A recent article at The Atlantic entitled When Prayer Makes Anxiety Worse points to a problem that others have mentioned before: prayer may (and should) release us from our anxieties, but some types of prayer may make matters worse. It depends on what kind of God you believe in.
But for those who are anxious about everything, prayer can sometimes help and sometimes hurt. Past research on the mental-health benefits of praying have been mixed. Some studies have found that people who pray more are more satisfied and happy, others found no relationship to well-being, and still others found a negative correlation.
A new study published in Sociology of Religion suggests that prayer can help ease people’s anxiety, but whether it does so depends on the personality of the God they believe in. That is, whether someone has a relationship with what they perceive to be an angry, vengeful God or more of a friendly figure could determine whether prayer brings relief—or simply more stress….
What they found was that those who prayed more frequently felt “a secure attachment to God.” But those who thought God was distant and unresponsive were far more likely to show signs of anxiety-related disorders. This echoes an April study that found that people who believe God is malevolent are more likely to suffer from anxiety, paranoia, and compulsions.
I have found this to be true myself. When my focus is on my own anxieties and frustrations, my prayers can make my attitude worse. It is faith and trust that make prayer effective. As I trust God, I release my anxieties — I let go of them. My prayers need to focus on God and not on me. This is why praise is so important to prayer — like true worship, it puts our mind on God. As we re-affirm our faith in God’s character and God’s love, we put our anxieties in perspective. From that standpoint, we can, then, pray about them.
If prayer is making you more anxious — you are (to put it crassly) doing it wrong.
“PRAYER has been defined, ‘an offering of our desire to God for things needful, with an humble confidence to obtain them through the alone merits of Christ, to the praise of the mercy, truth, and power of God.’ And ‘its parts are said to be invocation, adoration, confession, petition, pleading, dedication, thanksgiving, and blessing.’ Though the definition be imperfect, yet, as far as it goes, it is not objectionable; but the parts of prayer, as they are called, (except the word petition,) have scarcely anything to do with the nature of prayer. They are, in general, separate acts of devotion; and attention to them in what is termed ‘praying,’ will entirely mar it, and destroy its efficacy.
“It was by following this division, that long prayers have been introduced among Christian congregations, by means of which the spirit of devotion has been lost: for, where such prevail most, listlessness and deadness are the principal characteristics of the religious services of such people; and these have often engendered formality, and frequently total indifference to religion. Long prayers prevent kneeling, for it is utterly impossible for man or woman to keep on their knees during the time such last; where these prevail, the people either stand or sit. Technical prayers, I have no doubt, are odious in the sight of God; for no man can be in the spirit of devotion who uses such: it is a drawing nigh to God with the lips, while the heart is, almost necessarily, far from him. (more…)