With thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God by Martyn Lloyd Jones
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. (Philippians 4:6,7 KJV)
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Spiritual Depression—Its Causes and Cure” published in 1965.
THIS is undoubtedly one of the noblest, greatest and most comforting statements which is to be found anywhere in any extant literature. One is tempted to say that about many passages in the Scriptures, and yet from the standpoint of our personal lives in this world, and from the standpoint of practical experience, there is nothing that has greater comfort for God’s people than these two verses. In them the apostle is continuing what is not only the major theme of this fourth chapter, but the major theme of the entire Epistle. He is concerned about the happiness and the joy of the members of the church at Philippi. He has written the specific exhortation that they should ‘rejoice in the Lord alway’, and again he says, ‘rejoice’. In his great desire that these people might maintain that constant rejoicing in the Lord, the apostle has been considering various forces and factors that tend from time to time to rob the Christian of that joy and to bring him down to a lower level of Christian living. He has said: ‘Let your long suffering—your forbearance—be known unto all men for the Lord is at hand’. He has shown how an unquiet spirit, a grasping desire to have our own way so frequently robs us of our joy.
Here in these verses he goes on to consider another factor that is perhaps more problematical than any of the others which tend to rob us of the joy of the Lord, and that is what we may well describe as the tyranny of circumstances, or the things that happen to us. How many they are, and how often do they come! Here the apostle deals with this question in a final manner. It is remarkable as you read through the Bible, to notice how often this particular subject is dealt with. A very good case can be made out for saying that all the New Testament epistles face this particular problem, and were designed to help the first Christians to overcome the tyranny of circumstances. They lived in a very difficult world and had to suffer and to endure a great deal; and these men called of God wrote their letters in order to show them how to overcome these things. It is the great theme of the New Testament; but you find it also in the Old Testament. Take the third and fourth Psalms, for instance. How perfectly they put it all. The great problem in life is, in a sense, how to lay oneself down to rest and to sleep. ‘I laid me down and slept,’ said the Psalmist. Anybody can lie down, but the question is can you sleep? The Psalmist describes himself surrounded by enemies and by difficulties and trials, and his mighty testimony is that in spite of that, because of his trust in the Lord, he both laid him down and slept, and he awaked safe and sound in the morning. Why? Because the Lord was with him and looking after him.
That is the theme of so much of the Bible in the Old Testament and in the New that it is obviously a subject of supreme importance. I sometimes feel that there is nothing perhaps which provides such a thorough test of our faith and of our whole Christian position as just this matter. It is one thing to say that you subscribe to the Christian faith, it is one thing, having read your Bible and extracted its doctrine, to say: ‘Yes, I believe all that, it is the faith by which I live’. But it is not always exactly the same thing to find that faith triumphant and victorious and maintaining you in a state of joy, when everything seems to have gone against you and well nigh driven you to despair. It is a subtle and delicate test of our position because it is such an essentially practical test. It is far removed from the realm of mere theory. You are in the position, you are in the situation, these things are happening to you, and the question is, what is your faith worth at that point? Does it differentiate you from people who have no faith? That is obviously something of very great importance not only for our peace and comfort but also, and especially at a time like this, from the whole standpoint of our Christian witness. People today tell us that they are realists and practical. They say that they are not interested in doctrine, and not interested to listen very much to what we say, but if they see a body of people who seem to have something that enables them to triumph over life, they become interested at once. This is so because they are unhappy, and frustrated and uncertain, and fearful. If, when in that condition themselves, they see people who seem to have peace and calm and quiet, then they are ready to look at them and to listen to them. So that from the standpoint of our own personal happiness and our maintenance of the joy of the Lord, and also from the standpoint of our witness and our testimony in these difficult days, it behoves us to consider very carefully what the apostle has to say in these masterly statements about the way to deal with the tyranny of circumstances and conditions.
The matter seems to divide itself up quite simply. First of all he tells us what we have to avoid. There are certain things we must avoid, says the apostle—‘Be careful for nothing’. That is a negative injunction—something to avoid. Now let us be quite clear about the term ‘careful’. ‘Be careful for nothing’, says the Authorized translation, but you will find another translation even better: ‘Be anxious for nothing’ or ‘Be anxious about nothing’. ‘Careful’ means ‘full of care’—that means anxiety, harassing care, nervous solicitude, tending to brood or to ponder over things. It is the same word as our Lord used in the Sermon on the Mount—you remember that section in the sixth chapter of Matthew: ‘Take no thought . . .‘ It means do not be over-anxious, do not brood and ponder, do not meditate over-much upon, do not have this nervous solicitude about the thing. That is the meaning of the term.
It is important, in passing, that we should understand that the Bible would nowhere teach us not to make ordinary provision for life, or not to use common-sense. It does not encourage laziness. You will remember that Paul in writing to the church at Thessalonica said that ‘if any would not work, neither should he eat’. ‘Careful’ here, therefore, does not refer to wise forethought, but must be interpreted as anxiety, this harassing, wearying, wearing care. That is the thing the apostle tells us we must avoid at all costs.
But you notice that he does not stop merely at that negative injunction. There is a very profound piece of Biblical psychology here. The apostle shows us how we tend to get into this state of nervous, morbid, brooding anxiety. You notice that he tells us it is all due to the activity of the heart and mind—‘The peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’. Very well, the trouble is in the heart and mind. It is the heart and the mind that tend to produce this state of anxiety, this morbid care and solicitude.
This, I say, is a profound piece of psychology, and I am emphasizing it because later on we shall see how vital it is in applying the apostle’s remedy to ourselves, that we should grasp and understand his psychological explanation of the condition. What Paul is saying in other words is that we can control many things in our lives and outside our lives, but we cannot control our hearts and minds. ‘This condition of anxiety,’ says Paul, ‘is something which is in a sense outside your own control, it happens apart from you and in spite of you’. And how true that is to experience. Recall any occasion when you were in this condition of anxiety. Remember how it could not be controlled. You were lying awake and you would have given the whole world if you could only sleep. But your mind would not let you sleep, your heart would not let you sleep. The heart and the mind are outside our control. We would give the whole world if we could but stop the heart and the mind from going on working, from revolving and thinking and so keeping us awake. Here is profound psychology indeed, and the apostle does not hesitate to use it. Here, once more, we come across the wonderful realism of the Scriptures, their utter absolute honesty, their recognition of man as he is. So the apostle tells us that in this way the heart and the mind, or if you prefer it, the depth of one’s being, tends to produce this state of anxiety. Here the ‘heart’ does not only mean the seat of emotions, it means the very central part of one’s personality. The ‘mind’ can be translated, if you like, by the term thought. We have all, alas, experienced this condition and we know exactly what the apostle means. The heart has feelings and emotions. If a dear one is taken ill how the heart begins to work! Your concern, your very love for the person, is the cause of the anxiety. If you thought nothing of the person you would not be anxious. There you see where the heart and the affections come in. Not only that, the imagination! What a prolific cause of anxiety is the imagination. You are confronted with a situation, but if it were merely that, you would probably be able to lie down and go to sleep. But the imagination comes in and you begin to think: ‘What if this or that should happen? Everything is fairly under control tonight, but what if by tomorrow morning the temperature should be up, or what if this condition should arise and lead to that?’ You go on thinking for hours, agitated by these imaginations. Thus your heart keeps you awake.
Or then, not so much in the realm of imagination but more in the realm of the mind and of pure thought, you find yourself beginning to consider possibilities and you put up positions and deal with them and analyse them and you say: ‘If that should take place we shall have to make this arrangement, or we shall have to do that’. You see how it works. The heart and the mind are in control. We are the victims of thoughts; in this condition of anxiety we are the victims; it is the heart and the mind, these powers that are within us and which are outside our control that are mastering us and tyrannizing over us. The apostle tells us that this is something which at all costs we must avoid. I need not dwell upon the reason for that. I think we must all know it from experience. In this state of anxiety we spend the whole of our time reasoning and arguing and chasing imaginations. And in that state we are useless. We do not want to speak to other people. We may appear to be listening to them as they speak in conversation, but our mind is chasing these possibilities. And so, alas, our testimony is useless. We are of no value to others and above all we lose the joy of the Lord.
But let us hurry to the second principle. What have we to do in order to avoid that inner turmoil? What does the apostle teach us here?
This is where we come to that which is peculiarly and specifically Christian. If I do nothing else I trust that I shall be enabled to show you the eternal difference between the Christian way of dealing with anxiety and the psychological way or the common-sense way. Some of my friends seem to feel that I am rather hard on psychology but let me indulge in a little apologia. Psychology, I believe, is one of the most subtle dangers in connection with the Christian faith. People sometimes think that they are being sustained by the Christian faith when what they have is merely a psychological mechanism in operation; and it breaks down in a real crisis. We do not preach psychology, we preach the Christian faith.
Let me show you, then, the difference between the Christian way of dealing with anxiety and this other method. What does the apostle tell us to do when we are threatened by anxiety? He does not just say: ‘Stop worrying’. That is what common-sense and psychology say: ‘Stop worrying, pull yourself together’. The apostle does not say that for the good reason that to tell a person in that condition to stop worrying is useless.Incidentally it is also bad psychology. That is what is called repression. If you happen to be a strong-willed person you can hold these things from the conscious mind with the result that they then go on working in the unconscious mind and that is what is called repression. That condition is even worse than anxiety itself. But not only that, it is so idle to tell the average person to stop worrying—that is why I say Paul’s ‘psychology’ is so important. It is the very thing they cannot do. They would like to, but they cannot. It is like telling a hopeless drunkard to stop drinking. He cannot, because he is helpless in the grip of this lust and passion. In the same way the Bible does not say: ‘Do not worry, it may never happen’. This is a popular psychological slogan and people think it is very wonderful—‘Why worry, it may never happen’—but if anyone says that to me when I am in this state, my reaction is: ‘Yes, but it may happen. That is my problem. What if it does happen? That is the essence of my problem, so it does not help me to say it may never happen.
The third negative is this. People tend to say to those wretched people who are anxious and worried: ‘You must not worry, it is wrong to worry, and all the worry in the world will not make any difference’. Now that is perfectly true, it is sound common-sense. The psychologists in their turn say: ‘Do not waste your energy. The fact that you are worrying is not going to affect the position at all’. ‘Ah, yes,’ I say, ‘that is all right, that is perfectly true; but, you know, it does not get at the source of my trouble for this good reason. I am concerned with what may happen. I agree when you put it to me that worrying is not going to affect the position, but the position remains and it is the position that is causing me this anxiety. What you say is perfectly true but it does not deal with my particular situation’. In other words all these methods fail to deal with the situation because they never realize the power of what Paul calls ‘the heart’ and ‘the mind’—these things that grip us. That is why none of the psychology and common-sense methods are finally of any use.
What then does the apostle say? He puts his remedy in the form of a positive injunction. ‘Let your requests be made known unto God.’ That is the answer. But now, here, it is of vital importance that we should know precisely and in detail how to deal with this. The apostle says: ‘Let your requests be made known unto God’. ‘Alas!’ says many a sufferer, ‘I have tried, I have prayed; but I have not found the peace you speak of. I have not had an answer. It is no use telling me to pray.’ Fortunately for us the apostle realized that also, and he has given us particular instructions for the carrying out of his injunction. ‘Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.’ Is the apostle just tumbling out one word after another, or is he speaking advisedly? I can show you that he is indeed speaking advisedly as he shows us how to let our requests be made known unto God.
How are we to do that? First he tells us to pray. He differentiates between prayer and supplication and thanksgiving. What does he mean by prayer? This is the most general term and it means worship and adoration. If you have problems that seem insoluble, if you are liable to become anxious and overburdened, and somebody tells you to pray, do not rush to God with your petition. That is not the way. Before you make your requests known unto God, pray, worship, adore. Come into the presence of God and for the time being forget your problems. Do not start with them. Just realize that you are face to face with God. In this word ‘prayer’ the idea of being face to face is inherent in the very word itself. You come into the presence of God and you realize the presence and you recollect the presence—that is the first step always. Even before you make your requests known unto God you realize that you are face to face with God, that you are in His presence and you pour out your heart in adoration. That is the beginning.
But following prayer comes supplication. Now we are moving on. Having worshipped God because God is God, having offered this general worship and adoration, we come now to the particular, and the apostle here encourages us to make our supplications. He tells us that we can take particular things to God, that petition is a legitimate part of prayer. So we bring our petitions, the particular things that are now concerning us.
We are now coming nearer to letting our requests be made known. But wait, there is still one other thing—‘by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving’. That is one of the most vital of all these terms; And it is just here that so many of us go astray when we are in this condition with which the apostle is dealing. I trust it is unnecessary that I should digress to point out that in connection with these steps the apostle was not merely interested in liturgical forms. What a tragedy that people should take an interest in the form of worship in a mere liturgical sense. That is not what the apostle is concerned about. He is not interested in formality, he is interested in worship, and thanksgiving is absolutely essential for this reason. If, while we pray to God, we have a grudge against Him in our hearts, we have no right to expect that the peace of God will keep our heart and our mind. If we go on our knees feeling that God is against us, we may as well get up and go out. No, we must approach Him ‘with thanksgiving’. There must be no doubt as to the goodness of God in our heart. There must be no question or query; we must have positive reasons for thanking God. We have our problems and troubles but there on our knees we must ask ourselves: What can I thank God for?’ We have to do that deliberately and it is something that we can do. We must remind ourselves of it. We must say: ‘I may be in trouble at the moment, but I can thank God for my salvation and that He has sent His Son to die on the Cross for me and for my sins. There is a terrible problem facing me, I know, but He has done that for me. I thank God that He sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; into the world. I will thank Him for bearing my sins in His own body on the tree, I will thank Him for rising again for my justification. I will pour out my heart in thanksgiving for that. I will thank Him for the many blessings I have received in the past’. We must just work out with our mind and with all our energy the reasons for thanking and praising God. We must remind ourselves that He is our Father, that He loves us so much that the very hairs of our head are all numbered. And when we have reminded ourselves of these things we must pour out our heart in thanksgiving. We must be in the right relationship to God. We must realize the truth concerning Him. Therefore we must come into His presence with a loving, praising, worshipping, adoration and confident faith and then make our requests known unto Him. The prayer that Paul advocates, in other words, is not a desperate cry in the dark, not some frantic appeal to God without any real thought. No, no, we first realize and recollect that we are worshipping a blessed, glorious God. We worship first and then we make our requests known.
Let me hurry on to the third great principle, and that is the gracious promise of God to all who do this. We have seen what we have to do, we have been instructed as to how we are to deal with it, and now comes the gracious promise to those who do what the apostle has just been telling us. This is, of course, the best of all, but we must learn how to look at it. Have you noticed the promise, have you noticed its character, have you noticed that it does not even mention the things that are worrying you? That is the peculiar thing about the Christian method of dealing with anxiety. ‘In all things,’ says the apostle—these things that are worrying—make your requests known and God will banish and remove them all?’ But Paul does not say that. He does not mention them, he just says nothing about them. To me that is one of the most thrilling things about the Christian life. The glory of the gospel is this, that it is concerned about us and not about our circumstances. The final triumph of the gospel is seen in this, that whatever our circumstances, we ourselves can be put right and maintained. It does not mention our condition, it does not talk about these things that are harassing and perplexing, it does not say a single word about them. They may or they may not happen, I do not know. Paul does not say that the thing feared is not going to take place, he says that we shall be kept whether it happens or whether it does not happen. Thank God, that is the victory. I am taken above circumstances, I am triumphant in spite of them.
That is the great principle. We all tend to be tyrannized by circumstances because we depend upon them, and we would like them to be governed and controlled, but that is not the way in which the Scripture deals with the situation. What the apostle says is this: ‘Make your requests known unto God, and the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds’. He will keep you absolutely safe from these things which are keeping you awake and preventing your sleep. They will be kept outside, and you will be kept in peace in spite of them.
Again I would point out that never does the apostle say that if we pray, our prayer in and of itself will make us feel better. It is a disgraceful thing that people should pray for that reason. That is the psychologists’ use of prayer. They tell us that if we are in trouble it will do us good to pray—very good psychology, thoroughly bad Christianity. Prayer is not auto-suggestion.
Neither does he say: ‘Pray, because while you are praying you will not be thinking about that problem, and therefore you will have temporary relief’. Again good psychology but bad Christianity.
Neither does he say: ‘If you fill your mind with thoughts of God and Christ these thoughts will push out the other things’. Once more good psychology but nothing to do with Christianity.
Neither does he say, and I say this advisedly; ‘Pray, because prayer changes things’. No, it does not. Prayer does not ‘change things’. That is not what the apostle says, that is again psychology and has nothing to do with the gospel at all. What the apostle says is this: ‘You pray and make your requests known unto God, and God will do something’. It is not your prayer that is going to do it, it is not you who are going to do it, but God. ‘The peace of God that passeth all understanding’—He, through it all, ‘will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’.
I must say a word about that expression ‘keeping’ your hearts and minds. It means garrisoning, guarding—a number of words can be used. It conjures up a picture. What will happen is that this peace of God will walk round the ramparts and towers of our life. We are inside, and the activities of the heart and mind are producing those stresses and anxieties and strains from the outside. But the peace of God will keep them all out and we ourselves inside will be at perfect peace. It is God that does it. It is not ourselves, it is not prayer, it is not some psychological mechanism. We make our requests known unto God, and God does that for us and keeps us in perfect peace.
What shall we say of this phrase: ‘The peace of God that passeth all understanding’? You cannot understand this peace, you cannot imagine it, you cannot even believe it in a sense, and yet it is happening and you are experiencing it and enjoying it. It is God’s peace that is in Christ Jesus. What does he mean by that? He is telling us that this peace of God works by presenting the Lord Jesus Christ to us and reminding us about Him. To put it in terms of the argument of the Epistle to the Romans: ‘If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life’ (Romans 5:10). ‘All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.’ ‘He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things’ (Romans 8:28, 32). ‘I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38, 39). The argument is that if God has done that supreme thing for us in the death of His Son upon the Cross He cannot forsake us now, He cannot leave us half-way, as it were. So the peace of God that passeth all understanding keeps our hearts and minds through, or in, Christ Jesus. In that way God guarantees our peace and our freedom from anxiety.
I end with just a word on the last principle, which is the all inclusiveness of the promise. ‘In nothing be careful’—‘be careful for nothing, but in all things’. It does not matter what they are, there is no limit in it. Beloved Christian, whatever it is that is tending to get you down, tending to make you a victim of this anxiety, this morbid care, harassing and spoiling your Christian life and witness, whatever it is, let it be known unto God in that way, and if you do so it is absolutely guaranteed that the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall guard, keep, garrison your heart and mind. That mighty turmoil of heart and mind within you will not affect you. Like the Psalmist you will lay yourself down and you will sleep, you will know this perfect peace. Do you know this, have you got this peace? Is this another bit of theory or does it actually happen? I assert that nearly two thousand years of Christian history—the story of the Christian Church—proclaim that this is a fact. Read the stories of the saints and the martyrs and the Confessors. Why, you get the same evidence in contemporary stories. Recently I read of an experience told by John George Carpenter, until a few years ago the General of the Salvation Army. He tells how he and his wife had to part with their daughter, a lovely girl, of whom they were so fond and proud and who had dedicated her young life to foreign mission work in the East. Suddenly she was taken ill with typhoid fever. Of course, they began to pray, but John Carpenter and Mrs. Carpenter somehow felt, although they could not explain it, that they could not pray for that child’s recovery. They went on praying but their prayer was—’Thou canst heal her if Thou wilt’—they could not positively ask God to heal her, only—‘Thou canst if Thou wilt’. They could get no further. They went on like that for six weeks and then this beautiful girl died. The very morning she died John Carpenter said to Mrs. Carpenter: ‘You know, I am aware of a strange and curious calm within’, and Mrs. Carpenter replied and said, ‘I feel exactly the same’. And she said to him: ‘This must be the peace of God’. And it was the peace of God. It was the peace of God keeping the heart and mind quiet in the sense that they could not upset the person. There they were, they had made their request known in the right way, and to their amazement and astonishment—they were almost chiding themselves because of it—this amazing calm and peace had come to them. They could not understand it, and that was the only explanation—‘it must be the peace of God’. It was. Thank God for it. You and I cannot explain these things, they overpower us; but He is Almighty. With prayer and supplication and thanksgiving, therefore, let your requests be made known unto Him, and He, through His peace in Christ, will keep your heart and mind at rest and in peace. (260-272)