How to pray when you are anxious…

How do I pray in times of anxiety?

These are anxious times. We are stuck at home. The economy is unstable. The job market is uncertain. The country is polarized. The world needs healing.

People need Jesus now more than ever. That hasn’t changed but people may be more open to the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit in their lives. We have an opportunity to lead others there. But idea of sharing the good news of Jesus is held in tension to the anxiety we are feeling. We know that we can go to God in prayer and that God can even help us where we are but it is hard to pray with certainty when things are so uncertain.

On a personal note, praying during anxious times is very different than dealing with anxiety. Chronic anxiety is best treated with prayer AND medical care and/or counseling. I have dealt with anxiety with all of the above. What I’m describing here is dealing with an anxious environment. While this is not comprehensive, these three things can help you to pray when there is anxiety in your environment.

1) Do not fear:

You may have heard it said that the Bible says “Do not fear” 365 times. While that may be dependent on the translation you use, it does say that quite often. As Jenni Cantron says in her post, “How to Overcome Fear” Fear hides, isolates, and paralyzes us. Instead we should have courage. It is easier said than done but I believe the key is to take our fears to God in prayer and ask that he grant us courage. One Biblical example of a prayer warrior is Nehemiah. I describe his story and our current context in this video.

It says in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” One way to be courageous is to spread love. Do acts of Holy Mischief. It will strengthen you for something positive instead of reacting to something negative.


2) Speak like God speaks

In the beginning God created the universe with three simple words,  “Let there be…” These three words are simple but powerful. They are about calling forth something into creation. Jesus taught us to pray so that things on earth could be as they are in heaven. When we pray like God prays and speak like God speaks we are calling forth something that God declared “good” into the uncertainty. Prayer is less about asking for something than it is about calling forth heaven into earth. When you are feeling uncertainty around you, say “Let there be _________” as part of your prayer. Peace, healing, joy, life, abundance etc are all acceptable words to fill in the blank. You may have others that are aligned with the kingdom of God. These are powerful words. They will bring order out of chaos and transform us in ways we cannot imagine!

scripture and how to pray



3) Focus outward:

Studies show that being altruistic has physical and psychological benefits. Doing something good for someone else releases endorphins for both you and the recipient, gives you a sense of satisfaction, and distracts you from your problems long enough for you to feel grateful for what you have. While our prayers are often focused on our own environment, when we focus our prayers on others and for peace, healing, joy, life, abundance etc in their lives, we reap physical and psychological benefits as well. Follow that up with listening to God and responding with altruism and the anxiety in your life will lessen. It might not happen instantly but the benefits of  what I like to call “Holy Mischief” are multifaceted and far reaching.
Holy Mischief pray authentic activation habitize share the story

What is the history behind some of our historical prayers?

It is my personal opinion that prayer should come from the heart. But that doesn’t mean your prayers have to be your own words. Most of the time for me, they are. My prayers are in my own words and I talk to God like I would talk to my best friend. But there are times when words are hard. When I don’t know what to say or I need some extra guidance. During those times I find myself seeking the prayers of others. Occasionally I’ll find one that I’ll pick up over and over. The words of some prayers seem to resonate in any situation and when I pray them the words do come from my heart because I have taken them to heart. 
Below are three prayers that I have used many times throughout my life and my ministry. They speak to my soul. Here they are along with a bit of the history behind them and/or the authors.
Covenant Prayer

Covenant Prayer – John Wesley

This prayer and the Covenant service that it is a part of is one of Methodism distinctive contributions to Protestant liturgy. It is typically used during a Watchnight Service on New Years Eve to reinforce our faith as a covenantal relationship with Jesus.
The prayer can be used everyday to help us to remember we are to give all and be in service for God in all ways.

“I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven. Amen.”

Prayer of St. Francis

Instrument of Your Peace – St. Francis of Assisi

This prayer is attributed to St. Francis but actual authorship is not known. It can be dated back to 1912 but no futher. It was widely circulated during World War I and World War II. It is meant to bring peace and hope in uncertain times. Not only is it appropriate during times of war but in times of social unrest or internal strife. Mother Teresa recited this prayer each morning and asked that it be recited when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It has been set to music by many composers and has been performed at many notable events.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.”

serenity prayer

The Serenity Prayer – Reinhold Niebuhr

Perhaps my favorite prayer to read is this one. Nieburh wrote the prayer around 1932 or 1933 and it spread rapidly through church groups. It was adopted and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step programs. The original prayer has evolved a bit since it first circulated. The current version was published in 1944 in a sermon by Neibuhr but was given the title “The Serenity Prayer” in publications of Alcoholics Anonymous.
This prayer has a special meaning for me. I grew up believing in God but not attending church. Having no outlet for my questions or a place to practice my faith, I was on my own. This prayer was framed on the wall of our living room. Not knowing anything else about this prayer, it gave me comfort knowing that God sustains me in the hard times and that those hard times will eventually bring peace and happiness is possible.

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

May each of these prayers bring you comfort and fill your soul when your own words seem inadequate. May they also shape our words and give us courage to pray words of our own from the heart. May God not only answer your prayers but shape you into the courageous prayer warrior He created you to be. May your words call forth heaven into earth and transform not only your heart but others as well.
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1 Comment

  1. Rev. C. Kay on March 24, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks Shannon. When I was a teen (a long time ago) I used the first four lines of the Serenity Prayer often in the hope that I might make good choices. There were times I didn’t heed the message or wait for the answer but it is still meaningful to me. It was years later I found out there were more lines.

    C. Kay

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