Recently, while driving to an event I was leading, anxiety began quickening my breathing and tightening my core. I know, I know! Don’t be anxious, right?
But what if you are anxious? What do you do? Present your requests to God. I knew that too, so I turned to prayer. And what happened next astonished me.
As a young girl, I had memorized Philippians 4:6–7 through song:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Those words often automatically play when anxiety strikes, pressing me toward prayer. But where in the past the prayer prescription seemed “sustained release” (or, if I’m honest, sometimes without any evident release), this time the prescription provided fast-acting peace.
In awe, I gave thanks to the Lord for leading me to a practice a few years back that I believe made the difference.
Rewind two or three years. I became convicted my Bible reading was too often about checking the box, increasing knowledge, or preparing for a study discussion. It had become more about me and less about God, more about merely reading than about enjoying the presence of the Author. I needed to, like frantic Martha, sit at the feet of my Lord. I needed to choose the better thing that wouldn’t be taken from me (Luke 10:42).
With that desire, I made two simple changes. First, I invited God into my regular Bible reading, starting with prayer to position myself at his feet. Second, I read each passage looking specifically for what it revealed about God: what he’s called, what he’s done, what he promises, and who he is.
I read each passage looking specifically for what it revealed about God: what he’s called, what he’s done, what he promises, and who he is.
On unhurried days, this included writing out each revealed name and attribute—sometimes directly in my Bible, other times in a journal. Some passages led me to write out three separate lists for attributes of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Other passages transformed into one list for who God is and another for what he’s done.
I ended up with a sharper focus on God. I also benefited from having a list, derived from Scripture, on which to meditate and turn into praise. This practice helped me know God more intimately and praise him more specifically. It made Bible reading a richer, sweeter time of being with him.
So what does this all have to do with worry? Let’s return to my car, driving to the event with rising anxiety.
This time, when I turned to prayer, the first thing to come to my lips was who God is. You’re the God who’s always with me, who will never leave me nor forsake me. You’re the God who’s been faithful to provide me with opportunities for leadership and whose strength has been made perfect in my weakness. You have left me your Holy Spirit, who is my Wonderful Counselor.
Can you believe I didn’t even get to praying about the event or my anxiety? The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, had already filled my soul. (To be clear, I’m not suggesting that all forms of anxiety can be relieved in this way. Humans are complex beings, and clinical anxiety may also require medical intervention.) In this case, the prescription to “let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6) was less about the prescription and more about the One to whom I’m invited to turn. He’s the provider of the prescription, the provider of my very life and breath, the provider of my peace.
In the past, when I turned to prayer in times of anxiety, my focus largely remained on the cause of my anxiety and my desire for his peace. It remained on me, my circumstances, my desires. In fact, praying in this way often increased my anxiety.
What I needed was to shift my focus. God is so much bigger than me and anything that could make me anxious. But that wasn’t a shift I could force in the moment, even through prayer.
As Edward Welch describes it, I needed to have “walked among the giant redwoods”:
If you have ever walked among giant redwoods, you will never be overwhelmed by the size of a dogwood tree. Or if you have been through a hurricane, a spring rain is nothing to fear. If you have been in the presence of the almighty God, everything that once controlled you suddenly has less power.
Reading God’s Word with him—with eyes open for his attributes—took me on paths through the immensity of his glory that made previous “giants” seem small in comparison. This side of heaven, we see but a glimpse of his greatness—and yet that glimpse dwarfs any fear, worry, or anxiety we may face, no matter how large.
God is so much bigger than me and anything that could make me anxious.
While my new practice helped stunt the cause of my anxiety, it was less about the specific practice and more about the greatness of the almighty God. It was less about what I did and more about whom it led me to.
Do not be anxious, my friend. Let your requests be made known to God, and seek opportunities for him to make himself known to you. Find ways to put yourself in his presence, to walk among the greatness of his glory, to ponder his promises, to rest in who he is and what he has done. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).