Simon Vibert, author of Excellence in Preaching and Stress, has written the guest blog post for April’s Inspiring Leaders newsletter. The newsletter follows the fruits of the spirit, and April’s newsletter explores the subject of peace.
Sidlow Baxter wrote, ‘Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers.’
Spiritual power is at work when we pray. Samuel Chadwick said, ‘The one concern of the devil is to keep saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.’
I don’t want to make you feel guilty because we are all very conscious of our prayerlessness. I am very much aware of the paucity of my own prayer. Rather, I want to motivate you to pray and encourage you.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Here is a command: ‘do not be anxious’. ‘But, how?’ we protest. We cannot argue ourselves out of anxiety. The solution to anxiety is: prayer. Joseph Scriven summarised this so well in his hymn, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’:
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
What do we do?
We pray, petition, give thanks, and make requests.
- Be verbal (pray)
- Be emotional (petition – plead)
- Be thankful (thanksgiving)
- Be specific (request)
Why does it work?
Prayer does help us but it is not a self-help tool. Rather, prayer is all about a relationship with the living God. This is demonstrated in two ways:
a. God is personal
Prayer is a relationship, not a slot machine. J. I. Packer’s book Praying: Finding our way from Duty to Delight highlights the 8 “P’s” we know about God which drive us to pray: God is Personal, Plural, Perfect, Powerful, Purposeful, Promise-keeping, and Paternal. We find these assumptions in Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:
- Rejoice in the LORD always (not in our changing circumstances) but in the Lord.
- Remember, He is LORD – He is my Lord.
- Present your requests to God – He the king of heaven, after all.
- And His peace will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
b. God gives peace
God is not a force, God is not an ‘it’, God is not a thing. God is a person who relates personally to His people, through speech and language.
Hence, the pattern which motivates prayer: God speaks; we respond.
How does God speak? Through His word.
How do we respond? Through prayer (and praise).
As we converse with God during the day he grants us his presence and grants us his peace. Hence the bible encourages to be praying constantly (Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
This is how we should read the instruction: ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If it only means shutting our eyes and getting on our knees, then doing that unceasingly would cause severe problems when Christians drive their cars and would have little time for anything else! Actually it would be even more worrying than that because it would force me to drive without praying – and given that all the occupants in the car were praying fervently when I am driving that would be even more concerning! Rather, this verse speaks of a constant communion with God, the Prince of Peace.
Hence we should think again about the requirement of prayer, petition, thanksgiving, and requests:
- Put it into words – we find that helpful just chatting to parents or friends
- Say what’s really on your heart not what you think God wants to hear from you
- Be grateful! It really helps
- Ask for specifics not just generalities: Not, ‘Lord, I pray for world peace’ Better: ask him for some of the real needs in your life/the Church/the world right now.
And God will give his presence and his peace
- To guard our hearts and minds (from anxiety, worry and stress)
The child’s most basic instinct is to cry out for food and comfort. This should be the same for the child of God. And our heavenly Father delights to hear our cries.
First published here