Prayer calms anxiety & relieves stress
I’m in France where thousands rallied in the streets after the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre in a massive nation-wide demonstration of solidarity. “I am Charlie” (“Je Suis Charlie”) signs are still posted on city buildings.
Some people felt helpless and feared for their safety. I was asked: “Are you still going to France?” How can we cope when we feel helpless when facing trials, troubles and tragedies? In this blog we see that Psalm 4 shows that because God is in control, if we pray in these times, He calms our anxiety and relieves our stress.
Psalm 4 was written when the Israelites were living in Canaan under King David, one of their greatest kings. It was about 1,000 BC and before the division into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. These are the lyrics of one of the songs they sang when praising God. So it has a poetic structure.
It was a model for the Israelites to follow, not a command or a report of events. As they sang it they would have been reminded to pray when they are in trouble. And that the fact that God would look after them and replace anxiety with peace.
The surrounding texts (Ps. 3 and 5) also cover the topic of praying for deliverance from enemies. It’s a major theme in many of the Psalms.
“Answer me when I call to you, O God who declares me innocent. Free me from my troubles. Have mercy on me and hear my prayer. How long will you people ruin my reputation? How long will you make groundless accusations? How long will you continue your lies?
Have mercy on me and hear my prayer. How long will you people ruin my reputation? How long will you make groundless accusations? How long will you continue your lies? Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent. Offer sacrifices in the right spirit, and trust the LORD. Many people say, “Who will show us better times?” Let your face smile on us, LORD.
You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe” (Ps. 4:1-8NLT).
David addresses both God and David’s enemies in turn. He begins with a prayer of request for God’s help (v.1). Then he addresses his enemies asking questions, making statements, and giving advice (v.2-5). He seeks the Lord’s favor and praises Him for the change he has experienced already (v.6-8). David finishes with a prayer of thanksgiving for what God has already done (v. 7-8).
David has a problem. Although he was a godly king, some of his subjects were trying to bring him down by using slander, lies and false accusations to ruin his reputation (v.2). They were blaming David for the nation’s problems saying he should be replaced as their leader so they could have better times (v.6). It looks like he’s going to be deposed. This had been going on for some-time and there was nothing David could do about it (v.2). So he seeks relief from his distress. And prays for deliverance from these attacks.
“Answer me when I call to you, O God who declares me innocent. Free me from my troubles. Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” (v.1)
He knows that God is a righteous judge who knows the facts of the situation and isn’t deceived by David’s enemies. That’s why he goes to God for help. He wants relief from his anxiety and stress.
Then he names the problems and challenges the offenders.
“Have mercy on me and hear my prayer. How long will you people ruin my reputation? How long will you make groundless accusations? How long will you continue your lies?” (v.2)
This means that they have an opportunity to consider the situation, to acknowledge their part in it (their sins) and repent and change their ways. Obviously this didn’t happen because David needed to challenge them again (v.4-5).
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the people of France responded in public rallies. They didn’t pray to God or ask spiritual questions, because they live in a secular society that seeks all its answers in humanity.
We mightn’t be a king facing his downfall or someone facing a terrorist attack, but we all face trials, troubles and tragedies that worry us from time to time. How do we manage when these bring depression and anxiety and there seems to be no relief? Do we seek help? Or do we give up? Do we pray to God?
“Have mercy on me and hear my prayer. How long will you people ruin my reputation? How long will you make groundless accusations? How long will you continue your lies?” (v.3)
David warns his enemies that God will answer his prayer and intervene because he is part of God’s Old Testament people, the Israelites. So they should realise that their efforts to bring down the king will be futile. Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
“Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent. Offer sacrifices in the right spirit, and trust the Lord.” (v.4-5)
Then he tells them what to do. Instead of blaming someone else for their troubles, they needed to tremble with fear before God and change their sinful ways by meditating as they lay in bed and then repent of their ways and trust God.
His enemies needed to control their anger and not let it lead to violence. Paul told Christians they could be angry for God, but it should be limited and not carried over into another day (Eph. 4:26-27).
At night they were to think about the stupidity of fighting against God. This should lead them to acknowledge, confess, and repent of their sin. And “trust in the Lord”. David told them to offer sacrifices in the right spirit to demonstrate this change in their lives.
Offering animal sacrifices was part of a godly life for an Israelite. We live under a different covenant. The new covenant brought in by Jesus has replaced the Old Testament law. We don’t approach God through the sacrifice of animals, but through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
‘Many people say, “Who will show us better times?” Let your face smile on us, LORD.’ (v.6)
Here David contrasts himself with his enemies. They are blaming David for their problems and are looking for another leader to replace the king, but David looks for God’s favor. He does this because He knows that God is the one we should trust in, not just another human leader. God is the only one who can bring lasting improvement in the situation. They seek all the benefits of a godly life, but they don’t want God.
A smiling face was a common expression for acceptance and favour. It was a metaphor for blessing and deliverance. Though many are discouraged, David asks the Lord to intervene and transform the situation. The opposite is to hide your face or turn your face from people’s need. In this case there is no blessing and no deliverance. David knew the image of God’s shining face from the priestly blessing (Num. 6:24-26).
Australian Prime Ministers are usually replaced when their approval rating gets too low. Kevin Rudd’s rating dropped to 58% and Julia Gillard’s to 53% before they were replaced. But now her replacement Tony Abbott is rating at 50%! What a big change since he was elected 16 months ago in September 2013. In fact the two major national political parties in Australia have gone through 10 leaders in 10 years!
Are you like David? If you trust in God are you assured that He will answer your prayers?
Or are you like David’s enemies? Can you control your anger? Do you know that human solutions will disappoint if you ignore God? Are you willing to look at the sins in your life with a view to acknowledging, confessing, and repenting of them?
“You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine” (v.7)
God has already answered his prayer by giving him inner joy even though He hasn’t been delivered yet. But he is confident that God will deliver him.
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe” (v.8)
We’ve now come to the end of the song. It began with David pleading to God to free him from his troubles and give relief for his distress. It ends with David sleeping well because he leaves his safety up to God. So his anxiety has subsided and been replaced with assurance and peace. He is confident of God’s protection. He found that prayer relieves anxiety and stress.
Paul said, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7).
A new mobile phone app enables children and other users to send emergency alerts and broadcast their GPS location to trusted contacts. It’s called Thread. It can connect users immediately to 911 (or 112 or 999 or 000) and their nominated contacts. It can allay someone’s anxiety and fears. Likewise, Christians have a hotline to God that can allay their anxiety and fears.
Have you accepted God’s provision for our trials, troubles and tragedies? Or do you face them alone?
What about terrorism?
Terrorists are enemies of particular groups of people. What else can we learn from what the Bible says about dealing with our enemies?
In Psalm 109, David uses strong language to ask God to judge and punish his enemies (v.6-21). He wants them to receive the consequences of their sinful behavior. He wants revenge. This language is acceptable for Old Testament times, but not now.
What’s changed since then? Jesus brought a new covenant. He prayed for His enemies (Lk. 23:34) and taught His followers to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44-45). Paul taught that we are to never take revenge, but leave that up to God (Rom. 12:19-21). Because, doing good to one’s enemy, instead of taking revenge, may bring about repentance.
Our real enemy is Satan who directs the terrorists (Eph. 6:12). This means that it’s spiritual warfare that requires spiritual weapons. That’s why when facing all kinds of dangers and threats, the Psalmist could say “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” (Ps. 121:1). We need the God who made the universe on our side, because He’s stronger than Satan.
Do we have the same attitude as Jesus and Paul? Do we leave the problem of terrorism up to God? Do we pray to God about it? Do we pray for our enemies?
We have seen that David prayed for help and deliverance when he faced serious trials, troubles and tragedies. His song taught that God answers prayer and that prayer relieves anxiety and stress.
When we feel helpless when facing trials, troubles, tragedies or terrorism we need to realize that because God is in control, if we pray in these times, He calms our anxiety and relieves our stress.
Written, January 2015
Opportunities for spiritual development
God can seem so distant when we are going though difficult times of trial and trouble. Yet the Bible teaches us that God is always at work for our good (Rom. 8:28).
The Christian faith, like the human body, requires exercise in order to keep healthy. Otherwise it will grow weak and useless (Jas. 2:14-26). The trials in our lives can be viewed as opportunities to develop our “spiritual muscles” in four areas of our lives.
Trials Develop Patience And Maturity
Besides prayer, the most common theme associated with suffering is that of developing patience, perseverance and endurance. In such times our faith is being exercised and tested and we become more mature (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7).
God does not want weak Christians who give up when they face difficulties. Instead, Paul says “we do not lose heart,” and he reminds others, “you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering” (2 Cor. 4:16-17; Heb. 10:32 niv). The illustration in these verses is that of a contest or a battle. Near the end of his life Paul stated, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
Christ is the greatest example of perseverance: “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:3).
Patience is a characteristic of the divine nature (Gal. 5:22). Paul told the Thessalonians: “We boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (2 Th. 1:4). He also urged them to continue to persevere: “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Th. 3:5).
Another illustration is that of training and discipline within a family. Here God is viewed as a parent disciplining a child: “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).
So God uses trials and hardships to mold and refine our character, like metal is refined and molded in a furnace. Through these we learn what is most important in life, and our values, priorities, attitudes and behavior are developed. We are transformed and God’s image and likeness are more evident in us (2 Cor. 3:18). This vision of maturity enables believers to joyfully endure trials and suffering (Rom. 5:3-5; Jas. 1:2-4).
For example, David faced adversities in preparation for being king of Israel. His perseverance in facing the opposition of wild animals (like the lion and bear), enemies (like Goliath), and countrymen (like Saul and his men), gave him the experience which developed his skill to lead his nation.
Trials Increase Reliance On God
Paul saw that the reason for the hardships that threatened his life in Asia was, “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). He knew that God supplies all our needs (Phil. 4:19).
The Bible also states that: “He who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2). Physical suffering makes us realize that we are accountable to God and we need to live for Him.
Paul understood that he was given the “thorn in the flesh” so that he would acknowledge Christ’s power rather than take the credit himself and become proud. As Christ’s power is more evident in times of human weakness, Paul delighted “in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
Similarly, Paul could write that our bodies are likened to “jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:7-11). Due to physical weakness we learn to persevere by God’s power and not our own strength.
Trials Encourage Care For One Another
God calls on His people to support those facing trials and troubles through helping, praying and comforting.
°Helping: We are to “share with God’s people who are in need” (Rom. 12:13; 2 Cor. 8:13-14; 2 Cor. 9:12). In fact, “if anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him,” then he is not behaving as a Christian should (1 Jn. 3:17).
Paul thanked the Philippians for sharing in his troubles and sending him aid (Phil. 4:14-18). He also remembered those who helped him when he was in prison (Phile. 12-13). The principle is to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3). This could include standing side by side with those who are being persecuted (Heb. 10:33).
°Praying: When Peter was in prison, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him,” although they were surprised by his miraculous escape (Acts 12:5). And Paul was confident that the Corinthian church’s prayers helped to deliver him from hardships and suffering (2 Cor. 1:10-11). He also asked others to pray for his struggle against unbelievers (Rom. 15:30-31).
°Comforting: We are told to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). As God comforts us in our troubles, we in turn can comfort those facing trials and difficulties (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Trials Strengthen The Church
Christianity has flourished under persecution. For example, when the early Church was being persecuted, the Christians left Jerusalem and evangelized wherever they went (Acts 8:1,4). This resulted in Christianity being spread across the Roman empire.
When Paul was imprisoned he was glad that the gospel was being preached by others and that his Christian faith was widely known (Phil. 1:12-18).
The Church is also strengthened in difficult times as more believers grow towards maturity and realize their dependence upon God and express this through prayer and praise. There is also an increase in care for each other by helping, praying, and comforting.
Finally, we must keep in mind that our troubles are insignificant when compared to eternity with Christ (2 Cor. 4:17-18). We always need to view the present in the context of a vision of the eternal.
Also see – Facing trials