In the book of Philippians, Paul encouraged the believers to pray and present our requests to God with thanksgiving. It is easy to give thanks for something that has already been settled, be it God’s providence in meeting a financial crisis or physical/emotional healings received. But how do we give thanks for something that has yet to be resolved, amidst all the worries, anxiety and onslaughts by the enemies? What exactly should we be thankful for?
“The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:5-7
As I ponder over this question, I realise that first and foremost we should be thankful that we can turn to God whom we could pray to. In the beginning of verse 5, it was declared the Lord is near. Since Paul was still alive when he authored the book, we can be sure that the Lord was taken up not too long ago (Acts 1:9). In Paul’s timeframe, the Lord is near in the sense that He will be coming again very soon for the believers and hence He is near. The Lord is also near in terms of proximity since He is omnipresent. But He is all the more near in the sense that He loves and cares for us, as if He is standing right next to us or even carrying us though our difficult moments. So the near-ness could be seen in the light of time, space and divine relationship confounded together into the simple word - near. We can be thankful that we could pray to God who is near.
In Phil 1:13, we understand that Paul was imprisoned for the sake of Christ when he authored the book of Philippians. And this prisoner would soon be put on death row. It is in this life threatening context that Paul encouraged the believers to give thanks when we present our requests to God. What is in the mind of this great man of God when he said that? If we could peep into the mind of this godly man, we could learn much and better respond to the life challenges that we are facing. As I think about it, I wonder if Paul had an eternal frame of mind when he said that. Let me unpack what I think is the case.
As we read Acts 19:21, we know that Paul had indicated his wish of going to Rome for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Lord revealed Himself to Paul that indeed he must testify about Him in Rome (Acts 23:11). Paul knew very well that going to Rome to preach about Christ was his personal life mission. Rome was the very place that God called him to. We could easily pick up the scents throughout the book of Philippians. And Paul did not fail to mention the fruits of his works, that even those who belong to Caesar’s household had come to faith in the Lord (Phil 4:22). He mentioned it in order to encourage the believers. In short, when the roman parliamentarians were debating over what to do with him, and probably with the Jewish leaders cheering behind his imprisonment, I think Paul was as calm as a toad in the sun. Paul was contended because he knew he was in the will of God (Phil 1:12). He had the eternal frame of mind and understanding, and was not distracted by the environment and happenings. Hence, he could say that, “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Being in the will of God, means seeing the bigger picture from God’s perspective and realising the purpose of our lives. It means having a sense of the right direction that you are heading towards. No doubt there will always be ups and downs in our lives, yet you can still take comfort in the fact that you are heading towards the right direction, and be thankful for being in the right direction. It is something that we can be thankful about, even as we pray over the finer details and struggles. Isn't true that there will always be opposition for being in the right direction? Even Jesus faced opposition during His rescue mission on earth because of the Enemy, and I am sure it happened to Paul's missional trips as well. While it does not render the struggles and challenges any less real, it does provide a new perspective of looking at earthly things, drawing strength and grace from the spiritual realm. Hence, we can always give thanks for something that we are still praying over.