Let us begin with our countdown of the top ten sins and struggles:
- #10: Laziness
- #9: Anger
- #8: Cursing and Gossip
- #7: Pride
- #6: Neglecting Church
- #5: Coping with Change
- #4: Easily Discouraged
- #3: Overanxious (Worry)
This is another "struggle" issue. Worry all by itself is not a problem of morality, although in one sense when we as Christians worry we are disobeying Jesus who said not to worry (Matthew 6:31). Of course, that this struggle was named by so many people is no surprise because it has always been a common and negative human reaction experienced by both believers and nonbelievers.
Let us, therefore, look at this issue and some of the remedies for it.
What is worry? For most people worry is a feeling of fear or unhappiness regarding something or someone. It usually consists of negative speculation about something that may happen in the future (one minute or one year hence, but always in the future). We feel regret, shame or guilt for the past, but worry is always focused on something in the future. These include things like the condition of our health, the safety of our family and the need to provide for our needs. We worry about simple things like the look of our appearance or complex issues that involve marital disputes or the care of elderly parents.
There is, however, a difference between worry and concern. Unlike worry, which has a negative effect on us, concern or focused attention usually helps us avoid trouble and pain. The only tangible product of worry, on the other hand, is over-stress caused by the anxiety stirred up because of our constant worry. Worry saps us of energy, wastes time, is discouraging and robs us of the enthusiasm needed to succeed in our work, family life and service to the church. Some people invest so much of their energy into worry that they have precious little of it left to take care of the problems facing them today. God provides us with the emotional resources we need to deal with each day's challenges, but if we constantly waste these resources in worrying about tomorrow, today's problems will invariably overwhelm us and create a negative cycle leading to depression and burn-out.
We worry about tomorrow but do not know what tomorrow will bring. If we did, we could do something about it and change worry into action. But we do not and thus waste energy and time worrying, and create unneeded stress that leads to burn-out. Of course, we know all of this but continue to worry anyways because worry is the "go to" emotion we have cultivated through years of constant repetition. Is there anything to do to avoid this debilitating habit?
Jesus and James both teach valuable lessons concerning worry and how we can eliminate this negative emotional habit and replace it with things that actually help us reduce the stress caused by the challenges that everyone faces on a daily basis.
Getting the Right Perspective
25"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? 26Look 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? 27And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30But 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! 31Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
- Matthew 6:25-34
Notice that in this passage Jesus deals directly with the problem of worry (which suggests that stress caused by worry is not simply a 21st century problem, people in every generation worried about something) and in dealing with worry He gives us the correct perspective as well as an alternative action in dealing with worry.
A Correct Perspective
The new perspective is found in verses 25-32 and basically it is this:
- Understand that God knows exactly what it is that you need in every area of your life.
- Whether it be food, clothing, work, housing, sex, medical help, family, recreation, etc. God knows, cares and can provide all that you need.
When we look into the future and begin to worry about having the wherewithal to finish a task or the strength to face illness and death, we are taking on a responsibility that belongs to God. He is responsible for the future and has promised to provide the resources to meet that future when it comes. I can be attentive to the future, I can prepare for the future, even be hopeful about the future, however to worry about it is not only futile but sinful because Jesus says, "Do not worry" (verse 25).
Once we have a correct perspective (verse 34, using today's resources to take care of today's needs because God always provides enough today for today) we need an attitude change.
Attitude Change (verse 33)
For those who are over-stressed, the major attitude in their lives is usually that of worry for the future or regret about the past. Jesus explains how things are in the "real" world: God supplies what we need one day at a time. If you do not know this, you end up worrying about having enough, being ok, surviving various challenges in the home, at work or in social situations because you alone have the responsibility to make things happen. However, once you are presented with this fact about God and His providential care, your attitude needs to change from constant worry to humble faith, and your lifestyle goal needs to shift from the acquisition of personal wealth (which provides security) to the development of personal righteousness.
We worry because we think we ourselves are responsible for providing everything. This attitude creates anxiety and burn-out as we focus on acquiring and stockpiling wealth as a way to guarantee our security.
To avoid the over-stress that comes from worry we need to concentrate on God's promise to provide each day what we will need for that day, and change the focus of our lives from creating and maintaining wealth to creating and maintaining a pure conscience before God. This is the true work of a Christian: doing God's will and maintaining a clear conscience in Christ. This means that we will have the normal stress that comes with working at the challenges that face us each day, but avoiding the over-stress produced by the concern that we must do this alone as well as take care of tomorrow's problems today.
Converting Stress into Joy – James 1:2-8
James' approach to worry and stress is to demonstrate that even negative things that happen to us do not have to create the worry that often leads to over-stress and all the negative things that come from it.
2Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
- James 1:2-4
In verses 2-4 he explains how to short-circuit worry and its negative effects:
- Understand that when trials (and temptations, disappointments, etc.) come your way they can be the cause of some good in life.
- If one meets them with perseverance (patient willingness to bear under) then the constant "perseverance mode" instead of the "worry mode" in us will eventually produce a mature character, and experiencing this mature character (peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, etc.) will be a joyful thing. Wholeness and maturity are what our spirits crave whether we realize it or not (because we are usually distracted by the things of this world).
5But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
- James 1:5-8
In verses 5-8 James explains that doing this is not always easy. However, if one desires to do this but has problems he should ask God for help having faith that God, who provides for each day's needs, will also provide spiritual help for each day's challenges.
Many times, for example, we will not quit a bad habit or attempt to give up a sin which is blocking our spiritual growth because we feel we will never be able to bear an entire lifetime without it. According to the passages we have just studied, God will provide the help we need for today's struggle and will supply what will be necessary for tomorrow's challenge when tomorrow comes. The same strategy works for the help we need to develop our talents, reach our goals or convert our family and friends.
James tells us that trials do not have to be an enemy, producing not only pain and inconvenience but also causing worry and damaging stress in our lives. On the contrary, trials can be used to develop the spiritual maturity we need to produce the peace and joy that are the hallmark of a mature Christian life. Knowing this short-circuits the worry caused by trials.
The stress that comes from worry is caused by two things:
- We worry about the responsibility to provide for ourselves.
- We worry when trials interfere with our efforts to acquire and hoard, which we think will make us happy (by providing security).
The Lord and His earthly brother provide the answer for those who are stressed out because of worry.
- God will supply what we need each day if we focus our attention on doing His will rather than spending all of our energies on acquiring and hoarding wealth in an effort to provide security for ourselves.
- We should not worry about the personal suffering brought about by trials. Instead, we should invest our energies into perseverance when we suffer. If we worry, it will make the suffering worse and accomplish nothing. If, however, we choose to persevere, it will create in us a greater maturity and joy which will not only help us endure the pain but also lower the level of stress caused by that pain.