I needed to get to sleep, but I wasn’t worried about it. I wasn’t worried about anything. Surprising, actually. I was facing my dissertation defense the next morning, but I wasn’t stressed. I wasn’t worried. My mind wasn’t spinning. I was just awake. And completely at peace. I was surrounded by an overwhelming sense of well-being. No fear. No anxiety. No spinning thoughts. No playing through all the possible questions or outcomes. Just peace and Presence.
From a human perspective and based on my personality, I would have expected that night to be laced with anxiety and anticipation. Instead, I was surrounded by the certain and experienced love of my Father and the prayers of His body. The work, effort, and sacrifice of years hung in the balance, but they really didn’t matter. The Lord was near. He was in that hotel room in a special way that I can’t describe. And in some way, so were each of you who were praying. It truly was the “peace that transcends all understanding” (Phil 4:7).
Speaking of Philippians 4, I have heard messages for years suggesting that the cure to anxiety is prayer:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6–7
I don’t want to say that prayer and thanksgiving don’t matter and that they don’t play a role, but I do want to suggest that what comes before this instruction may be more important. While we could go back to the beginning of verse 4, for now let’s just go back half a verse and read it again:
5b The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:5b–7
The peace that I experienced that Thursday night was fundamentally rooted in an experience of the presence of God.
“The Lord is near,” so we can rejoice in His presence (Phil 4:4).
“The Lord is near,” so we can be gentle in our dealings with others (Phil 4:5a).
“The Lord is near,” so we don’t need to be anxious. Nothing can happen that he can’t handle. (Phil 4:6)
“The Lord is near,” so we can give thanks (Phil 4:6).
“The Lord is near,” so we can experience His peace (Phil 4:7).
That peace transcends our human ability to understand or express. As Bonnie Thurston comments, the phrase transcends all understanding “serves as a subtle reminder to us not to be prisoners of the Enlightenment, not to assume that rationality is the only way of knowing.” We can know with our heads that God’s peace means not only the absence of conflict, but the experience of well-being. We can know that it is rooted in God’s very nature and found in His presence. But knowing these things doesn’t get us any closer to actually grasping the reality. That peace transcends words and logic. It simply is.
So why do I share all this? First, to thank those of you who carried me into the presence of our Father in prayer. But more importantly, to encourage you to seek His presence in whatever you are facing today.
It may be great joy: seek God’s presence.
It may be great pain: seek God’s presence.
It may be great hope: seek God’s presence.
It may be great fear: seek God’s presence.
This hasn’t been a biblical scholar’s interpretation of a passage. It’s just been my heartfelt experience of the reality of God’s word in my own life. But it is also my prayer for you this week—that you may experience our gracious God’s presence and peace no matter what you are facing. May He guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
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