Whenever my busy thoughts were out of control, the soothing comfort of your presence calmed me down and overwhelmed me with delight.Psalm 94:19 TPT
Do you ever feel like your busy thoughts are out of control? My “busy thoughts” are usually fueled by fear, anxiety, and worry – and I know I’m not alone.
Worry is considered by some to be a worldwide epidemic, and a recent study showed that the US leads the way in adult stress levels. If left undealt with, worry can wreak havoc on our physical health, our relationships, and our job performance – not to mention our spiritual life.
But the Bible says that the soothing comfort of God’s presence can calm down the busiest mind. The prayers in the book of Psalms can teach us a great deal about how to find this kind of peace from our relationship with God.
In this study, we’ll learn how to turn to God in prayer to relieve anxiety by looking at how the psalmists expressed and surrendered these strong emotions to God.
Fueled by fretting: What happens when we don’t pray
Worry and anxiety actually do have some adaptive purposes for us as human beings: they help us cope with impending threats to our welfare or the welfare of a loved one. But many of us rely on worry for much more than that:
“People have a love-hate relationship with worry. They think at some level it helps them. ”–Michelle Newman, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Pennsylvania State University
I’ve found that I often think worry can help me get things done and prevent bad things from happening to me.
How much does worry fuel your decisions, your schedule, and your thoughts? This is a role that God actually wants to fill, and worry is a weak substitute for a personal friendship with a powerful and protective God.
Living a life fueled by worry doesn’t lead to anything good; in fact, the Bible says it leads only to evil:
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.Psalm 37:8 NIV
Yep, that’s right. The Bible says fretting only leads to evil. Okay, I get that fretting isn’t really very productive, but does it really lead to evil?
When you stop to reflect, you’ll find that the answer is yes. Let’s look at some examples:
- Fretting over finances can lead to bitterness, greed, and eventually corruption, dishonesty, fraud, theft, and other money-related vices.
- Fretting over fitting in can lead to gossip, cliques, mistrust, compromise, and all kinds of other relational sins.
- Fretting over the future can lead to unbelief, selfish ambition, mistrust toward God, and settling for the easy road instead of passionately pursuing God’s plans for your life.
What are some things you “fret” about? What types of “evil” does fretting lead you to?
Instead of turning to these sins, we can turn to prayer for fear, anxiety, and worry. Here are some ways the psalmists did it.
Turning to Prayer
Admit you’re weak and needy
Lord, in my place of weakness and need, I ask again: Will you come and help me? I know I’m always in your thoughts. You are my true Savior and hero, so don’t delay to deliver me now, for you are my God.Psalm 40:17 TPT
How willing are you to pray in your moments of weakness and need? Fear and anxiety make me feel weak and needy, and I don’t like those feelings. And so the unspiritual part of me has developed several ways to avoid admitting to God that I am very afraid and need his help:
- Denial: If I pretend my anxiety is not there, maybe it will go away.
- Minimizing: If I don’t admit how anxious I am, maybe the worries won’t control me
- Control: If I prevent all situations that cause anxiety, maybe it will go away.
- Pleasure: If I fill my life with things that feel good, maybe that bad feeling of worry will go away.
- Blame: If I find someone who caused my anxiety, maybe my anxiety will go away.
None of these humanistic solutions actually free me from fear, worry, or anxiety.
God has another solution: admit your weakness and need, and trust him to help you. Fear and anxiety can be great reminders of how human we are; there are so many things in our lives we can’t control, and we can either respond to these situations with fear or with faith in God who cares about us.
David gives us a great example of this type of conversation with God in Psalm 40; instead of trying to figure out his own solutions or rely on his own strength, he admits he is weak and asks God for help. He knows God cares about him and will come to his rescue.
What are some areas of your life that reveal your weakness and need? How do you think your anxiety level would change if you admitted your needs to God and trusted him to help you?
Pour out your heart instead of being prideful
Join me, everyone! Trust only in God every moment! Tell him all your troubles and pour out your heart-longings to him. Believe me when I tell you—he will help you!Psalm 62:8 TPT
As I’ve read the Psalms, I’ve come across many comforting and encouraging verses like this one that urge me to trust God and tell him all my troubles. I find that these verses give me great emotional comfort … but I don’t like to actually put them into practice in my own life. They are nice verses to read, but hard verses for me to obey.
To have a stronger relationship with God, my prayers should actually begin to match the ones in the Bible. These words should be more than a nice theory.
Do you trust God only in every moment? Do you tell him all your troubles and pour out your heart-longings to him?
I would often rather not. It’s messy, humbling, and vulnerable to pour out the longings of my heart to God. And so I often choose the easier road: ignore feelings, watch TV, engage my mind in reading Scriptures but avoid engaging my heart in prayer. I choose numbing my emotions over prayer and Bible reading.
But by refusing to pray about my fears and worries, I am essentially telling God, “I’ll handle my problems without your help.” The Bible calls this “pride”:
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.Psalm 10:4 NIV
- Would God say that you tell him *all* your troubles and pour out your heart-longings to him?
- Have you been resisting this in any areas of your life?
Trust God instead of taking control
So here’s what I’ve learned through it all: Leave all your cares and anxieties at the feet of the Lord, and measureless grace will strengthen you.Psalm 55:22 TPT
But in the day that I’m afraid, I lay all my fears before you and trust in you with all my heart.  What harm could a man bring to me? With God on my side I will not be afraid of what comes. The roaring praises of God fill my heart, and I will always triumph as I trust his promises.Psalm 56:3-4 TPT
Here’s something cool about the psalmists: they laid their cares, anxieties, and fears before God, and then left them there. They made a decision to trust God and let go of what they were afraid of.
Sometimes I talk to God about my worries, and end my prayer time more anxious than I began. If I don’t decide to trust God to take care of me and be on my side, praying about my fears will become an empty, self-indulgent ritual. Ultimately, prayer is a spiritual experience that is empowered by our faith in God.
Prayer should shift my focus from what I can do and control to what God can do. Prayer should remind me that God is on my side and I can trust him.
How do you think making a decision to trust God to care for you would help relieve your fears? What would it look like for you to leave your fears at God’s feet? How could prayer for fear change your outlook on life?
Surrender your anxiety and stop your striving
Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God. I am the God above all the nations, and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.Psalm 46:10 TPT
You may have noticed by now that we’ve used the Passion Translation for many of the psalms in this article. That’s because the Passion Translation is great for emotional accessibility – something I’ve found helpful in my quest to increase my emotional intimacy with God.
This translation of Psalm 46:10 helps me tremendously because it ties together anxiety and striving. Striving means devoting serious effort and energy to something. Striving for something other than God to make us happy or fulfilled will create a lot of anxiety.
Some of the common subjects of my striving are:
Striving for these things causes me a lot of anxiety, because I cannot actually control whether other people approve of me, admire me, or give me attention. Even success and money can be transient; building your confidence on them will make for a shaky foundation.
Are you striving for something that is causing you too much anxiety? Are you striving for something else more than you strive to be close to God?
Striving to be close to God, on the other hand, brings safety, protection, and security:
He alone is my safe place; his wrap-around presence always protects me. For he is my champion defender; there’s no risk of failure with God. So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?Psalm 62:2 TPT
I strive for success, approval, attention, and admiration because I am very afraid of failure. But there’s no risk of failure with God; he promises he will shape every detail of my life into something good if I love him and live according to his plan (Romans 8:28 VOICE). This kind of faith in God can outweigh my worries and free me from their paralyzing grip.
What’s one thing you could do differently to take your fear, worry, and anxiety to God in prayer? As we learn from the book of Psalms, our relationship with God can be a great source of calm, faith, and courage if we learn how to turn to God when we are afraid.
This devotional is part of a collection of studies about turning to God with our anxiety and worry. View the entire selection for a deeper dive.