Praying Scared


Usually when we think of persons who pray, we imagine great women and men of faith. Cue the climactic music. They sound like an elite group of believers and are known to some as “prayer warriors.” They are always strong and courageous, always consistent and stable, always believing and never doubting. Well trained and well versed, they know how to pray and exactly what Jesus would do in every situation. They are not to be confused with us regular ol’ Christians.

We believe that we must have not just faith but mountain-moving faith before we can pray. We behave as if we must have construction zone and hardhat-required faith before anything can change in our lives. This understanding of faith and likewise prayer suggests that we must be able to do what we are asking God to do. We talk about faith as if we must have the blueprints drawn up and approved, the building materials and workers on site in order for the mountain to be moved.

Somewhere and somehow, we dismissed the words of Jesus; there is no use for little faith. We don’t want to have mustard seed faith. No, we want mega faith because we have been told that bigger is better. Strangely, we toss aside the little faith that we do have in hopes of finding or receiving more.

And we speak of prayer as if it is for members only. The name suggests they are specially equipped to deal with the tests and trials of life. I suppose we imagine that they have a limited edition version of the armor of faith (Ephesians 6.10-18). And the language often employed makes it sound like they have tough faith and that talking to God is like going to war.

But, it doesn’t have to be. We don’t have to pray when we feel brave or full of courage. Our chest need not be puffed up, our back straight or our head held high. We don’t have to wait until we feel confident or have found the right, faith-filled words to say. We don’t have to hold off until we are feeling better or when we have it all figured out. We don’t have to postpone the conversation until we are passionate or strong or ready.

Knees that bend are treated the same as knees that have buckled under the pressures of life. Sweaty hands can also be used. The posture of the heart is what is important. There is no looking the part of prayer.

In fact, there are no special words or places either. Without preparation, pray. If your words stumble at first or throughout the conversation, pray. You don’t have to get out of trouble or the hospital or a bad relationship before you pray.

Pray with your heart racing. Pray when you feel intimidated and overwhelmed. Pray when you’re nervous and panicky. Pray when you’re irritated and alarmed because you don’t see how things are going to work out and doubt if people will change. But, whatever you do, don’t stop talking to God.

Besides, it takes great strength to have any faith at all. Believing is not for the weak but the strong. If you can pray scared, then you are a great woman and man of faith. Welcome to the club.

smcneillReverend Starlette McNeill* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland. A graduate of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, she writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at She is also a wife, mother, and columnist with Baptist News Global, Baptist Women in Ministry, and Ethics Daily. She is a contributing author to the book Faith Forward: Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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