25 When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much. 26 And on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, for there they blessed the Lord; therefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Berachah until this day.”
To Believe or Not Believe God’s Word
Isaiah 55:10-11, “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
Philippians 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory.”
We go before God in prayer like Philippians 4:6 says to do, but we pray in fear and in doubt instead of thanksgiving and faith, and we then wonder why we have no peace. We will say that we still believe that God is love and that God never leaves us or forsakes us and provides for our every need, but in the next breath we doubt Him or accuse Him of not doing so. How many times have we thought God has forgotten us or simply doesn’t care? How many times have we fussed and fumed and felt we could do better than God and have at times (when we could) taken matters into our own hands? And in this manner we pray and then as we leave God’s throne room we pick up our anxiety again and exit.
We fall prey to the enemy when we chose to believe we can handle things, we can fix it, we can figure it out.
But, Jesus said that He came that we might have life and life more abundantly, and that life is found in reading and hearing and believing and living His word. And so in faith, for without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), we approach our Father God with prayers and supplications with thanksgiving. We must not doubt God, but instead, must stand unwaveringly on God’s life giving word.
Here are a few good questions to consider. What do we believe in more? Is our problem worthy of more faith than God? Is worry and fear more important to us than peace? Is the word of a person or people greater than God’s word?
No matter what we pray, may we do so with a thankful heart, because our good God is worthy of our thanks, even if we don’t get what we want when we want it. In this Last Day’s age of entitlement and selfishness and ungratefulness as well as uncertainty, let us instead like Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah, walk in the peace of fervent, worry-free, thankful prayer.