Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
– Philippians 4:6
One of the privileges of this time of year is Thanksgiving; for us Canadians this is our second go-around of Thanksgiving dinners and reflections. We live in a world that we might find ourselves discouraged by what the hectic pace of life takes out of us. We can often feel like we are on purely survival mode and emotionally grasping to feel thankful. We understand theologically that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights (James 1:17). We understand biblically that we are always to give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18). We have many things that we are thankful for – family, kids, job, roof over our head, our freedom, the opportunities for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and a host of other things that are unique to your context of life. But in spite of all that sometimes it is hard to feel thankful and that is what this verse addresses.
The greatest enemy to being thankful is anxiety (Phil. 4:6). Anxiety is the fruit of lots of other complex problems: stress, busyness, loss of opportunities, anger, greed, divisions, envy, broken relationships, competition, and quarrels, among others. When we compromise our relationship with God through immorality, impurity, idolatry, strife and other spiritual diversions we experience anxiety not unlike Adam and Eve when they hid from God after they disobeyed God in the garden.
The privilege of the believer, the child of God is not only are there things that we are thankful for, we also know who we can be thankful to – God! James reminded us that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights – He is generous, abundant and gracious to us. The most important aspect of His gifts that we can be thankful for is the gift of life (James 1:18).
When our circumstances, or people or our own choices box us in with pressures that we are unable to handle we get anxious. Sometimes we get anxious because we cannot control the outcomes of our circumstances. For some it is relationship, others its money, for other still it is image and success. But one thing that we are told here is that the great enemy of being thankful is anxiety. But the text tells us that God commands us to stop being anxious about the things that surround us and overwhelm our capabilities and turn our thoughts to the Father and bring our anxious thoughts and circumstances before Him. When we adopt the attitude to be thankful when we come before our Father we demonstrate a spirit of trust and confidence that our life is not out of control but God is guiding us through circumstances that teach us to rely on Him and not ourselves. Not all learning situations are pleasant, in fact most are not because growth requires something to change from the way it is presently. Growth requires us to implicitly trust God to use such things, even difficult ones, for our ultimate good. Somewhere in the crucible of physical, emotional or spiritual anguish, the Spirit of God effectively uses such experiences to shape substantive changes to our character and spirit that otherwise could not be made.
James tells us to consider it all joy when we encounter various trials (James 1:2-3); 1 Thessalonians 5:16 tells us to rejoice always; Romans tells us that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). The greatest cure for anxiety is our confidence that God has his hand on our lives and the circumstances that He permits or orchestrates to grow us into Christ-likeness.
Philippians 4:6 commands us not to keep on being anxious. The cure is that in everything we approach the throne of God in prayer with supplication and thanksgiving and be transparent with God. Verse seven does not indicate God will change every circumstance but He will change us by giving us His peace.