What, Me Worry?

(February 1998 – Volume 4, Issue 2) 

In Jay Adams’ little booklet What to Do About Worry, he begins with this humorous tale:

Joe used to worry all the time about everything, in fact, his friends knew him as a worrier. One day Bill was walking down the street when he saw his worrying friend bouncing along as happy as any man could be. Joe was actually whistling, humming and wearing a huge smile; he looked as if he did not have a care in the world. Bill could hardly believe his eyes — it was obvious that a radical transformation had taken place. He stopped Joe and added, “Joe, what’s happened to you? You don’t seem worried anymore; I never saw a happier man.” Joe replied, “It’s wonderful, Bill. I haven’t worried for several weeks now.” Bill continued, “That’s great — how did you manage it? What brought about the change?” Joe explained, “You see, I hired a man to do all my worrying for me.” “Well,” Bill mused, “I must say that is a new wrinkle; tell me, how much does he charge you?” “A thousand dollars a week.” “A thousand dollars a week? How could you possibly raise a thousand dollars a week to pay him?” Joe answered, “That’s his worry.”

It would really be great if something like this was actually possible! Yet, according to I Peter 5:7, we have an even more wonderful privilege: We are invited, even commanded by God to let Him “carry our burdens;” in addition, the service is free!

Scripture has much to say about “worry” and its cousin “fear.” Unfortunately the Greek word for “worry” is seldom translated as such but instead with phrases such as “be not anxious,” or “take no thought.” As a result, many do not understand the biblical teachings on this very important subject. While many passages of Scripture are helpful, two stand out — Matthew 6:25-34 and Philippians 4:6-9.

Definition: The Greek word for worry means “to divide, rip or tear apart, to strangle.”

We have all experienced this strangulation, those feelings that tie us into knots and dominate us to such a degree that we can think of nothing else. We have all lain awake at night disturbed about something. Our hands may sweat, our stomachs may churn, we may be unable to eat, or worse — we can’t stop eating. We call this worry, anxiety or fear, and it is one of the great enemies of joy and contentment in our lives.

However, we have only been describing the effects of worry (what worry does to us). Worry itself is concern over the future, a concern over things that we cannot control and worse yet, over things that may never even occur! It is this uncertainty and the feeling that things are out of our control that causes us to be torn apart (see What to Do About Worry, p.4).

Reasons NOT to Worry

In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus admonishes us not to worry — THREE TIMES. His were not just mindless words like the pop song of 1991 that told us, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Rather, Jesus gives us some concrete reasons as to why we don’t need to worry:

Because of Our Father

(Matthew 6:25-30)

When we fail to understand our Father’s total control and loving care over all things, we become anxious over the future. Unfortunately, just because we have a good theological understanding of God’s sovereignty and love does not guarantee that we will be worry-free. As a result of this, Jesus says that there are some things that we need to understand.

We must understand the basis for worry-free living —

Matt. 6:25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?”

When Jesus said, “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious,” to what was He referring? Jesus no doubt was referring back to 6:19-24, which teaches us that if we are to be free from worry, then two things must be true about our lives:

We must see life as God sees it (6:19-23).“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

As long as we view life as the world does — living for temporary things such as money, success, power, etc., we will have worry because these things are never stable; they never deliver what they promise. We must adopt a godly value system.

We must allow God to be our Master (6:24). “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

That God is sovereign Lord of all is never in question. Yet, within God’s plan He allows His people to make choices. He even gives us the freedom to make sinful choices. As long as we choose to be on the fence about whom will control our lives, we will never have true peace of mind and heart. So, the basis of a worry-free life is to see life as God sees it and to choose to allow Him to be our Master.

We need to understand the faithfulness of God (6:26)

“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Our Father has a deep concern for us, not because of anything that we have done; but because of His own grace and mercy. Our Lord is not advocating laziness, which would be in contradiction to many other Scriptures. Instead, He is emphasizing the loving care that God has for His children. As someone once said, “God may hurt us but He will never harm us.”

We need to understand the ineffectiveness of worry (6:27)

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span?”

Have you ever noticed the accomplishments of worry? A few that we might mention would include headaches, ulcers, heart attacks, backaches, and other wonderful things. It has been suggested by some that ninety percent of the things we worry about either never take place or are totally out of our control. Worry is not only sinful, it is futile.

We must understand God’s watch-care over us (6:28-30)

“And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?”

The point: If God provides so well for grass that lives just for a season, He will surely provide for His children who are destined for eternal glory. This does not mean that God will always provide the latest fashions. Here it actually seems that Jesus is scolding them for their misplaced values. Clothes had become too important to them. He instead points them to a greater principle — the active watch-care of God.

“O men of little faith” is a phrase Jesus used only five times: in Luke 12:28 where the disciples were worried about clothes, in Matt. 8:26 and 14:31 under the context of fear of drowning at sea, and in Matt. 16:8 when the disciples failed to remember the miraculous power of Christ. It would seem that this phrase describes those who were not taking to heart the comfort they should have derived from the presence, promises, power and provisions of Christ (see the Gospel of Matthew by William Hendriksen).

Isn’t it amazing that people who can trust God for eternal life, struggle to trust Him for tomorrow? We will hand Him our soul but hesitate to hand Him our billfold, our jobs, our children or our health.

Because of Our Position

(Matthew 6:31-33)

“Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”

We must remember that Jesus was speaking to Jewish believers before the creation of the church. The kingdom to which Jesus refers was the Messianic kingdom that he would one day establish on earth. This kingdom had been promised to the nation of Israel, and would have been inaugurated had the nation received Jesus as their Messiah — which they did not (John 1:11). Thus, the injunction to seek God’s kingdom is not directly incumbent upon the believer today; however, the spirit behind this commandment is! Christ is drawing a contrast between those who seek to live according to the will and teachings of God and those who do not belong to Him who naturally seek after earthly things to fulfill their lives — where else can they turn? Believers should instead have their focus on higher things — the things of God!

“Seek” means “being absorbed in the search for; a persevering and strenuous effort to obtain.” It is in the present tense and thus means to be constantly seeking. So, the overall driving force of our lives should be seeking after God, to give Him the priority that is His due.

Now for God’s promise — When we put Him first in our lives, we shift our burdens of concern to Him. It is now His delight to meet our needs and therefore, we no longer have to worry!

Of course, the Lord is not telling us to sit around doing nothing, just waiting for God to drop blessings upon us. We find in II Thess. 3:10 that if we will not work, then we should not expect to eat. Proverbs admonishes us to work hard and to plan ahead; yet, James 4:13 reminds us that our plans must be subject to God’s alterations. When we are willing to allow God to alter our plans, worry is eliminated. What is there to worry about when we truly put our best plans and efforts into the hands of God?

Because worry is misdirected in its focus (Matthew 6:34)

“Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Since worry is anxiety over the future, worry never accomplishes anything of value. The Lord then tells us that instead of focusing our attention on tomorrow, we should focus our attention on today.

Anxiety is always worry about the future. Jesus is not advising us to wait until tomorrow to worry about that day, etc. What He says is that no matter what we do we will not be able to deal with tomorrow’s troubles today. Being anxious over the future serves no useful purpose. Again, this is not to imply that we are not to prayerfully plan ahead. By God’s grace many of tomorrow’s troubles can be avoided or minimized through wise actions today — but, the future cannot be improved by worrying today!

“Trouble” means something that is evil from man’s point of view. It is a term that was once applied to crop damage due to hail. Will trouble of this type come into the life of the Christian? Certainly, God guarantees it — but, he also guarantees that we will have the grace to meet those troubles, “when they occur.”

None of us are given the grace “today” to handle “tomorrow’s” problems. No one is equipped by God to handle the difficulties of the future. So when we bring tomorrows “what ifs” into today, we become anxious because we are not equipped to live this way.

Anxiety leads to fruitlessness because it paralyzes us. We are worried about today, tomorrow, next week, etc; therefore, we don’t have time to seek the things of God.

Christ does not ask you to cease being concerned — instead, He tells you to redirect your concern. You are to pour your concerns, efforts, energies into today. As Christ says we are to take care of today’s problems; take care of the troubles that you have to handle now. Concern for today’s problems do not tear you up because you can get a handle on them. You can do something because they are here; you are dealing with concrete reality (the above was a paraphrase from What to Do about Worry, p.10-12).

How To Overcome Worry (Phil. 4:6-9)

No place in Scripture do we find better information concerning victory over worry than in the fourth chapter of Philippians. Within this chapter Paul clearly lays out for us a three-step plan:

Right praying (Phil. 4:6,7)

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We are commanded here to stop worrying. What are we to stop worrying about? EVERYTHING! The word “nothing” is literally “not even one thing.” Nothing means nothing. We are not to worry about our children, our jobs, our finances, or about our health — NOTHING! Of course, it is easy to say “stop worrying,” the question is “How?” First we need to distinguish between anxiety and a concern or burden. The Lord does not want us to be emotional zombies, caring about nothing or no one. As a matter of fact, Paul uses this very same word in Phil. 2:20 to describe, in a commendable way, Timothy’s concern for this very church. So there is a real difference between the anxiety that God forbids in our lives and the concern that He desires we have. What is the difference? I believe that the difference lies in what these issues are doing to us. Worry is allowing problems and distress to come between us and the heart of God. It is the view that God has somehow lost control of the situation and we cannot trust Him. A legitimate concern presses us closer to the heart of God and causes us to lean and trust on Him all the more. Concern draws us to God, worry pulls us from Him.

When it comes to the evils of worry it is no accident that Paul immediately begins to talk about prayer. We will never truly learn how to handle worry until we learn how to pray. We worry because we are relying upon ourselves, our resources and our brains, however, prayer is shifting the burden to God.

(I Peter 5:7 “. . . casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.“)

So, if we are to conquer worry, we must replace it with prayer, but not just any prayer. Prayers that bring the peace of God embody three elements. The first is worship. The “prayer” speaks of prayer addressed to God as an act of worship. In the act of worship we take our eyes off ourselves and instead focus on the Lord. At that point many things that we may be worried about do not seem nearly as overwhelming in the light of the greatness of our God.

We move next to making our specific requestsknown to God. God does not want memorized prayers; He desires heartfelt requests. The word “request” means the act of asking for things. In the context of worry God wants us to bring our specific concerns to Him.

Finally, we are to do all of this with thanksgiving. Someone has said that prayer without thanksgiving is like a bird without wings — it is not going to go very far. If we believe the Scriptures, we can be thankful even for our problems (Rom. 8:28 and James 1:2-5). We may not appreciate the circumstances that we are in, but we can believe that God has all things under control and that He will use everything that happens to us for good. It is for this power that we can always be thankful.

The result of this type of praying is the peace of God (Phil. 4:7). Peace is the opposite of worry; they cannot coexist. It is a peace that is described in three ways: as from God, incomprehensible (beyond our ability to understand), and as the guardian of our lives. When worry creeps in we lose God’s peace. The loss of peace is God’s warning that we are moving into the realm of anxiety. Paul does not stop here however, he now takes us to the next step. . . .

Right Thinking (Phil. 4:8)

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”

Just as we replace worry with prayer, we are to replace our worried thoughts with thinking that pleases God. One of the best ways to keep out worry is to concentrate on positive biblical solutions to life’s problems.

Paul is not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand and ignore all the unpleasant things around us. Believers, of all people, must deal with reality head-on, but we are to deal with it having the “mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16). Christ-like thoughts are characterized by the following descriptions: They are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8 NASB). A good word study of these descriptions, using Vine’s Expository Dictionary, would be well worth any believer’s time.

Right Living (Phil. 4:9)

“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you.”

It is not enough to pray about excellent things and to think about excellent things; we must also be willing to live in an excellent way. When an anxious thought or circumstance comes our way, God expects us to bring it to Him in prayer; look for a biblical solution; and then to go out and work on the problem where necessary. We are to practice this godly type of living. The idea here is to develop a pattern and to make it a part of our lives — to live out these truths.

Worry need not destroy our lives. In Matthew 6 Jesus tells us tells us not to worry about tomorrow, that is, we should not get upset because we think something might happen. We are to continue to plan in reference to the future, but not to get anxious and worried about it. The only way such a life will be possible is through right praying, right thinking and right living.

Jay Adams suggests that when we must deal with a problem, it may be helpful to write out the answers to the following questions (ibid. p.27):

  1. What is my problem?
  2. What does God want me to do about it (based upon biblical principles)?
  3. When, where and how should I begin?

Many promises are given in the Word of God to encourage us to trust Him and not to fear. Here is a list of some, from the Psalms alone:

  • Psalms 27:1,13-14
  • Psalms 28:6-7
  • Psalms 46:1-2
  • Psalms 56:3-4
  • Psalms 86:7
  • Psalms 91:1-6, 11-12, 15
  • Psalms 112 (especially verse 7)
  • Psalms 119:114
  • Psalms 121
  • Psalms 139

(Also Isaiah 41:10 should be noted.)

For many more helpful references, just look up the words “trust,” “faith” and “care/careful” in a good concordance.