Pray this when you are anxious

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5–7)

Philippians 4:6 is the most highlighted verse in the YouVersion Bible app, which tells you all you need to know about the prevalence of anxiety in our culture. “Do not be anxious about anything,” Paul tells the Philippian church. “Pray to God, and His peace will guard your hearts and minds.” Great advice, but easier said than done!

I think we often assume that God’s peace will descend upon us in some mystical manner as we lift our requests up to the Lord. But what if He were to give His peace to our minds, bodies, and souls in a more holistic way? I recently read Breath as Prayer by Jennifer Tucker, which outlines a very simple way to pray in the midst of anxiety. We are, of course, embodied creatures, with a spirit but also a body. And often anxiety comes as our sympathetic nervous system is triggered, revving up our internal systems to be ready to respond to a perceived threat. Our heart rate increases, our breath becomes more rapid, and rational thought becomes more difficult.

Breath prayer is a way of centering our mind on God’s truth in a way that can bring peace to our minds and bodies. It involves breathing in slowly through the nose for four seconds, holding our breath for four seconds, exhaling slowly through our mouth for four seconds, and then holding our breath again for four seconds. And as we breathe, we remind ourselves of the truths of God. For example:

(Breathe in) The Lord is my shepherd. (Breathe out) I have all that I need (Psalm 23:1)
(Breathe in) You are my refuge and strength. (Breathe out) A very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1)
(Breathe in) I give my burdens to you. (Breathe out) You will take care of me (Psalm 55:22)
(Breathe in) Let my soul be at rest. (Breathe out) You have been good to me (Psalm 23:1)
(Breathe in) When I am afraid. (Breathe out) I put my trust in you (Psalm 56:3)
(Breathe in) Nothing can separate me. (Breathe out) From your love (Romans 8:38-39)
(Breathe in) Lord, I believe. (Breathe out) Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24)
(Breathe in) I give you all my burdens. (Breathe out) And you will give me rest (Matthew 11:28)
(Breathe in) I will not be afraid. (Breathe out) For you are with me (Psalm 23:4)
(Breathe in) I don’t know what to do. (Breathe out) But my eyes are on you (2 Chronicles 20:12)
(Breathe in) I can do all things. (Breathe out) Through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13)

This is not some New Age, self-focused emptying of the mind; rather, it is a practical way to put into action the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 46:10 to “Be still and know that I am God.” The next time you are overcome by anxiety, why not try practicing breath prayer, reminding yourself of the truth of who God is and what He has promised? As you center yourself on Him, you may just find that the peace of God fills your heart and your mind.
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