Praying Like Jesus Prayed by Dale McCamish
The use of prescription drugs to treat mental health conditions increased over 30% for antianxiety and about 20% for depression this past March. That makes sense. The pandemic significantly impacted all of our mental health. These last couple of months have revealed with great clarity our delusion of control and our illusion of certainty. Dr. Rainer describes ten reasons why church members are troubled here. There are lots of tools psychologists will prescribe in trying to cope with uncertainty and anxiety: things like breathing deeply, exercising for twenty minutes a day, talking with friends on a zoom call, and even taking socially distant walks with others. Carey Nieuwhof lists some stress reducing principles here. All of these can be helpful for some. May I suggest we follow a page out of Jesus’s playbook when he faced physical and emotional distress?
We see Jesus turn to God in prayer several times during the night of his betrayal and crucifixion. The historian Luke reported the last prayer Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) This is a quote from Psalm 31. It is not a stretch to believe that Jesus was meditating on the Psalms while he hung on the cross. And Psalm 31 would be a good one for us to meditate on, as well, when we experience distress, anxiety, or depression.
(Biblical meditation consists of memorizing the verse, and then thinking about all the ways we can apply that verse to the various parts of our day, our thoughts, our words, or our actions.)
We can make Psalm 31 our own meditation and prayer for comfort just like Jesus did. We can pray like Jesus. And it will really help! But for our prayer time to combat anxiety and stress we have to take the time to memorize and meditate on the Scripture more than once. It needs to become a Jesus imitating lifestyle.
First, in our meditation on Psalm 31, let’s pretend to make Jesus’s voice our own as we pray these words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Completely entrusting our lives and very souls into God’s hands is the heart of Psalm 31. It’s also a good definition of faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]….” (Hebrews 11:6)
We know God’s will for us is to transform our character to be like His Son, Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). So, God takes all of our circumstances and pains and joys and uses them to remodel our hearts. We can trust God, just like Jesus did, for three reasons: because God is with us, He will never leave us, and He plans our future. We can pray with confidence, Psalm 31:14-15, “I trust in you, Lord…. My times are in your hands.”
Second, we can pray with the same hope Jesus prayed. The hope Jesus prays in Psalm 31 is not an expression of uncertainty, like we hope “such and such” comes true, but biblical hope is the confident expectation of the good God will bring into our future. We can be confident, in spite of our feelings, that God’s good, beautiful, and perfect future is on our way. This may happen within our circumstances or in our eternal reward, but our inheritance is assured. Praying Psalm 31 can help convince us of the truth of that reality.
In our moments of crisis and pain, we often don’t feel God’s presence, or His goodness and we need to preach and argue with our souls to focus on what is true instead of what we feel. Psalm 31 gives us the words to use. “You saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul…yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.” (Psalm 31:7,22) “You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place….How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you….” (Psalm 31:8,19)
Finally, when we pray Psalm 31, we pattern our lives after the life of Christ. Author Patrick Reardon writes that when we make Psalm 31 our prayer we make the voice of Christ our voice and move closer to being in line with the Passion of Christ, too: “We are to be baptized with His baptism; the bitter cup that He drinks we too are to taste in our own souls…’all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer….’” (2 Timothy 3:12). It is usually only after I see God transform me through my darkest moments that I am thankful for the suffering He allowed me to endure, but when I pray the Psalms, I can even be thankful during the moments of suffering.
Peter, one of Jesus’s best friends, must have been a Psalm pray-er, too. He reminds us, “…after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
So pray the words of this Psalm the next time you are feeling overwhelmed. And may the God of all comfort, send you renewed comfort from your time of praying like Jesus prayed.