Matthew 6

Anxiety and Prayer by Pastor Lawrence Bowlin

It’s hard to believe that the whole world might be anxious at the same time, but it certainly seems to be.  Every news channel from around the world is continuing to update us on the number of people with the virus and how many have died from it, and every day we are hearing of new measures taken by our governments that limit our freedoms as individuals and groups.  Here in Peru, we have a curfew in place from 8 pm to 5 am, and a multitude of police are patrolling the streets to enforce it.  During the day, only one person is allowed out of the house at a time, and they are required to wear a surgical mask and gloves, which we don’t have.  We also aren’t allowed to drive a personal car, or take a taxi or a bus, and we are many miles from the city, so we are pretty much stuck at home.  Every day we check on the latest updates to see whether the US government or the Peruvian government will have mercy on us, but so far there have been only dead-ends.

In situations such as these, it’s so easy to allow anxiety to overwhelm us as we seek some measure of control over our lives.  The truth is, we never had any control in the first place; thus, anxiety is a lie.  It is a fantasy, one in which we are the gods of our own lives, where we are able to figure everything out and become our own savior.  The problem with our little fantasy world, is that our evil villain, that takes many forms, always seems to outsmart us and to thwart our plans, causing us even more anxiety and even depression.  In the real world, the Lord God Almighty reigns and is seated on His holy throne not only overseeing all these crazy events, but somehow orchestrating them for our good and for His glory.

When we are in our right frame of mind, we know this to be true, but when we give in to temptation, we worry about our lives, about what we will eat and drink.  We worry about our bodies and whether or not they are strong enough to withstand the virus.  Knowing these things well in advance, Jesus says to us, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  Certainly the Gentiles seek after these things, but we are commanded to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”

That is where prayer comes in.  When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he showed them first how to focus on his kingdom prior to their daily needs.  Notice the order of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.  Our natural order would be to put “our daily bread” as first in priority, along with our concern for debts, especially in regards to money.  But if we start with these requests, it will only cause us to grow more anxious.  The Lord, knowing this, encourages us to expand our horizons beyond our little world or kingdom to see something much greater that will give us hope and peace.

The first petition in the Lord’s Prayer revolves around the sanctity of God’s name.  I imagine that in times like these, the gentiles especially are taking God’s name in vain almost every hour in their frustration.  But even believers do not hallow his name as we ought, and we do not call upon the name of the Lord as we should.  In times like these, we should be praying not only for the Gentiles but for ourselves that we would hallow his name in such a way that we know the peace of God and the joy of the Lord, and that we would turn to Him especially in times like these.  Christians always say that they don’t have time to read the Bible and pray, but now that they have time, will they hallow his name aright.  That is what we should be praying for ourselves and each other.

Secondly, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come.”  Because we are so easily wrapped up in our own kingdoms, we aren’t looking for his Kingdom as we should.  Sometimes it takes a worldwide trial, such as this, to turn our eyes to heaven to look for the coming of Christ, as the father looked for the return of the prodigal son, longing for him to come home.  If we’ve never prayed like that before, perhaps now would be a good time to start, now that we see our kingdom isn’t as great as we thought it was.

Then, third, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’  We have spent too much time seeking to do our own will, and how has it benefited us?  What have we gained?  It is only as we learn to live for God’s will that we will ever be truly happy, and the same goes for the Gentiles.  We should pray that both we and they see the futility of pursuing our own will in this life and to turn to God for wisdom in how to walk and talk as we should.

It is only as we put God’s name, his kingdom, and his will in perspective that we can then focus calmly on our own needs such as our daily bread, our debts, and our deliverance from evil.  Prayer helps us to face reality and to have hope in the midst of our trying circumstances, but only if we pray in the right way focusing first on God, his kingdom and his righteousness.

May the Lord so turn our prayers upside down that we might reorder our lives to: hallow his name, hunger for his kingdom, and continually hear and obey his will.