When Prayer Makes Me Feel Worse

Not all prayer is beneficial.  There is a kind of prayer that is simply worrying in God’s presence.  Instead of casting all cares on God, as the word of God commands (1 Peter 5:7), unprofitable prayer merely holds these cares up before God, while refusing to let them go.  If this persists, the mind begins to dig a rut, having gone over the same ground repeatedly, and the heart begins to give way, having grown emotionally unstable due to stress.  Eventually, this so-called “prayer” implodes on a person, leaving the soul a nervous wreck.  What went wrong?

Consider carefully the kind of prayer that protects against anxiety, which is here called being too “careful”:

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

This is straight-forward teaching.  The first sentence is the cause; the second sentence is the effect.  Regarding the occasion for the cause, God is serious.  He commands us to be worried about nothing.  Mark that word: “nothing” means not one thing.  Oh, how we dismiss this sin of worrying so easily!  Yet look at the damage it causes us internally!  We worry ourselves to weariness, but God desires none of it.  He shows us the kind of prayer that gets rid of worry.

First, it is an asking prayer.  There is a “request…made known unto God.”  If you are in Christ, you have a cupboard full of promises to ask of God.  Pick one; ask it.  Second, it is a humble prayer, for the word “supplication” refers to asking for a favor from God.  In other words, we come to God as undeserving sinners, asking not for what we have earned, but for what He is graciously disposed to give us through Christ, on the basis of His atoning death.  Third, it is a thankful prayer.  Of the three elements of worry-ridding prayer, thanksgiving may be the most important, for how can we worry when we are thankful?

But how can I be thankful when I’m worried? Answer: If you really believe the promise, you will give thanks in advance, and drop the request.  It is that simple; but it is not simplistic.  It is profoundly effective.  As a result of thankful prayer, God promises that His very own peace will guard both your heart and your mind through Christ Jesus.  It is a real peace–not some kind of positive thinking that kids yourself, but the inner working of God’s Spirit, causing the inner turmoil and restlessness to cease, and bringing the soul back into wholeness.  Though it may take some time for the biological flywheel of emotions to stop spinning, God’s peace will keep the wheel from getting fresh spins.  As stated in the verse above, God’s peace is a protecting peace, keeping both the mind and the heart from being disturbed by fresh memories of rutted thoughts or by flash fears of future cares.  So many people assume that such peace only comes when all the unknowns are known; in contrast, God’s peace surpasses all human comprehension, guarding the soul when no answer is known.

For those with ongoing problems in life, thankful prayer will usually involve one good prayer session per day.  Granted, we are told to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but that command does not mean every second in endless succession, anymore than Paul himself prayed for the Thessalonians continuously, as if that was all that he did (1:2-3).  On the contrary, to pray unceasingly means to pray regularly and persistently about something until it is answered or until God indicates to stop praying (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:8-9).  Based on the model Jesus gave regarding our ongoing need of food, I often advise people to pray once a day for ongoing problems, and then to drop it for the rest of the day (cf. Matthew 6:11).  If the devil should tempt us to pick up that cast-off care, we can answer that we will address it again in earnest tomorrow, but that for today, it is safely in Jesus’ hands.

For highly unstable persons, thankful prayer may simply be a nod.  In my own life, I have sometimes thought so long about one particular point that just to pray through it would overwhelmingly tempt me to worry again and feel more unstable.  By God’s grace, I was delivered through the prayer nod.  In the back of mind, the ugly thought would arise and want to be thought about in the front of my mind.  Rather than even acknowledge its presence through consciously thinking about it or verbalizing it in prayer, I would keep it in the back of my mind and simply give a nod to the promise that I had already asked in prayer earlier in the day.  Neither the ugly thought nor the promise received internal verbalization.  It was simply a nod, and I keep right on consciously thinking about whatever was at hand.  In practicing this nod, God has delivered me from more than one deeply-ingrained bad habit of mind.

In God’s grace, the choice is now yours.  Will you cast your cares or clasp your cares?  You cannot do both simultaneously.  You must do one or the other.  Why not ask God for a promise that pertains to your problem, then in faith search your Bible and ask for counsel until He gives you that special promise.  How the Lord does this is beyond me, but He is able to make a verse “speak” to us from His living word in such a way that we know it is from Him.  Then hold on to that verse tightly and pray it fervently.  You may think that you need a coterie of verses, when in reality you need just one lifeline to keep us from drowning in the raging seas of inner emotion.  Cling to that promise in firm faith, give thanks, and throw your cares into God’s mighty hands.  He truly does care for you (1 Peter 5:7).  God bless you richly in Christ Jesus.

If I can be of help, please contact me through email (Qoheleth1210@gmail.com).

Your servant for Jesus’ sake,

Bob Snyder
Pastor, Open Door Bible Church, Hudson, Michigan

4 thoughts on “When Prayer Makes Me Feel Worse

  1. What a great explanation of this verse. It’s interesting to note that it is also the RTBC memory verse for this month. Amen to the power we have in God through prayer!

    1. God be praised, Matt, for such an interesting coordination of verses, which is not surprising, given the fact we serve the same Master. Grace to you, and thanks for the encouragement!

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