I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.Mark Twain
I was sent this quote by my friend, Andy. If you read my Evangelicals Now article riffing on the state of the electrics in my house, you will know about some of my travails and what prompted him to send it. We have just yesterday come to the end of the third (and hopefully, final) day of electricians in our house rewiring sockets. Even now, there is a fear that things are not fully resolved and they will be back again tomorrow. I fear both the spiralling cost of this work and, probably more so, the disruption. I worry that things will be pulled up, torn out, drilled into and ultimately in need of replacement.
I am, by nature, something of a worrier. In fact, I am the grandson of a worrier, who had a very worried son, who has passed that tendency on to me and which I have nobly engendered in my boy. Four generations of Kneale worry and counting. Telling us to just stop worrying doesn’t really help. It is sometimes impossible – particularly last thing at night – to turn the worries off.
Of course, we can all be prone to worry. It is what we worry about that is often more telling. My wife worries about issues of personal relationship. She is far more likely that me to sit up at night worried about a conversation she had with someone earlier in the day or some nonsense she was embroiled in on twitter. I’m not saying I am never troubled by that stuff, but it takes significantly more serious forms of it to really concern me. But anything to do with our house – noises, cracks, things not working right – worry me immensely. All I can see are big pound signs (not in my eyes, but leaving my bank account) and significant disruption. I am convinced one job will lead to another – rewiring a plug will lead inexorably to the need to rip out and replace a whole kitchen – until I am ultimately bankrupt. I can tell myself all I like that there is no reason for one job to necessarily lead to another, but my worry just doesn’t disappear.
But I am convinced that the Lord has built me with this sort of unerring worry because, without it, I would unerringly fail to pray. This is what Paul says: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ As Sinclair Ferguson puts it in his little commentary on Philippians:
The joyful person is not likely to be dominated by anxiety; the anxiety-ridden spirit cannot be a joyful one. But how can we be delivered from this anxiety? The prescription is prayer. Anxiety cannot continue to breathe easily in an atmosphere suffused with prayer.Let’s Study Philippians, Banner of Truth, 2003
Here is the bottom line. I am not very good at praying. I have always found it difficult. I know I should do it, I really do believe God is there and that he hears us when we pray, I really do believe that he answers his children. But I still find it hard not to feel like I’m speaking (or thinking) thoughts in my own mind and little more. I know that is not the case, but because that is how it can feel, I find prayer especially difficult when I find reading and studying the Bible so much easier. I suspect I’m not alone, but there it is.
But that terrible tendency in prayer drifts away when I start to worry. When I am worried, I find that I turn to prayer more readily. I like to think I am a pretty logical guy. My wife thinks my emotions are hilarious because they tend to function – with occasional outlying examples – fairly logically! But when I am worried – and that worry is not always illogical, even if it is frequently wrong – I am much more prone to pray. I am used to being able to solve problems. I like to find solutions and am usually not too bad at doing it. But when things happen that are clearly outside of my abilities and press well beyond my means, I am left with nothing but prayer. And I don’t say that as in, ‘so that’s all I could do so I might as well give it a shot, but I don’t really think it’ll do anything.’ I mean, I am driven to prayer and reminded again of how foolish I am to neglect it.
There are, no doubt, people out there who don’t worry like I do and have fantastic prayer lives. I suspect the Lord doesn’t burden them with pointless worries because he doesn’t need to. In my case, however, I worry. But that is so frequently what leads me to pray. Even though the Lord has them all in control – and I still show my belief in his sovereignty by praying about them – he has sovereignly ordained my worry knowing that through them I will pray, he will answer and he will be glorified in doing so.
So, whilst I wish I didn’t worry so much. Whilst I wish I just prayed as I ought without being cajoled into it through worry. My worries are nonetheless used by God to glorify himself in driving me to prayer and then answering them. Next time I worry, I should tell myself that. But I probably won’t. I’ll just worry, then pray, then give thanks to God for working once again.