Learning to Pray in Our Worry and Anxiety

Excerpted from ‘Where Prayer Becomes Real’ (Baker Books)

Excerpted From
Where Prayer Becomes Real
By Kyle Strobel and John Coe

It became clear to me several years ago that every time I would wake up, morning after morning, my heart would automatically take me in one direction or another. My heart was like a compass needle, immediately seeking North to my true desires, worries, and fears. My mind would immediately go to things that weighed on me, and these thoughts revealed something true of me: I am a worrier. Instead of getting up and putting on a robe, my heart would awake and put on worry. I often worried before I went to bed and, like a close traveling companion, worry would revisit me upon waking. Perhaps you relate with this, particularly as the pandemic Covid-19 greets us every morning on the news.

Importantly, I didn’t worry on purpose. I didn’t choose to worry. I didn’t say to myself, “John, today you should worry.” In fact, I didn’t want to! But most mornings, there it was; it was so automatic that it went on unnoticed. Worry was the first movement of my heart, revealing the deep intentions in my character. But it wasn’t only worry. Whatever was bothering me in the day, whatever tasks I had to do, as soon as I would wake up, my mind would immediately go there. When Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is there your heart will be also,” he was giving us a way to attend to where our hearts naturally turn us. Why was the true North of my soul worry, and what could I do about it?

There came a moment several years ago where I thought to myself, John, I’m tired of doing this. I want to open to the Lord the first thing in the morning. I was tired of the sin habits of my soul setting the agenda for my day and immediately going to its troubles. I was fed up with the broken intentions of my heart. That is when I told the Lord that I wanted to “intend” my day differently. So I took the command in Romans to present myself to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2) and translated this into a “prayer of intention.” This is a way to intentionally direct, or better, redirect the heart at the very dawn of my day. I wanted to re-learn how to walk with the Spirit rather than walk in the old habits of the flesh.

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So I began shutting down what my heart grabs onto when I wake, and instead redirected my heart by intentionally beginning my day with the Lord. I prayed what we are calling a “prayer of intention” to God: Lord, I am here, I present myself to you. Here I am. Before I do anything else, I first want to be with you. My first move is not finding a solution to my worries. Rather, the first thing I need to do is intend to be with God. That means I am intending to actually show up in his presence, and not just try to use God to get life on my terms. I want to be with God regardless of what he has for me.

Practicing Prayers of Intention

Here are four movements of this “prayer of intention” to practice right when you wake up. Take about three to four minutes as soon as your eyes open and walk through each of these.

Prayer of Honesty: First, as soon as you open your eyes, consider for a minute where your soul wants to go. Where does your heart want to lead you? What worries, anxieties, fears, joys, and loves reveal themselves? Be with God in this. Notice what you are feeling and thinking with God, and pay attention to the treasures of your heart.

Prayer of Presenting Oneself: Second, and more importantly, spend a minute intentionally presenting yourself to the Lord: “Lord, I am here, I present myself to you. Before I present myself to my concerns or worries, I present myself to You. I want, first, to be with you this day before all the other treasures of my soul.” Allow yourself to sit with him, to let him be first to you, and just enjoy this. Sometimes you will, and this is wonderful, while in other times your soul may betray you with its old conditioning. You may not want to present yourself to the Lord, you feel “out of it,” or you want to go back to the worry and anxiety that your heart has been trained in. If that is what is going on, don’t hide it, tell it to God. Tell the Lord, “Lord, I don’t feel like doing this. I feel like … [tell him what you feel]. This is true of me Lord, but I am here, and I present myself to you. God, have mercy; here I am.”

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Prayer of Identity: Third, take a minute and recall who you really are in Christ before you take on the cares of the day. “Lord, in Christ my worries and anxieties do not define me. In Christ I am fully forgiven, fully accepted in His love. Whatever I do today I want to do it with and in Him. He is my true identity. When I fail in this, remind me again, my Lord, that I am your beloved.” This reminder helps guard my heart from temptation to do life apart from my true identity in God.

Prayer of Concerns: Fourth, consider for another minute what you believe this day holds for you – what meetings you have, plans you’ve laid out, or troubles you think are coming your way. Pray them in as straightforward manner as possible concerning what is on your heart: Lord, here is what is on my soul …, take them, they are yours. Lord, I am yours. Help me to be with you in these things. Help me abide in you here, and all that this day holds. I want to be faithful to you in all that you call me into. Here I am, and here are my concerns.

You may find over time a new joy emerge in this, a brief relief or retrieve from our knee-jerk reactions upon awakening. Try it. Over the past 10 years they have been used by God to change my life.

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Excerpted from Where Prayer Becomes Real by John Coe and Kyle Strobel. (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI). Copyright 2021. Used by permission.