Finding Peace Through Prayer
Paul writes in Philippians 4:7 that "you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as your live in Christ Jesus." The New Year generally ushers in the promise of a renewed hope as the previous year is officially in the past. But last year was different. This year may be far different as well. We need peace; specifically we need God's peace.
What a year 2020 was and I, for one, am glad to put it behind me. However, I must confess, I did not enter into 2021 with much optimism. The new year is generally one filled with an optimistic outlook. There is something exciting about the "new." A new car. A new phone. A new job. For me, a new book. Entering into 2021, I did not have that same excitement as I did last year. We have faced a new challenge and indeed are still facing it; COVID, the political unrest and apparent national divide (red state/blue state), cities still reeling from riots and social unrest, more riots, job loss, life loss, business loss, etc. The events of 2020 have left a notable scar; relationally, mentally, financially, and yes, even spiritually.
A few days ago, we inaugurated a 46th President, Joe Biden. I, myself, am not his biggest fan (neither was I the biggest fan of Donald Trump; I'm a supporter of the office). Biden has called for peace and unity, and I pray it will become normal. After all, wishing for a President to fail would be just as disastrous as hoping the pilot of your plane to fail. If the pilot fails, you die. But the one criticism I have is that in every Presidential inauguration speech that I have heard, most, if not all, have called for peace and unity and not a single one has delivered much of either. With most, it seems peace and unity only degraded into chaos and division. It's not a criticism of the man/woman in office, I assure you. Mankind is purely unsuited and ill-equipped to deliver the peace that we so desperately need.
It's clear in Philippians that God's peace is something He intended to be an "experience." It's also clear, as you read context, that experience of peace comes through the avenue of prayer. As far as the NLT (New Living Translation) is concerned, the adverb "then" creates a condition. In order to "experience the peace of God" there must be "prayer about everything." The experience of peace is contingent on our engagement in prayer; true and honest prayer; not withholding anything. The other side can easily be argued; where there is the absence of this genuine prayer there is also the absence of peace.
The whole of the text is prefaced by one of the most common commands in scripture; but it's commonality does not make it simple: "Don't worry about anything." That is easier said than done. In the original Greek, the word translated "worry" is the verb merimnaó ((mer-im-nah'-o), which means "divided into parts" or "pulled in opposite directions" or "over-anxious, and overwhelmed." We will have our worries, just as we will have our fears, but we do not have to be consumed by them. I do not believe that as long as we live on this earth we will ever be "worry-free." We may go through seasons where we "worry-less." What I think Paul means here is to replace worry with prayer. Why?
Time spent with God in prayer changes YOU.
One of the qualities of God's peace is that it "surpasses understanding." The Christian is unable to understand it completely. The lost miss it entirely. Philosophy can't understand it. Science can't explain it. Peace is just not the natural response to calamity. How is David at peace while in the "valley of the shadow of death"? How was there peace in Nebuchadnezzar's furnace? How is Paul at peace while writing these words in a Roman prison? How was Peter at peace, at least for a time, as he walked out on the water? Our human minds cannot understand it. It doesn't make sense.
A favorite hymn of mine is "It Is Well With My Soul" written by Horatio Spafford. He penned those words on his way to meet his grieving wife when all four of their daughters died in a tragic shipwreck. I know that I would not feel much like writing, certainly not singing. It's not the reaction most would expect, yet this is the peace that is a byproduct of a relationship with God through faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus says in John 14:27 (New Living Translation), "I am leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled and afraid." This world and it's leaders (kings, princes, dictators, presidents, etc.) are simply incapable of giving us such peace, no matter how hard they might try.
And as for unity? Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14 (NLT), "For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us." There was much hatred between the Jews and Gentiles (as much, if not more, between Democrats and Republicans). And yet the blood of Christ broke the hatred. Jesus made "peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death" (Eph. 2:15-16).
I do pray for peace and unity in our great nation. But I am not deceived in thinking that one man, or woman, or policy, or executive order can usher in this kind of peace. Nor am I disappointed when they are unable to deliver. It is just not Washington's job. It is a wonderful promise, but not one that Biden can fulfill. Only Jesus can bring us peace and unity.
And so, today and always, I pray. Through prayer I am invited into God's presence. And where He is present, it is there I will find peace.