Turn Anxiety, Restlessness into Prayer (part 1)

By Joe LaGuardia

Because I love Zion, I will not keep still.  Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent.  I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn…O Jerusalem, I have posted watchmen on your walls; they will pray day and night, continually.  Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord” (Isaiah 62:1, 6 NLT).

I have grown up in the church assuming that restlessness was not a good thing.  I have struggled with anxiety, and it comes out in various restless ways: fidgeting, pacing, reading everything in sight, moving about.  I have also resisted this anxiety in various ways: prayer, contemplation, meditation, Bible Study, relaxation techniques, vacations, and television.

But it has been a long journey and, after a dissertation on spiritual formation and many silent retreats, that restlessness is still difficult to ignore and remains just under the surface of my life.

Perhaps this restlessness is not something that is all that bad, however.  Maybe it is just as much a part of me as is God’s image in which I was created.  People say that God doesn’t make junk, so maybe that restlessness is a part of God’s design for me.

Recently, I was reading my Bible during my devotions and stumbled on some verses in Isaiah that caught my attention (62:1-6; see above).  This portion of Isaiah records a time when Israel was all but lost in exile.  There was judgment, but hope was on the way.  Destruction and diaspora were imminent, but God promised a new age when Israel would return to Jerusalem and live in peace among all nations.

Isaiah 62 speaks of restoration not by way of war, but by prayer.  God promises to set up watchmen who will pray “continually”.  It invites others to pray without rest, and stresses prayer as a way to keep God from resting too (v. 7).  Restlessness was not something to avoid, but to use on behalf of interceding for God’s people and the nation, for the culmination of God’s promises to come.

This I read in the New Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible.  The inspirational devotion related to this text states that Isaiah was “alert to the character and ways of God” as he takes “stock with a spirit of urgent restlessness, refusing to keep silent before God” (p. 883).  Restlessness, in short, encourages a “true Spirit of prayer.”

I never imagined that my restlessness–this unyielding demon with whom I’ve wrestled my whole life–may in fact be an angel urging me to pray for others, for God to act, and for revival in my own community and church.  Rather than rustling in the bed at night, perhaps I need to pray.  Instead of fidgeting, I should clasp my hands and bow my head to talk to God.  Rather than pacing, I should praise God for “delighting” in us and calling us his beloved (Isaiah 62:4).

It is a novel thought, and perhaps I’ll try it.  Are you restless?  If so, use it as fuel to pray.  You too may be the watchman or watchwoman that God has called to intercede on behalf of loved ones, neighbors, and the lost in your midst.

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The Power of Intercession and Prayer

By Joe LaGuardia

Some time ago I was anxious about issues related to church.  There were things on my mind that I had no control over, things that should not have worried me but did.  I was driving myself crazy, my wife crazy, and distracting my kids from family time.

It did not take long before the Holy Spirit woke me up early one morning.  There are few times I wake up earlier than 5:00 AM, and when the Holy Spirit wakes me up that early, I know I need to listen!  That kind of movement is qualitatively different, and there washes over me a particular–indescribable, really–spiritual manifestation that captures my attention and heart.

In that moment I dumped (for lack of a better word) everything before God.  It was a combination of robust prayer–of boldness, so to speak–and honesty.  I said in my spirit, “God, you handle this!  This is your church, your ministry.  My life is yours, and you’ve called me to this.  You deal with this.”

A few minutes later I fell back to sleep in a posture of rest and peace that I had not felt in a long time.

This event reminded me of the power of intercessory prayer.  It is a type of prayer we see in Isaiah 37, when one of God’s children had more than he can handle, and he needed to hand it over to God.

Isaiah 36 and 37 are chapters that come from a time when the Assyrian nation threatened the existence of Judah.  Assyria had conquered most of the Middle East; Israel and Egypt were next.  The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, threatened Judah’s King Hezekiah with a royal letter: “You know perfectly well what the kings of Assyria have done wherever they have gone.  They have completely destroyed everyone who stood in their way!”

Sennacherib went on to say that the gods of other nations did not come to the rescue, why should Hezekiah expect the God of Israel to be any different?

Upon receiving this letter, Hezekiah became anxious.  The threat against his nation was very real, and the Assyrians had threatened him personally!  But instead of running around wondering what to do, Hezekiah’s sought the Lord.  Scripture says that Hezekiah went to the Temple, spread the letter before the Lord, and interceded on behalf of the nation.

As a result, the Lord responded: “Because you prayed about King Sennacherib of Assyria, the Lord has spoken this word against him.”  God affirmed that Assyria was a mere pawn in a larger drama of salvation and that God would protect Israel.

We Christians must be mindful of the power of intercessory prayer.  We must spread our own letters of anxiety before the Lord and remember that the Lord promises to take care of us.  We need to rest assured that the Holy Spirit will pray with us just as much as the Spirit captures our hearts, and gives us boldness to bring everything before Him.

In a devotional based on Isaiah 37, F. B. Meyer states, “Let us more habitually hand over our anxieties and cares to God.  God calls us to enter his rest…to place Himself and his care between us and all that would hurt or annoy.”

Intercede on behalf of those loved ones in your life.  Affirm and ask God to protect you and keep you.  In all things, surrender unto God and trust that the Holy Spirit will bring a peace that surpasses understanding.  There is power in prayer and in intercession.

Lord, hear our prayers!

A Christmas Prayer

untitledBy Matt Sapp

At a recent Wednesday Bible study group at my church, we spent time talking about what we would pray for if we really believed that God came to earth at Christmas to redefine justice, righteousness and peace.

I organized the group’s thoughts and wrote them down. What follows is our collective prayer:

God who comes to us at Christmas,

We honor you with our focused attention as we pray for your growing presence in us and in our world this Christmas season.

As we wait for your arrival, we remember the power you have to redefine our world. We pray that you will bring us new definitions of justice, righteousness and peace.  We pray that we can receive and apply those definitions with hope, joy and love.

JUSTICE
Lord, show us true justice.  Show us the justice of the Bible, and help us understand how that justice is different from the world’s justice. Show us a justice marked by equity and fairness and compassion and mercy.  Teach us that care for the vulnerable—the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the poor, the sick—is a central element of the justice represented in the manger of Christmas.

Open our hearts to the needs of others.  Make us consistent bearers of your image, and give us eyes to see your image in everyone else, too.  Give us the courage to represent you every day—even when it’s hard, even when it’s dangerous.  Give us the courage to name injustice when we see it—racism, discrimination, bigotry and hatred.  Give us compassion and empathy for people who are different than us.

We pray for justice in our nation and in our court systems.  Raise up fair and honorable judges and prosecutors and representatives in our court system who seek and distribute justice evenly, impartially and equitably.

RIGHTEOUSNESS
On this Christmas we pray not only for the world around us, but also for ourselves. We pray that you would lead each of us to new understandings of righteousness.  We pray that you would change us.  Change our hearts and our minds and our attitudes.

Help us find more space to focus on the needs of others.  Give us a spirit of neighborliness and friendliness to share with all in our communities.

Make us more tolerant and more forgiving.  Make us more accepting of differences.  Help us to be people who listen to others, who pray for others, and who have the right words and the right helping hands for others.

And in all these things help us to overcome the fear and mistrust and selfishness that often prevents us from doing the good we know we should do.

HOPE
As we wait for the arrival of your justice and righteousness, we do so with great hope: Hope for health and contentment and peace in our families and in our hearts.   Hope for a renewed faith that reminds us we can trust in you no matter what. We wait with hope for balance and harmony among all people, and with hope for spiritual rejuvenation and vitality here and all over the world.

We pray for our church with hope, too. We pray with hope for spiritual and physical growth, with hope for the courage to speak together with a prophetic voice and with hope for the wisdom to know what to say.

We pray with hope for a continued and expanded ability to look after the marginalized and the poor in our community.

PEACE
We pray for peace–for a new attitude and a new feeling in our world and in our hearts. We long for a peace that is more than the absence of hostility. We pray for a positive and active peace that itself represents the enactment of your justice in this world.

Help us find peaceful ways to express our differences.

Rid us of violence, anger and fear. Remind us that kindness doesn’t equal weakness. Help us create a world where tough exteriors are not required and where gentleness is celebrated and admired.

Help us to remember that our eternal security lies in you, that war is never in your will, and that one day you will reign on earth in peace upheld by your justice and your righteousness. We pray for that day to come.

JOY
Heavenly Father, even as we look toward an eternal future, we take joy in the assurance of your presence with us now. We pray with joy at our ability to be distributors and champions of your justice today. We pray with joy in our responsibility to reach out and speak out. We pray with joy in doing what is right. We pray with joy in our call to reach future generations for you. And with pray with joy in our salvation.

LOVE
Fill us with love this Christmas–love for you and love for others as we passionately pursue your justice in our world and your righteousness in our lives. Give us love that lasts even when we don’t get our way.  Give us love that endures through fear.  Give us strength to love even when we don’t feel like loving.  Give us love that helps us realize we always have more to give.

Help us remember that your love in us is only multiplied as we give it away.  Give us a love that is as perfect and innocent and holy as the baby in the manger and a love that is as transformative and self-sacrificing as the Savior on the cross.

We pray with hope, joy and love for your justice, righteousness and peace to come to earth with Christ this Christmas.

May they and we be made perfect in your name, AMEN.