Learning to Pray When We Worry

When anxiety peaks, the last thing on your mind is probably prayer. Rather than stopping to pray about the worries that flood our minds, we flit around like an anxious bird, trying to keep our situation under our control even though we know it is spinning too quickly for us to keep up.

And yet, Paul says that biblical prayer is the solution to our anxiety. He says that when we choose to pray rather than worry, we will be filled and guarded by the peace of God.

“Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NASB).

What does this kind of prayer look like? How do we find peace through prayer? That’s what we will be discussing in this fourth article in the Restoring Peace From Anxiety series.

What Prayer Is Not

Getting What You Want

Prayer is not about forcing God to conform to our desires. In his sermon The Purpose of Prayer, John MacArthur said, “That is the heart of the truest prayer. ‘Lord, I’m here to say do your will. I want to align myself up with that.’ Listen, prayer is not asking God to do my will. It is bringing myself into conformity with his will. It is asking him to do his will and give me the grace to enjoy it.”¹

Prayer is never about demanding our desires from God, but a humble conformity to God’s will. Jesus instructed his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). Jesus himself prayed before his crucifixion, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). We come to God in prayer holding our requests lightly, ready to lay them down in submission to his sovereignty.

Listening

Prayer is for believers to speak to God, and God speaks to them through his Word. This isn’t to put a man-made limit on God, but is how he himself has decided to act. There was a need for special revelation before the canon of Scripture was complete, but once we had the complete body of God’s Word we had all we needed to live a godly life. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB). We do not need further revelation, but have everything we need in the Word of God.

Because Scripture is sufficient, we do not need God to give us a special message. When we are confused or unsure as to what to do, we can go to his Word and the body of believers that he has provided for wisdom and direction.

Repetition

When Jesus taught on prayer in Matthew, he warned his listeners, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8 ESV).

This isn’t a command to never make the same request twice. Rather, it’s a command against meaningless, recited prayers. Our prayers are to be thoughtful, not a ritual we repeat to get what we want or be heard.

What Prayer Is

Entrusting Yourself to God

Since prayer is not about twisting God’s will to ours, it is about trusting our desires to his will. When we pray, we come as dependent people, unable to control our lives and in need of his strength. Our prayers show our dependency and need for God. We come before God humble, realizing that we need help and that we are lost without him. We come trusting that however God answers this prayer, it will be for our good and his glory.

Worship

Prayer is a time of worshipping God. Sometimes my prayers can become so focused on my needs and the needs around me, that I forget that prayer is also about worshipping God, his character, his works, and thanking him for his many blessings. The psalmist said, “Seven times a day I praise you, because your righteous ordinances” (Psalm 119:164 NASB).

If you struggle to come up with ways to praise God, simply spend some time reading the Psalms and praying them back to God. The Psalms are filled with praises to God, even in the Psalms of lament.

Confession

Prayer is also a time of confession of sins. Even though as believers we are forgiven of all of our sins through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, we are still commanded to confess our sins. 1 John 1:8-10 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (NASB). And when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he included confession of sins (Luke 11:3).

How to Pray

If you feel uncertain about how to pray, you are not alone. The disciples were also unsure how to pray, but they came to Christ himself to find out how.

“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

‘Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:1-4 ESV)

In Jesus example prayer, we see a few different elements:

  • Adoration of God

  • Supplication

  • Confession

These elements of prayer are throughout the Bible. The Psalms give us many examples of adoring God, along with commands to praise God. We see supplication in the prayers of Paul, Christ, and Daniel. We are also called to pray for ourselves and for others. Confession is also found in the Psalms and Daniel, along with the command in 1 John 1:8-10.

If you feel like your prayer life has become more like shooting up flares rather than communion with God, try structuring your prayer like Christ’s. To remember each of the elements, you can remember the Lord’s prayer or the ACTS acronym (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).

Another way to revive our prayer lives is by praying Scripture. When I am studying the Psalms, I often finish my time by praying through the Psalm, making it personal to me and my situation through application. Paul also recorded many of his prayers for the churches in his letters that I like to pray for my friends, family, church, and town.

Prayer in Place of Anxiety

In Philippians 4:6, Paul calls the anxious of heart to stop worrying and instead pray. In the place of anxiety we are to pray about everything.

Worry is our frail and human way of pretending we are in control of our lives. But prayer negates all of that; prayer admits that we need God and we trust his sovereign control.

As we already discussed about prayer, it’s not all about us. Paul calls us to not only pray about our worries, but to do so with thanksgiving and supplication. We have already discussed how rejoicing in God puts off anxiety. In a similar way, so does supplication for others. When we are focusing on the needs of others, our eyes are taken off our own circumstances.

Attitude of Prayer

A promise comes with this command to pray: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7 ESV).

This promise doesn’t imply that prayer is like a magical spell that instantly takes our anxiety away when we do it. I use to pray the same, formulated prayer whenever I felt anxious, and it never brought me peace. Why? Because my prayer wasn’t from the heart, and I wasn’t truly entrusting my worries to God. Instead, I continued to be anxious and cling to them as if I could somehow keep control of the situation if I did.

But when we pray to God about our worries with a submissive heart ready to trust his sovereignty over our requests and desires, then the peace of God comes. The peace we experience is based on our knowledge and trust in God. When we believe that he is both sovereign and good in this situation, we can have peace from our worries.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3 ESV).

Prayer was never meant to be a confusing, mystical thing. Prayer is our opportunity to commune with our Perfect Creator and Saviour, and grow in our love and trust for him. Such prayer will be what brings us peace in the midst of fear, worry, and anxiety.


  1. John MacArthur, Dr., “The Purpose of Prayer,” Grace To You, November 11, 1979, , accessed June 9, 2018, https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/2233/2136.


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