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. (Philippians 4:6-7 NABRE)
The word “peace” has been paired with many other words throughout the years: war and peace, peace and quiet, and peace and love, to name several. Peace and anxiety, on the other hand, are very rarely used together with the exception of the above passage. Understanding the peace that the world offers is within the reach of the human mind, while “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” is a mystery that can only be realized through prayer.
Anxiety and the Lilies
Anxiety, in modern culture, seems to present itself everywhere we turn. The real concerns that involve daily life are like the wolf that seems to be constantly knocking on the door. Whether in sheep’s clothing or howling up a storm, the stress of being under the constant threat of injury and loss can be overwhelming. Protecting our jobs and households while maintaining a reasonable standard of living can produce a level of anxiety that is debilitating. Jesus calls us to a life of prayer, and gives us practical advice in scripture about worry and anxiety in the following passage from Luke, sometimes referred to as “Lilies of the Field”:
[Jesus] said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you — you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:22-31 NRSVCE)
“Why Are You Afraid?”
A common approach to seeking God’s peace is the “if/then” approach to prayer: “Lord, if you remove the source of my anxiety and give me what I need, then I will have peace.” The converse of that prayer, which is to seek the kingdom of God’s peace first, will put the things we strive for in proper perspective. Oftentimes, Jesus offers peace while we are still in the middle of dealing with our concerns, as He did on the boat during the storm with his disciples:
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and [the disciples] woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:37-40 NRSVCE)
There is a story about a pastor who once said “Lord, please get me out of this,” and the Lord replied, “I want to be with you in this!” The peace that the Lord offers is the peace of His presence. While we await being in God’s presence for all eternity, let us pray for the grace to encounter Christ in the here and now during the Advent and Christmas seasons.