Prayer #9: Praying When You’re Worried

Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Two business executives meet at for lunch. The first, Gene, asks “How’s your health?” Ed says, “I feel great! My ulcers are gone. And I don’t have a care in the world!” Gene says, “How did that happen?” Ed says, “Well, you know my doctor told me my ulcers were caused from worrying. So, I hired myself a professional worrier. Whenever something worrisome comes up, I turn it over to him, and he does all my worrying for me!” Gene says, “Wow, I’d like to hire someone like that! How much does he charge?” Ed says “One hundred thousand dollars!” Gene asks, “How in the world can you afford $100,000?” Ed says, “I don’t know. I let him worry about that!”

When was the last time you felt anxious and worried? Today? Yesterday? In the last week or month? About what? The reality is: we do worry. We get anxious about things. Worrying is normal. But the Bible also tells us not to worry and be anxious. How do handle you worry and anxiety? Do you dwell on them, distract yourself from them, or pray to God about them?

In the study notes of the Christian Standard Bible translation, it says that “Prayer is the antidote for worry.” This sounds good. But how is prayer the antidote for worry? We’re going to talk about who we pray to, what we pray about, and what results from our prayer.

When Jesus talks about our worries, he acknowledges that we do get anxious. But he doesn’t want us facing life the way everyone else does. He invites us to handle our worries differently. He points us, like Paul, to our heavenly Father. Jesus says: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Paul says: Don’t worry about anything.

When we pray to God, we’re reminding ourselves of who God is and what he is like. Speaking of things like food and clothing, Jesus says that your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Paul tells us to pray instead of worry. We’re not going to trust God with our worries if we don’t trust his character. This is why rooting our prayer in the character of God is so vitally important. There’s a huge difference between seeing God as a loving, gracious Father who wants the best for you and seeing him as being out to get you, to judge and condemn you at the first opportunity because you didn’t try hard enough. Which picture of God provides a greater incentive to pray when you’re worried?

It is about faith, about how much we really do trust God. But it’s not about faith as an accomplishment. Sometimes we can berate ourselves for not having enough faith, that we are spiritual failures. We get anxious over whether we have enough faith. That’s not the posture Jesus invites us to have. It’s not how much faith we have, but who our faith is in.

Paul was in prison went he wrote Philippians—considered his most joy-filled letter. He wrote these words even when his circumstances were difficult. Having the peace of God doesn’t necessarily mean having peaceful circumstances. Paul had the peace of God even though he was imprisoned for his faith. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything . . . present your requests to God. He’s saying that there’s nothing we can’t pray about. And if something is significant enough to worry about, it’s important enough to pray about.

Corrie Ten Bloom put it this way: “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” It’s about bringing our whole lives before God. It’s realizing he cares about all of our lives—all the details matter to him. It’s not possible to bother God or to exhaust his patience.

Paul also tells us to bring our prayers before God with thanksgiving. This means reminding ourselves that all of our blessings come from God. He is always our provider whether we acknowledge it or not. It reminds us of the goodness of God (James 1:17). It brings us back to trusting in the character of God.

So what does Paul say will happen when we pray as he instructs? And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Notice, first, what Paul doesn’t say will happen. He doesn’t say God is going to answer all of our prayers in the way that we hope he will. So the peace he’s talking about isn’t the result of answered prayers. The idea of the peace of God refers to an inner-sense of comfort and contentment from God despite circumstances. Peace is also a fruit of the Spirit. The Philippians were probably experiencing harassment and opposition. Their anxiety arose because of their surrounding situation. They were living their faith in less than hospitable circumstances.

I love this quote: “Our prayer to the God who is totally trustworthy is accompanied by his peace, not because he answers according to our wishes but because his peace totally transcends our merely human way of perceiving the world.”

Listen to these words from Tony Wood and Kevin Stokes:

Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered “peace be still”
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child

Here’s the thing: some of our prayers will not be answered this side of eternity. When we pray, we also recognize that the present is not all there is. This is what makes having the peace of God so important. Having this peace is what can sustain us in a life filled with troubles and worries. This is also why it’s a peace that surpasses all understanding. It’s not a peace that makes sense given our earthly circumstances. That’s why it can only come from God.

The image of our heart (which is the wellspring of our being) being guarded by God’s peace is a military one. It refers to a military garrison. God promises to guard our hearts and minds against those thoughts that threaten our trust in him and keep us from praying to him. When he says that the peace of God . . . will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, he’s saying that knowing Christ, trusting in Christ, relying on Christ—this is our peace. Knowing that no matter what happens, we are still in Christ.

It’s not that someone who trusts Christs will never worry or be anxious. It’s about not having anxious thoughts so dominate us that it hinders our prayers and therefore our trust in the character of our heavenly Father. Worry reveals a heart that is not yet fully surrendered to God—which pretty much describes all of us!

Why do we pray when we’re worried? To remind us of who God is—his character. To bring all of our lives before him—he cares about the details. To experience his peace—so no matter what’s happening, we trust him. The question for you is this: what are you anxious about? Where do you need the peace of God to guard you heart and mind? Are you willing to take a step of trust towards your heavenly Father and turn these worries over to him?

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