The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Overcoming prayer anxiety

As I meet people and talk with them about prayer, I’m often surprised to hear that prayer causes more anxiety than comfort.

Many of us have been taught very little about prayer or were taught that there is a right way and wrong way to pray. As children, we’re taught that prayer is talking to God and we are to bow our heads, close our eyes and fold our hands.

As a teenager I learned the ACTS formula, which teaches that every prayer should include Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Later I learned prayer was a “conversation” with God. That sounded delightfully intimate but also troubling. Talking I could do, but listen? How? If Jesus was my friend, how come he didn’t talk to me as friends do?

Slowly the shoulds began to peel off. I met people who knelt to pray. I learned that the Jewish worshipers of Jesus’ day stood and lifted their hands.

Jesus opened his eyes and looked up when he blessed bread (Matthew 14:19). He didn’t always pray the same way: sometimes it was short, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Sometimes he spent all night in prayer (Matthew 14:23-25, Luke 6:12). He had no formula. He had a relationship with God, and his prayer reflected that relationship. So Jesus shows us that prayer isn’t about formulas or right or wrong but about intimate connection with God (Matthew 6:9).


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