“My mind is racing all day with so many different things. Podcasts, news articles, Facebook posts, my family’s craziness, my job search. When I try to sit down and get quiet, my brain is just buzzing. I can’t focus enough to pray.” Ryan, five years out of college, expressed his frustration.
He’s not the only one feeling overwhelmed. People everywhere feel that frantic pace. Despite their true desire to pray, finding quiet is a battle. We all want to follow Jesus’ example and find a quiet place to pray. But is desire itself enough to get us there? It doesn’t feel promising.
Even Jesus didn’t always succeed. Exhausted from ministry, he sought a quiet place to unplug, and still he found people clamoring for his help (Mark 6:30ff). Similarly, we might find a moment to reflect, only to discover a thousand worries demanding attention and action. It might be quiet outside, but still noisy inside. How can we ever win this battle?
Perhaps the first step is simply this: Stop fighting. Let the worries arrive.
Ryan truly desired to focus on God. But stillness was eluding him, so he had concluded prayer was impossible. But maybe stillness isn’t a prerequisite to prayer. Is there a way to start praying from within the chaos, in the middle of our buzzing brains and worried minds?
No Folded Hands Required
In Philippians 4, Paul offers some helpful advice.
Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. (The Message)
“Shape your worries into prayers.” That image sparks something worth considering! Worry doesn’t have to be a barrier to prayer. Instead, it can become an onramp. And with all the worries we have, that’s enough fuel to get a 757 off the ground. Rather than fighting the anxiety, let it launch you deeper into conversation with God. “Instead of worrying, pray.”
If you feel like Ryan, and your mind is going a thousand directions, start simple. Jot down what you’re worrying about. A bulleted list. A few paragraphs. A couple pages. Whatever you need, writing them down will help you articulate your worries to yourself and to God.
Don’t be fooled either: Just writing them down is prayer. No folded hands required. Noticing your worries and talking with God about them—that’s prayer. You don’t need to ask for anything—although you may—and it is still prayer. No quiet time. No moment of clarity. No beautiful prose. Scribble down your messy prayers. Better messy prayers than no prayers at all.
Bring Your Whole Self
Thoughts and feelings of all kinds go through us each day. Some pass by without noticing, and others stick with us. That quote your friend posted, why is it sticking with you? That photo or video you saw, why does it keep coming to mind? The comment your friend or colleague made, why is it still bothering you? You can shape all these things into prayers. They can form your conversations with God.
God made you sensitive to those things. To ignore them is to ignore who God made you. So tell him what they mean to you. He knows already, but he also wants you to know too. Why? So you can bring yourself, your whole self, into your prayers with him.
Paul goes on to say, “Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.” (The Message)
Settling down—what a hopeful promise. Ryan, believing he had to manufacture a stillness of mind and peace of heart only added layers of guilt and frustration to his prayers. By shaping your worries into prayers, God’s stillness can find you instead. Remember, Jesus promised that—to leave his disciples with peace. He still does.
Paul sums it up, “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” (The Message)
Shaping our worries into prayers lets us start where we are. But fortunate for us, Jesus doesn’t leave us there.
Listen and Notice
After praying like this, we have a chance to listen. By letting Christ into our worries, we have the chance to hear him respond to them. Does a Bible passage come to mind? A Bible reference? A word, a phrase, an image? Write it down. What do you think it means? What kind of response does it evoke in you? Share those reactions with God. Listening is important because it turns prayer into a two-way conversation. You’ve spoken, now listen.
If nothing comes to mind, that’s okay too. No need to force it. Relationships aren’t made to “produce” something. They’re made to grow closer, and that often happens gradually. But if you want to press deeper, go to Scripture for something connected to what you’ve been dwelling on. Find a good journaling Bible where you can write your prayers right alongside God’s Word.
As you continue shaping your worries into prayers, what you’ve written can become a rich source of remembering. It can become a record of your conversations with God. When you review it, you can look for at least two things:
1. Notice times when your faith, hope, and love increased, and you felt closer to God. Seeing this growth will inspire hope. Look for ways to incorporate more opportunities like that.
2. Notice patterns. Are there prayers, passages, or pictures that you keep returning to season after season? These patterns are worth noticing. What do they tell you about the desires God has given you?
Whatever you find, whether you like it or resist it, that’s okay. Write those things down. And use them. Whatever feelings come up, do with them what you’ve done with your worries. Shape them into prayers. Jesus will take them and use them, like jars of water, like fish and bread.