Beat Worry with Believing Prayer
I quote: After ten years of widowhood, I remarried. Leaving work one wintry evening, I told a colleague that it was very gratifying to once again have someone worry about me if the roads were icy. My new husband would be awaiting my arrival, I said, and would hurry out to meet me at the car. I couldn't have been more right. As I pulled into the driveway, my husband burst out the door and came up to me. Rubbing our new car, he anxiously queried, "Did you get salt on it?
While cruising at 40,000 feet, the airplane shuddered and Mr. Benson looked out the window. "Good lord!" he screamed, "one of the engines just blew up!" Other passengers left their seats and came running over; suddenly the aircraft was rocked by a second blast as yet another engine exploded on the other side.
The passengers were in a panic now, and even the stewardesses couldn't maintain order. Just then, standing tall and smiling confidently, the pilot strode from the cockpit and assured everyone that there was nothing to worry about. His words and his demeanor seemed to make most of the passengers feel better, and they sat down as the pilot calmly walked to the door of the aircraft.
There, he grabbed several packages from under the seats and began handing them to the flight attendants. Each crew member attached the package to their backs. "Say," spoke up an alert passenger, "aren't those parachutes?" The pilot said they were. The passenger went on, "But I thought you said there was nothing to worry about?"
"There isn't," replied the pilot as a third engine exploded. "We're going to get help."
Worry! In a joke it sounds funny, in real life it is enslaving many. Today we are going to talk about one of the most universal human experiences: worry and how to deal with it God’s way! Outside of salvation, Jesus’ work on the cross and the nature of God, this is one of the most universal messages I know. Young and old need to hear it. New Christians & seasoned veterans still need to practice it. 1st century or 21st century, the need is the same. Slum family in India or rich person in Vermont face the same challenge. There is no ethnic divide, no generational gap, no language barrier when it comes to inner anxiety. Read Phil 4:6! All of us need to learn to pray this kind of believing prayer which beats worry. There are no substitutes, no shortcuts, no excuses and no one else can do it for us.
But before we delve deeper into God’s provision for us, let’s first see the deeper problem with anxiety. We joked about worry – BUT what is the problem with it? I’ve picked three of Jesus’ statements to remind us of the bigger dangers when we let worry or anxiety grip our lives. Turn to Matthew 13.
PROPOSITION: Whenever we come to a time in life where we are worried or anxious, we need to practice turning that troublesome situation into serious believing prayer that is meant to change the world (or at least a small part of it!).
I. The dangers of worry
A. Chokes out God’s Word Matt 13:22
V 22 is a very sobering verse. Most older Christians recognize from experience that worriers don’t live a victorious Christian life. They can follow God, do their devotions and even serve Jesus but their constant worry keeps them from the kind of victorious life that the Bible says is our privilege. Jesus tells us why here READ Matt 13:22.
The worrier is one of two groups of people whose inner perspective actually chokes God’s word out of their life. Their ears hear the Biblical way to freedom, but the worries of this life keep the Bible truth from sinking in to their hearts. They can intellectually study the Bible, but their anxieties keep them from experiencing God’s fullness. This is so sad.
Consider Sue (not her real name) who came to her pastor. She said she was deeply depressed. She was physically sick. She said she didn’t love her husband anymore and wanted a divorce. Even though the pastor met with her several times, always pointing to the truths of God in the Bible, it was clear her condition, both physically & spiritually, was deteriorating. The Word of God was having no effect until she admitted it was she who had received a letter from her husband, who found another woman and wanted a divorce. She let her life become so consumed with worry that she blatantly lied to try to deal with it. The power of God’s word was stifled because of all the anxiety she held inside. This woman should have been a lively, vivacious 35 year old(her natural character) who has having serious marital problems. Instead she was a morose, depressed and physically weak person heading for a major crash –all because she was trying to deal with worry in an ungodly way. Worry destroys people from the inside out!
B. Chokes out inner peace Luke 10:40-42
TURN TO LUKE 10. (repeat). Not only does worry choke God’s Word out of our life, but it also chokes out our inner peace that the Holy Spirit gives us. It’s like God is telling us you get a choice – you can hold on to worry inside or you can have inner peace – but you can never have both. Choose wisely!
READ Luke 10:38-42. Picture what is happening here – it is almost comical. The most famous believer in the whole world has come to your house. What a privilege!!! Picture Billy Graham or anyone else you want, coming to your house. This is the chance of a lifetime. Is Martha enjoying it? No, she is in a tizzy – that is a fancy theological term for a very unsettled inner being. So frustrated is Martha that she condemns JESUS as uncaring. READ v 40. Oh I wonder how many times we get angry at God like this.
Notice the problem isn’t God, it is not Mary nor is it any other believer. The problem is 100% Martha. Martha is so preoccupied, so worried about details, so upset about many things that she has totally lost any inner peace or true perspective on life. Martha may think others don’t care, but the truth is Martha is dealing with life the wrong way. Worry chokes out inner peace and true perspective.
C. Makes heart heavy Luke 21:34
Turn to Luke 21 for a third serious problem Jesus tells us comes from worry. Worry and anxiety makes our hearts heavy. READ Luke 21:34
Today we know that alcohol is a depressant. No matter how good you feel when you drink it, after its immediate effect wear off, you feel more down or blah than if you hadn’t drank it. People who drink because their hearts are heavy don’t feel better the next day – they actually feel worse – we even name it – a hangover. Dissipation means “over indulgence in sensual pleasures.” This can even include good pleasures. The first day of turkey is great, but on the fifth straight day its not feeling so good. The first day at Disney World is great, but by the 7th day its blah – been there, done that. Even my beloved football, if I watch all three Sunday games in their entirely, I don’t feel more rested the next day. Jesus says it is the same way with anxiety or holding on to the worries of life. It causes our hearts to be weighed down – that is to feel bad, blah and like life doesn’t really matter. Turn back to Phil 4.
II. Instructions concerning worry Philippians 4:6
If worry is so universal – how can I NOT worry? If there are so many seemingly legitimate things in this life to worry about – how can I not worry? If so many people around me are constantly worrying – how can I not worry? What is this revolutionary way of thinking that God has for us?
The actual instructions are quite simple. READ v 6. These are not hard to understand intellectually, but it does require a measure of active faith and an orthodox belief in God that many are unwilling to do. There is no short-cut to this. For me personally, there are many times that I have allowed worry to stay in my life a long time before ever considering turning the worrisome area to prayer – and I’m a pastor who should know better!
A. Stop all rationalization
“Do not be anxious about anything”
READ v 6. The first step is to stop all rationalizations of why it is OK to hold on to worry. “Do not be anxious about anything.” Notice there are NO EXCEPTIONS. Don’t worry about anything. This is not saying anxiety will never rise up in your life but we don’t want to invite worry to stay! In dealing with a similar thought Peter says, “Casts all your anxiety on God because He cares for you.” Worry is something that will naturally arise in our lives when we see problems we can’t control. SO when worry rises in our life, we need to actively challenge the excuses and rationalizations we hold for why it is OK to worry. We actually think we have good reasons for feeling miserable.
Some say it’s just their nature – I was born a worry wart. Some get angry at the suggestion, “well you would worry to if you were in my shoes.” Some self-righteously believe they are showing great love and concern by constantly worrying about others. Consider Sue, the woman I mentioned earlier with the marital problems - why might she be worrying?
- My life is ruined
- I’ll never be happy again
- People will think it’s my fault
- How will the kids ever get though this
There is always plenty of reasons to worry, but a good starting place is to denounce our rationalizations as deceptions and declare our worry a sin. God says “Do not be anxious about anything.” And “anything” really does mean “anything”.
B. Replace worry with serious prayer
“But in everything by prayer & petition”
While this is an important start, it doesn’t get rid of the actual anxiety. It just takes away the excuses we use to protect us from God’s victory in this area.
The second step God gives us is to replace the worry with something far more beneficial and powerful. PRAYER! READ v 6. Or as the Living Bible says “Don’t worry about anything INSTEAD pray about everything.” We want to replace worry with a particularly powerful type of prayer. Contrast this with the typical advice of our culture – “Don’t worry, be happy.” This cheap imitation rightly knows that worry is a problem and it equally knows that worry must be replaced with something – but what they replace it with simply isn’t powerful enough to face the greatest problems we face.
What’s faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and can leap across the universe in a single bound? It certainly isn’t some guy in tights & a cape! No, its prayer. NOT just any prayer, but one I call serious, believing, focused prayer. Immediately changing our worry into a pointed prayer is something we must learn to do. Then practice regularly. No one else can do it for us. There are no short-cuts.
Normally when a big problem is approaching, we start to get tense inside. Our mind is programmed to start imagining all the terrible things that COULD happen so we can get ready for them. But when we start FOCUSING on these awful pictures, our overall attitude can turn to become very negative and pessimistic. When that negative and pessimistic attitude sticks around, we head into full blown worry & anxiety. We want to interrupt this cycle with PRAYER.
Notice three different words are used in this short verse for prayer:
- Prayer – (proseuchē) is the general word for our talking to God. Prayer describes how we approach the Almighty Sovereign of the Universe
- Petition - (deēsei) emphasizes requesting an answer to a specific need. It’s most often a formal request given to an authority. We are formally going to someone who can genuinely help
- Requests - (aitēmata) speak of definite and specific things asked for – what is it we really want?
It is not any old prayer that overcomes worry – This is a serious request of the God of the Universe!
One way we can pray, petition and request is to break down our FEELINGS into pieces and then turn each piece into focused believing prayer. Let’s take the 4 major concerns of the woman with marital.
(My life is ruined) “Lord, You know I feel like my life is ruined. Please, I am asking You right now to not let this ruin my life. Lord, I ask You – that no matter how long it takes – please do something of eternal value through my life. I give You permission to start working on me begiining right now …”
To the idea that I’ll never be happy again pray “Lord, please help me to know joy again in my life. I want to know joy not just when things are easy but when life is hard also. I now see how tied my emotions are to circumstances. I don’t want to be blown back and forth with every changing wind, but want my life anchored on Your unchanging rock”
(People will think it’s my fault) – “Lord, I feel like people are talking behind my back. It is so unfair and it feels like they are looking down on me. I can’t straighten them out, but I ask that you will make all the lies clear to people over the coming years. I surrender this area to Your timing, but do ask that You make the truth clear to those around me.”
To the worry about how the kids will get through this: “Lord, put Your Almighty protection around my kids. Work through other means so they might grow up to maturity even though their father and I are no longer together. Place Your angels around them, bring circumstances & other people in to teach them lessons I can’t. Bind satan from using this to deform them. Most of all help me to be a mother who doesn’t neglect their needs because I am too focused on my own. Open my eyes to my own self-pity where it arises. Show me the eternal value of pouring myself into my children and then letting go as they grow. I surrender my children to Your care and direction as their Heavenly Father.”
When we start praying this way, faith grows and worry drops. But this kind of prayer takes practice and discipline. In each we move from our feelings to wanting God’s goal of His Kingdom come, His will to be done. We move from our rationalizations to surrender to trust God.
C. Pray in child-like growing trust
“present your requests to God”
What we are developing is a child-like faith. READ V 6. “Present your requests to God.” We bring them to the Almighty Sovereign of the Universe knowing we are accepted in Jesus Christ. When we approach our heavenly Father, we are going to exercise a child-like faith or a childish attitude.
Childish behavior seeks to manipulate – it gets upset, yells at God and blames Him when the answer is not what we want. Childish behavior is focused on ourselves and our disappointments. Childish prayers will not bust worry – they cannot overcome strong anxiety.
Child-like behavior trusts – it tells God our needs, but accepts His answers and His timing. Child-like faith seeks to make God’s goals, our goals. Child-like prayers can overcome even the toughest worries in the most anxious of people.
Problems, challenges and fear-producing situations are all opportunities for us to grow in our faith. But we have to slide our focus off ourselves in our prayers and over to God’s plan for us to grow in our character, in our service and in our witness. This all forces us back to the real God of the Bible, not a false imitation we made up. Then as God works inside us and out, our confidence in Him and His promises grows.
D. Keep an eternal perspective
The fourth and final aspect of this worry busting prayer is that it is done with “thanksgiving.” READ v 6. In the midst of times of over-whelming worry or anxiety, we are to take time for “thanksgiving” in our prayers. Again, we need a clear Biblical view of God for that to happen. Job lost everything, but He still praised God for His character which never changes. When we do give thanks in tough situations it helps us keep an eternal perspective. It is that bigger perspective that helps our faith to grow, our prayers to become more powerful and worry to be overcome.
Now if you were to ask the woman whose husband left her – what do you have to be really thankful for? She might mutter a few things and then think,“but that is not what is really important – what is really important is my problems and they need a SOLUTION – NOW!” God is telling us here that is the wrong order. In the time of worry or anxiety you are already consumed with yourself and with your problems. To get to a solution you need to stop and claim before God ALL you are grateful for. Yes right at the depressing time! When we do that it does bring special perspective into our lives. Excuses & rationalizations can’t do that.
Today I’ve tried to share with you a very straightforward but powerful solution of God --- when worry starts consuming our life, we need to replace it with serious, focused believing prayer. Pray until you break the worry. Practice! Faith requires effort. While I have broken that prayer into 4 parts to try to help you see the area that might be hindering you the most – our goal is to simply start praying when we first recognize our anxiety rising! That is just not the way we have been brought up!
As the children’s song says “Why worry when you can pray. Trust Jesus, He’ll be your stay. Don’t be a doubting Thomas, rest fully on His promise. Why worry, worry, worry, worry, when you can pray!”
May God positively encourage you this week to try out some worry-busting prayers! Just trying some is a great step forward.