Being grateful is not a natural inclination of my heart. In a recent post, I confessed that I complain far too easily and often.
Sadly, I allow my mind to focus on my troubles and trials rather than on God's sovereignty, Fatherly kindness, generosity, and sanctifying purposes.
I heard a guy be asked how he was doing.
His response. "Better than I deserve."
Not a terrible perspective if one wants to live with a thankful spirit. Apart from conscious gratitude, the flesh will flood the heart with a spirit of complaint.
But there is a remedy.
But, as a remedy, the gospel does not call me to be a stoic who shuts out the pain of living in a fallen world. Evil is evil, pain is painful and things are not the way they were designed or meant to be.
Everything is broken.
This means that when I encounter the stress and anxiety associated with living in such a context, the gospel invites me to find rest in the third of several options.
Option #1 - I can look at my stress list and drown in despair. Not really an option.
Option #2 - I can try to fix my enflamed worry nerves by exercising control over my world. Rarely works, and rarely for long when it does.
Option #3 - The third option is to turn my stress and anxiety list (those things that keep me up at night and give me ulcers) into a prayer and supplication list.
In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Did you notice the key words that I often (almost always!) leave out of prayer when my heart is filled with anxiety?
Being thankful that I am no longer condemned, but justified by grace and adopted in love.
Being thankful that I'm no longer an orphan.
Being thankful that my Father knows what is best and has every circumstance and contingency under control. In fact, he is working all things for my good (even if the process is painful, I can know that the trial is not punitive and that he is not distant, but actively present with me in and through the valley).
I can be thankful that when I fall down, it's okay. He will pick me up. When I can't see my way, he gives me wisdom to trust him step by step into the fog with faith.
By knowing God as "Abba" and having an identity that is hidden in the righteousness of Jesus, there are literally innumerable reasons to be thankful.
Maybe thankfulness is the key that allows me to turn my stress list into my prayer list. Rather than attempting to play God by exercising greater control over the chaos, I can go to the throne of grace in the chaos.
Thankful that the throne really is the source of grace and deliverance rather than the source of guilt and judgement.
So, let's get practical.
Here is a 5-step process for turning your stress list into a prayer list.
- List your stressors.
- Pray through your stressors, making them known to God. This is how we "cast our anxieties on him," knowing that he not only cares for us but he can carry the stress for us.
- List and pray through at least five reasons for thankfulness, appealing not to what is right about your world but about what is faithful about knowing God as Abba.
- In quietness in the presence of the Father, allow the Spirit to fill you with a renewed, supernatural peace, that transcends understanding. Give it time. Don't rush the filling. Dwell. Be still and know that the Lord is God over heaven and earth, and that he loves you with the greatest love imaginable -- even beyond imagining.
- Put your small, weak hand in his big, strong hand, and live your day in the power of his presence and peace.
What about you? What advice do you have for turning stress into prayer? What have you found helpful?
I'd love to hear from you.