In the past week, I moved into my grandma’s house, signed a purchase agreement to buy a condo, found out my mortgage loan might not go through, and ended up with an infection in my lymph system that put me in the emergency room. If you think that sounds like a stressful week, you are correct. And any Christian worth their salt would’ve been on their knees right away in prayer, right? Seeking God for guidance, healing, patience, all that good stuff. Want to know what I did? I cried, a lot. And not out to God.
If I’m being completely honest, I spent a few days avoiding prayer altogether. It’s not because I don’t think God is in control of everything, or even that I don’t think he’s listening. I believe prayer is important and to my very core, I believe that surrendering my crazy week to God will, in fact, help. So why couldn’t I bring myself to do it?
Anyone else ever feel a little bit of prayer anxiety like this? Your brain is telling you to talk to God, but some part of you gets nervous and refuses, maybe not outright, but it definitely isn’t a priority. It’s at the end of your to-do list for the day; maybe you’ll get there, maybe you won’t.
Whether this never happens to you, only happens to you in a corporate worship setting or happens to you more often than you’d like to admit, there is always room for grace and growth. Open up and get ready to do some soul searching. Here are just three of many reasons I think we get nervous when it comes to prayer:
1) We know God might try to tell us something we don’t want to hear.
This fear isn’t totally unfounded. We see this sort of thing in the Bible all the time. Let’s take Moses, for example, who argued with God a bit after God told him to go demand that Pharaoh free the Israelites from slavery (Exodus 3). Eventually Moses obeyed, but at first he mostly questioned God and made excuses. Or what about Jonah? Jonah definitely didn’t like what he was hearing. He refused to go to Nineveh as God had commanded him (Jonah 1:2), and even went so far as to flee in the opposite direction. But then He ended up in the belly of a big fish, so… my point is that it’s not so unusual for you to be unsure about or even not like what God is telling you, and even to respond poorly at first.
These two men have one thing in common though: when they finally obeyed, God used them to do great things in His name. When God calls us to something, even if it seems scary or impossible, he will always give us the strength, ability, and resources to do it. This is where trust comes in. We have to trust that God’s plans are bigger than ours and will lead us to a life we can’t even imagine, but a life that will be exactly what we need. Because who knows us better than our creator?
God calling us to some new adventure is sort of the “scary positive” when it comes to this whole prayer thing. Unfortunately, there’s also a scary negative: sin. God could tell us that there’s something in our lives that we need to take away or ask forgiveness for, and it might be something we really like. We forget this sometimes, but repenting, i.e. asking for forgiveness and trying to stop sinning, is meant to be a huge, painful, healing part of our faith. And prayer is often where God illuminates those things in our lives that have to go. It makes sense that we’d be a little nervous about that.
2) We’re worried God won’t answer our prayers how we want him to.
Sometimes, I catch myself praying what I want rather than God’s wants. I pray selfishly, asking for this, that, and the other thing, hoping that God’s plan lines up perfectly with mine. If only that was how this whole prayer thing actually worked…
The purpose of prayer is not to get what we want; the purpose of prayer is to talk to God. We can make requests, give thanks, tell God exactly what we’re feeling, and just listen. Like any relationship, our relationship with God cannot thrive without regular communication. And, as we talk to God more and get to know him better, our will begins to align with his and there isn’t so much disappointment about God not answering our prayers “correctly” because we find ourselves wanting what God wants for us.
3) We think everyone else is better at this than us.
This one mostly applies to prayer in a corporate setting, but prayer and worship gatherings are so important for the health of the church and our connection with God, so this is a myth we have to debunk. Everyone else is not better than you at praying.
Do you ever get intimidated when it’s time to gather in a small group and pray aloud, though, worried that you’ll sound dumb or that the other people in your circle will judge the content and word choice of your prayer? Come on, we’ve all been there. People exist in this world who seem to just be naturally good at praying aloud, words flowing eloquently, emotionally, loudly even, from the very depths of their souls, and that’s great for them, but guess what! God doesn’t hear their prayers any better than he hears yours, no matter how ugly you think yours is.
This particular form of prayer anxiety shows us something important: we’re not truly focusing on God. There’s no way to give 100% of your attention to him and also panic that other people are analyzing your prayers. And if other people are analyzing your praying with that much scrutiny, they’re not really focusing on God either.
So let’s refuse to believe this lie, that we’re not good enough to pray, and pray as hard and as loud and as often as we can. Let’s seek God and not worry about who’s watching.
That sounds great and all, but…
You have reservations still, I get it. As easy as I just made this sound, I know it’s not. If it was, I wouldn’t be struggling with the same thing and having to write all of this in the first place. But here’s what we’re going to do about it, together: PRAY. We’re going to make prayer a priority, even if we don’t feel like it. We’re going to pray against a spirit of fear and anxiety (2 Tim. 1:7) I know this sounds like circular reasoning, pray to fix your prayer life, but that’s my honest advice to you. Let’s start to seek prayer situations in which we have to overcome this anxiety and where we have the opportunity to really tune into God. And once we’ve finally convinced ourselves to talk to God, all we have to do is wait and watch him move.