When God Says, “Wait!”
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let
your requests be known to God and the peace of God that passes understanding will guard
your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
I’ve probably quoted this passage more than any other over the years while counseling people and
praying over. Plus, I’ve claimed it thousands of times for myself and given messages about it in
church. But I think I’m seeing some things in it that are rather new to me. I hope that it might make
quite a difference in how I apply its truth from now on. I want it to be clear that I’m not any kind of
hero of faith or tend to live in great victory over worry and anxiety. But possibly what I share here will
help us both be better at accessing God’s peace while we’re experiencing divine delays.
Be anxious for nothing…
Doesn’t that right there seem way too daunting? How can anyone live in this world of intense
peacelessness without any anxiety? And I mean that. I’m not setting you up for a - “Well, I’m gonna
share with you a sure-fire way to live without any anxiety.” I don’t believe that a life with absolutely
no anxiety, no stress, no worry is possible. I know that Paul said he’d learned to live “content in all
circumstances,” but I don’t think he was claiming to have never had another anxious moment or to
have avoided all worry and peacelessness. He was human. So are you and I. But I do think that he
got a handle on what kinds of things rob us of peace, and how we can access grace from God to
overcome their influence in our lives here in this sometimes disappointing and difficult world,
especially when our prayers aren’t answered the way we’d hoped.
I’d say if anyone had the permission to have some anxiety, it was Paul, especially when he was in
prison. There the Roman guards were most certainly terrorizing him and threatening to kill him any
day. But what an incredible person he was. He was the one in jail, he was the one suffering, and he
was the one dispensing with the encouragement to the Philippians. Help me, Lord in my prison cell,
to even think to encourage others!
…it feels like I am putting a slip of paper in the “Suggestion Box” for him
to peruse, discuss among the trinity, and
then either accept or reject the suggestion.
But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,
let your requests be known to God…
This seems pretty clear. Got a problem that’s causing you anxiety? Pray about it, bring it to God. But
it’s the “make your request known” phrase and the one that follows that stand out to me most these
days. There’s an element of prayer that lately seems to me more like a “Suggestion Box” than
anything else. I know this is not much of a faith-inspiring thought. And I know that those who are
more spiritual only ask for things that God asks them to ask for. They listen, he speaks, they ask, he
answers. I recommend it. I really do. It’s certainly my preferred M.O. of prayer. But honestly, there
are times, really most times, when I have no blessed idea what God is doing or what he wants (at
least in the short term). And so the default for me is I pray what seems to be the most God-glorifying,
people-benefiting, and self-advantageous thing. That’s when it feels like I am putting a slip of paper
in the “Suggestion Box” for him to peruse, discuss among the trinity, and then either accept or reject
It’s his business, he’s the proprietor, I’m just the customer. I can make suggestions, but he will make
the decisions. It’s as simple as that. He’s not asking us to help him run his kingdom. He doesn’t
need our help. He does want our participation, our contribution, our partnership, but it’s on his
terms, under his authority, and guided by his wisdom; not ours. So, unless he tells us what to ask
him for, we’re simply putting in our two cents in, hopefully guided by the wisdom of Scripture, and
leaving the results to him.
*Note: I wouldn’t usually consider us “customers” of God. It sounds like we’re buying something
(and it’s clear that we can’t afford anything he provides), and that he’s trying to make a profit (when
all he’s doing is trying to share himself with us). But I use it with limited scope to illustrate that he’s in
charge, and we’re not. He makes the decisions, and we don’t. He chooses to delay, deny, or
endorse our requests.
I appreciate the sentiment of Joab’s words to his brother, Abishai in 1 Chronicles 19:13 when going
into battle against the Arameans. “Be strong and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of
our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.” In other words, “Let’s do our part with all our
heart, and trust God to do what he chooses to do.” We have a job, and God has his. We can’t do
his, and he won’t do ours. We are only in charge of our own responsibility. The rest is in God’s
hands. Joab doesn’t make any grandiose promises for God, that he will win the victory. He simply
states that God has “good” in his mind and has the power to bring about whatever that good is. “He
will do what is good in his sight.” That’s the same promise we have. We have to do what we’re
supposed to do and then submit to what God calls “good” in each situation, even if it has little
resemblance to what we think of as “good.”
It’s his business, he’s the proprietor,
I’m just the customer. I can make suggestions,
but he will make the decisions.
I’m not at all saying that God doesn’t give big things to those who ask big. I agree with Billy Graham
who said, “Heaven is full of unopened gifts that we didn’t have the faith to ask for and receive while
here on earth.” I am saying that God reserves the right to give what, when, and to whom he decides.
On the cross, he purchased for us a great inheritance, but we don’t get the whole inheritance in this
life. We are merely “tasting the powers of the age to come.” We ask him for as much of it now as
he's willing to give, and then trust his answer. The prodigal son was insistent, and wanted his whole
inheritance now. Remember, it actually didn’t turn out real well for him when he got more than he
was ready for at the time. Jesus told us that if we ask for bread he won’t give us a stone. If we ask
for fish he won’t give us a snake. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he always gives us the bread
and fish we want. What he gives us will be good. It certainly won’t be bad. For sure it won’t be
something harmful (like a snake) or silly (like a stone.) But it may not be the bread or fish we were
wanting at the time. Some of the bread and fish that we want may come later in this life, or much
later in the next. Again, it’s his decision. Don’t forget, he’s the proprietor.
“No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” That doesn’t mean he never
withholds anything we ask for. He won’t refuse us anything that he knows, from his eternal
perspective, to be good for us at the time. Our problem is that since, “There is none good but God,”
we don’t really know what is good for us. We have to depend on him for that. “Every good and
perfect gift comes down from heaven…” So, though everything that he gives is good, he doesn’t
always give us the good thing now. Sometimes he gives it later while we’re still on earth and
sometimes when we’ve arrived in heaven.
That’s why I think he uses the term, “request” here. It’s certainly not the same as a demand, and not
even synonymous with a clear Holy Spirit led intercession. It’s a “request.” We’re stating what we
want to see, usually with a method we have in mind, and in a preferred time-frame. I know there are
many other ways to pray, and some say we should always do it one way or another. Some tell us
that there are spiritually magic words that include a firm declaration something like – “I declare this
bad thing to be gone and the good to come now in the Name of Jesus.” Others pray – “If it’s your
will, Lord…” Some are dead set against saying, “If it’s your will…” Others are more subtle – “Please
bring something that will help us today…” I want you to know, that I’m not in the practice of
scrutinizing anyone else’s prayers. Frankly, I have a hard enough time with my own prayers to
wonder if someone else is praying right. I figure that our prayers all pretty much all go up to God in
the Revised Version anyway, and then he answers according to what he knows is best.
My point is that I noticed that Paul used the word, “request” here, and wonder if he’s actually
alluding to requests that get denied or delayed. That’s how God seems to respond to some of our
requests – with a “No” or a “Wait.” Paul doesn’t say, “Make your requests known and when you get
what you asked for, praise him.” No, he says, “make your requests and the peace of God will guard
your heart and mind.” Now, if he were talking about answered prayer (the kind that comes with an
immediate “yes” and you see the “yes” by the immediate result – you know the kind, right?), why
would Paul encourage us with a promise of “peace?” Why would he say, “Make your request and
the peace will come,” if he weren’t talking about a delayed or denied prayer? When do you need
peace, right after your prayers are answered or when they’re not? Joy and gratitude are automatics
to me when he immediately does the thing I’m asking for. There’s no crisis of peace when he says,
“Yes.” It’s when I see nothing happening that I need his peace to cope with the delay. And that’s
what Paul is promising – peace for the long haul of the delay or the change of direction for a denial.
I figure that our prayers all pretty much all go up
to God in the Revised Version anyway,
and then he answers according to
what he knows is best.
The Bible speaks about delays. The final reference to delay is in Revelation 10:6, “There will be no
more delay!” There will be a day when there are no more delays, but today is not that day (note the
context of the final days of the earth in Revelation 10). Today is the day of many delays. We can
certainly request for God to not delay. David wrote in Psalm 40:17, “Oh my God, do not delay.” But
of course, it’s his prerogative to delay or not. God doesn’t seem to like being rushed by people. In
Isaiah 5:19 he says, “Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with
cart ropes, to those who say, “Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it
approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it.” When God is ready to
act, he acts - and sometimes quickly. In Isaiah 60:22 he says, “I am the Lord, in its time I will do this
swiftly.” The key is “in its time.” When God says it’s time, it’s time. When he says it’s not, it’s not.
Again in Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore the Lord will wait, that he may be gracious to you… Blessed are
all those who wait for him.” (NKJV) Sometimes what he has in mind for us, he’s waiting for it to be
time for us to receive. He waits, but only so he can be gracious to us. It behooves us therefore, to
wait with him. We must endure the delay since there’s grace on the other side of it.
There will be a day when there are no more delays,
but today is not that day…
When God gives us the delay or denial answer then we have to trust that his plan will fall under the
category one of the many things that he intends to “work together for our good.” When God doesn’t
fix what’s broken, then he seems to have a plan for using the broken parts to make something even
better. Since every good and perfect gift comes from him, either he’ll give us a good gift immediately
(the Yes answer) or eventually (the Denial or Delay answers) through the process of time and
sovereign energy. Either way, he’s good and gets his gifts delivered to those who ask. Make sense?
So, obviously he’s telling us to be thankful before we get the answer we’re looking for, as well after.
We can always be thankful, right? Thanksgiving is an attitude more than an action in my opinion.
We want that attitude to be able to endure the delays and denials. It demonstrates trust. And God
seems to like that. It also develops trust, and that’s good for us. So what’s the downside of being
thankful in advance of or during the delays of the answers?
By the way, I’m absolutely allergic to formulaic Christianity. I’m talking about the kind that has us
saying lists of things in the right way in the right version in the right sequence in order to get God to
act the way we want him to act. If God prioritizes formulas, and I don’t find out about it till I go to
heaven, I’m going to be shocked for at least the first thousand years. I simply don’t see the Lord
being like a nervous Grammar Teacher, who insists on every “i” dotted and “t” crossed before he’ll
act on our behalf. I stubbornly resist the teaching that if I praise him when I’m in trouble, he has to
get me out of it because I praised him. I’ve read the books and heard the testimonies too, and I just
have to chalk it up to God doing what he does when he wants to, whether or not our theology is
accurate or our books are written right.
So to my mind, it’s not a formula, but an attitude of gratitude that he requires. He likes it, it’s good for
us. It puts his goodness in front of us. And that’s always a good idea, especially if he’s about to
require us to wait. One thing that Satan often does when you’re not getting the answer you wanted
is assist you in being skeptical about the goodness of God. That’s how he got to Eve, and he hasn’t
changed tactics since. So, cultivate the attitude of gratitude by setting your sights on his goodness
and say, “Thanks!” a lot, even before you get what you want.
And the peace of God…
Again, I point out that Paul doesn’t say here (though you’ll find it in many other places in Scripture),
“And God will deliver you… God will answer your prayers… God will make it all better…” He simply
says, “His peace will come and protect your hearts and minds.” In other words, it seems clear here
that Paul is referring to unanswered prayers, prayers that get the No or Wait answer, prayers that
don’t achieve what the pray-er intended. And what do you need when that happens? Frankly, what I
usually need at that point more than any other thing is “peace.” I don’t need peace to protect my
heart and mind when my prayers are answered. I’ve got victory, and that brings immediate peace.
When the battle is won, the war is over and there’s automatic peace as a result. It’s when the war is
still raging even after I’ve asked for a resolution, that I’m in need of some real peace in my soul to
help me persevere in the fight. I think that Paul is telling us how to stay on track when we don’t get
what we want when we want it. He’s giving us advance notice that some of our prayers won’t get
their desired results in the way we’d hoped or in the time frame we were hoping. Make your
requests, leave the results to God, and be at peace. (Oh, if it were that simple! I guess it is that
simple, but I complicate it and often forfeit the peace I could have if I simply trusted him more.)
Paul is telling us how to stay on track
when we don’t get what we want when we want it.
There are two key, “Whatevers,” in Philippians. It may not seem like a concept to which the Apostle
of great faith would ascribe, but hear me out. The first is, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in
a manner worthy of the gospel.” (1:27) And the second, “I’ve learned in whatever the circumstances
to be content.” (4:11) Whatever happens (whether your prayers are delayed or denied) act like
Christians. And, whatever you’re going through, whether you have what you want or not, be content.
At the very least, Paul is telling us that he didn’t always know what was coming. He was prophetic
and all, but God didn’t seem to be giving him a blow-by-blow account of the future. It also means to
me that he knew that he wasn’t always going to get the “yes” answer to his prayers. He prayed
knowing that God would do what he himself thought best. So, “whatever happens,” do this and not
Therefore, in our passage, he’s not promising them that God will change anything about their
anxiety-producing-circumstances (although he often does do that). Rather, he’s encouraging them
that if they don’t get the answer they want, they will get the peace they need to cope with it.
“God fixes a fix to fix us. If we try to fix the fix
before the fix fixes us, he fixes another fix to fix us!”
That passes understanding…
I’ve always interpreted this to mean that this peace is so great that it defies rational thought. It
doesn't come by reasoning and it could be construed as a peace that is beyond reason, given the
difficult circumstances we’re in. It is so supernatural that it looks like it comes out of nowhere. It’s
so wonderful, that it can’t be tested in a lab. God gives it and we’re grateful for it. And while there
might have been elements of these things in Paul’s mind, I don’t think that is what he intended as his
main thought when he said, “a peace that passes all understanding.”
When he says, “Peace that passes understanding…” I don’t think that he’s so much describing the
quality of the peace, but the function of it. He’s not saying, “It’s so great that it surpasses your ability
to describe it.” Rather, he’s describing what it does. “His peace is an alternative to reasoning, to
figuring it all out and working yourself into an anxious fit. It does something better than figuring it out
(which you can’t do anyway!). With this peace, Jesus will protect your heart and mind from
destructive wayward and renegade thoughts.”
What happens to me sometimes (much more lately) when my prayers aren’t answered is I begin to
reason about it, evaluate myself, scrutinize God, go through a mental list of what exactly might be
happening here. (By the way, I know that there is some value in re-evaluating when our prayers are
not answered. I’ve personally given teachings on the reasons for unanswered prayers. There are
factors to take into account like unforgiveness in our hearts, lack of faith, unconfessed sin, demonic
impediment, and so on. But beyond that mental check list, I don’t recommend any sort of tedious
witch-hunt for the forgotten or neglected factor for unanswered prayer.)
Until recently, I have done precious little of asking the “Why” question when going through difficulty.
“Why are you allowing this, God? Why has this happened? Why are you not changing this
situation?” I didn’t used to ask the “Why Question” a lot, not because I had such great faith, but
mostly because I’ve found it fruitless. He has almost never answered me when I’ve asked it. And
why ask questions tht seldom, if ever, get answered? I learned a long time ago that the better
question for me to ask is, “What?” “What should I do now? What do you want of me? I’m in this
mess, you’re not changing the mess, so what should be my next move?” But I have to admit that
with an inordinate pile-up of pain in my life recently, the “Why Question” has come up like vomit -
unplanned and irrepressible. It looks to relieve the emotional nausea within.
I do recommend full disclosure to God of all of ones’ feelings and emotions. He can take it. He loves
for us to be real and honest with him. Look at all of the intensely emotional journal entries of David
and others in the Bible who spewed their guts to God while struggling through their challenges.
Sometimes this release can help. It’s like beating on Daddy’s knee when you’re mad you are at him,
wearing yourself out, and ending up in his lap.
But it’s when I’m trying to figure it all out, giving too much effort to the fruitless cause of making my
situation reasonable, that I lose my peace. Is this circumstance all my fault? Is it someone else’s? Is
God even listening? Is he involved? Maybe he’s not good? Maybe he’s not sovereign? Maybe he
doesn’t really heal people’s marriages or bodies. Maybe he just fixes certain people? While I’m
trying to figure it all out peace flies like a bird out the window.
I say this, because I think this is the kind of thing that Paul is speaking to in his letter to the
Philippians. He’s talking to people who either are, or will become disappointed with God at some
point. God won’t say yes to their prayers, or at the very least he delays the yes so long that the yes
seemed like a no. They’ve made their “requests known to God.” He didn’t come through as
expected, and now what do they do? My inclination is to reason it out, to figure it out, working myself
into a frenzy, and thus forfeiting my peace.
God’s peace, Paul says “surpasses understanding.” It is better than understanding. It is something
that you need when you don’t understand what is going on with God’s delay. It’s a peace that you
need when you don’t understand why you are in such a difficult situation and not getting the relief
you’d hoped for from God. It’s more productive than analyzing or scrutinizing. It’s better than the
wrestling of reasoning. In fact, the more of that kind of wrestling you do, the less peace you’ll have.
So, when your circumstances stay the same or even worsen, lift up your hands, give it to God for
him to figure out for you, and receive his peace.
His peace is better than
the wrestling of reasoning...
Speaking of “lifting your hands,” Paul wrote to Timothy, “I want men to lift up holy hands and pray
without wrath and doubting.” “Wrath and doubting,” are better translated, “anger and reasoning.”
When we lift our hands it’s a sign that we’re giving it to God, right? We’re putting things in his
hands for him to figure out and to fix if he wants to. In my case, if I don’t put things in his hands, my
first default position is getting “angry” either at the circumstance, the persons behind it, or at God for
not fixing it. Anger or peace? Which do I choose?
If you think about it, reasoning can be a form of doubting. Not that all reasoning is doubting or
counterproductive in any way. But it can be an alternative to trust. It’s where I’m trying to figure it all
out when all I can really do is trust that the Lord knows what he’s doing. We’re told to, “Trust in the
Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding.” Obviously Solomon is not saying,
“Don’t use your understanding.” He’s just saying, don’t lean on it. Don’t depend on it alone. Wade in
the shallow end until it gets too deep, and then swim. Be willing to leave your feet and be carried
along by the current, where you’re not so much in control anymore.
And for me, when it’s not anger, it’s “reasoning” that I fall into like a steep pit. I try to figure it out. I
wrack my brain for reasons for the situation and for God’s lack of intervention. I troubleshoot rather
than trust. This M.O. neither brings change, nor peace. I have to lift up my hands and give these
things to God, not giving into wrath or reasoning.
The word for “reasoning” (doubting) connotes a bringing together of different reasons. It’s when
you're getting all the facts together, all those loose pieces of data, and making a judgment. And at
face value, it sounds like a virtue - a good idea. But Paul tells us that it’s really not good for your
prayer life. When relating to God, we’re better off letting go of any obsession with “figuring it out.”
He uses the same term, “reasoning,” in Romans 1:21 when he speaks of God-rejectors who, “…
though they neither knew God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking (reasoning) became futile
and their foolish hearts were darkened.” They were trying to live without God at their center. When
you do that, you’re pretty much on your own to figure life out. That’s fine when life is cooperative
and easy. But when it doesn’t go so well, and you’re on your own to reason it out – well, good luck
to you! You can trust God to unravel it (or at least give you peace while he makes you wait) or you
can engage in “futile reasoning.” You can put your hands up (in a posture of receptivity), let go of
your best laid plans, and wait for God to do whatever he does. Or you can put your hands up (in a
boxer’s stance), get all angry about what God is or isn’t doing, and bring all your facts and figures
into the argument so that you’re assured of a win in the ring with God. One leads to peace, the other
to even more anxiety than you started with.
I recently wrote this in my journal about Isaiah 50:10-11 (my words in parenthesis) …
“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark
(Man, have I been doing that for the last year or what!? Darkness everywhere… I noticed from the
passage that the darkness isn’t reserved only for the disobedient. In this case, those who fear the
Lord and obey are the ones walking in the blackness… ), who has no light, trust in the name of the
Lord and rely on his God (Yes, Lord, help me do just that!). But now (and help me not fit into this
category of the “but now”…), all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go,
walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze (No, Lord. I don’t want MY
light, my torch, my way, but YOURS…). This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie
down in torment. (This lying down in torment sounds to me not so much like death, physical
judgment, or pain; but rather the mental anguish of fear and dread… It’s not that you will torture me,
but I torture myself when I try to fix things myself. When I can’t sleep at night because of worry and
anxiety it’s because of the torment that my humanly generated torch will go out, that it won’t be
enough… And of course it will go out, it will prove insufficient… But if I’ll do what you say and “trust
in the name of the Lord and rely on my God” then I’ll lie down and sleep, knowing it’s all in your
capable hands… even when I lie down with things still very much unresolved, unfixed, still broken
and painful… Help me Lord. Help me trust in the name of the Lord and rely on my God!
This reminds me of a saying I once heard: “God fixes a fix to fix us. If we try to fix the fix before the
fix fixes us, he fixes another fix to fix us!” We suppose that since God doesn’t seem to be doing
anything, we’d better do something ourselves. Lighting our own fire, making our own way, is the
same as the “reasoning” that Paul tells us to avoid in our prayers, especially at the point of delay.
When the darkness is not going away, lighting our own fire, instead of decreasing the anxiety,
actually increases it.
I think that’s what Paul is saying to the Philippians as well. Pray about your problems and if the
answer is delayed or denied, leave it with God rather than trying to figure it out. Peace will replace
the anxiety while you wait.
I tend to troubleshoot rather than trust.
This M.O. neither brings change nor peace.
I have to lift up my hands
and give these things to God,
not giving into wrath or reasoning.
Will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus…
You have to appreciate the strength of this language. He says, “guard” as though something is
assaulting, attacking your heart and mind. He could’ve said, “The peace will come, his peace will be
yours, or you will find peace.” But he said it with more force - it will “guard your heart and mind.” I’m
pretty sure he wrote it this way because my heart and mind is being assaulted everyday, but
especially so when my prayers about big problems are delayed or denied. Satan is right on hand to
antagonize me. My emotions will most likely run amok. Even my Christian friends might add to the
confusion with ill-advised opinions and counsel. I need something to protect my heart and my mind
from these attacks which can be even more lethal than problem I was praying about to begin with.
Divorce, loss of my ministry, my home, my income, breaking my neck, getting cancer are all very bad
things that I’ve experienced this last year. I know that God works in all things (even bad ones) to
produce good things, but these are all the worst things I’ve ever gone through, especially in one fell
swoop. So, I’ve prayed and prayed, and prayed – as have hundreds of others for restoration of my
marriage, my ministry, and my health. So far the affirmative response to these requests has been
either delayed or denied. God has worked in many many ways in my life this year and done many
fabulous things to show me his love. But he hasn’t taken our “suggestion slips” and acted on them
specifically or positively (at least that I can see). That’s hard for me to take. But something even
worse than that could take place…
What would be worse is if my “heart and my mind” were compromised. If they were penetrated and
somehow poisoned with anxiety, then the adversary’s purpose would be advanced and that anxiety I
was trying to overcome would overcome me. That, I simply cannot afford. I need something to
prevent that from happening. I need something to stand sentry on the door of my heart and mind to
protect them from intruders and terrorists. This “sentry” on my heart and mind will have to do what I
can’t do myself by trying to figure it out and by attempting to apply my “understanding” to the
situation. I have to say to myself, “Whatever happens… whatever the circumstances…” I will trust
that he has my request in his box, he’ll read it, take it into his wise consideration, and as proprietor
make the best decision for his business and for his customers.
Got a problem? Are you anxious about it? Ask God to fix it, and thank him for his goodness. If he
does fix it, you’re good to go. Peace is yours, my brother or sister. But if he doesn’t, don’t spend too
much time trying to figure it out. Don’t get uptight about it. Lift up your hands and continue putting it
on his capable shoulders. Keep thanking him, and you’ll find that his peace will protect your heart
and mind from poisonous thinking. He’s good, and what he doesn’t fix, he’ll use the broken parts
for some other good thing that he’s trying to build.