Nov 13, 2023

The Fear of Prayer

In the thick of ministry life, a lot of my prayer life was centered around what God wanted me to do. I was so desperate to please God in every way that I would become fearful of prayer—nervous of what God might ask me to do, rather than just being with Him. I recalled a time when my mother experienced a similar thing.

She sat down in the bamboo chair in our living room as she prayed and listened to God’s response. She was nervous and afraid at what God might say.  Would He ask her to stay in this Zambian village for longer than the one semester sabbatical that they had planned? Did He want her to pray more, do more, and serve more than she was already doing? She sat down in a cloud of nervousness and fear that day, feeling prompted to listen to Gods direction. All she heard was, “I love you.” The pressures and decisions and expectations of being a Pastor’s wife living cross culturally were put aside for a moment. God didn’t need to give her commands and demands. She needed to be reminded of His love for her.

Throughout my life, I have thought of this story many times. When my brain is cycling from obsessively trying to get some sort of divine wisdom or direction, I am unsure if I am listening to his commands with perfect obedience. Sometimes I really wonder how I continued to live a life of faith when prayer and fasting seemed done out of a duty or checking things off the list.

When I started in a ministry of my own, I was afraid of making mistakes. I was afraid because of the pressures and expectations that were put on me, how that influenced my view of God’s love for me. Prayer often felt manipulative, and I would obsessively pray in hopes to get God’s direction. It felt like a life lived in fear of what He might say to me. I would fast, often obsessively, thinking that God must want me to fast and sacrifice more for Him.  Even though I had struggled with a serious eating disorder for years throughout my teens, I was convinced that God was more pleased with me when I fasted. It became a real fear that I would miss His direction if I didn’t do these things. I further damaged my mental and physical health by attempting to be ultra-religious in my prayer life, while neglecting the ways that it was not only affecting me, but others as well.  I would fast and pray for the fear of not fasting, meanwhile I wasn’t even rooted in the truth that He loved me…ME. My focus was on the sacrifice of a daily quiet time, the act of ‘dying to myself’ in a fast that was for personal gain than obedience. I was consumed with my own religious actions and because it was fear, it made me less like Christ towards others, not more. Whenever a spiritual discipline is centered in me feeling satisfied in my own actions and accomplishments we must stop and evaluate.

There was a point in my life when I had to ask, “Is this really bringing glory to God or to myself?” “Is this rooting me in the truth of what He has done, or reiterating the pressure I feel to perform even in my prayer life?” “Is this helping me to love God and love others, or is this giving me a foothold to live in pride and conceit?”

Isaiah 58 and 66 serves as an example of what honors the Lord, and what does bring him honor and glory. Isaiah 58 shows us those who live a life in contrast to God’s plan. They are practicing and performing religious duties with the expectation that God will bless them for their actions. Through fasting and sacrificing idols, they expected God to be pleased, even when the rest of their lives were lived in disobedience of His word. From this passage, we see that when we forget the love that God has lavished on us, and our prayer life is centered around religious duty, we are not honoring the Lord’s heart. God wants all of our heart, not just our religious quiet times done out of the fear of what He might say or ask us to do. Isaiah 66 shares words opposite of those in chapter 58. The Lord says, “These are the ones I look on with favor, those who are humble and contrite in spirit, who tremble at my word.”

May we be people who have a humble and contrite spirit. May we be people who are in awe of God’s word, and delight in spending time with the Lord. May we have confidence in knowing that we are people who are loved and cherished by God. Let this reminder spur us on to love others in the same way.

By <a href="" target="_self">Unnamed</a>

By Unnamed