Never Worry About Anything


peaceful_place_wallpaper_4f3f3Anxiety is all too often my unwelcome traveling companion on the journey. I can autopilot my way into fairly high anxiety with both hands tied behind my back (which also makes me anxious). A familiar text that is also becoming an intimate friend is Paul’s counsel about anxiety in Philippians 4:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (vs. 6-7).”

I’m inviting into a peace that cannot be comprehended. I have a preference for things that I can grasp, but this peace is not one of those things. How do I experience this peace that I can’t wrap my arms around? Verse 6 is the counsel I pursue. Verse 7 is the fruit it produces. Sequence matters here. I must remember what is God’s fruit and what is my pursuit.

So, instead of lingering in my anxious thoughts and feelings, I can acknowledge what I am fearful of being without and ask the Father for it through Jesus. I can also give thanks that whatever it is I need will be generously provided. This way of responding to inner movements of worry and anxiety enable me to live peacefully beyond any human explanation.

Too often, my efforts to follow this counsel feel like a skeleton with no meat on the bones. Thank You, Jesus, that Your Spirit is able to re-assemble dry bones and knit muscle and flesh into them. May your Spirit knit muscle of willing action onto the bones of my intentions. Amen.

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Psalm 27: Things I Don’t Want From God


Psalm 27:9-12
9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;

you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

David prays, “Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger.” Surely there is part of David that knows God would never abandon him. But, perhaps in the midst of attack and danger, he feels an absence of God and his help. Perhaps he wonders whether the bad things happening to him are caused by his own many failings and shortcomings, and so prays, “Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior.”

I know the sense of God’s apparent absence, rejection or abandonment. There are times when outward troubles and inward angst tempt me to believe that God has finally had enough of me and has decided to try His hand with someone else. Rather than pretend I don’t feel this way, it’s better, like David, to simply pray these feelings to God. I bring those feelings together with my proclamation of God as helper and Savior. I affirm that even if I were forsaken by the human loved ones who should never abandon me (mother, father, siblings, wife, sons?), the Lord will always receive me, welcome me, embrace me.

In such places, it makes good sense to ask Him to guide me and counsel me, to “teach me Your way, O Lord, lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.” I don’t want my enemy to have any grounds for accusation or condemnation. I want to be free of footholds of guilt or shame that he might take in my life.

What do my foes desire? Like Jesus’s description of the evil one in John 10, they come only to kill, steal and destroy. What he can’t murder, he takes. What he can’t take, he makes useless for anyone else to enjoy. He has no interest in life or living. He only desires to take life away from everyone else. And, like the false witness David speaks of, He is fine with lying to get what he wants.

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Dealing with Distraction in Prayer


“As to distractions, it seems true that the way to meet them is not by effort, but by cessation of effort; not by wrestling with them, but by simply dropping them.” (R. Hugh Benson. Spiritual Letters of Monsignor R. Hugh Benson to One of His Converts. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1919, p. 9.)

I love this simple counsel for dealing with distractions in prayer. Anyone who prays regularly or even occasionally knows the experience of inward distraction. I’m not talking so much about the dog barking next door, the noisy neighbor or the garbage truck banging around the neighborhood. I’m talking about distractions of the mind and heart. Nothing increases distraction more than wrestling with them. I’ve discovered that acknowledging them, but basically ignoring them has been a much better approach.

Last night, a couple of young men from the Church of Latter Day Saints knocked on our door. I normally don’t answer to be honest. But my sons are more hospitable than me so they did. I let the two know that we were having a Labor Day evening as a family, but to come back another time. Unlike answering the door to these young men, answering the door when distractions knock is a quick way to give them greater access to my thinking and feeling. And that not exactly what I actually want!

For Reflection: When you pray, do you experience inward distractions? How do you tend to deal with them? How is that working?

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Recent Popular Posts


Greetings! I find myself praying and trusting that you have experienced something of the fresh affection and deep delight the Father and the Son feel for you in this fall season. I’m feeling deep gratitude for some of these myself.

I’m sending along this little email to link you to blog posts over the last couple of months that have been most visited. I hope one or two of them will prove encouraging to you in your spiritual life and leadership:

  • Morning Prayer: Overcoming Powerful Enemies” – This is one of those posts from a while back that has ended up being a commonly found Google search item. I share about overcoming my own powerful enemies of anxiety, fear, self-doubt and low confidence, based on Psalm 118:17-19 NIV.
  • Unhurried Life: Help Get the Word Out” – Towards the end of summer, I asked friends of the blog to get the word out about my book, An Unhurried Life, via Facebook, Twitter, Amazon reviews, blog posts, etc. I was grateful for so many who took initiative and helped spread the word. We saw quite a few new readers get on board. If you didn’t get a chance to participate, but would be willing now, please click through for a few suggestions of how you could now.
  • An Autumn Prayer” –  As we entered September, I shared my autumn prayer from a year ago. It was a prayer for focus and simplicity.
  • Five Soul Care Questions” – If you’ve been reading the blog recently, you’ll know that I just finished a six-part blog series on this theme. I took the five key questions of Romans 8:31-39 and reflected on them. There was a very positive response to these.
  • When You Can’t Pray for Yourself” – I shared and reflected on a great word from F. B. Meyer in his book The Secret of Guidance. The substance of his counsel? When you can’t pray for yourself, pray for someone else.
  • Psalm 3: The God Who Sustains Me” – In Psalm 3, David says, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” I reflected on what God’s sustaining has been like in my journey. 

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When You Can’t Pray for Yourself


b15architecture_interiors007-imagea“When you cannot pray for yourself, begin to pray for others. When your desires flag, take the Bible in hand and begin to turn each text into petition; or take up the tale of your mercies, and begin to translate each of them into praise.” (F. B. Meyer. The Secret of Guidance. Chicago: Moody Press, n.d., p. 31)

This is what I read just before my response to Matthew 9 shared in the last blogpost. F. B. Meyer served me as a wise spiritual director in a place of felt dullness and disconnectedness in prayer. I imagined sitting together with him. What might he have actually said in counseling me?

“Alan, if you don’t feel you can pray for yourself, let God bring the concerns and needs of others to mind. Let your heart be turned inside-out to extend grace to others in prayer. Don’t let your life stay small.

“And do you find that your heart just isn’t ‘in it?’ Take a text and let each verse become a point of connection with God. Respond to Him. Pray honestly just what you think and feel in the moment. Talk to Him about what matters to you, what concerns you, what involves you. Be patient and persistent. Be there and stay there with God. You won’t be sorry if you persevere. You may well be if you don’t try.

“Do you need a sort of jump start of the heart? Let the Spirit surface in your thoughts and feelings a remembrance of His many mercies–present and past. Let Him raise the level of gratitude in you as you remember the many good things He has done on your behalf.”

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An Autumn Prayer


(Would you share via Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites about my book, An Unhurried Life? I have a nice little thank you for three of you who do who’ll be chosen randomly on September 12 evening to receive a signed copy, as well as a copy of one of my favorite out-of-print books. Click to learn more)

We’re not quite at Autumn yet, but I always feel the draw of fall once I pass Labor Day and enter a new school year.

One year ago, this was my autumn prayer:

A Prayer for Fall
I want You
      and yet want so many other things.
But only one thing
      is needed.
Only one thing
      can be at the center.
Focus my heart and mind
      on You as the One.
Reweave the frayed edges of
      my will, my mind, my heart.
Make me whole and holy.

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Thoughts About Our Thoughts


A fountain at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

A fountain at the San Juan Capistrano Mission

In classic Christian literature, there are many good things on the theme of distracting thoughts in prayer. There is a way of thinking that focuses our mind and heart towards God through Jesus. There is also a way of thinking that turns in on itself, even with thoughts about God, that doesn’t help us much. Here’s one way of talking about our distracting thoughts in the context of prayer that I recently read and found helpful:

“As likely as not, without any deliberate intention on your part, you will actually find yourself chasing the first thought with a second one, such as “I must stop this‑I’m not supposed to be thinking”. That easily leads to an infinite regression, one thought trying to catch another. There is no need to take any notice of any of them! Thoughts are a bit like spoilt children trying to attract attention to themselves. If you ignore them, refusing to be distracted by them, then sooner or later they will get bored and go away.” (Tugwell, Simon. Prayer in Practice. Springfield: Templegate Publishers, 1974, p. 39.)

For example, when I sit down to prayer, often a whole series of distracting thoughts will cross my mind:

  • I really should look through my email inbox really quick and make sure I’ve answered the critical ones.
  • Is there something I forgot to do that needs my attention?
  • I wonder who has posted something on Twitter or Facebook that I’d be interested in.
  • I feel hungry, tired, distracted, worried, fearful, etc., so I’m not at my best to pray right now. I’ll pray later.
  • I need to use the restroom, check the mail, straighten up my desk, finish just one more “to do.”
  • Etc, etc., etc.

If I latch onto or act on these thoughts, they really can become an ongoing string of continued thoughts that draw me away from my intended attentiveness to Jesus. I let myself become distracted by my distractions, worried about my worries, afraid that I’m feeling fearful, frustrated with my frustrations. There is a way of continuing to offer my attention to Jesus, simply and peacefully while allowing all those noisy, distracting thoughts chatter away, but more in the background.

For Reflection or Comment: What do distracting thoughts look like when you stop to offer your attention to God and pray? What have you found helpful in resisting the temptation to get wrapped up in such thoughts?

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