Prayer and Anxiety
by Jacob Hudgins
“Do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus”(Phil 4:6-7).
Hannah has a problem. She is childless, but that is not all. Her husband’s other wife (the Bible text calls her “her rival”, 1 Sam 1:6) constantly teases and needles her about her barrenness, pouring salt into the wound. She “(provokes) her grievously to irritate her”(1 Sam 1:6), particularly when they travel together to the house of the LORD at Shiloh, where Hannah stops eating and simply cries (1 Sam 1:7). “She (is) deeply distressed and (prays) to the LORD and (weeps) bitterly”(1 Sam 1:10) and prays “out of (her) great anxiety and vexation”(1 Sam 1:16). What does Hannah teach us about prayer and anxiety?
Prayer asks God to look on our affliction. She prays, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head”(1 Sam 1:11). Often in our anxiety, we feel that no one understands or notices how we are struggling. Hannah is in an awful situation, a victim of forces she cannot control. Prayer is how she asks God to notice her difficulty.
Prayer asks for relief and blessing. Hannah has a specific request—that God will give her a son and relieve her anxiety. She describes this prayer as “pouring out my soul before the LORD”(1 Sam 1:15). We are laying our anxieties at the feet of one who can help. Peter describes this as “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you”(1 Pet 5:7).
Prayer can relieve our anxiety and distress. There is a tremendous shift in Hannah after she prays. Before, she will not eat or stop crying. Yet afterward “the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad”(1 Sam 1:18). It is important to remember that nothing has happened yet! Hannah has only prayed and has received no answer! The act of praying can do so much to relieve us of our burdens and anxiety. Paul tells us not to be anxious but to make requests of God, trusting that this will bring his peace (Phil 4:6-7). Often in our anxiety we read everything on the internet, carefully formulate our plans, and talk to everyone in our social circle. We do everything but talk to God. God intends prayer to relieve our anxiety.
Prayer is a place for praise. God grants Hannah’s request. What does she do? She prays again (1 Sam 2:1-10)—a prayer of praise. We are anxious about so many things that often we forget to praise God for the times when he blesses us and relieves our anxiety. How many times do we pray for safety in the night, healing in sickness, spiritual development in our children, peace in the local church, and blessings on our nation? How often does God answer these prayers? How often do we praise and thank God for this blessing? Prayer is a place for praise.
God does not remove Hannah from her difficult relationship. Instead, he hears her and blesses her and relieves her anxiety. Am I using prayer like Hannah?