When our mind is swirling with worries and fears, it can be hard to know where to turn. In this article, Bethany Broderick teaches how praying against anxiety can be our first and best defense against our anxious thoughts and shares 3 psalms to help guide our prayers as we surrender these anxieties to God.
She was wearing orange floaties twice the size of her arms with goggles covering almost her entire face. Her slim shoulders showed a tint of pink, as her long wet legs trembled beside the swimming pool.
From my plastic lounge chair, I watched my daughter repeatedly return to the edge of the pool. Her tiny toes clenched the lip of the concrete as she peered into the clear blue water. My husband, wading a few feet ahead of her in the deep end, counted to three and beckoned her to jump. She bent her knees, then stood up straight, only to bend them once again.
“I promise I’ll catch you,” my husband encouraged her, holding out his arms in reassurance. At last her feet left the side of the pool, and her body plunged into the water, directly into the arms of her father.
She resurfaced quickly, laughing and wiping the water off her goggles. “Again!” she yelled, scrambling up the warm, silver ladder before repeating the same timid launch into the pool.
Even though my daughter feared the water’s depth each time she approached the edge, she always took the leap of faith. I continued to watch from over the top of my book and grinned at their game. Then, the reason why she always eventually jumped struck me. She jumped not because she logically knew her floaties would keep her above water. She jumped not because she didn’t fear going under or because she was confident in her own ability to swim. No, the reason she jumped was solely based on the love and strength of her father. Her faith in him was greater than her worries.
THE DEEP END OF ANXIETY
I often feel like I’m standing at the edge of a deep, dark pool myself. I watch the water swirl with my anxieties:
When are we finally going to bring our adopted child home?
Will my husband be deployed?
How long will I have to wait to see the fruition of the work God has called me to do?
What if my children get sick and I can’t help them?
My mind is constantly preoccupied with these immense anxieties along with the everyday worries:
What if I forget an important appointment? Why do I always lose my patience with my children? Is God disappointed that I have missed my quiet time once again? How will I be able to do it all? What will happen if I don’t?
He promises Perfect Peace
Just like my husband called out to his daughter as she stood shakily on the tiled pool edge, my Heavenly Father calls out to me. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5b-7).
My Father beckons me to remember that He is with me and to surrender my anxieties to Him through prayer. Through the darkest waters, He promises to catch me in His perfect peace. So how can we take the leap into our Father’s arms and pray against our anxiety?
USING THE PSALMS TO GUIDE OUR PRAYERS
King David had much to be anxious about over his lifetime: a giant threatening his people; the previous king seeking to kill him; the consequences of his own grave sin; his own son attempting to overthrow the throne. While we often remember the mountaintops of David’s story—the beautiful poetry and courageous deeds—much of his life was spent in the valley. Even though he was faithful to God’s call on his life, David’s life was not free from the anxieties of this world. So how did David handle his worries ? Through the Psalms, we see a pattern for how he prayed against his anxieties.
In his prayer, David would surrender his worries before the Lord, plead with the Lord to act, then praise the Lord for Who He is and what He has done. This pattern reveals a key element of overcoming worry. Worry isn’t defeated by our own reason (this isn’t as bad as I think) or our own strength (I know I can beat this). It’s overcome by trusting in our Father’s arms reaching out toward us.
We can follow this same pattern in praying against our own anxieties.
1. Surrender Your Anxieties to God
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that just as our Heavenly Father knows the needs of the birds and the flowers, He knows every need of ours (Matthew 6:25-32). Our Father—who knows the placement of every atom in the universe—knows each item on our overwhelming to-do list, each worst-case scenario plaguing our thoughts, and each fear keeping us up at night.
Even more, God invites us to come humbly to Him, “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). “Casting” doesn’t only mean mentioning a worry to someone while holding it tight. It means to throw it upon someone else. When we surrender our anxieties to the Father, we release them to the only One who has the power to act.
2. Ask God to Act
Once we let go of our anxieties, entrusting them to our Father, we pray for Him to act. In His sovereignty, God has designed the prayers of His people to bring about His good plan. While it may seem like our words are merely rising to the ceiling, we can be confident that when we intercede, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b).
Jesus promises, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). While the answers to our prayers may be different than we had anticipated, we can trust that He is always working “to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
3. Praise God For Who He Is
When Moses asks to see the Lord’s face, the Lord identifies Himself as, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). Throughout the rest of his leadership over Israel, Moses clung to this revelation of God’s character. When he interceded for the Israelites, he based his prayers on these characteristics.
When we pray against our anxieties, we should always remember to Whom we are praying. By meditating on God’s past deeds, His eternal character, and His future promises, our hearts and minds can finally be free from the worries that seem insurmountable in our own power and knowledge. When we feel overwhelmed by anxiety, we can recall the steadfast love of the Lord and therefore hope in him (Lamentations 3:21-24).
THREE PSALMS TO PRAY AGAINST ANXIETY
Often, when I don’t know the words to pray, I let the words of the psalmists guide my prayers. In Psalm 27, David reminds us that we have nothing to fear in life when the Lord is our Light, Salvation, and Refuge. Join with David in praying the following over your anxiety:
Father, help me to realize whose world I live in. You are my God; there’s no reason for me to be afraid of [admit what you are afraid of at the time] (v.1). I am worried about [confess your current anxieties] (v.2-3). There’s no need for me to worry because You are a gracious God, a God who protects me. You have rescued me from my sin, and I know that You will rescue me from whatever worries I have (v.4-6).
Boldly I ask that You take control of my worries. I cannot handle these problems on my own, but I know that You are a good and sovereign God who is in control of the world and my life (v.7-9). I know that I am going to face struggles in this life and that sometimes You allow hard times to come. But I also know, even during the trials, You will always be there, holding onto me. I can confidently walk in this world knowing You are there (v.10-12). Father, when worries come, when anxieties assail me, when fear threatens to overtake me, I will wait for You. I will take heart and be strong, not because of my own strength and goodness, but because of Yours (v.13-14).
In Psalm 56, when David was seized by his enemies, the truth that God was for him freed David from his overwhelming fear. Make David’s words your own by praying:
Father, I feel trampled down by the weight of [confess your anxieties] (v.1-2). Deep down, I am afraid of [admit your fears]. Even though these worries and fears seem insurmountable, I believe that I don’t have to be afraid, because Your grace sustains me. Nothing in this world can take away the comfort of Your salvation (v.3-4).
Father, would You bring about Your justice and goodness? Will You right the wrongs in my life? Will You relieve me from all my anxieties? (v.5-7). When anxieties overwhelm me, I will remember the one thing I know—that You are for me (v.8-9). I praise You that just as You have delivered me from my sin, You will one day deliver me from these anxieties. Until then I will praise You in both joy and sadness, peace and anxiety (v.10-11).
In Psalm 142, when David was hiding in a cave in fear for his life, he shows us how we can cry out in confidence before the Lord. Pour out your heart before God like David did:
Father, I cry out to You! I plead with You for mercy! I pour out all my complaints and troubles before You [confess your anxieties] (v.1-2). Even when my spirit is overwhelmed, I trust that You know my way (v.3). Even when it seems like no one cares about me, You are there for me (v.4). You are my safe place, and You are enough for me (v.5).
Please, Father, deliver me from the weight of my anxieties, because I cannot bear the burden of them anymore (v.6). I know there’s no need for me to fret over my future, because You have promised me abundant hope for eternity (v.7).
Through God’s common grace to all, He has given us in His creation a myriad of biological and psychological resources that can help us overcome our anxieties. However, the greatest gift He has given us is access to the Father’s presence—through the Son and the Spirit—in prayer. Let us make prayer our first defense against anxiety.
Do you have a favorite Psalm? What are some tools you’ve used in the battle against anxiety? How have you seen God’s presence in the midst of your worries and fears?
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