One of the sweetest things I think I’ve ever heard is a group of little preschoolers saying the Lord’s Prayer in their tiny, innocent voices. Once upon a time, I was one of those little preschoolers, but it wouldn’t be until thirty years later that God opened my eyes to the truth in that prayer.
As an adult, I’ve often found myself missing those carefree days of childhood, when I didn’t wake up worried about finances, how to raise and educate my children well, whether I am wasting my own education by not having an outside-the-home job, and if I am being a godly woman in general. Anxiety is a constant companion for most American adults, and it can be difficult to see through the webs of worry to the truth that will ground us and free us from the struggle. I’ve found that for Christians, this anxiety is compounded by the fact that many of us believe that being Christians should somehow make us impervious to emotional or mental distress.
I love the story in Acts 21, where Luke and Phillip and other disciples are trying to convince the Apostle Paul not to go on to Jerusalem, after a prophet came and told them that Paul would be bound and delivered to the Gentiles, presumably for his death. They were fearful, worried, overcome with emotion, weeping and pleading with him to stay put. Paul’s response showed his understanding of God as sovereign and his eternal perspective of life on this earth: “Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”” And, recognizing the wisdom and faith in what he was saying, the people responded, “Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done”” (Acts 21:13-14, CSB). At the core of Paul’s faith is the knowledge that God causes all things to work for the good of those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). His faith superseded his own possible fear of death.
If we continually pray in a way that orients our minds to this truth, the truth that God is sovereign over all things, we begin to see a way out from the anxiety of focusing only on our circumstances.
“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10, CSB
The instructions in the Lord’s Prayer that are so fundamental to our faith are at the very beginning – keep God set apart as holy in your life because He is the Almighty God, look forward to the coming of His kingdom, and set your mind on His will being accomplished on earth as it always is in heaven. Arranging our focus this way before ever asking God for a single thing puts us in the right position. It reminds us that He is sovereign over all things. It’s like taking a deep breath in a moment of panic.
Try this. Find a comfortable place to sit, away from noise or other people if possible. Get comfortable, placing your feet firmly on the ground – you’re not going anywhere. Close your eyes to the world around you and just breathe for a minute. Slowly. Deep breath in, and release that breath slowly. Don’t focus on anything other than your breath. In Hebrew, the words “breath” and “Spirit” are the same – ruach. In Genesis 1:2, the Spirit (ruach) of God is hovering over the surface of the waters. In Genesis 6:17, “ruach” is used in the phrase “breath of life”. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I can say that this is no coincidence. While you’re breathing in and out, focus on this. God’s Spirit is in you, giving you life and joy and peace.
That’s the thing about handling anxiety as a Christian. When your life becomes overwhelming – and it will – you have Jesus. When circumstances cause you to fear or worry, you have Jesus. You have total access to the God of Creation; His Spirit is in You. He has a design for you and your life, and His sovereignty will always overcome any earthly bump in the road. So take a deep breath. Focus on your Savior instead of your circumstances, and pray.
Breathe in, breathe out – “Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10, CSB).