Monday, May 22, 2017

Prayer As the Antidote to Anxiety

Bridge, Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin

In Philippians 4 Paul commands Jesus-followers to “be anxious about nothing.” (v. 6) The biblical Greek word for ‘anxious’ is often used in contexts where persecution is happening. For example, in Matthew 10:19, Jesus counsels his disciples: “When they arrest you, do not be anxious about what to say or how to say it.”

When Paul counsels the Philippians to not be anxious, it’s not like he’s sitting on the beach savoring Starbucks. He’s in prison! The context is: persecution. The Philippian Jesus-followers were suffering under opposition from their pagan neighbors, like Paul and Silas had suffered when among them (Acts 16:19-24; Phil 1:28-30).

I know what worry and anxiety are like. I have, in some especially troubling times, felt consumed by them. So, how realistic is it to be told “Be anxious about nothing?” 

Paul’s answer, his experiential reality, is found in his rich, ongoing prayer life. He writes: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Paul's praying life is a deep vein of gold that produces spiritual wealth and wellness. Paul's praying life is ongoing; i.e., Paul prays, as was his habit, unceasingly. 

I have proven that this works, for myself. I have a proof that prayer works. It’s this (following Henri Nouwen, in his book Gracias!): When I don’t pray I am more easily filled with worries and fears. But as I do pray, God meets with me. In the act of praying I experience caregiving from the Great Physician.

In everyday prayer-conferencing with God I present my requests to him. I lay my burdens before him (See 1 Peter 5:7). I have a Father God who loves me, in whom I trust. Where there is trust, there is neither worry nor anxiety. A person with a praying life grows in trust and diminishes in anxiety. A praying person discovers that trust and anxiety are inversely proportionate. 

Paul writes that our prayers should be accompanied “with thanksgiving.” Ben Witherington writes: “Paul believes there is much to be said for praying in the right spirit or frame of mind.” This is significant for the Roman Philippians, since pagan prayers did not include thanksgiving. Roman prayers were often fearful, bargaining prayers, not based on a relationship with some god.

Witherington adds: “Prayer with the attitude of thanksgiving is a stress-buster.” John Wesley said that  thanksgiving is the surest evidence of a soul free from anxiety.

The antidote for worry and anxiety is: praying, with thanksgiving.