Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)
“Have no anxiety at all…”
St. Paul clearly did not live in the year 2020, right? In a year that has become the subject of countless memes and innumerable frustrations, how can this verse possibly be relevant for us? But St. Paul has written to the Philippians while in prison and there is speculation that his imprisonment may have been more of a house-arrest confinement. So, maybe Paul’s situation is not so different from ours? How many of you are feeling like you’ve been placed under house arrest these past several months? Despite his circumstances, Paul wants to calm and reassure the Philippians with his faith and his care for them. Through St. Paul’s letter, God is seeking to calm and reassure us today, too.
So how is it possible to have no anxiety at all, even in 2020? The answer is prayer. Prayer always and for everything. Prayer in our cars and in our homes, prayer for our family and for our world, prayers for health and safety, prayers for work and security. Prayer always and for everything.
But note the stance that St. Paul calls us to, the approach we need to take with prayer. To use a cliché, we are called to enter prayer with an “attitude of gratitude.”
When I am invited to offer prayer for a group, I tend to begin the same way: “Good and gracious God, we come to you always in praise and thanksgiving for all that you are and all that you do.” All prayer, no matter our reason for it, no matter what we are asking for, should begin with thanks. God is bigger and better than we can possibly imagine. God is goodness and God is love. Anything good in our lives and in our world comes from God. Prayer—conversation with God— should begin with thanking him for being and creating good, for being and creating love. By starting prayer with thanksgiving to God, we acknowledge what God does and how he loves.
And when we begin our prayer with thanksgiving, St. Paul is telling us that we allow God’s peace to enter into and protect our precious hearts and minds, to center our hearts and minds on Jesus. God’s peace, like God, is hard for us to imagine. It is not the fleeting, superficial peace that the world offers, the peace that we think we want but ultimately will not settle our hearts and minds. The peace of the world will not satisfy. The peace that starts with thanksgiving, the peace that protects us, the true peace we seek, is the peace that can only come from knowing, loving, and trusting God.
So, despite the many reasons we may have for anxiety in this year and in this season, let us take to heart the encouragement of St. Paul. Let us remember that the things that are worrying us—our children, our health, the people we are missing this Thanksgiving— these are not greater than the love, the goodness, the peace of God. Let us take comfort in that and offer those worries in prayer that begins with thanksgiving. Because whatever is going on in our lives–good, bad, easy, or difficult–God is bigger. And he has bigger and better things in store for us all. Namely, the peace that comes from his love, the peace that will make our souls well, the peace that surpasses all understanding. May we rest in the love of God and the peace of Christ as we offer our prayers of thanksgiving.