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Taking the Panic Out of Prayer

Much of our praying is an outpouring of fear or self-pity, a frenzied petition for God to do something. A look at Jesus' prayers can give us strategies for calm.


The caller sounded frantic. Her life was in crisis. Impossible deadlines loomed. Family needs, like ominous waves, were crashing upon her, leaving her feeling breathless and helpless. If something didn't change soon, she knew she'd go under.

In every problem, [Jesus] saw God as a loving Father who wants the best for His child; an able leader who's in control at all times.

"Helen, pray hard," she gulped.

I felt for my friend—deeply. We'd often shared personal needs and prayed for each other. But the urgency of this need almost made me panic. My feelings dictated I pray: "Father, this is serious! Do something for my friend now. Save her from disaster. But would such a prayer help her? It would certainly validate her fears, but would it strengthen her confidence in a loving heavenly Father?

How would Jesus pray for my friend? In a recent study of Jesus' prayers I was amazed to learn that although at times He mentioned the gravity of a situation, He never emphasized fear. Hearing Him pray generated hope. It brought people into the very presence of a God who hears, who cares, and who is active in His children's lives.

How did Jesus pray in a crisis situation? As Jesus faces a boulder which seals Lazarus' tomb, the sisters of the dead man are silently weeping. Professional mourners wail a death dirge. Jesus had been called to this scene to help, but He had waited too long. By now Lazarus' body is decaying. Deeply moved in spirit, Jesus begins to pray "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me" (John 11:41-42).

Incredible! When faced with a mind-boggling crisis—not only was His friend dead, but the credibility of His entire ministry was at stake—Jesus calmly addresses His Father, gives thanks, and makes one bold affirmation: You always hear Me.

Again when Jesus and His disciples have just had their last meal together, and Judas Iscariot has fled into the night, Jesus knows His time of betrayal has come. A few hours from now He'll be arrested, tortured, crucified. And His disciples? Like frightened sheep, they'll scatter. How does Jesus pray now?

"Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you." Then He speaks of His Father's love: "You loved me before the creation of the world" (John 17:1, 24).

All hell is about to break loose. Yet, Jesus sends no frantic call for help. No fearful elaborations of impending disaster. No mention of what He would soon have to endure. In fact, despite the grave situation He and His disciples are in, Jesus boldly affirms God's love for Himself and them. Jesus' prayer is like a call home: "Father, I trust Your love even now. I've finished the work You gave Me to do; I'm about to leave this planet and come home to glory. But I am concerned about those I'm forced to leave behind. I want them to be safe, to be full of joy despite the fact that the world hates them, and eventually to be with Me where I am and to see My glory."

Jesus' prayer doesn't discredit their heavy hearts. He doesn't belittle their fears. With infinite understanding He gives them what they need: hope for the future and resources to cope with the present. He speaks of joy, love, truth—all that will come to them through their union with Him and the Father.

Unlike Jesus, so much of our praying is an outpouring of fear or self-pity. In small prayer groups, we invite people to give detailed prayer requests. Often the prayers that follow are a frenzied petition for God to do something. Many times, I've left a prayer group feeling deeply disappointed. In the telling of requests and even in prayer, we've dwelt more on the problems than on our awesome God. Or conversely, in our valiant attempt to be positive at all costs, we belittled the problems, adding the burden of misunderstanding to an already wounded spirit. We've neglected to affirm God and the person in need.

In prayer—either for Himself or for others—Jesus made bold, declarative statements. Although He spoke of His feelings realistically ("My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" [Mark 14:34]) He reasoned with almighty God. In every problem, He saw God as a loving Father who wants the best for His child; an able leader who's in control at all times.

But how can we change our negative, fear-filled prayers into joyous affirmative praying?

For Jesus, prayer was an opportunity to affirm His faith in God, to make certain affirmative statements about His Father and the people He was praying for. Prayer became His audible expression of trust, a chance to place the problem into God's able hands. His prayers always seemed to say to God, "I love You. I know I can trust You with this."

But how can we change our negative, fear-filled prayers into joyous affirmative praying?

Firstly, we must get to know God intimately, as Jesus did. When Mary mistakes Jesus as the gardener outside the empty tomb, He says, "Go … to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'" (John 20:17).

Imagine mortal, sinful human beings having the same intimacy with Father-God as Jesus did! That's exactly what Jesus meant. Our salvation is that complete.

Although this Father-child relationship is a glorious fact for each of us, we must nurse this relationship into intimacy. Jesus did. He often went to a lonely place to pray. He spent time with the Father. For us, also, there's no shortcut to moving into intimacy with God. We must spend time in prayer and Bible reading. In prayer we interact with the Father. In Bible reading we learn to know His character.

Secondly, we must include God in our daily living. Phillip Keller in his book Pleasures Forevermore expresses excitement about seeing God's presence in every detail of his life. In every mountain crag or flower, in every animal or bird, he can see the hand of his Father. Even a broken electric garage door becomes an occasion to consult the Father's advice. Whatever the day brings, Keller recommends including God in joyous affirmation. He states that this attitude will fill us with life and joy.

Thirdly, in every prayer we must make at least one affirmation about God: "Father, I know You are here in this very room." "Father, You always hear me." "Father, I know I can depend on You." Using a Scripture or hymn as a basis for prayer has often helped me focus on God in this way. As I walk down our country road, I sing or recite the affirmative words, which I have memorized. In no time, spontaneous praise wells up within my heart: "God, You did a great job with these mountains. Thank You." Then it becomes possible for me to pray: "I know You can make something as beautiful with the raw elements in my friend's life or my own."

Fourthly, when we pray for others, we should thank God for His work in their lives. When Jesus prays for the eleven frightened disciples for one last time, He confidently declares, "Glory has come to me through them. Others will believe in me through their message; Father, you have loved them as you have loved me. I myself will be in them" (John 17). Hearing these words of confidence, strength must have flowed into their troubled hearts: "He believes in us! No matter what happens, we'll make it."

Finally, from personal experience I know the emotional boost such affirmative prayers bring. Like my friend who felt herself engulfed in family crises, I too have floundered under incredible burdens: my husband's mental illness, my five children's pain as they grapple with the inequity of life, my deep concern that their faith doesn't fail, the gut-wrenching anguish when it does and I see my children wander in the wilderness of cynicism. Pain's extremity has forced me into the arms of God.

Recently, the events of my life left me deeply troubled. Fear squeezed my heart. Panic began to rise; I called for our pastor.

He listened empathetically; then he said, "Helen, I see the grace of God in you. Like Peter, you're walking on water. You've done it for many years, and we're proud of you. Keep on looking to Jesus and you won't sink."

God's love radiated from this kind man's face as he spoke. It swirled around me, warming my spirit. Then the pastor's eyes twinkled merrily as he added: "But even if you do feel yourself sinking, don't worry; Jesus won't let you drown."

Then he prayed: "Jesus, you're Helen's protection. Cover her and this entire house with your precious blood. Now give her peace and a good night's sleep."

Immediately I felt comforted. I felt refreshed, a bit more confident. His affirming words hugged me and reminded me God is always with me. He loves me, and all is well. On that pillow, I laid my head and went to sleep.

And now it's time for me to pray for my friend as Jesus would in this affirmative way. "Shall we pray right now on the phone?" I asked.

"Will you?"

I did. "Father, You live with this family. You see the need; You understand the urgency. We know we can trust You. … "

Helen Grace Lescheid is a freelance writer and author based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Her book, Lead, Kindly Light, can be purchased directly through her. She can be reached at lescheid@uniserve.com.

Originally published in the Fellowship Magazine, September 1998.
fellowshipmagazine.org

 

 
 
 
 

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