Worry and Prayer
March 13th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
WORRY AND PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-13-83 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In our series, “The Great Doctrines of the Bible,” we are in this section on prayer. I call it “proseuchology.” The Greek word for “prayer,” “proseuchomai, proseuchē, prayer.” So it is a study of prayer. And the message this morning is entitled Worry and Prayer. Our text is the last chapter of Philippians, Philippians chapter 4, reading verses 5 through 7. Philippians 4, verses 5 through 7: “Let your moderation,” the King James Version translates “epieikes,”
Let your epieikes, let your gentle mildness be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
We shall follow the text verbatim et literatum. He admonishes us, “Be careful for nothing” [Philippians 4:5]. In 1611, that was a good translation of merimnaō; but today it does not quite say it, not to our modern ears. Merimnaō means, refers to, “a divided mind, a distracted mind,” and thus came to refer to one who is drawn into different directions; and thus, to be anxious, or to be fretful, or to be full of foreboding or anxiety, worry. Now in 1611, “careful, full of care” was a good translation of it. But it is better for us to use the word “anxiety, worry, foreboding,” merimnaō, to have a distracted and a divided mind. And he says that in nothing, not in anything are we thus to be full of worry, or fretfulness, or anxiety, or care [Philippians 4:5].
Now that is a fine sentiment, but it seems on the surface of it impractical and sort of impossible for us. We live in a world that has a tendency to lose, every section of it, every experience in it, every part of it. The summer is crushed by the cold of the winter that carries with it the destruction of our flowers. Fire is possible at any time in its destruction and devastation. Ebb is followed by flood. And all of us are prone to accident and to disease and certainly to age and to death. It is sort of a losing battle; we never quite win it, and ultimately are devastated and disintegrated and destroyed by it. Now for someone to say to us that as we look into the future we are not to be distracted or fearful or anxious or worrisome, that’s a very fine thing to say; but how do you live as free as the birds that fly and as unworried as the beautiful lilies that grow? It’s very difficult; it is very hard. And to some of us, it is impossible.
So we say to the apostle Paul, “That is a beautiful thing you have just commanded and a magnificent sentiment that you have expressed. We’re not to be ever anxious or worried or full of foreboding. But we can’t do it.” Then Paul replies, “But oh, you break into my sentence. Hear me to the end, for you must remember what I said above, and you must remember what I have said below. I said above, The Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4:5], Kurios engus. The Bible is full of little epigrammatic sentences like that, such as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, Kairos sustellō, “the time is short” [1 Corinthians 7:29]; here, Kurios engus the Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4:5], literally, “The Lord is near.” And kairos sustellō, “the time is short.” What the apostle is saying to us is that when a man builds his life upon the foundation of this world, he builds it upon a shadow, he builds it upon sand. Whatever we possess in this life, we’re to hold loosely. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world [Hebrews 11:13]. We have no abiding place in this earth.
That’s what he says first: our hopes, and our dreams, and our lives, and our building is not to be in this earth. If it is, it is indeed transitory and ephemeral. Then he says, “And look at what I have said after: But in everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God” [Philippians 4:6]. Our anxieties and our fears and our trepidations are to be but the occasion, the raw material out of which our intercessions and our supplications are made. We are brought to our knees because of the exigencies of life; no man is equal to them. We’re not able in ourselves. We lean on God’s strong arm [Deuteronomy 33:27]. We live in this life in a labyrinth and in a maze, and no man can quite find his way to that ultimate destiny, not in himself. God has given us the faculty of foresight, forethought. We’re the only creation that has that faculty; but like all the rest of our faculties and endowments, they are fallen, all of them. And our faculty of forethought is also fallen. And that fills us with dread and with anxiety and with worry. And that is the interest we pay on our troubles tomorrow.
So the apostle writes, “Not in anything are we to be thus anxious or fearful or fretful or filled with foreboding and trepidation, not in anything; but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God” [Philippians 4:6]. The word for “prayer” is a beautiful word: euchē, euchē, prayer. And the apostle places a preposition in front of it, a pros, proseuchē; pros means “toward.” So he is speaking to us about our talking toward God, toward God. “In everything, talk to God” [Philippians 4:6].
Now I am just a literalist in reading the Bible. When he says, “In everything,” I am supposing that God inspired him to say that. Not just in some tremendous catastrophic providence are we to talk to God, but in everything: food, drink, clothing, shelter, children, work, health, strength, life, everything. God is not displeased if we take anything before Him. Just talk to God as you would a dear, close, and intimate friend. Tell Him everything, lay it all before Him, proseuchē, talking to God. Now that doesn’t mean stilted language, you know, beautifully worded intercessory sentences.
Queen Victoria had a deep abiding devotion for the Christian Jew Benjamin Disraeli, her prime minister. She also had one other tremendously gifted minister named William Gladstone. But Queen Victoria said when Gladstone spoke to her he addressed her as though she were an assembly, an institution, a parliament. Well, it’s sort of easy for us to fall into that kind of a habit in addressing God. Now it is perfectly in order to address God in high flown perorations, and especially a beautiful public prayer, but prayer is not alone defined as being tremendously, classically expressed language. It can be a heart cry. It can be while you’re busy with your hands, or driving to work, or as you’re consumed in a task, just talk to God, talk to Him about everything, everything, address it to God!
I was amused by reading of the dedication of the monument on Bunker Hill. The next day the newspaper, in praising the man who led the prayer of dedication, the newspaper said it was the finest prayer ever addressed to an American audience. Well, that’s all in order I suppose; but prayer is addressed to God, proseuchē, to God. And talk to Him about everything, anything.
Now, he says, “In prayer, proseuchē, and supplication,” deēsis; he uses another word here, “in prayer and supplication let your requests,” aitēma, requests [Philippians 4:6]. Well, what are deēsis and aitēma? That is prayer that is intensified, it is importunate prayer, it is a request that is earnestly and zealously and repetitively laid before God! Deēsis, aitēma, knocking at the door of God, earnestly, zealously, importunately. I think of the story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel. The Bible says that he bowed his face between his knees, and he prayed God for the breaking of the drought that had consumed Israel for three and a half years [1 Kings 17:1, 18:1; James 5:17-18]. Think of the burning desert, brass heavens, iron earth, with no rain for three and a half years. And the prophet of God bowed, put his face between his knees [1 Kings 18:42], and prayed God for rain [1 Kings 18:42]. And he sent his servant to the head of Mt. Carmel to look out over the great sea, the Mediterranean Sea. And the servant came back and said, “There is nothing.” And the prophet bowed his head again between his knees. I can just see Elijah do that. Begging God, deēsis, aitēma, and he sent his servant. The servant came back and said, “There is nothing.” And Elijah sent his servant after that prayer, a fourth time, and a fifth time, and a sixth time. And each time the servant came back, “There is nothing.” But when Elijah had finished his supplication, his deēsis, the seventh time, the servant came back and said, “I see over the Mediterranean a cloud this size of a man’s hand.” And Elijah said to Ahab, “Arise, there is a sound of abundance of rain” [1 Kings 18:41-45].
Prayer and importunity, prayer, earnest supplication [Philippians 4:6], these are the two wings upon which the soul soars into heaven and before God, rising up. There’s an upness in prayer and supplication that is ever a concomitant to its offering before God. I feel it to speak of it. I sense it in my own soul here. I can’t think of it without an upness in it. There is a heavenliness, there’s a lifting of the soul and the life God-ward when we pray. These are the two wings, prayer and supplication, upon which we rise to the heights of glory. God made us that way. He put that in us, the freedom to rise in prayer and supplication to God [Philippians 4:6]. I say, He made us to soar, to rise!
A little girl, all of her life living in the concrete canyons of the great city of London, was taken for the first time out in the country. And she saw there a bird, and she turned to her mommy and said, “Oh Mommy, look at that poor little bird. It has got no cage.” Well, she’d never seen a bird like God made it: to be free and to fly in God’s blue heaven. This last week I read about a man who took an eagle chick, an eaglet just out of the shell, and he brought it to his farm, and he put it in a coop with the chickens. And the eagle grew up in the chicken coop.
Well, the farmer moved away, and he didn’t know what to do with that eagle, which is now a great bird, there in the chicken coop. So he took the eagle and set the eagle free in the garden. And the eagle walked around like a chicken in the garden. It was just a bigger coop; it was just a bigger run. So the farmer took the great giant bird and put it on the top of the barn. The sun was behind a cloud, and when the sun came out and shined down from heaven, that great eagle looked up into the sky and to God’s sun, and he stretched one mighty wing, and he stretched the other mighty wing, and with a cry he began to soar toward God’s heaven, that’s we. How many times do we live like chickens or like a caged bird, with our little cup of seed and our little glass of water, and our little glass of water, when God made us to soar, to rise, to look heavenward and God-ward? That’s where we belong. Not down here, but up there. Not defeated and full of worry and care and trepidation and foreboding, but living in the light and the glory of the freedom and conquest and triumph of our Lord. “Kairos,” he says, “engus.” “He is at hand; He is near” [Philippians 4:5].
Then he says, “And the peace of God which passeth understanding, shall keep you in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:7]. The peace of God; I think that word “peace” is one of the prettiest words in the language. It is eirēnē in Greek, and if you name a little girl “Irene,” it means “peace”; a beautiful name, “peace.” “Peace that passeth understanding” [Philippians 4:7], that you can’t explain, you only experience it. If a philosopher attempted to explain the peace and the quiet and the rest in the heart of a devout Christian in the face of every kind of providence and exigency, he couldn’t do it. It’s a remarkable thing, the serenity of heaven upon the brow of a Christian who may be hounded to his grave, or as the eleventh chapter of Hebrews describes him, “wandering around in sheepskins and goatskins” [Hebrews 11:37]. How do you explain that, the peace that passeth all understanding?
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, James, John’s brother, the son of Zebedee, having been executed by Herod Agrippa I [Acts 12:1], Simon Peter is in prison to be executed the next morning. But when the angel visits him, he strikes Simon Peter on the side. He is sound asleep [Acts 12:6-7]. I don’t think there is a more moving painting in this earth than that of the Roman Coliseum, and to the side the cages of the carnivores, the lions, the cages are opened, and they are dashing out. And there in the center of the coliseum, the Christians are being fed to the lions. And there in the center of that great amphitheater is standing God’s pastor prophet, an old man with his hands raised toward heaven, and kneeling around him his little flock of Christians: the peace that passeth understanding, explanation!
I read this week of a Christian martyr, and the judge who had sentenced him to be burned at the stake was supervising the wood and the fire. And the Christian martyr said to the judge, “Would you come here and put your hand on my heart? Does my heart beat fast? Am I afraid?” Then the Christian martyr said to the judge, “Put your hand on your heart, and count your heartbeat, and tell me who is fearful and afraid and agitated”; the peace that passeth all rationalization, all explanation, all understanding [Philippians 4:7].
That’s not stoical, it is not Spartan indifference or apathy; the Christian is the opposite of that; he’s the most sensitive of all souls. He has the repercussion on the inside of him, the response on the inside of him, like a tender woman. That’s a Christian. It’s not stoical, nor is it epicurean, nor is it a drowning of our problems and our troubles in drunkenness. But it’s a baptism of every care and every thought in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost: the peace that passeth all understanding [Philippians 4:7].
Then he says one other thing: “And the peace, that passeth all understanding shall keep you,” the King James Version translates it, phroureō. Phroureō is a military term; it means “guard,” phroureō, “guard.” “The peace of God, that passeth all understanding, shall guard you, heart, mind, life, soul, body, destiny, forever shall guard you in Christ Jesus, guard you.” Like the flaming sword of the cherubim east of Eden guarding the tree of life [Genesis 3:24], so God’s angels and God’s burning and God’s fire will guard the Christian who places his confidence in Him, free us from care and worry and burden [Philippians 4:6-7]. Gehazi the servant of Elisha came to his master in Dothan, the little village, and said, “Master, what shall we do? The Syrian army has surrounded us on every side” [2 Kings 6:15]. And Elisha lifted his face to God and said, “Lord, open his eyes, open his eyes. And the Lord heard the prayer and opened the eyes of the servant. And lo, the mountains were filled with horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” [2 Kings 6:16-17]. Phroureō, God’s peace and quiet and confidence will guard you in Christ Jesus [Philippians 4:7].
I close with what I think is one of the most poignant of all of the pages in God’s sacred Word. When Rebekah, the sweet and loved wife of Isaac, was heavy with child, God said to her, “There are two nations in your womb; two boys to be born to head them” [Genesis 25:23]. So when they were born Esau, Edom, was born first; Iakōb, Jacob, was born second [Genesis 25:24-25]. And when the second twin was born, he was holding the heel of his elder brother [Genesis 25:26]. So they called him Iakōb. When Esau lamented over what Jacob had done to him [Genesis 27:1-29], he said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, Iakōb, Supplanter, Cheater” [Genesis 27:36], literally, “heeler, to heel, h-e-e-l, heel,” schemer. Well anyway, Esau swore, “I will kill my brother Jacob. He has robbed me of my birthright, and now he has stolen my blessing by deception and lying and scheming. I will kill him” [Genesis 27:36, 41]. And Rebekah sent him away [Genesis 27:42-45]. He fled for his life to Haran, at the top of the Mesopotamian Valley, there to find refuge with her brother Laban [Genesis 28:5]. God blessed, according to the prayer of Isaac [Genesis 27:27-29], Iakōb, supplanter, cheater, deceiver, heeler [Genesis 29-30].
And the day came when he was to return back to Canaan. And when he did, he was filled with fear, and anxiety, and worry, and foreboding, and trepidation. So he sent an embassy, he sent messengers to Esau, Edom, and the messengers came back to Jacob, saying, “Esau is coming to meet you with four hundred armed horsemen” [Genesis 32:3-6]. And Jacob was paralyzed with fear [Genesis 32:7]. He was a schemer, he was a shrewd cheater. So in order to somehow hope for an appeasement of the wrath of his brother, he took large gifts and divided them into flocks and herds, and flocks and herds, a whole string of them, and put a long distance between each one, and sent them to Esau, who was coming out to meet him with four hundred horsemen. Then he took his family, Zilpah the maid of Leah, and her children; and then a space back, Bilhah, the maid of Rachel, and her children; and then a space and back, Leah and her children; and then last of all Rachel, and little Joseph—taking it in his own hands, shrewd, scheming [Genesis 32:13-23; 33:2].
That night, an Angel from God wrestled with him [Genesis 32:24]. I think that Angel was Jesus, the pre-incarnate, a Christophany, because Jacob called the place Peniel, “Face of God,” “I have seen the face of God.” That night an Angel came and wrestled with the scheming supplanter, and the stubborn man wrestled with the Angel, refusing to bow until finally the Angel touched him in his thigh, and crippled him, crippled him [Genesis 32:24-25]. And as the day began to dawn, the Angel began to leave, and Jacob clung to him desperately, saying, “Do not leave me like this, crushed and crippled, bless me I pray” [Genesis 32:26]. And the Angel of the Lord replied, “What is your name?” And Jacob replied, “My name is Iakōb, my name is Supplanter, my name is Schemer, my name is Cheater, my name is Deceiver, Jacob.” The Angel replied, “No longer will you be called Jacob, Supplanter; you are now Israel, Israel, the prince of God” [Genesis 32:27-28]. And then, the next chapter.
So Esau came with his four hundred horsemen, armed, to meet his brother [Genesis 33:1], whom he had sworn to slay [Genesis 27:41]. And Jacob rose to meet him like this. The Bible says Jacob rose to meet him, and bowed himself to the ground, and he did that seven times as he rose to meet Esau, his brother. He bowed himself to the ground [Genesis 33:3]. Now I read the next verse: “And Esau, who had come with four hundred horsemen, Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept together [Genesis 33:4]. And Esau said, What meanest thou by all the droves which I have met, one after another?” Jacob replied, “These are to find grace in the sight of my lord” [Genesis 33:5-8]. And Esau said, “I have enough, my brother, I do not need it. Keep that thou hast unto thyself. You do not need to do anything. God has taken care of that” [Genesis 33:9-11].
God will always take care of us. If we will trust Him, by prayer and supplication, let Him guard us from worry and anxiety [Philippians 4:6-7].
Worry? Why worry? What can worry do?
It never keeps trouble from overtaking you.
It gives you fearful moments and sleepless hours at night.
It fills with gloom the day, however fair and bright.
It puts a frown upon the face, a sharpness in the tone
We’re unfit to live with others, and unfit to live alone.
Worry? Why worry? What can worry do?
It never keeps trouble from overtaking you.
Pray? Why pray? What can praying do?
Praying really changes things, arranging life anew.
It takes away our fears and gives us sleep at night.
It fills the grayest, gloomiest day with hours of glowing light.
It puts a smile upon your face, a love note in your tone.
It makes you fit to live with others, and fit to live alone.
Pray? Why pray? What can praying do?
It brings God down from heaven to live and work with you.
“Merimnaō, a distraction, an anxiety, never. But in prayer and supplication, rise toward God, and let the sweet peace of God that passeth all understanding guard you in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:6-7]. Lord, Lord that I could be like that, just trusting, living in the presence of God. Now may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, these great, mighty truths in Thy blessed Word are so meaningful. They are so pertinent. They are so practical. They are so real. We just stumble before them. Lord give us a great faith; a great commitment, and in loving importunate prayer [Philippians 4:5-7], may we find the answer to every providence, every exigency, every fortune we shall ever face in our lives.
And while our people pray, and in a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, a family, a couple, a single, a one somebody you, “Pastor, today we have decided for God and we are coming.” Some of you, “I am trusting Jesus as my Savior, and here I stand”; some of you, “I am putting my life in this wonderful church, and I am coming”; some of you, “I want to be baptized as God says in His Book [Matthew 28:19-20], following the precious example of our Lord Jesus” [Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22]. Others answering the call of the Spirit in your heart, make that decision now in your life. Cast your soul in that direction, proseucheia, toward God, do it, and it will be the greatest decision you have ever made in your life. And on the first note of that first stanza, that first step will be the most meaningful you have ever known. And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us this hour, in Thy saving, keeping name, amen. While we sing our appeal, a thousand times welcome as you come.