These two verses are an exceptionally fine statement of the Christian doctrine of prayer. What is prayer? Prayer is talking with God, and the place to begin in any definition of prayer is with the fact that prayer is for believers only. Paul did not write his words about prayer to the pagan world at Philippi or to the world at large. He wrote them “to the saints in Christ Jesus” at Philippi. This means that prayer is exclusively for Christians. It is the means by which an empty soul that has been touched by Jesus Christ can be thrust beneath the life-giving fountain of God’s grace, can bask in God’s goodness, and can be supernaturally refreshed for life’s tasks. Prayer is the Christian’s antidote for anxiety.
I know something called prayer is offered a billion times daily by millions of people who are not Christians, but this is not prayer in any real sense. Scores of non-Christian people in the East spend the better part of a day spinning prayer wheels. Savages chant prayers in many jungle clearings. New Agers finger prayer beads. Many poor souls cry out a prayer in the midst of some calamity. Many non-Christians give themselves to a life of meditation. But this is not true prayer, if the person involved is not a Christian. Prayer is talking to God, and the only prayer that God hears and answers is one that is made through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone provides access to His presence.
This truth was taught by Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus did not say that He was one of several ways to come to God, that He was a prophet who pointed out the ways to God; He said that He was the way to come to God, and He added, lest anyone misunderstand Him, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This means that no prayer offered to God apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has ever reached God his heavenly Father. There are more passages in the Bible that tell when God will not answer prayer than there are passages in which He promises to do it, and God definitely says He will not answer the prayer of anyone who does not come through faith in His Son.
Have you ever tried to pray and found God distant and unreal? Have you gone away without any real hope that God has heard you? It may be that you have never done the first thing God requires. Your sin divides you like a wall from God’s presence. It will only be removed by Jesus Christ. You need to come to Him. You need to say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I recognize that I am separated from you by my sin; but I believe you died for me to remove that sin forever. Remove it now, and accept me as your child. Amen.” If you do that, God will remove your sin, and He will accept you as His child forever. Now we must also add that although it is true that God does not hear the prayer of non-Christians, it is also true that He does not hear prayers offered by many Christians. In fact, the Bible says that God will never hear a Christian’s prayer so long as the Christian is clinging to some sin in his heart. If this describes you, you must confess your sin openly and frankly, knowing that God “is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We can only pray if our lives are open books before Him.
Everything that has been noted up to this point has ourselves as the center; but if you know what prayer is, you know also that prayer necessarily involves other people. The Bible calls such prayer “intercession” (1 Tim 2:1). As we meet with God in prayer – at the beginning of a day, at its end, or in any moment throughout it – these concerns should also be a part of our conversation with Him. We should have great boldness as we present the concerns of others.
There is one other point about prayer that comes directly from this passage. Prayer is not only talking with God, nor is it only intercession for others. Prayer is also an opportunity to present our requests to Him. Paul calls them petitions. God invites us to place our earnest requests before Him. This is God’s cure for anxiety. Christians are troubled about many things. You may be troubled about your work, your family, the future, money, sex, or happiness. God invites you to place your request about these things before Him. The promise of the verse is that the peace of God will keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 Reflection Questions:
Are you clinging to some sin in your heart? Repent now!
What type of relationship with God would you say you have?
What is your definition of “praying without ceasing?”
How did God answer Paul’s prayer while in chains in Rome? Did he get peace?