“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 4:6-7, emphasis added
Believers battling anxiety often turn to these verses in Philippians. The Scripture is well-known perhaps because it promises the one thing those who are anxious are seeking: peace.
Often, when believers study this passage of Philippians, they focus on the words “prayer,” “petition,” and “peace.” But between those words is another that many readers miss. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the word is frequently overlooked, and yet it is key to this passage. That word is “thanksgiving.”
What is interesting about the word “thanksgiving” is not the fact that it’s in this passage but where it is in the passage. If these verses were to be rewritten today, many people would likely write them in this order: you pray, God gives you peace, and you thank Him. But notice that “thanksgiving” doesn’t come after God gives peace; it comes before. Followers of Christ are called to give thanks to God even before He has answered their petitions and calmed their anxieties.
This may seem counterintuitive, but Paul didn’t make a mistake when he penned the words in this order. He knew that thanksgiving isn’t conditional on peace but is a means for receiving peace.
How can believers express thanksgiving to God in the midst of anxiety?
Remember God’s Faithfulness
“‘I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.’” -Psalm 77:11-12
Anxiety consumes the mind and can cause anyone to forget God’s love and goodness. Believers overcome this by remembering how God has been faithful in the past.
In Psalm 77, the writer experienced great distress. His spirit was growing faint, and he was too troubled to even speak (Psalm 77:3-4). But, he resolved to “remember the deeds of the Lord” and to “consider” and “meditate” on His works. The rest of the psalm shifts the focus from anxiety to adoration of the Lord.
Moses also employed this tactic with the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land. He constantly told the people to remember what God had done for them in Egypt, sometimes before commanding them to do something scary.
Remembering how God has come through in the past reminds believers of His faithfulness, which leads to thankfulness.
Focus on God’s Nearness
“The Lord is near.” -Philippians 4:5b
Sometimes, the most comforting thing a friend can do for someone who is battling anxiety is to just be near. Knowing that someone who loves you is close to you in a time of need can be enough to calm worries.
That is what God does. Just before Paul wrote about anxiety and thanksgiving in Philippians, he reminded the reader that God is near.
God is near when fear and anxiety creep in. He is near when troubles and heartache make an unwelcome visit.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” -Psalm 34:18, ESV
Not only is the Lord near but He is always near. When someone accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, that person receives the Holy Spirit, and Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would never leave a disciple of Christ (John 14:16-18).
Followers of Jesus can rest in the fact that God is near to us—always and forever.
Trust in God’s Promises
“The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.” -Psalm 145:13b
God keeps His promises, even when it feels like He is slow to act on them. Noah waited months for the flood waters to recede. Abraham waited decades for an heir. Israel waited centuries for the Messiah.
In each case, God delivered on His word. Whatever the Lord has promised, it will come to pass. We may not know the time or how long the wait will be, but the one guarantee is that God will not fail to follow through.
Because God is trustworthy, His children can thank Him for the promises He’s made, even if they have not come to fruition yet.
In the depths of anxiety, thanking God for His faithfulness, nearness, and trustworthiness will help bring peace. Thanksgiving is not just a response to answered prayer; it is a tool given to believers to combat fear in this life.