There have been times in my life when worry has been my constant companion. I’ve worried about my health, worried about my family, worried about being single, worried about being married, worried about big decisions, worried about making people happy, worried about what people think about me…the list could go on. I bet you could make your own “worry” list. Worry is not uncommon. It’s part of the human condition. Yet, I wonder if we’ve allowed worry to become all too commonplace and acceptable, as if it’s something we can’t help, something we can’t overcome. We just live with it, like an unwanted guest that can’t find their way out the front door.
I also wonder what worry does to human physiology. How do my anxious thoughts affect my brain, my heart, my very cells and mitochondria? Does worry literally take days or years off my life?
Some people say, “Don’t worry, be happy.” The amusing Bobby McFerrin song from the 1980s rings clearly in my head. But it’s not that simple. Just setting aside my real life concerns for a laissez faire, just-go-with-the-flow attitude is clearly not the answer.
God, the Provider
The Bible has a lot to say about worry. In Matthew 6, Jesus says…
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Like the song, Jesus tells us not to worry. Unlike the song, he explains why! He says that God is continuously caring for us all the time, more than the flowers of the fields or the birds of the air. He knows our needs and delights to meet them. God is not running around trying to figure out how he is going to take care of the birds of the Serengeti desert while at the same time looking after the birds of the Amazon rainforest. Not only is he is big enough to care for animals of the earth, he is strong enough to care for his far more valuable creation, you! Consider these verses from Psalm 147.
Great is our Lord and abundant in strength;
His understanding is infinite.
He counts the number of the stars;
He gives names to all of them.
He gives to the beast its food,
And to the young ravens which cry.
He gives snow like wool;
He scatters the frost like ashes.
He casts forth His ice as fragments;
Who can stand before His cold?
He sends forth His word and melts them;
He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow.
When I ponder God’s awesome sovereignty (unlimited power and authority) over the universe, He can seem distant. And yet, he is near. Deuteronomy 31 states, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” 1 Peter 5 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
If you are a child of God who has put your faith in him, can you honestly say that any one of your needs have never been provided for? In my life, I have to say no. All of my needs have always been met. Now my desires and wants are another matter. But Jesus doesn’t promise that he will meet all our wants. He promises to meet our needs. Consider this as well. If God can give you eternal salvation, how much more will he meet your daily needs?
The Consequences of Worry
If worry rules your life, pause for a moment to think about how profoundly it affects you and the people you love.
Worry is counterproductive.
Worry causes fear.
Worry wastes time.
Worry saps your energy.
Worry steals your joy and contentment.
Worry keeps you from living in the moment.
Worry hinders growth of genuine friendships.
Worry can be passed on to your children.
Worry is unbelief.
Worry is sin.
Worry does not glorify God.
Sincere concern and planning are not wrong. In fact, wise planning is highly esteemed by Jesus in multiple New Testament parables. (preparing for the wedding feast and investing money for usefulness in Matthew 25, storing up eternal treasure in Luke 12, being ready to care for the needy in Luke 10) But he also issues a warning to my favorite over-achieving character in the Bible, in Luke 10:41, 42. “Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” What was Mary doing? Sitting at Jesus feet, listening to his words.
What to Do About Worry
If “don’t worry, be happy” is not the solution to worry, what is? I see answers throughout the Bible, particularly in Matthew 6 and the story of Mary and Martha.
First, develop and deepen your relationship with God. It is the first step toward relieving worry. Mary chose the good part that was not going to be taken away, cultivating a relationship with her Savior. The more we spend time with the author of Peace, the more peace we will have. As Jesus becomes more to us, worry will become less.
Next, pray for faith and ask God to give you a trusting heart. God loves to give generously to all who ask for faith. In John 16:24, Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” As our faith increases, the more confidence we have in God’s provision. Worry cannot take us captive if our minds and hearts are full of faith. Confess your sin of worry to God, and then ask him to renew your trust in Him.
Lastly, focus on today’s problems and take action. In Matthew 6, Jesus says that today has enough trouble of its own, and tomorrow will take care of itself. Since we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, much less in the next hour, our responsibility is to take action in the here and now. Instead of allowing worry to incapacitate us, we can choose to tackle today’s problems with confidence. Put an end to relentless thoughts like, “What about tomorrow, what about next week, what about next year!?” Stop, breathe, and think about what you can do today. Take time to write out each problem and all the solutions you can think of. Organizing your swirling thoughts helps break down problems and solutions into manageable bite-sized steps. For additional support, ask a good friend to sit down and do this exercise with you.
I pray that you and I can become people of faith! Believe that God cares for you. Believe that he can and will meet your needs. Focus on his goodness and love. Worry will get you nowhere, just as rocking in a rocking chair. It expends energy, but you never make progress. However, when you seek his kingdom, all these things will be added to you. I guess the song was right in a way. When you don’t worry, you will be happy. God promises peace for those who lay their concerns at his feet and leave them there.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6, 7