If there is one skill I have developed in life to the point where I could probably be regarded as an expert, it is definitely the art of worrying. I think I may have some natural skill in this area, but it has also taken years of practice to reach the level I am at today.
It’s a skill that is useful in almost any situation, and I have found it helpful for several reasons:
- Worry keeps us focussed on what is important. Obviously imagining worst case scenarios for the future is much more helpful than focussing on what’s happening here and now.
- Worry is taking control. It’s doing something productive about the situation.
- Worry makes a difference. If we didn’t worry about these things, then surely they would be more likely to happen. Plus, if we think about all the possible outcomes and how we would deal with them, then we’re ready for anything. (The fact that few of them are ever going to happen is irrelevant.)
- Worry is necessary because if we don’t worry about these things then who else is going to deal with them? God has enough on his plate. Why would he bother with our little problems? Why would he even bother with our big problems when there are so many other people in the world?
- Worry sets a good example to non-Christians. It shows them how the Christian life should be and makes them want that for themselves.
Of course, I don’t really believe any of that…
…except sometimes I do…
Not in my head, but my actions reveal what I sometimes believe in my heart. After all if I truly rejected all of these thoughts, then I wouldn’t worry.
And I do. As I said, I’m pretty good.
I need to take a step back and remind myself of the truth:
Worry distracts us from what is important. It takes our focus away from the present and it steals our joy. As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
Worry is pointless. Sometimes it feels better than doing nothing. It can feel like we’re taking control of a situation, but actually any control we gain is only an illusion. Corrie Ten Boom describes worry as “a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.”
Worry changes nothing. Jesus asked, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) Answer: Of course not. Worry alters our emotional state (and not in a good way), but it does nothing to change the situation. It is a waste of time.
Worry is unnecessary because God is in control. He sees us, he cares for us and he has power to act in our situations. “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:26) Nothing we face is too little for God to care about, or too big for him to deal with. If we truly believe that God is looking after us, why would we need to worry?
Worry is a bad witness to non-Christians. By worrying we are thinking and acting like unbelievers. Why would they be attracted to that? If we spend our time worrying and fretting it’s understandable that they would question whether our faith in God makes any difference at all. “Worry implies that we don’t quite trust God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.” (Francis Chan)
Looking at these truths, the answer seems obvious: we should stop worrying, though if you’re anything like me, that is easier said than done. However as I try to stop practicing my “skill” in this area there are some steps I am finding helpful:
If there’s something genuinely productive you can do about your worry, then do it. That may seem obvious, but sometimes worry is so much of a default for me that I will worry as a first response, even when there is something I could actually do to deal with the situation.
Focus on God. Remind ourselves of who he is- his love, his power, his sovereignty. If we focus on our worries they can become overwhelming, but if we focus on God, we remember that he is more than able to deal with our concerns. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3)
Instead of worrying, pray. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Notice that promise of peace again! And if think your worry is too small to bother God with, then here’s some more advice from Corrie Ten Boom: “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.”
Surrender it to God. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) As Elsa would say, “Let it go!” We don’t need to carry these heavy burdens by ourselves. God is longing for us to come to him, hand these things over to him and let him take them from us.
And just imagine what a difference it could make- to our emotional state, to our productivity and to our witness- if we were really to grasp this, to leave our worries with God, and to live as Jesus commanded, trusting him to fulfill his promises: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33)