Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council. This article appeared in Fox News on March 1, 2019.
Imagine the reaction to a diet and exercise plan that claimed for just five minutes a day in the gym, you could consume six hours’ worth of Twinkies a week. When it comes to food, people understand the need for discipline and balance between what goes into your body and how to process it.
But equally bad for the human soul is a steady diet of mass media and cultural consumption that compounds fear and worry over a world that can seem out of control – without counteracting those earthly concerns with a heavenward response.
To handle the kind of high-caloric anxiety so common in the 24/7 news driven world we live in, we need the exercise of prayer.
Just this month, Gallup released a poll saying that the highest percentage of Americans since 1939 believe that “government, poor leadership or politicians” are the nation’s top problem. The 35 percent of Americans who shared that sentiment probably are among those who consume the kinds of news that can add to their anxiety. Adult news consumers spend nearly 6.5 hours a week watching cable TV news, yet so few of us spend much time in prayer to counteract all that we see and hear.
While almost 80 percent of Americans say they have prayed at least once in the last three months, that’s not enough to overcome all that we deal with in daily life.
To prevent growing weary in our faith and losing hope as we face difficult and discouraging circumstances, we all need persistent and prevailing prayer. In fact, when Jesus wanted to encourage people to pray without ceasing, he used a parable about a widow needing justice from a corrupt, arrogant government official.
Being discouraged – even about politics – is nothing new, which is why Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 18 “that they should always pray and not give up.”
As the story goes, “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’”
Eventually, faced with the widow’s persistence, the unjust judge relented. Jesus taught that we must be just as diligent in bringing our concerns to a loving God as the widow was in seeking justice. The difference is that we have an Advocate who wants to hear from us.
In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus reminded us that we have a Father in heaven standing by, saying: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Prayer is part of a relationship in which we spend time with a God who cares, getting to know him, listening as well as talking. It takes time. It’s obvious that a couple who never spends more than a few minutes together each day, just handing off lists of things they want, won’t last long when the hard times come because they are not deeply connected.
In the same way, we need to move beyond “drive-by” prayers, where our only interaction with God is to shoot off a few things we want as we hurry on our way.
The cares of this world are real. People are sick, hungry, struggling with addiction, unemployment, loneliness and a thousand other things that wake us up in the night and burden our every thought, in part because we know that we are often helpless to handle all of this alone. Some things seem impossible to fix, but prayer changes things.
Prayer isn’t about just feeling better or checking a box. It’s about being humble enough to know that you can’t handle everything alone and being wise enough to “(c)ast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Billy Graham wrote, “Every man or woman whose life has counted for the church and the Kingdom of God has been a person of prayer. You cannot afford to be too busy to pray.”
The next time you are up late at night and can’t sleep, worn down by what life is throwing at you, don’t count sheep – go to the Good Shepherd. He is waiting to hear your concerns, share your burden and travel even the bumpy roads with you.