This sounds too simple.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6 NIV)
Don’t be anxious … pray.
But don’t brush this off as trite and simplistic. Every other way of dealing with fears and anxieties relies on some technology, medicine, and/or self-talk. But we all know—even children know—that our anxieties need the right person, and you know that person.
Have you tried this when you are anxious? Have you ever answered your anxious thoughts with Scripture-led prayer? It turns out that this seemingly simple and available-to-all teaching is one of the hidden and underused treasures of Scripture. It only sounds trite if you haven’t practiced it.
It is simple, but, like the simple instruction to “love one another,” it takes a lifetime to master.
- We learn to speak honestly to the Lord about our fears and anxieties.
- We grow in making simple requests, such as “help.”
- We talk to God using his words in the Bible—merging our requests with what he says is true and what we know the Lord delights in giving us.
- We learn to wrap all this together with thanksgiving, remembering what Jesus has done, what he is doing now, and what he will do when we see him face-to-face.
Those who consistently respond to anxiety with prayer are the sages in our midst. Too often we brush off this passage and look for something more complicated. Meanwhile, this wonderfully compact teaching stands waiting for us.
The last thirty years of my life have been spent shortening the time lag between the appearance of anxiety and the onset of prayer. That gap has gone from two days down to one, and then down to an hour. Occasionally, prayer comes even before my anxiety is full-blown. When that happens, I marvel at the power of God that equips me to do what is counterintuitive. Left to myself I spin out doomsday scenarios, hoping that my frenetic mind will stumble into some answers. But when I go to my heavenly Father and tell him my worries, when I remember his words to me (an ever-present help in trouble), and when I thank him for his care, the peace of Christ does begin to rule my heart and mind. It’s a miracle that still takes me by surprise.
For this passage to come alive to you, you have to know that God is near. Paul mentions that right before he tells the Philippians to replace anxiety with prayer (Philippians 4:5). Do you have an image for that yet? For the ancient Israelites, God was just on the other side of a curtain, residing in his Holy of Holies. Now, Immanuel—God-with-us—is in us and we are in him.
Are you persuaded that he wants you to talk to him? This is what happens in the best of relationships. We speak of what is heavy on our hearts, and the other person never minimizes our struggle. Although the Lord knows your thoughts and feelings before you do, he values you actually putting those thoughts and feelings into words and into prayer.
Welcome to the deep wisdom of God that is available to us through Jesus.
Excerpted from A Small Book for the Anxious Heart by Ed Welch. © 2019 by New Growth Press.
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Edward T. Welch, MDiv, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at CCEF. He has been counseling for more than thirty-five years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions. Learn more at CCEF.org
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