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How to pray when feeling overwhelmed

Our global team shares tips and practices for connecting with God when we’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

Written by Rachael Adams | 18 Mar 2022

Views of Cochabamba and the Cristo de la Concordia (Christ of Peace) statue from San Pedro hill in Bolivia | Image Credit: Tom Price-Ecce Opus/Tearfund

Today, with our phones at our fingertips, no matter the time or where we are, we are met with a constant barrage of news. It’s easy to become anxious or overwhelmed as the tragic headlines flash up on our screens. Conflict. Hunger. Disasters. Bombarded by the needs of a broken world, it can be easy to retreat. How can we respond to this level of need? How do we pray, when it all feels like so much?

There is no ‘one size fits all’. There will be different ways for each of us that help us connect better with God when we’re feeling overwhelmed. And this can change, depending on our circumstances or the season we are in.

Tearfund staff from around the world share with us some tips to help us manage the never-ending news cycle. Begin by reading through these, then take a look at the different ways our global team share about ways we can come to God in prayer, no matter how we are feeling. Take some time to read them through and try one or two of them out, seeing what works best for you.

We hope these will bless and encourage you in your time with God.

Tips to manage the never-ending news cycle

Take a break

Find a way to engage with the news cycle that doesn’t seem burdensome. This could be removing news alerts from your phone. Or not checking or scrolling through  social media first thing in the morning and last thing at night. You could also set  time limits on news websites or social media sites to help with this.

Seek rest and Sabbath

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28). Rest – and Sabbath – is important to God. We were not created to be switched on at all times. Think about how you can intentionally reset and refocus on God. This could be by taking walks or finding some time to be quiet wherever works for you.

Find fellowship

Praying for each other and building each other up is important. We weren’t created to do life alone. Find people you can pray with for global issues together, so that you can share the load.

Finding friends to pray with can help share the load. A group of women in Malawi gather to pray and worship together | Image Credit: Alex Baker/Tearfund

Practice one: worship

‘Usually when times are hard, I listen to gospel music from YouTube or I read Psalms or Proverbs. To be honest, when times are difficult, it is very difficult to pray,’ says Seid Zebe, who leads Tearfund’s work in Mali.

Lucie N'guessan, Tearfund’s Communications Officer for West Africa, adds: ‘When I can’t pray because of the pain, I sing. But my soul is praying through the songs I sing.’

Music has a way of speaking directly to our hearts. It engages another sense – which can help ground us when we’re feeling particularly anxious.

Try it:

  • Play worship music – you can even join in by playing your own instrument.
  • Listen to the words and – if you feel able to – sing along.
  • As you do this, think about what is heavy on your heart, and lift that up to God as you sing.

Practice two: thanksgiving

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 , Paul tells us to ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’

Thanksgiving is not an easy thing to practice at times like these. When living through uncertainty, sadness and anxiety, giving thanks can feel like the last thing we want to do.

But, thanksgiving – and gratitude – is an antidote to despair. It reminds us that we have faced challenges before, and overcome them. It reminds us that God is bigger than our circumstances. And it reminds us that, no matter what else is going on, there is always much we can love – and love never fails.

‘From my experience, I know that God has reasons behind everything,’ shares Manzo Dembele, from our Mali Team. ‘I continue to trust in God and lean on him, whatever the situation is.

‘I believe that God is still the only one through whom all good things are possible.

‘Therefore, I come to him in a father-son relationship, thanking God for all that he does in every situation – the visible and the invisible, and pray for his continued support.

‘I see God as a loving, caring and present father and I speak to him as his beloved son. I am thankful to know that he listens to me and he cares for me.’

Try it:

  • Begin by thanking God for the relationship you have – one that is based on his never-failing love for you.
  • Think of an issue that has been heavy on your heart – you can ask the Holy Spirit to guide you if you are unsure.
  • Recognise that God is at work already in this situation. Thank God for how he is working. Praise God for all he is doing, acknowledging he is in control.

Reading the Bible brings our heart closer to God. Using scripture can help us to pray in difficult or challenging situations – or when we simply don’t have the words to say. A woman in Nepal reads her Bible | Image credit: Tom Price/Tearfund

Practice three: use scripture

‘The Bible is not an ordinary book. It is a word of power, it is a word of God, it heals our soul and our emotions. Our faith grows when we read the Bible,’ shares Seid. ‘Reading the Bible brings our heart close to God.

‘By looking at the heroes of faith in the Bible and those who brought us the gospel, we see that they have overcome multiple challenges and they continue to be role models and references to us.

‘As children of God and as the church, we are aware of the daily dangers involved in our work. Without faith and a firm conviction that Christ died and rose again, it is impossible to survive in such an environment. Our only recourse is the Lord Jesus Christ. As Psalms 20:7 declares: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”’

Paul Habou, from Tearfund’s Burkina Faso Team continues: ‘I am always keeping in my mind that I am not alone, as Jesus Christ promised to be with us every day until the end of the world.

‘In Burkina Faso, there are many attacks by armed groups and this is a really big security challenge for us. So, everyday, when moving from my home, I proclaim Psalm 91:1, which reads “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

‘And I believe that anywhere I will be going during the day, God’s guidance and protection will be with me.’

Try it:

  • Memorise Bible verses or write them somewhere you’ll see often – the lock screen of your phone, the fridge, your Bible...
  • Repeat the scripture over situations that feel hard or difficult.
  • Depending on how you’re feeling, you may want to pray after reciting the scripture.

Practice four: use the Holy Spirit as a guide

Another name that is given to the Holy Spirit is the advocate (John 14:26).

When we are tired, or unsure of what to say – when the situation feels too big – remember that ‘the spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans’ (Romans 8:26). Our prayers can take the form of silence, sobs or even shaking our fists and stamping our feet at the injustice in the world.

God listens. God understands. God cares.

Try it:

  • Think about a situation that is weighing heavily on your heart.
  • Now, think about how it makes you feel.
  • Welcome the Holy Spirit’s presence and ask the Holy Spirit to respond to this situation.

Practice five: poetry and reflection

‘The Bible brims with the poetic. Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, Job and most of the Old Testament prophets are written either entirely or in part as poetry,’ shares Gideon Heugh, Tearfund writer.

When we’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, it can be even more important for us to focus and recentre ourselves. A poem can help us to do that.

‘You cannot rush when reading a poem; it forces you to slow down, to dwell, to be present,’ Gideon continues. ‘Because poetry so wonderfully and effectively focuses our attention, it can be a powerful medium through which we can pray.’

Try it:

  • Choose a poem – it could be a personal favourite or one that you haven't read before – that focuses on an issue that you think God might be placing on your heart. Once you have chosen your poem, say a brief and simple prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to speak to you through it.
  • Read through the poem as many times as you like. Slowly. Out loud. Pause and take time to listen to God as you do this.
  • Thank God for the poem and for what it has been telling you.

Here is a poem to try this out on:

The light that our ruin lets in

There is the falling. The breaking.
The tearing open. The pulled apart.
The head buried in the hands.
The fists pounding on the floor.
The shrieks and the sobs and the why
and the why
and the why.

This is the broken heart; the grief; the failure;
the betrayal; the disappointment; the loss;
the leaving the garden behind.

There is the waking up in the wilderness.
The long and trembling wait.
The glimpse of movement in the shadows.
The pale beginning. The unexpected expansion.
The deeper rivers discovered. The reality uncovered.
The truth rushing up. The love pouring in
and pouring in
and pouring in.

This is the dawn that darkness brings;
the light that our ruin lets in;
the gold filling the cracks in our shattered selves.

There is the realisation. The astonishment of grace.
The heart knows why it was made.
The response.
The renewed or newly discovered purpose.
The opening up. The reaching out.
The tentative steps forward growing bolder
and bolder
and bolder.

This is the move from I to us, from me to we;
the fierce and tender hope
that only eyes that have wept can see;
the journey that is goodness, is a terrible beauty,
is the message that is written in the blood of God.

Poem is © Gideon Heugh, taken from ‘Rumours of Light’

Written by

Written by  Rachael Adams

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