Co-Opted by Fear: Adventures in Overthinking Prayer, Part II

fearThe Neurotic Self-Examination Department is still hard at work, somewhere back there in my brain, outperforming their quotas for the 131rd quarter straight. I’d love to know what productivity methods they’re using, because I could make millions sharing them – I just cannot stop thinking about stuff. For example…should I include the nine months before my birth in that quarter count? If so, it’d be 134.

Anyway…

My pastor belted out another terrific sermon last night. I could sum it up in one sentence of his: “Gratitude doesn’t just sit there. It accomplishes something in our hearts. Gratitude gives way to hope.” It was about reminding oneself of God’s previous works and displays of power in our lives to gather hope for the future – relying on his prior and proven faithfulness to reassure ourselves for tomorrow.

And  thought, that doesn’t work for me. Not for matters in this life.

As I shared last week, it’s tough to know what to expect out of God. I’m an existential thinker with a keen theology of suffering, and enough direct experience of it to rid myself of any peaches-and-cream naivete about the life God predicts for us. Therefore, it’s not God’s attributes, but his purposes, that leave me on tiptoe. I’ve never had a problem knowing God can; I just don’t know that he will. God’s ways are inscrutable, beyond our knowing. And we know they involve hardship. Honestly, he could flip my life sick and destitute in a single moment and never be evil, for he can turn that to his glory and his glory is far more important than my happiness. Ultimately, the only “sure thing” we can rely upon is heaven, and…

Then I stopped myself.

And I thought…am I just being made to spiritualize my fear?

Could it be that Satan is hijacking good Scripture in my mind…in the service of fear?

We see Satan do this all the time. Thrice he quotes Scripture to Jesus – all true verses, but applied in a suspiciously broad manner, and here’s the giveaway – all with the goal of getting Jesus to renounce the path of surrender and obedience, take matters into his own hands. That God’s words would roll off that demon’s tongue is revolting. But it does happen.

In my case, the giveaway was worry. While all those thoughts above are true, I realized I was praying and then spending an awful lot of time thinking about the forthcoming answers. Why was I doing that? Was it any different than common worry? Because the fruit of something is a giveaway of its source, and if the fruit is worry…

Well, then.

I decided that I would start offering my prayers to God and then let them go. Let him decide. I asked God to imbue me with the trust and mental discipline to leave my prayers at his feet, instead of snatching them back up and turning them inside out and upside down as I so expertly do.

And if God said no?

Well, I figured I had a choice: spend the wait (days or months or years) tied up in knots of anxiety and exhausting dread and then experience the no, or spend the time free and light, living my life, and deal with the no when it comes. Which option carries a lot less cumulative pain?

It’s honestly taken years to develop the discipline to leave my prayers in God’s hands. Christians don’t always realize just how much fierceness and intentionality is required to build this stuff up. But it does build up, and it’s been one of the great treasures of my walk with God.

No more worry. I will rest on God’s faithfulness. He comes through for us so that we can expect it again.

13 thoughts on “Co-Opted by Fear: Adventures in Overthinking Prayer, Part II

  1. Great pair of posts! I understand what you mean about overthinking prayer. Part of God’s desire to hear our prayers is simply to have a growing relationship. God would prefer to have you talk to him about what you want and need–and also talk to him about your concern that you are overthinking prayer–then have you stop praying because you are uncertain you are asking the right things. J.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I find myself going on another internal tangent, I force myself to stop EVERYTHING in that moment of self-awareness, to ask myself the question, “What is ‘real’, right now, this very moment?” Inevitably, life is actually far better – even in the midst of trouble – than the soup I’ve been cookin’ up inside my head.

    I remind myself that God is with me in THIS living moment.

    Gratitude has become frontline warfare now because it puts a real hand-slam into the face of my fears.

    I love when you do these “regressions.” They are so enjoyable…and relate-able.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I can relate. This morning I was wrestling a question before God and praying for Him to show me his heart about it all. I still sometimes think of God as a stern Father, and that I still have to earn His blessing; though I know I am saved by sheer grace through faith. It is hard for me to believe that I am loved deeply by my Father who knows me better than I know myself. The great English preacher Charles H. Spurgeon preached from verses in James 5, saying, “… I should like to say I wish we could all read the original Greek, for this word, “The Lord is very pitiful,” is an especially remarkable one. It means literally that the Lord has “many bowels,” or a great heart, and so it indicates great tenderness. The god in whom some believe is unable to feel, they lay it down in their theology as an axiom that God cannot feel. This, however, I take leave to deny. God is able to do all things. I cannot regard Him as though He were a block of wood, or a mass of iron, unable to feel. On the contrary, He is represented to us as greatly feeling; the God of many bowels. You know how a sensitive person is affected at the sight of suffering. Some persons cannot bear to see a creature in pain, they are unmanned thereby, and begin to weep like children. Our God is not only full of pity, but very full of pity, not only of mercy, but of tender mercy. Our Lord Jesus Christ, when He was here on earth, was the image of the Father, and we read of Him often that ‘He was moved with compassion.’ After this sort are we to think of the great God who is full of bowels towards suffering men.” This is hard for me to believe, even in light of the cross. I still can be more introspective and take more looks within, than to gaze upon the beauty of Christ.
    But, by God’s grace, I also have these desires:
    -for truthfulness in the heart to agree with God about myself in repentance
    -to know the beauty of Christ’s love so well that my heart will be at peace no matter what may happen in this life, causing me to live like a weaned child on the mother’s breast
    -to understand & enjoy the solace of Christ more than any substitute in this life
    -for strong faith to believe all that has God says
    -to hold all things with an open palm
    -to be kept by Christ so that I may endure hardness with peace & quiet joy
    -to serve in faithfulness all the way to the end
    -to know the power of the resurrection at work in my daily life killing sin more quickly & thoroughly through the means of grace worked by the Holy Spirit

    Sorry this is so long, but your post seem to tie into what I was wrestling this morning in prayer. I like how you resolved to ask for more faith & grace to leave your needs in His hands.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You raise some good points, Brandon. I think everyone can relate to what you are describing.

    For me I find it is toughest what to expect from God when I am trying to control the outcome. But working deep in us to relinquish the very control that distances us from his love is God’s greatest work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post Brandon… I can truly relate. My motto has become “why worry when I can pray.” It is still a process, I admit, but the Lord has been teaching me to trust Him more every day. There is no better way to live! Thank you for the post! Blessings!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “why worry when I can pray.” Pretty much exactly what’s been going through my mind this week, actually. It’s just that the enemy responds by trying to attach worry TO prayer. Let’s all kick that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • AMEN!!! I recently read, “though he has been given authority in this world, he does not have final authority.” Our God, the Author of all things, is the only One who has final authority. I often find praying His Word keeps ‘my wandering mind’ (so prone to wander too!) on track during prayer… It is full of authority! Blessings Brandon!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Irritated by God’s Glory: Adventures in Overthinking Prayer, Part III | Brandon J. Adams

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