There are many ways to reduce stress these days – a variety of calming apps, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness training. Stress levels remain high for many of us in an uncertain world, but the good news is that we have a powerful tool within us that connects us to the source of all strength: prayer.
As I write this, I am preparing for a flight in cloudy, rainy weather. So rest assured that I will be using this powerful tool myself! I am convinced of its ability to calm and center myself.
How do you use prayer to relieve stress? Here are some helpful tips based on my own years of practice and what the Bible assures us.
And here’s an interesting note: “Do not be afraid” is the commandment repeated most often in the Bible!
1. Belief in the validity of prayer
In order to reduce stress through prayer and to achieve new, sustainable phases of rest, we actually have to believe that prayer works. An interesting question to ask yourself is, “Do I think God will hear my every prayer?” 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 think this way: 1 John 5: 14-15 reveals: “This is the trust we have when we draw near to God: that he hears us when we ask something of His will. And when we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him. “
The Bible is brimming with people who believe God will answer our prayers. It is also full of prayers specifically for stress and anxiety. Think about what the people of the Old Testament went through: wandering the desert for 40 years, slavery, war, and early death from various reasons. Talk about stress! Early believers, who first knew God as Yahweh, were under incredible stress and were constantly reminded to turn to God.
And God was faithful in dealing with their stress by speaking through the prophets. Joshua 1: 9 tells us, “Didn’t I command you? Be strong and brave. Dont be afraid; Do not be discouraged because the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. “
Psalm 121: 1-2 recalls: “I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth. “
Stress was always constant and God was omnipresent.
2. Get personal and be specific
When you are stressed and praying, be sure to share your concerns. Even if God knows them, it helps to put them before the Lord – to give them shape and substance, rather than just a general dark cloud of worry. Sometimes fear can build up during the night when we struggle against restful rest to worry a little more before the new day breaks! In the morning, however, perspective often takes over and things look a little better. It is the same when you expound your worries and worries before God. Talk to the Lord as your “Abba” (a term of great affection, closeness, and tenderness in the Aramaic language).
If you can’t separate your worries, just ask God to look at all of your mess and be present. He understands! Tell God that you are extremely fearful and invite Him to the center of your stress storm.
Remember, our God is a personal God. We never have to pretend to be before Him. He sent down his only Son, Jesus, in human form so that we could have someone who would understand us uniquely and at the same time be equally divine. He could have connected with us in any way he wanted, but he walked among us as one of us. He wants to be with us in good times and bad. Remember it and find joy in it!
Matthew 21:22 confirms: “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive it if you have faith.”
3. Develop calming prayer patterns
Many people struggle with constant stress and even debilitating anxiety on a daily basis. Fear is a real and ubiquitous thorn in the lives of many, and it deserves to be taken seriously and treated with due care, should the fear become uncontrollable. I know several people whose lives are heavily influenced by stress, and it’s hard – no doubt about it. I used to have panic attacks so I understand this area. Being a Christian doesn’t protect you from life problems, but it does help you in battle!
One thing that many find helpful is a pattern for their prayers. If the morning gets more stressful, try a cup of soothing tea and your Bible. Or, take a deep breath in bed and talk to the Lord about what the day should be like and what special concerns you have, as mentioned above.
The same is true if you are worried at work. Take a break and find some time for yourself; a quick walk around the building (or your home if you work from home) or time in the break room. Keep headphones in your desk so you can use guided prayers through an app, YouTube, or listen to faith music. Everything that directs our thoughts heavenward puts earthly situations into perspective: we are loved by a great God, he is with us every moment and one day we will be with him in paradise.
How wonderful is that?
4. Pray before stressful events
Just as we give ourselves ten minutes to put on make-up, organize our briefcases, or clean the children’s faces and brush a comb through their hair, we benefit from leaving time for prayer and making it into our day to bake. Especially before a stressful event like a big meeting, a medical procedure or anything else that stresses us out. When we take a few moments to relax the mind and body, turn off the cell phone, and fully open our hearts to God’s abiding love and constant presence, we begin to feel Him in the moment – within the event or situation that stresses us out.
In the same way that some practice yoga or meditation, prayer requires special qualities of focus, awareness, and give and take (communication and listening). This can be done crunching in a crowded subway, on a tractor, or in a pew.
Jesus himself is the most heartbreaking, absolutely unforgettable example of praying before a stressful event – his own crucifixion. He stood before the Father and asked if the cup of pain, humiliation, and sorrow could pass him, and he respected the Lord’s answer (Matthew 26:39). This was perhaps the most loving give and take in prayer ever achieved, of which we were all the beneficiaries.
Anyone who has ever dealt with significant stress and anxiety – and most, if not all of us – know what a difficult problem it can be. Stress winds its way through our thought processes, breaking focus, confusing thoughts, and even causing physical changes. Our God knows and understands all situations, and I believe He is especially loving towards us as we deal with modern life and all of its challenges. He is just waiting for us to leave all our worries to Him and include Him in our problems in a meaningful way.
Photo credit: © GettyImages / fizkes
Deirdre Reilly is a writer and editor, and her comment 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” describes her personal journey through doubt and fear to true faith. You can connect with Deirdre at www.deirdreilly.com or follow her on Twitter at @deirdrewrites.