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

fear(This ended up becoming a series. Here’s Part 1 and Part 3.)

The 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 hard to know what to expect from God. I’m an existential thinker with a keen theology of suffering – and enough direct experience of it to lose all peaches-and-cream naivete about the life God predicts for us. 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. His ways are inscrutable, beyond knowing. And they involve hardship. 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…

…and I end up in this wonderful little merry-go-round every time I fear something.

A possibility crops up. Whether manufactured in my mind or presented by real circumstances, it crops up, and I worry. It’s true: God isn’t required to give me a happy ending to this chapter. He could have purposes that involve disappointment, pain, and heartsickness. That’s all above my pay grade.

But one day it occurred to me…am I just spiritualizing 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 all with the goal of getting Jesus to renounce the path of surrender, take matters into his own hands. That’s the giveaway. That God’s holy words would even be permitted to roll off that demon’s tongue is revolting, but it does happen.

While all my thoughts above are true, I realized I was spending an awful lot of time thinking about forks in the road that hadn’t arrived yet. Why was I doing that? Was it any different than that kissing cousin of fear, common worry? Because the fruit of something is a giveaway of its source, and if the fruit is worry…

Well, then.

I decided to 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 going back to 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 burden?

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.

Worry had found a clever little backdoor into my life, one often missed by common teachings on the subject. God has exposed it. I will slam it shut with God’s truth.

23 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 3 people

  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 2 people

  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

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  9. Thank you for showing us that sometimes even in the places we feel we are doing fine in, the enemy is actually very busy… thanks for your words of wisdom!

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  10. Great imagery at the end and then there’s this statement: “I’ve never had a problem knowing God can; I just don’t know that he will.” I have struggled with this fear for almost six years now. I totally get it!

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  11. Ron use to say Brandon that I use to worry if I had nothing to worry about and perhaps that was True but God does not condemn us for worrying but encourages us not to. Another thing I remember is until we are Perfected in Love having put our Carnal flesh to death by The Spirit we will have fleshy fear but God knows those who are His and not one of us will be lost.

    1John 4:16-19 And we have known and believed the Love that God hath to us. God is Love and he that dwelleth in Love dwelleth in God and God in him. Herein is our Love made Perfect that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is so are we in this World. There is no fear in Love but Perfect Love casteth out fear because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made Perfect in Love. We Love Him because He first Loved us.

    I have had much Heartache in my Life Brandon, some because we live in a fallen World that Satan Control’s, some I caused myself and some from those who are fleshy and worldly in their focus, including some who are members in the Churches. Jesus also tells us when we follow Him we will be Persecuted, hated, slandered, rejected, ignored and maybe even Martyred.

    Below Brandon is the Scriptures The Lord gave me in my Storm and I keep them close to my Heart but there are others too and also a Song that greatly uplifts me, I hope it blesses you too.

    Isaiah 43:1-3….. Fear not for I have redeemed thee I have called thee by thy name thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee, when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour….. (KJV)

    Jeremiah 29 :11-12 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

    Lamentations 3: 33 For God doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the Children of Men.

    1 Corinthians 2:9-16 But as it is written; Eye hath not seen nor ear heard neither have entered into the heart of Man the things which God hath prepared for them that Love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things yea the deep things of God. For what Man knoweth the things of a Man, save the spirit of Man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no Man but the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is of God that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak not in the words which Man’s wisdom teacheth but which the Holy Ghost Teacheth, comparing spiritual things with Spiritual. But the natural Man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him neither can he know them because they are Spiritually discerned. But he that is Spiritual judgeth all things yet he himself is judged of no Man. For who hath known the Mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? but we have the Mind of Christ.

    Christian Love and Blessings – Anne.

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  13. That is True Brandon God does not condemn us if we are walking in the Spirit and not the Carnal flesh as the Scriptures below confirm and if we are walking in The Spirit we will be doing what God wants with Joy and not just because we have to.

    Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no Condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of Sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for Sin, condemned Sin in the flesh. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death but to be Spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God for it is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.KJV

    Matthew 25 : 31 -40 When the Son of man shall come in His glory and all the Holy Angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the Throne of His glory. And before Him shall be gathered all Nations and He shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And He shall set the sheep on His right hand but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand; Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred and ye gave me meat, I was thirsty and ye gave me drink, I was a stranger and ye took me in. Naked and ye clothed me, I was sick and ye visited me, I was in Prison and ye came unto me. Then shall the Righteous answer Him saying; Lord when saw we thee an hungred and fed thee? or thirsty and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in? or naked and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick or in prison and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.

    Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

    James 2:18 Even so Faith if it hath not works is dead being alone. Yea a Man may say; Thou hast Faith and I have works shew me thy Faith without thy works and I will shew thee my Faith by my works.

    Christian Love and Blessings – Anne.

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