As a very young girl I often played outside in the Florida heat wearing only a pair of shorts. On one of those
days I recall people driving by my house in a car and staring at me. For the first time in my life, I had an awareness of being naked! I quickly crossed my arms over my bare little chest, and ran indoors to put on a shirt. I was so
embarrassed; I resolved never to do that again!
Recently, I was reminded of that embarrassment when a friend on Facebook asked for prayer for his declining health. I told him I'd pray for God's healing. He then thanked me for being one of his special "Prayer-worriers." He meant "Prayer-warrior." It was funny and we laughed about it. Yet, his misspelling made me aware of my spiritual nakedness of being a worrier. I'm not proud of it, and I'd like to resolve never to worry again! However, these last few years have taken a toll on me. The stress of caring for my husband with a traumatic brain injury has affected me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I'm not making excuses for it. I am, however, seeking to understand how to stop worrying and give this to God!
Like many Christians, I pray for God's will to be done in my life and in my family's life. Yet, more often than not I worry and mull over the "what ifs" of life. "What if this happens or that happens?" I have wasted a lot of time worrying about things that never happen! I am slow to take Jesus' advice, "Do not worry . . . Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" (Matthew 6:25-27). Of course, the answer is a resounding, NO! Do you relate to this habit of worry?
An active imagination is usually a positive attribute. However, I've come to understand that worry is a bad habit of negative imagination! When this happens, worry takes root in our minds and can become a habit of anxious thinking that robs our peace of mind. So, why does one person imagine positive outcomes, while another imagines negative results? The short answer is we are fallen, human beings, and no one's perfect. We all struggle with ailments and sin. For some people negative thinking or anxious thoughts are a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. In fact, long-term stress* can even alter the chemical make up of our brains. Medication and talk therapy can offer relief. I know this from personal experience. Yet, the traumas of life are not easily overcome or forgotten. The negative thoughts that many times follow startling events are like a flash flood of emotion.
In nature, when flash floods occur, gullies are often formed. When it rains again, if the earth wasn't repaired and smoothed over, the water will flow along the same path, further eroding the land and making a deeper gully, and so on, and so on with each consecutive rainfall. Likewise, our minds can create a gully of sorts. Therefore, we must learn to stop the flow of negative imagination so that our thought processes do not continue carving out a river of worry in our minds!
Remember this strategic fact:
We are at war. We have an Enemy who will use our stress to his advantage,
and to erode our trust in God. The Scriptures warn us to prepare for battle:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,
and take every thought captive to obey Christ . . .” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (ESV).
Early in my life, my earthly father descended into mental illness. He was verbally and physically abusive to my mother and older sisters. Our family dynamic created a deep insecurity within me. I believe this began my emotional gully of negative thinking, which also informed my idea of Father-God. As an adult, I came to realize how I developed my tendency of being a worrier. However, as a child of God, and over the years of maturing in faith, I’m aware that God has used the dysfunction of my childhood, and has in many ways turned it to good.
Most often, it takes many years for God’s children to see how our hardships were used by God for our benefit (Genesis 50:20). And sometimes we may never fully realize the “whys” until we get to Heaven. Nevertheless, we are promised that God will work all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:26-28). We must pray with the attitude, understanding, and the desire for God’s kingdom to come, and his will to be done in our lives. We must recognize that his thoughts are not our thoughts, or his ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). In every circumstance of our lives, God has a plan and a purpose for his children. He is working to conform us into his image, and into his likeness (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). When difficulties arise, if our imagery of God is of a hard-hearted Father, it would be easy to think negative thoughts and worry that God is “out to get us.” Thankfully, we don’t have to remain in this hopeless and fearful state!
Yet, how can we smooth out the gully of negative imaginations we’ve created in our minds? The Scriptures say, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” Romans 12:2 (NIV). With this in mind, I have found it helpful to replace my negative, intrusive thoughts by visualizing positive scenarios from Scripture. This may actually be easier for those who worry, because for many anxious people they have active imaginations, albeit, imaginations that are misdirected.
Take every thought captive.
God’s children must pick up their sword, the Word of God, and use it to overcome negative thinking. (Is that not a powerful image?) “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” Hebrews 4:12 (ESV).
What comes to mind when you think of taking a thought captive? If allowed to go unchecked, negative thoughts can slip by and undermine one’s faith. Humor can be an effective tool for combating negative, intrusive thoughts. Begin by asking God to point out your negative thoughts. As you become aware of them, imagine taking them captive. For example, imagine a cowboy on a horse swinging a lasso to capture the negative thought and then tying it up, or being locked in chains, but having the key to unlock them, or zapping it with a bug zapper, or reining it in with a retractable leash and then giving those anxious thoughts to Jesus!
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” What image comes to mind when you think of handing over your burden to Jesus? The key is to replace negative thinking, to repent of it, which is to say, turn from it, stopping its flow, and then thank God for helping you stop the thought before it moves into full-blown worry, further eroding your peace.
Once you’ve “captured” the negative thought, and visualized handing it over to Jesus, replace it then with easy-to-visualize imagery from Scripture, that you've memorized or jotted down, such as the following poetic description of God’s protection:
“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” Psalm 57:1.
Find Scriptures that are meaningful to you. Read, pray, and then meditate on each line of the verse or verses. Imagine its content and how it effects your five senses—seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, tasting—and then throughout the day, when an anxious or negative thought arises, purpose in your heart to replace it with one or more positive images that you have memorized or wrote down.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things” Philippians 4:6-8.
Think about Psalm 23: What positive images come to mind?
The LORD is my Shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Read the Psalm again, going slower this time.
King David, the writer of the Psalm, begins speaking about the Lord to those who are listening or reading. But did you spot what happens about midway when he gets to the dark valley of life? The focus of David’s audience changes; no longer is he speaking about the LORD,
but to the LORD! “For you are with me.” This is a beautiful reminder that we can speak to the Lord in the midst of life’s troubles; he is there, he will not abandon his children. He walks with us through the shadowed paths of life!
Other helpful passages with positive imagery:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” Matthew 11:29.
“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” Psalm 63:6-8.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” Psalm 139:23-24.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. . .” 1 Peter 5:7-9 (NIV).
God’s children are told to come boldly to the throne of God, to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). The only “middle-man” we need to accompany us into God’s presence is Jesus. “For there is one God and One Mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus . . .” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Our prayers do not have to be joined to worry; we can leave them at the foot of the cross, and trust God to work out his plan in our lives. And when we slip into anxious thinking, we can admit our helplessness, ask God to forgive us, and resolve once again to think on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable!
May God help us mature in faith, so that we can become mighty Prayer-Warriors in his kingdom! Amen!
I'd love to hear from you! How do you overcome the stresses and anxieties of life? Tell your story
Copyright 2023 Sarah A. Keith
Photography by Engin Akyurt @pexels.com
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