By Deirdre Reilly, Crosswalk.com
There are many ways to alleviate stress today — a bevy of calming apps, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness training, too. Stress levels remain high in an uncertain world for many of us, but the good news is that we have a powerful tool within us that connects us to the source of all power: prayer.
As I write this, I am getting ready to board a flight in cloudy, rainy weather, so rest assured I will be using this powerful tool myself! I am confident in its ability to calm and center me.
How do you use prayer to de-stress? Here are some helpful tips, based on years of my own practice, and what the Bible assures us, too.
And here’s an interesting note: “Fear Not” is the most repeated command in the Bible!
1. Believe in Prayer’s Validity
In order to use prayer to de-stress and reach new, sustainable periods of calm, we need to actually believe that prayer works. An interesting question to ask yourself is, “Do I believe that God hears each one of my prayers?” It is a very basic but important question. If your answer is yes, this should fill you with hope and confidence.
You have reason to feel this way: 1 John 5: 14-15 reveals, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”
The Bible is bursting with humans who believe that God hears our prayers. It is also bursting with prayers specifically for stress and anxiety. Think of what the people in the Old Testament went through: wandering the desert for forty years, slavery, war, and early death for a variety of reasons. Talk about stress! Early believers, who first knew God as Yahweh, were under incredible stress, and they were constantly reminded to turn to God.
And God was faithful in addressing their stress, speaking through the prophets. Joshua 1:9 tells us, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Psalm 121:1-2 reminds, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Stress has been ever-constant, and God has been ever-present.
2. Get Personal, and Be Specific
When you are stressed and praying, remember to lay out your worries. Even though God knows them, it is helpful to you to place them before the Lord — giving them shape and substance, instead of just a general dark cloud of worry. Sometimes anxiety can build during the night, as we battle restorative rest in order to worry just a little bit more before the new day dawns! In the morning, however, often perspective takes over, and things look a bit better. It is the same with laying out your cares and concerns before God. Talk to the Lord as your “Abba” (a term of great affection, closeness, and endearment in the Aramaic language).
If you can’t separate your worries, just ask God to take a look at your whole mess and be present. He understands! Tell God you’re extremely anxious, and invite Him into the center of your stress storm.
Remember, our God is a personal God. We don’t need to ever pretend in front of Him. He sent His only son Jesus down in human form so that we would have someone who uniquely understands us, while at the same time being equally divine. He could have connected with us any way He chose, but He walked among us as one of us. He wants to be with us, in good times and in bad. Remember that, and find joy in it!
3. Develop Calming Prayer Patterns
Many people deal with constant stress and even crippling anxiety every day. Anxiety is a real and ever-present thorn in the lives of many, and it deserves to be taken seriously and be given careful attention, with proper attention sought should anxiety becomes unmanageable. I know several people whose lives are severely impacted by stress, and it’s hard — no doubt about it. I used to suffer from panic attacks, so this is an area I understand. Being a Christian doesn’t shield you from life issues, but it sure does give you help in the struggle!
One thing many find helpful is a pattern for their prayers. If stress is higher in the morning, try starting with a cup of soothing tea and your Bible. Or take deep breaths in bed and talk to the Lord about how you would like the day to go, and your specific worries, as mentioned above.
The same goes if you tend to worry at work. Take a break and find some time alone; a quick stroll around the building (or your home, if you work from home), or time in the break room. Keep earphones in your desk so that you can use guided prayer through an app or YouTube or listen to faith music. Anything that directs our thoughts heavenward puts earthly situations in the correct perspective: we are loved by an awesome God, He is with us every moment, and we will be with Him someday in Paradise.
How wonderful is that?
4. Pray Before Stressful Events
In the same way, we leave ten minutes in reserve to put on makeup, organize our briefcase, or clean the kids’ faces and run a comb through their hair, we benefit from leaving time for prayer, baking it into our day. Especially before a stressful event such as a big meeting, a medical procedure, or anything else that stresses us out. If we take a few moments to relax mind and body, turn off the cellphone, and open our hearts fully to God’s abiding love and constant presence, we begin to feel Him in the moment — inside the event or situation that is stressing us out.
In the same way some practice yoga or meditation, prayer takes the special qualities of concentration, awareness, and a sense of give and take (communicating and listening). This can be done crunched in a crowded subway, riding on a tractor, or settled in a church pew.
Jesus himself is the most heart-wrenching, utterly unforgettable example of praying before a stressful event — his own crucifixion. He brought himself before the Father and asked if the cup of pain, humiliation, and grief could pass him by, and respected the Lord’s answer (Matthew 26:39). This was perhaps the most loving give-and-take in prayer ever accomplished, with the beneficiaries being all of us.
Anyone who has ever dealt with significant stress and anxiety — and that is most, if not all of us — know what a hard problem it can be. Stress winds through our thought processes, breaking concentration, muddling thought, and even causing physical changes. Our God knows and understands all situations, and I believe He is especially tender towards us as we deal with modern life and all its challenges. He is just waiting for us to release all our cares to Him and allow Him into our problems in a meaningful way.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Deirdre Reilly is a writer and editor, and her commentary has appeared on various websites including CBN.com, FoxNews.com, and others. Her new book, “The Pretend Christian: Traveling Beyond Denomination to the True Jesus,” details her own personal journey through doubt and fear into true belief. You can connect with Deirdre via www.deirdrereilly.com, or follow her on Twitter at @deirdrewrites.