“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). This verse gives clear direction and offers genuine hope to the believer in Christ.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, there are a number of things that they may have been worried about. Paul is writing to them when he is under house arrest, courtesy of the Roman Empire. The church in Philippi had supported his missionary work, and they may have been concerned for his well-being (Philippians 1). Apparently, there was some discord in the church with people acting selfishly, and they needed to focus on the example of Christ (Philippians 2). False teachers were also attempting to upset their confidence in Christ (and in Paul’s teaching) by teaching that some form of obedience to the Law was necessary for salvation (Philippians 3). And, finally, the discord in the church had reached such a point that Paul calls out two women by name and asks them to get along with each other (Philippians 4:2).
Paul then concludes his letter with the admonition in Philippians 4:4 to “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Here was a church facing external pressures and internal problems, and they may have wondered if it was even possible to break out in joyful celebration.
If discouragement over the problems addressed in the letter (or anything else) was robbing the Philippians of joy, then Paul gives the solution in Philippians 4:6. There is no need to fret and worry about the way things are. The solution is to give the problems over to the Only One who can actually do something about them. The Philippians are to pray in every situation, bringing their petitions (requests) to God and offering prayers of thanksgiving for what God has already done.
Paul does not promise that God will do every single thing they request. They were not being handed a blank check. But he does promise that, when the Philippians pray about things, God will change the Philippians themselves: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). When they really pray about their problems and choose to be thankful, God will give them peace.
Although written to the Philippian church, the principle of Philippians 4:6 applies to all believers. When we have problems and worries, we often forget to pray about them. Then, when we do pray, we may think that the only help that God can give is to grant the request as we have presented it and change the situation. God may very well do that. He has the power to change any situation, but He will not be limited to that. God does not promise to change every situation to our liking. What He does promise to do is give us peace during any situation. In other words, God may or may not change the circumstance, but He will change our disposition toward it so that it does not cause us inner turmoil.
Practically speaking, Philippians 4:6 gives us a model for the kind of prayer we need to pray when we are anxious or worried. First, we reject worry: do not be anxious about anything. Then, we simply ask God for what we need: in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And we thank Him for all that He has already done: with thanksgiving. Finally, we rest, knowing that He loves us and will work things out for our good and His glory. God’s peace is then ours.
There are a few lines in a song written by Tony Wood and Kevin Stokes that sum up the principle of Philippians 4:6 beautifully:
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered “peace be still”
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child