The peace of prayer
We can rest in God’s sovereignty and be at peace
As a child, I sang, “I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart.” But what is this peace? And how do I get it? Let’s look at what Paul says in Philippians 4:6–7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NASB 1995).
We are to stop worrying—about everything! God knows what we need before we ask, though He does want us to pray. He knows and will provide for our basic needs. So there is no need to worry. Our anxiety denies God’s sovereignty—that He is in control of everything that happens and He can use even what is wrong to bring about His will.
Instead, we are to bring everything to God in prayer and supplication. Prayer is not just asking for things, but also acknowledging who God is and what He does in an attitude of thanksgiving. That is the environment in which the peace of God comes.
The peace of God
As a result of being anxious for nothing and being prayerful in everything, God’s peace will place a guard over our feelings and thoughts (v. 7). What is this peace? The Greek word for peace, εἰρήνη (eirēnē), originally referred to the absence of conflict, but it came to mean an inner peace with God and others. Like the Hebrew word shalom, it was (and is) used as a greeting or as a farewell.1
Of course, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1), but the peace that Paul is talking about here is an inward repose that comes from walking with God and steadfastly trusting in Him.
But it’s not just a feeling. Jesus in Gethsemane did not feel peace. He was in agony. And Paul said, “There is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). That is hardly a peaceful situation unless Paul meant something different from what we normally call “peace.”
The peace that passes understanding is a strong, resolute faith and confidence that no matter what circumstances you encounter, God is faithful and good, God will keep you, and He will provide for you and bless you. It’s a faith that looks past circumstances to the God who works all things for your good and His glory.2
It’s an inner serenity based on who God is and what He has done in the past, and a confidence that He will be the same God in the future.
It is well with my soul
Horatio Spafford was a lawyer in Chicago. He was a devout Christian. He and his wife had a son and four daughters. His son died of scarlet fever, and soon after, the real estate he had invested in was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.3
Two years later, he planned to visit England with his family during the evangelistic campaign of his friend, Dwight L. Moody. But he had some business to take care of first, so he sent his wife and daughters on ahead.
When they were almost across the Atlantic, there was a collision with another ship. Their ship (the Ville du Havre) sank in 12 minutes, taking the four daughters to their graves. His wife was rescued.
On hearing the news, Spafford left at once to meet his wife in England. The captain told him when their ship passed over the spot where his daughters had died. It is said that Spafford then wrote:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.4
Just like Spafford, we can have God’s peace in spite of the circumstances. We can rest in God’s sovereignty and be at peace. Isn’t that wonderful?
1. Bible Lessons International, “Special Topic: Peace (eirēnē) [NT],” http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/special_topics/peace.html (accessed Sept. 1, 2021).
2. Stephen Altrogge, “The SURPRISE Way to Have Peace That Passes All Understanding,” https://theblazingcenter.com/2018/08/peace-that-passes-all-understanding.html (Aug. 31, 2018).
3. “Horatio Gates Spafford—The Story behind the Hymn ‘It Is Well with My Soul’,” https://www.bethelripon.com/life-stories/horatio-gates-spafford (accessed Sept. 2, 2021).
4. “When Peace Like a River,” https://hymnary.org/text/when_peace_like_a_river_attendeth_my_way (accessed Oct, 21, 2021).