do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
Yesterday’s post (read here) began to attempt to paint a holistic vision of prayer as a posture of the soul, and not necessarily a mastery of spiritual language. This mindset and heart positioning is the foundation for a prayer life that focuses centrally on communion and relationship. But that is not all that prayer is. There is a very conspicuous aspect to prayer that can easily be either avoided or abused. That aspect is supplication.
Supplication and the third aspect that Paul refers to in Philippians 4:6, requests, are often interchangeably used. This is not necessarily wrong, they are closely related in meaning, but they are not the same thing. In the definition of the Greek word we translate “supplication”, the word penury is used. Penury is not a word that most people use on a daily basis, and it’s a word I had to look up to make sure I was going to use it properly, but it is a provides a stark image of what Paul says is a critical part of a life of prayer. Penury means, “extreme poverty; destitution”. Not just a little bit of lack, this isn’t referring to not being able to get a second piece of pie…this is a powerful word that conjures up third world pictures, droughts and famines, and old, shabbily furnished orphanages.
You see, Paul is not saying that we first unload our list of needs on God, though that is a part of prayer. He says that first, after your heart is directed toward the throne of God, take a few moments to be still in that place and recognize, truly acknowledge, just how broken you are without God’s help. This is not a wallowing in self-pity, this is the honest appraisal of our own inability to do, amass, or accomplish anything of worth, value, or preservation without God.
Again, this is not about pity. It would be about pity if we were simply turning inward and realizing how impoverished we were. To the contrary, this is about joy. The response of the soul, gripped by the love of Christ, to the knowledge of the benevolence of the Father, toward the state of penury that we exist in without Him, is nothing short of a celebration. When the Christian sees his or her lack of ability or resource there is the odd and curious reaction of joy. We dance when there are no shoes on our feet, and no floor to dance on. We smile in the face of sorrow and lack. It seems like I remember another story about Paul when he was actually visiting the city of Philippi and in the still darkness, in the basement of a jail, in painful stocks and chains two men started singing. Who sings in that situation? Someone who has seen both the dire reality of his situation as well as the bold reality of the love and benevolence of the universe’s King. It was supplication in the Philippian jail, the acknowledgement of lack, the honest admission of Paul and Silas’ penury in the belly of that prison that brought song to their hearts. Simply because when we stop and honestly look at the scoreboard, no Christian ever loses.
Paul, writing years later to the Philippians, tells them that anxiety is fed on the imminence of circumstance. We don’t have to try very hard to be overwhelmed with what’s going on around us; that will happen on its own. But with our heart’s posture being open to God (“prayer”) we can take true inventory and see that there is nothing in us that can “save the day” and simultaneously realize that there is nothing about God that can stop the day from being saved. He always comes through. He is never defeated. His love knows no boundaries. He reaches into jails, hospitals, homes, churches, factories, and forests. This realization comes through supplication. Supplication is the part of prayer that we engage before the requests because supplication brings us the faith and confidence that nothing we ask of God’s loving infinite resources is too much. I quotes Robert Mulholland yesterday, and I refer to him again,
Paul seems to call us, in the midst of life’s disruptions of our order and control, to a consistent acknowledgment of the insufficiency of our resources and the inadequacy of our ability to maintain order and control in the face of the world’s wildness. He calls us to be continually turned to God as the source of our sufficiency in every circumstance.
– Robert Mulholland
Friends, don’t be afraid to be honest about what you don’t have. In that honesty, in that supplication, a door opens that allows us to know how much God does have…or at least a glimpse of some of it, and some is more than enough for anything we might need.