Worry and Prayer
March 6th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
WORRY, DISTRACTION, ANXIETY, AND PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-6-83 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor delivering another message in the doctrinal series on proseuchology; proseuchomai, “to pray,” and the message on prayer, this one entitled Worry, Distraction, Anxiety, and Prayer. We read the last, in the last chapter of Philippians, verses 5 through 7; Philippians chapter 4, verses 5 through 7:
Let your moderation—epieikes, gentle mildness, let your epieikes, your gentle mildness—be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in everything 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.
And we shall follow the words of the inspired Scriptures verbatim et literatim. “Be careful for nothing,” merimnao, merimnao, translated here “be careful” [Philippians 4:6]. In 1611 that was a good translation of merimnao, but today it doesn’t have the connotation of the word at all. Merimnao means “to have a divided mind, to be drawn in different directions; thus to be full of anxiety and foreboding and worry.” In 1611, “careful” meant “full of care, full of anxiety”; but the word refers to our minds and our hearts being filled with all kinds of distracting, fretting worries, forebodings. And he admonishes us not to be that way, not to be that way in anything: “Be careful, be anxious, be fretful, be distracted over nothing, in anything; do not allow yourself to be full of worry” [Philippians 4:6].
Well, that is a fine sentiment, that’s a good admonition, but for most of us, it is certainly not practical. We live in a world that has a tendency to lose: every section of it, every part of it, every experience in it moves toward some kind of an inevitable defeat and loss. The summertime is crushed by the winter that blocks out the very sun and crushes the flowers. Fire is always possible in its destructive presence. Ebbs are always followed by floods. And we live in a world of accident and age and finally inevitable death.
I was crushed last evening when I learned of the sudden death, sudden death of one of the most dedicated young men in our church. We live in that kind of a world; it sort of ends in defeat, and disaster, and death. I repeat. It is a very fine sentiment to be commanded not to be anxious and not to be full of worry. The birds of the air, we’re to be free like them, and we’re to be unconcerned and unanxious like the lilies that grow in the field. But how you implement that is another world in which we seek to enter, but most of us—including me—don’t.
Now, when we object to what Paul has said—“That’s a beautiful word, ‘Don’t you worry, don’t you be anxious, don’t you be filled with fret or foreboding’ [Philippians 4:6], that’s a fine thing, Paul, but it isn’t practical; it doesn’t work”—Paul interjects, and he says, “But wait: I haven’t said it all yet. You haven’t heard it all yet. You interfere in the middle of my speech. Have you noticed,” he says, “what I said immediately above and before,” translated here, “The Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4:5], kurios eggus, “the Lord is near, the Lord is near.”
You know, the Scriptures are so often filled with little epigrammatical sayings, like in 1 Corinthians 7:29: “kairos sustellō, the time is short, the time is straightened.” Well here’s another one of them: “Kurios eggus, the Lord is near.” Well, what does he mean by that? It is very obvious in the context. “Kurios eggus, the Lord is near [Philippians 4:5]. Kairos sustellō, the time is short”; he’s saying to us it is foolish for a man to build his hopes on the mere shadow of this world, this present life. He is saying to us that whatever you hold in your hands hold it loosely. He is saying to us that we are strangers and pilgrims in this earth [Hebrews 11:13-14]. And for a man to build his hopes and his visions here in this world is inevitably to face defeat and despair and loss.
Then he says, “Not only what I have said before, we face certain death or the judgment day of Almighty God, kurios eggus, He is near [Philippians 4:5]; kairos sustellō, the time is short; not only what I’ve said before, but,” he says, “look at what I have said after: But in everything by prayer and supplication come before God” [Philippians 4:6]. He is avowing that our anxieties and our cares and the inevitable confrontations that we have in life are the material out of which we make our requests and our supplications. It carries with it an admission on the part of all of us that, “I am not equal to the assignments and the exigencies of this life. I need God’s help.”
It would be another way of saying that we have the faculty of foreknowledge, of projecting ourselves into the future, we have that gift of forethought, but it’s a fallen faculty as all the other faculties of our lives. We are not to see our troubles in our forethinking, but we are to see God. The forethought that God has given us is not for our anxious and troubled distractions and fears, but it is for our intercessions and our praying to the Lord God. Anxiety, fretfulness, worry is the interest that we pay on tomorrow’s troubles.
So we look at what Paul says, “In prayer and supplication come before God” [Philippians 4:6]. Prayer, that’s a beautiful word. The word for “prayer” is euchē, euchē, “prayer”; and they put a pros in front of it, proseuchē, pros. Pros is “toward.” So he is speaking first of our praying toward God, our praying pros, toward, euchē, prayer toward God.
Now he says, “In everything” [Philippians 4:6]; what do you think about that? There’s not anything about us in which God is not also interested. Our lives are to be lived in the practicing presence of God. And he encourages us to take everything to Him [Philippians 4:6]. Do it. There’s not anything too inconsequential or too insignificant or too unimportant to bring before God. Pray about everything, everything. Food, clothing, shelter, children, life, hopes, visions, aims, troubles, heartaches, disappointments, little things, big things, things now, and the possibilities of things to come; don’t exclude anything. He says “everything,” panta, “all things,” take it to God. That does not mean we have to come before God with stilted language, like framing a beautiful prayer. Just speak to God as you would speak to someone who is your dearest and closest friend, to whom you would unburden your soul. Talk to Him as though He were near and dear, and a person, a somebody.
Queen Victoria had a great deepening, abiding affection for the Jewish Christian, her prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli. But she said about William Gladstone, likewise a mighty minister of state, she said William Gladstone always addressed her as though she were an assembly or an institution or a parliament. I read one time where the eloquent prayer at the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument made a beautiful and eloquent prayer, and the Boston newspaper the next morning, speaking of that marvelous prayer, said, “It was the most eloquent prayer ever addressed to an American audience.” Now they were absolutely unconscious of the overtone of what was said. Not stilted, ecclesiastical, learned patterns of language; but talk to God, speak to God about everything.
Now he adds to it here the word deesis, proseuchē, “prayer,” and deesis. Well, that’s translated also here “requests,” aitema. These words deesis, aitema, refers to importunate, importunate intercessions, just earnest appeal, prayer, and earnest supplication, importunate request [Philippians 4:6]. I think of Elijah. The Bible says he put his face between his knees, and he prayed one time for the breaking of a three and one-half year drought [James 5:17], and then sent his servant to the head of Mount Carmel to look over the Mediterranean Sea. And the servant came back and said, “There is nothing” [1 Kings 18:42-43]. And Elijah prayed a second time, and sent his servant. And the servant came back, said, “There is nothing.” Elijah prayed with his face between his knees a fourth time, and a fifth time, and a sixth time; and each time the servant came back saying, “And there is nothing” [1 Kings 18:43]. But the seventh time when Elijah had finished his earnest importunate request, the servant came back and said, “I see over the sea a cloud about the size of a man’s hand” [1 Kings 18:44]. And Elijah said to the king, “Up, there is a sound of an abundance of rain” [1 Kings 18:41, 45]. That’s deesis; that’s importunate intercession [Philippians 4:6]. That’s the way we ought to pray.
Those two words there “by proseuche and deesis, by prayer and earnest supplication,” those are the two wings, prayer and supplication, on which a Christian is to soar into the very presence of God. Prayer, one wing; supplication, earnest intercession, importunity, the other wing; and God made us like that to soar above the cares and worries and troubles of this life. We’re to rise! God made us for that, and it’s natural for us to do that. A little child will as naturally pray as the child will eat or sleep. God made us to rise in intercession upward toward the heavens, and there is upness in it. When I speak of it, much less think of it, much less do it, I have that upness in me; I feel this way speaking of prayer and supplication. We were made for that.
A little London girl who had never been out of the big city was taken to the country, and she saw a bird in the forest. And she turned to her mother and said, “Look Mommy, there is a poor little bird, and it’s got no cage.” Ah! Aren’t we like that? We live with a little cup of birdseed or a little glass of water, but God made us free to soar.
This last week I read about a man who had taken an eaglet, a little chick right out of the eagle’s egg, just hatched. He took the eaglet and brought it to his farm home and put it in a chicken coop. And the eaglet grew up in that chicken coop. The day came when the farmer moved away, and he didn’t know what to do with that eagle now that was grown, so he decided just to place it free in the garden. And the eagle walked around in the garden just like a chicken. It was just a larger coop, it was just a bigger, longer run; but he still walked around like a chicken. And the farmer, astonished, took the big bird, and put it on the top of the barn. And the sun that had been hidden by a cloud appeared, began to shine in the heavens. And the eagle lifted up his face toward the sun, and he stretched one great wing, and he stretched the other great wing, and with a cry he soared up to the sky, to the blue of God’s heaven. For us to live like chickens in a barnyard, in a coop, in a cage, defies the purposes of God for us. We’re to rise and to rise, and on the wings of prayer and supplication we’re to soar toward the heavens [Philippians 4:6].
Will you notice here he says, “And the peace of God . . . will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:7]. If you will do that, the peace of God…” Peace is absolutely one of the most beautiful words in the language. In the Greek, it is eirene, i-r-e-n-e, eirene. And you name a girl Irene, it’s a beautiful name. “The peace of God,” he describes here as “passing all understanding; the peace of God that passeth all understanding” [Philippians 4:7]. When a philosopher seeks to analyze and explain that verse, “The peace of God that comes to the devout Christian,” he’ll find himself in a labyrinth and in a maze; he’ll be astonished at his unable inexplicity; he can’t do it. Here are Christians who are hounded to the grave, wandering around in sheepskins and goatskins; but the serenity of heaven is on their brow. How do you explain that? In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, the next morning he is to be executed, as James the son of Zebedee, John’s brother, was [Acts 12:1-2]; but the angel had to strike him on the side and awaken him because Simon Peter was sound asleep in the very presence of the gallows, or of the henchman’s sword [Acts 12:6-7].
I think one—I wish I had a copy of the painting—I think one of the most beautiful paintings in the world is that in the Roman Coliseum, and the lions have been loosed, their cages have been raised, and they are hungry carnivores pouring into the Roman Coliseum. And in the center there are the Christians being fed to the lions. And the painting is of their pastor, prophet, standing in their midst, with his face and hands toward heaven, and his little flock gathered around him, kneeling in prayer, unperturbed!
I read this last week of a Christian martyr. And the judge presiding over his burning at the stake was making, help making arrangements with the fire and with the wood. And the martyr said to the judge, “Come here, put your hand on my heart, and count my heartbeat. Do I seem to be afraid or excited?” Then the martyr said, “Now put your hand on your heart, and count your heart, and see who is agitated”; the peace of God passeth explanation, understanding [Philippians 4:7].
Nor is he talking about a stoical response toward the problems and troubles of life, a trained indifference and apathy, a Spartan indifference a Spartan indifference. He’s not talking about, he’s not talking about Stoicism; nor is he talking about Epicureanism, “Eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die [Luke 12:19; 1 Corinthians 15:32]; to drown our troubles in drunkenness.” There’s no one trained in delicate sympathy more than is the Christian soul; but being sensitive and being trained in all of the nuances of the sweet spirit of Jesus, he calls it here, this epieikes, this sweet mildness [Matthew 11:29]. Christian being trained in that, yet that perfect peace in the Lord. Like Daniel in the lions’ den: unperturbed [Daniel 6:20-23]. Lord, that’s great; if I could be like that.
One other thing he says here, phroureō, translated here “the peace of God that passeth understanding shall keep” [Philippians 4:7]; phroureō is a military term. It actually means “guard.” “The peace of God shall guard your mind and soul in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:7]. Like that flaming sword at the east gate of the garden of Eden to keep the way of the tree of life [Genesis 3:24], so the flaming, burning, fiery presence of God keeps care and trouble and worry away when we look to Him. It’s like that servant Gehazi of Elisha, when the little town of Dothan where they were staying was surrounded by the armies of Syria, and the worried and fearful servant said, “My master, what shall we do?” [2 Kings 6:15]. And Elisha prayed, saying, “Lord, open his eyes, open his eyes.” And the Lord opened his eyes, and the servant saw the mountains filled with chariots of fire round about Elisha [2 Kings 6:17]. It’s what God does for us: phroureō, guard, guard, keeps, protects. So the admonition of the apostle for us: “Worry, full of anxiety, foreboding, fear in nothing; God will phroureō, guard you” [Philippians 4:6-7].
Let me close with what I think is one of the most poignant illustrations of that in all the Word of God. When he was born they called him Yaakov; Yaakov, comes out in English “Jacob,” Yaakov; because he held the heel of his twin brother Esau when he came out. Esau was born first, and the second babe when he was born was holding the heel of the first child, Esau [Genesis 25:25-26]. So they called him Yaakov. And these etymologists say that it comes from a root word meaning “to heel, to heel, to supplant.” The cry of Esau, you remember: “Twice has my brother supplanted me” [Genesis 27:36]. His name was “Supplanter,” his name was “Heeler,” his name was “Traitor”; finally you could say his name was “Cheater,” and “Deceiver.” Well, you remember he fled from the face of Esau [Genesis 28:1-5] who had vowed to slay him [Genesis 27:41], and made his way all the distance to the head of the Mesopotamian Valley at Haran [Genesis 27:43, 29:1-13].
And after years there serving Laban, his mother’s brother, and God blessing him there, the time came for him to return to Canaan [Genesis 31:3]. And when he faced that confrontation with Esau who had vowed to slay him [Genesis 27:41], he was filled with worry and fear and trepidation, so he sent an emissary to Esau, saying that he was coming back to Canaan. And the emissary returned to Jacob, saying, “Esau is coming to meet you with four hundred armed horsemen!” [Genesis 32:6]. And it paralyzed Jacob with fear, worry, anxiety, trepidation, foreboding; four hundred armed horsemen. Jacob was a schemer; his name meant that. So he divided his gifts into one herd, second flock, third herd, fourth flock, and sent them to Esau as presents; put distances between them [Genesis 32:7-20]. Then he divided his family; Zilpah, the maid of Leah and her children; Bilhah, the maid of Rachel and her children; Leah and her children; and last of all Rachel and little Joseph [Genesis 33:1-2]. I think all of us can enter into well the worry and the anxiety and the fear of Jacob, as he met his brother Edom, Esau.
And the night before, God’s Angel—I think it was Christ, because he calls Him God—wrestled with the stubborn, deceiving, supplanting Jacob all night long, and finally overcame his human stubbornness by touching his thigh and crippling him [Genesis 32:24-25]. And when Jacob saw he was crippled, he clung to the Angel, saying, “Do not leave me until You bless me. Help me, please” [Genesis 32:26]. And the Angel said, “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Supplanter, Deceiver, Cheater, Schemer, Yaakov.” And the Angel said, “No longer. Your name now is Israel, ‘a prince of God’” [Genesis 32:27-28].
Now the next chapter: “And Jacob came near, and bowed himself before Esau seven times, seven times [Genesis 33:3]. As he drew nearer, he bowed, crippled, touched by the hand of God, and bowed, and bowed, and bowed, seven times.” What about that fear and that dread and that worry? “I am meeting Esau with his four hundred armed men” [Genesis 32:6-7]; what about that awful fear and dread, worry and anxiety? Well, I read it: “And 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 these droves and flocks?” And he said, “These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.” And Esau said, “I have enough, my brother. Keep that thou hast unto thyself” [Genesis 33:8-9]. You don’t need to do that. Waste of time and effort to scheme, and to do all kinds of things to appease. You don’t need to do that.
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 your face, and 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, arranges 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.
“Be careful, anxious, worried not over anything; but with prayer and supplication, rise to God: and the peace of God that passeth understanding shall guard your mind and soul and heart and life in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:6-7]. Lord, Lord that I could learn at Thy dear and blessed feet.
We’re going to sing our hymn of appeal. It is late. On the first note of the first stanza, come. We’ll sing just a brief, brief appeal. A family: “This is God’s time for me, and we’re all coming.” A couple, a single, a somebody you, in the balcony, on the lower floor, down a stairway, down an aisle, on the first note of the first stanza; that first step will be the most precious you’ll ever make. Come, and a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.