Don’t Worry: Supplication


Don’t Worry: Supplication
A Message on Philippians 4:4-7
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 13, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Philippians 4:4-6 (NRSV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry 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.

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Today we are going to continue our sermon series “Don’t Worry” by looking at an act, something that we can actually “do” when we are worried, and that is to “supplicate.”

Now “supplicate,” or it’s noun form, “supplication,” is not a word that we use very much in our daily language use. We don’t say, “When the police officer pulled me over for speeding she still gave me a ticket in spite of my supplication.” It’s just not a word that we use much.

But it’s a good word, especially for us Christians! If we go back to the original language of the New Testament which is Greek, we find the word that is used is deēsei. It is translated into English as “supplication,” which comes from the Latin word supplicare, which means “plead humbly, beseech, kneel down.” It implies being a servant and making a respectful appeal to a higher power.

While the NRSV and KJV translates it as “supplication,” the NIV uses “petition,” which I can understand. But still, I like “supplication” better.

Supplication is about power in a relationship. The one doing the supplicating, which in the scripture we read today would be us, doesn’t have the power, but is in a way throwing themselves on the mercy of the one who does have power, in the scripture today being God.

As we mentioned earlier one of the implications of supplicating is to kneel down, or even to bow down with our face to the ground or even on the ground. Now it might sound kind of silly to us today but kneeling or bowing down had incredible symbolism in years past. Back when battle was done with swords and shields the party that had the high ground had the advantage. Even today in modern warfare the high ground is still preferred on the battlefield.

If one is kneeling or bowing down before another the one doing the kneeling or bowing is assuming a defenseless position. (Kneel down.) If you are bowed down before another with your face to the ground (illustrate) you are defenseless. You cannot see the opponent and therefore cannot make any defensive moves should that opponent move to strike you with hand or sword. You are at the opponent’s mercy, subject to whatever they want to do.

That bowing down, that acknowledgement that the other has power and you don’t, is supplication.

This past week I finished up the book I was reading, Grant by Ron Chernow. It was a great book and I highly recommend it. In the book Chernow goes into great detail about the end of the Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army was defeated by Union General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

Grant and the Union Army had the power in that situation. Lee and the Confederates, having lost the war, did not have the power. They were at the mercy of Grant and the Union troops.

The death totals during the war were horrific. It is estimated that between 618,000 750,000 soldiers died in the war. Even though they were the victors, the Union death toll was actually higher than the Confederate deaths.

Many Union supporters saw the leaders of the Confederacy as traitors, having committed treason by withdrawing from the United States and fighting against the Union. At the war’s end they wanted vengeance against the Confederate leaders and soldiers, calling for their punishment and even in some cases, their executions.

At Appomattox, though, Grant, even though he had the power, chose to show mercy not only to Lee but to the Confederate soldiers as well. He extended grace to them. He basically told them to just leave their weapons and go home.

Grant realized that a lot of work was ahead to heal the wounds caused by the war. In showing mercy to the Confederate troops he earned respect from many of them, a respect that was shown by how many former Confederates and southerners who actually voted for Grant when he ran for President.

In the case of the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the followers of Christ at Philippi, Paul is telling them–and us–to supplicate ourselves to God, to put ourselves at God’s mercy.

Now that’s hard for us to do today. Our society drills into us that we are never to show weakness, we are never to humble ourselves but are to aggrandize ourselves, telling ourselves and others how important we are. “Look at me! Look at how much better I am than others!”

We see this in sports. Football has started back, and especially in the NFL the self-aggrandizing celebrations have gotten out of hand, in my opinion. A running back or a receiver will make a touchdown and start dancing and celebrating and thumping their chest as if they scored all by themselves. They don’t thank the linemen who blocked for them or the quarterback that got the ball to them. No, they act like a three year old yelling, “I did it by myself!”

What’s worse, in my opinion, is when a team is getting blown out, losing really bad, and one of the players on the losing side makes a play and then starts celebrating like they single-handedly won the Superbowl. Uh, no. It reminds me of that old cheer, “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon rind, look at the scoreboard and see who’s behind.”

That is NOT supplication. Supplication is just the opposite. Supplication is acknowledging that you can’t do it on your own because you don’t have the power to do it. Supplication is bowing down to God with your face to the dirt and asking and depending on God to provide a solution. It is becoming dependent on God rather than yourself.

And an interesting–and wonderful–thing will happen when we supplicate ourselves before God.

Here is The Message paraphrase of Philippians 4:6-7,

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7, The Message

Did you catch that? When you turn your worries over to God you will receive a peace, a comfort, a sense that everything is going to be okay.

When we lived in Kilgore we had an elderly neighbor named AltaWelch. She was a widow and had no children and she kind of adopted us as family.

One day I asked her if she ever got scared living in her house alone, especially at night. “Lord no,” she responded. “I’m 90 years old. What do I have to be afraid of? Let me give you some advice: When you go to bed at night turn all your troubles over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway and there’s no need in both of you losing sleep.”

Paul, in the scripture we read today, is kind of saying the same thing. When you find yourself worrying, turn that worry into a prayer, humbly and with supplication give it to God. Admit that you don’t have the power to “fix” things, and turn it over to God who is much better equipped to solve problems than we are.

One other point about the scripture today: thanksgiving. Notice that it says, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Did you notice that “with thanksgiving” part? Yep, it’s there for a reason.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that being thankful to God during difficult times might not be the easiest thing to do or even at the top of our minds when we are stressed and worried. But the Bible clearly teaches us that we are to offer thanksgiving regardless of the circumstances.

Look at how the scripture we read today begins: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.”

In 1 Chronicles 16:34, as well as in many of the psalms, we read, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

If you are reading The One Year Bible (and I hope that you are, and encourage you to if you are not…) you’ll notice that the reading for this past Friday was from the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians. There Paul writes, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

We are to give thanks to God in all circumstances. It isn’t easy, but I view it as a spiritual discipline that becomes easier to do the more that we practice it. I find that it also helps to counteract worry. It’s hard to worry and be thankful at the same time.

Supplication also counteracts worry. If you turn all your troubles over to God you will find that you won’t worry near as much.

Now the trick is to actually turn them over to God and leave them there. I find myself sometimes turning worries over to God only to go back later and pick them up again. That’s why supplication is so important. Through supplication we are reminding ourselves that we don’t have the power that God does to deal with problems or issues and, if we supplicate ourselves before God, we are less likely to go back and try again to fix things ourselves.

So my challenge to you this week is to fight worry with prayer and supplication. When you find yourself worrying about something, turn that worry into a prayer. Supplicate yourself before God, turning the worry over to him completely, and then leave it there!

In the words of the chorus of an old hymn,

Leave it there, leave it there
Just take your burden to the Lord and leave it there
If you trust him through your doubt, he will surely bring you out
Take your burden to the Lord, leave it there

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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