Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Anxiety and Prayer

In Philippians 4:5–7, we are told to deal with anxiety by taking comfort from the fact that the Lord is at hand and by making our requests known to God, the giver of peace.
"The Lord is at hand; 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."
This passage is similar to 1 Peter 5:6–7,
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." 
Both of these passages build upon what had already been written in Psalm 55:22. There David had exhorted,
"Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved."
Thus, we see a consistent pattern: God's people are not immune to feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear - but they are directed to go to God with these feelings, to seek His help, and to burden Him with these troubles. They are directed to pray with hope, trusting that God cares for His people, that He is near His people, and though for a time you may be humbled and distressed, God will guard and sustain you and at the proper time exalt you.

Psalm 55 gives us a more full picture of what this prayer might look like. It is not a bare request. In it, the suppliant does call for help (v. 16), but he also utters his complaint and moans (v. 17). It is a supplication, a plea, an argument. It is emotional and does not hide or suppress the anxiety that motivates the prayer.

The psalm begins with a bold appeal -
"Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!" (v. 1)
Verses 2b-8 consist of description. David, the author, describes his situation and his emotional condition.
"Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, 'Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest...'" (vs. 5-6)
David returns to the description of his external and internal distress in verses 9b-14, 15b, 20-21. He does not hide or suppress his worry or fear. In his plea to God, he describes his distress as reasons why God should help him. Then he does appeal for God to take action in verses 9 and 15:
"Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;
for I see violence and strife in the city." (v. 9)
Then in verse 16, David begins to do something different. In verses 16-19 and 22-23, he reflects upon and affirms the truth about God. Unlike David's false friend described in this Psalm, God is faithful. David repeats what God has promised to His people and David applies it to himself.
"But I call to God,
and the LORD will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice." (vs. 16-17)
It is at the end of this Psalm that David says the words that are reflected in Philippians and 1 Peter. David moves from applying God's promises to himself to applying it to the godly in general. Those who cast their burdens upon the Lord will be sustained by Him (v. 22), but men of blood and treachery, though they seem ascendant for at time, will be cast down by the Lord (v. 23). David's faith has grown by this exercise of faith in prayer. By laying out his complaint before God (instead of simply brooding over it himself) and by applying God's promises to his situation, he has come to a place of greater faith, confidence, and peace. He ends this Psalm with the key conclusion: "I will trust in you" (v. 23).

Using this Psalm as a pattern does not mean that you will always be at peace by the time your prayer ends. In fact, this Psalm might be thought of as a pattern, not only of one prayer, but of a series of prayers over a period of time. In all of your prayers, you will want to mix in a description of your anxieties, your call for God to act, as well as reflection on and affirmation of God's character and promises. In this way, your faith will be exercised and strengthened. Prayer is a means of grace to the believer, and through it, in His timing, God will send His peace to guard your heart and mind. He will sustain and protect the one who trusts in Him.

1 comment:

Tim Swanson said...

I connect with your advice to use the Psalm as a pattern. I traveled through a deep canyon from November to January and the psalms were a life-line for patterned prayer. I also found that commanding the spirit causing the anxiety to leave in Jesus' name was part of the process of repentance and spiritual warfare. Anxiety is wrong because it is the opposite of trust in God. 2 Timothy 1:7 is a promise that I use constantly in our ministry for myself and others.