When we pray, we tend to focus on the circumstances of our lives. It is a natural enough thing to do. There are things going on in our lives that we do not like, some are causing us considerable pain. And we want them to be removed. Life, we reason, would be better if these circumstances were different.
As hard as it is for us to understand (let alone accept), troubling circumstances are a revolving door. They will always be with us. One is replaced, all too soon, by another. The result is a world full of growing anxiety and despair.
What Paul has to say in these verses is pretty profound. He tells us to not be anxious, but to present our requests to God. The key, though, is to be thankful. “With thanksgiving”, Paul says. Notice, the thanksgiving is not conditional; it accompanies the request not the result. In other words: Paul is exhorting us to be thankful we have a place to make our petitions. Which is infinitely more important than whether or not those petitions get answered the way we hope.
The result of this kind of forward thanksgiving? Peace. When we approach God in this way, He blesses us with his peace that transcends all circumstances, reason, and understanding. When we perceive our relationship with God in this way, it allows Him to guard our hearts and minds from the anxiety banging at the door. He does not do this by eliminating the difficulties. He does it by providing a relationship with us that rises above all difficulties.
The peace of prayer is in this: we have access to Him who transcends all that troubles us. In that alone, there is much to be thankful.