Guest post by Glen
“I can’t pray. Where would I begin?”
I understand this sentiment very well. I have thought it and felt it often. But it’s not right. The truth is I can pray, I do pray, I am praying all the time. I don’t need to start praying. In reality I can’t stop.
What do I mean? Well consider these famous verses from Paul:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
There are a couple of commands here. 1) Don’t be anxious. 2) Present your requests to God. Notice how these two commands are linked, logically. It seems like our anxieties are connected to our requests. The link goes something like this: There are things we want. We don’t have them. We’re not sure we’ll get them. Hence the anxiety.
Now notice the assumptions behind the commands: 1) You are anxious (but you don’t need to be). 2) You have requests (but you’re not presenting them to God). I’m 100% certain this is true in your life. You have worries and those worries could be articulated as requests. Maybe you’ve already formulated the requests, maybe they remain unformed and unspoken, but you have requests:
Please may I get through my performance review.
Please may she notice me.
Please may he leave me alone.
We all have requests. That’s what I mean by saying we already have a prayer life. There are petitions echoing around our skull constantly. Our great problem is that we don’t present our requests to God. Mostly we address them to ourselves, or to some other, earthly, and considerably less Omnipotent Benefactor. And this kind of earthly prayer life is a recipe for anxiety. If I am my only hope for fulfilling these desires, then I am relying on uncertainty. How could I be anything other than anxious?
But if I manage to switch my prayer life — from me to God — the promise is there, and it makes perfect sense: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It used to be anxieties that surrounded me, now it’s God’s peace. And the secret? Don’t start to pray, switch your prayers!
How to do it? Well first get in touch with your anxieties…
1. What are my anxieties? List them.
Now go deeper…
2. What are the fears beneath the fears? Why these fears and not others? What are these fears based on?
Then articulate the fears as requests…
3. What am I asking for when I’m worrying? Can I speak out these fears as specific requests?
4. Who am I asking to answer these petitions, ordinarily? Where am I addressing my faulty prayers?
5. What am I currently trusting in order to fulfil these desires / petitions / requests?
Now contrast with the true Answerer of all our prayers…
6. How is God a good Answerer of prayer?
7. What can I thank him for as I look back on previous requests / prayers? (i.e. Do the “with thanksgiving” part of verse 6)
8. What does the “in Christ Jesus” add to verse 7? Think of all the ways you are already provided for in union with Christ.
Now you’re ready to pray…
9. Catch yourself in an anxiety and make yourself spell out the implicit request.
10. Turn it towards God — with thanksgiving, with a remembrance of your security in Christ, and with expectant petition.
A worked example.
I find myself tetchy and distracted, not engaging with my children the way I should. Stop. What am I worried about? It’s a workplace situation. Is there a request attached? You betcha: Please may so-and-so say Yes. Have I prayed about it? Kinda. Not properly. OK, stop. Is God in charge of this situation? Actually (new thought!), Yes. Has he provided in the past? Yes (thanks for that God!). Am I secure already in Christ Jesus? Totally, so much so that I don’t really need the Yes. But God wants me to ask anyway, so here goes: “Dear God, sorry for not turning this over to you. And thanks for providing for us so well. It’s amazing we’re even in the position to want this! You know how much I want it. Please could they say Yes. Please. I’m leaving it in your hands. And I’m asking now for peace so I can move on and love the people around me right now. Thank you Jesus, Amen.”
And, Bob’s your Uncle, I’m praying.
But then… I always was. Prayer isn’t an added burden. It’s the joy of swapping anxious self-talk with peace-filled God-talk. Go on, give it a go!
Many of these thoughts are from a sermon on prayer I gave recently, here.