Everyday Awe

prayer and the strength that comes from letting go

I love my to-do list.

It might not be for the reason you think. It’s not because of how much I enjoy checking things off. (Which is, for the record, a wonderful feeling.)

No, the primary reason why I love my to-do list is because it relieves my anxiety. Before I put things on a list, I worry about them. They sit as heavy weights on my shoulders, wearing me down with each passing day. My stress builds with every, “I should do that” and “I can’t forget to take care of this” thought.

Then, something almost magical happens when I write that task on my list: the stress seems to flow out from my pen onto the paper. It’s not like I have actually done that thing yet. All I have done is add it to my list. Yet, somehow, the act of putting it there releases most of my anxiety about getting it done. When I write it down, I let it go.

Once it is on my list, I trust that it will not be forgotten.

This is what came to mind for me as I thought about the prayer of Psalm 28. The psalm starts with the emotion of lament:

To you, Lord, I call;
you are my Rock,
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place. – Psalm 28:1-2

This is an emotional outcry. A worried plea for God to listen and respond.

What is interesting to me, then, is how this Psalm ends.

Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever. – Psalm 28:6-9

Before the prayer is answered, the psalmist’s strength seems to be restored. He even thanks God for answering this prayer in the anticipatory confidence that his cry has been heard.

It is not God’s actual answer to prayer that brings peace. It is the trust that praying means an answer will come someday.

Sometimes I think I have more trust in my to-do list than in my prayers.

Here is a convicting question for me: Is my stress relieved when I pray or when I receive answers to my prayers?

Sometimes, it’s the former, but too often, it’s the latter. Too often, I forget God’s faithfulness. And as I look at the messiness of the world around me, I question His love. I don’t’ trust that God will come through for me until He actually does.

I wonder what it would look like to trust earlier. To release burdens and stresses and worries and requests into the hands of God, knowing that whatever He decides to do with them, in whatever timing He decides to do it, will be good and right. What would it feel like to gain the strength that comes from letting go?

What would it look like to pray with more anticipatory confidence?

Walk through the Psalms is a series reflecting on the beautiful and timeless poetry found in the middle of the Bible. It is an intentional study of God’s Word, grounded in the belief that God gave us the Bible so we could meditate on it, whether that takes us through inspiring or frustrating territory.

  • http://twitter.com/edcyzewski edcyzewski (@edcyzewski)

    There’s always something else, isn’t there? I have a list of things that I’d like God to sort out first before I can rest. Ha!

    • http://everydayawe.wordpress.com Stephanie Spencer

      Yes, Ed, that’s so true. In fact, I think I almost hesitate in prayer because of that. “Okay God, I’ve already given you this list of things, and I haven’t seen you take action on it yet. So, I’m going to hold onto this other list, and not give it over to you, until you start cranking your way through list number one. OK?”

  • http://twitter.com/Vaderalman Mark Allman (@Vaderalman)

    I do think it is good to write down things you have to do. I think it takes them off the race track in your mind and lets you have a better look at them and how they need to be treated. I at times like to write down my prayers as a way of praying as I do so. Waiting definitely is trust in use.

    An interesting thought… what gives peace the answered prayer or the prayer offered up in trust.

    • http://everydayawe.wordpress.com Stephanie Spencer

      Mark, it sounds like you and I feel the same about to-do lists. Writing things down gets them off my mind. I also like to write my prayers, and find it centers me and keeps me focused more than just thinking or saying them. Maybe there is a connection there? Hmm… you’ve got me thinking.

  • http://rachturner.wordpress.com rachturner

    Oh, wow. This sentence stopped me cold: “I don’t trust that God will come through for me until He actually does” because I can completely relate to it. Letting go – TRUSTING GOD – can be so hard at times, but that’s where true freedom comes from.

    • http://everydayawe.wordpress.com Stephanie Spencer

      It’s always good to hear I’m not the only one, Rachel. We are all a work in progress, that’s for sure. Trust has often been a difficult one for me. But I think I am getting better- bit by slow little bit.

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  • Kristen E

    This sentence jumped out to me: “Sometimes I think I have more trust in my to-do list than in my prayers.”
    For me, it gets back to control. When my head is swirling and I create a pretty color-coded to do list, I feel like I have started to get control over my life again. On the other hand, when I pray, it feels a bit too abstract for me at times — not nearly as concrete as a piece of paper that I get to mark off. Maybe I need to start writing prayers again as a way to “get it out” and feel like it is fully handed off to God. This post will get me thinking about what I place my trust in — and will challenge me to give it to God, not my to do list. Thanks, Steph!

    • http://everydayawe.wordpress.com Stephanie Spencer

      Yes, Kristen. It is so definitely a control thing for me. I think writing prayers is a great idea for those of us who like our to-do lists, to help us more fully hand our prayers over to God. I’ve also heard of having a symbolic box to put them in. A way to write them down, and literally give them over.

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