There are two kinds of worry: (1) a negative, harmful, crippling worry, and (2) a positive, beneficial concern. Negative worry is an anxiety that focuses our thoughts either on concerns that we can do nothing about or on matters that distract us from resting in God’s ability to meet our needs. Jesus mentioned such worry six times in His Sermon on the Mount. He taught His followers to turn to their Father in heaven, who wants us to trust Him one day at a time, even for the most common cares of life (matthew 6:25–34).
Not all worry is bad. The Bible also speaks of a healthy concern that results in meaningful action and prayer. In 2 Corinthians 11:28, Paul spoke of his “deep concern for all the churches.” The word concern is the same Greek word he and other New Testament writers used when urging against self-consuming anxiety (philippians 4:6; 1 peter 5:7).
Paul also told the believers in Philippi of his desire to send Timothy to them because he was concerned (same word) about their welfare (philippians 2:19–20).
So, how do we put our worries to work for us?
(1) By letting worry turn our attention to God;
(2) by letting worry turn us to the words of Jesus;
(3) by turning worry into prayer;
(4) by turning worry into practical choices.
Let Worry Turn Our Attention to God
When we worry, we focus on possibilities that have not yet happened or are beyond our control. What we need to see is that this is our moment of opportunity. In the weakness of our fears, we have reason to look for the assurance of God’s presence. This assurance comes when we turn our attention to God’s character as revealed in His Word.
Nothing happens in this world that is beyond the knowledge and power of our God. The Scriptures declare, “The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (psalm 103:19). He is God Almighty. He is the sovereign Lord of all.
When we worry, we are actually acknowledging the truth that we are not adequate to meet the demands of life in our own strength. This is our moment to remind ourselves of some important truths about God.
1. He is everywhere. There is no place, no matter how alone we may feel, that God cannot be. He is everywhere! (psalm 139:7–12; jeremiah 23:23–24).
2. He knows everything. He knows how afraid we are, how bad we feel, and what scares us. The more worried we become, the more we act as if God were ignorant of our situation. We don’t know the future, but God does; and He knows our needs (job 7:20; psalm 33:13–14).
3. He is all-powerful. Worriers feel that no one has the power to stop bad things from happening—not even God. But God has limitless power and His own wise reasons for what He permits (genesis 17:1; 18:14; matthew 19:26).
The cares of life that weigh on us so heavily need to be placed on the shoulders of the Lord. He is even more concerned than we are about our health, our work, our friends, our family, and our nation.
It was God who helped David kill the bear, the lion, and the Philistine giant. He protected David from the murderous rages of Saul. He kept him safe in enemy territory. Perhaps that’s the reason David could write, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved” (psalm 55:22).
But how do we give our burdens to God? The answer to that is not in what we do, but in what we believe. Are we trusting in our feelings? Or do we believe, on the basis of what we see in the created world around us and on the wisdom of the Bible, that our creator and sustainer is an all-powerful, trustworthy God?
But what if our fears are rooted in past experiences or medical conditions beyond our ability to understand or control? The answer does not contradict our faith. If, in the process of coming to terms with our fears, we sense a need for medical help or a wise counselor, this may be God’s way of helping us trust Him in new and deeper ways.
Worry is an expression of our fear of the future. It has been around since Eden, when Adam and Eve hid from God among the trees and covered themselves with leaves. They were rightfully afraid of the consequences of their choice to eat the forbidden fruit (genesis 3:10). When God asked why they were hiding, Adam said, “I was afraid.”
We can see what our first parents could not. If they had admitted their wrong and thrown themselves on the mercy of their good and compassionate God, it would have been better than trying to hide from His presence.
Knowing that God is a good God—nothing evil can originate in Him—helps drive fear away, even when we have sinned.
David knew God’s goodness and love by experience. That’s why he could write that even in the darkest valleys of life, he feared no evil (psalm 23:4).
Even as he wrote of war, famine, and evil men who pursued him, David said that those who trust in God “shall be satisfied” (psalm 37:19). The basic meaning is that they will not tremble or be shaken. In the midst of the legitimate concerns of life, we need not quiver with fear. God will sustain us by His power.
When we feel vulnerable, we become distracted by our concerns. God can sustain us during those worrisome times, not by promising that nothing bad will happen, but by reminding us that we were made to trust Him above all else. In a broken world, we have no guarantees except that God can be trusted, and that He wants us to draw on the depths of His love and grace in every circumstance that He gives or allows. We too can use worry as an opportunity to say, “Therefore we will not fear” (psalm 46:2).
He Will Never Leave or Forsake Us. Worry is often a solitary burden. We tend to carry it alone. The more we worry, the more alone and helpless we feel. But if we are the children of God, we are never away from our Father’s watchful eye and reach.
In Psalm 139, David assured us of God’s presence when he said that God knew everything about him even before he was born (vv. 13–16). He could never escape God’s Spirit (vv. 7–12). Morning or night, land or sea, heights or depths, God is there.
David also wrote, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me” (psalm 27:10). Many of us feared parental abandonment as children. Sometimes those terrible feelings return to us. Our fears close in on us from all directions. It’s then that we need to remember the Father’s promise that He will never leave or forsake His children.
Isaiah knew of God’s ever-present care. The Lord said through him, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God” (isaiah 41:10).
Moses knew it. “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (hebrews 11:27).
Joshua knew it. God said to him, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you” (joshua 1:5).
The disciples knew it. Jesus said to them just before He ascended, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (matthew 28:20).
We can know it too. When Jesus gave that promise to His disciples, He was also talking to us.
The next time worry starts to overwhelm you, turn to God and remember that (1) He’s in charge, (2) He can carry your burdens, (3) He can take away your fear, (4) He can sustain you, and (5) He will never leave you.
Let Worry Turn Our Attention to the Words of Jesus
In Matthew 6:25–34, Jesus challenged His followers to see that the opportunities of heaven are more important than the potential losses of life. He urged them to believe that if God takes care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the fields, He will take care of His children.
Living by faith includes our responsibility to work and to do what we can to provide for the needs of our families and ourselves. The apostle Paul said, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 thessalonians 3:10). Jesus wasn’t teaching that we are to become passive recipients. His point was that if we do what He gives us the time and strength to do, we don’t need to fret, worry, or be anxious about our needs.
Jesus understands our inclinations, so He reminds us that just like the natural world around us, we were not made to worry. Birds have to eat, but they don’t get migraines obsessing about it. Flowers “wear clothes,” but they don’t have to be treated for ulcers. Their heavenly Father takes care of them.
The underlying cause of worry is identified in Jesus’ statement, “O you of little faith” (matthew 6:30). With those few words He reminds us that being burdened down with care can reflect a lack of trust in Him. Too often we don’t really believe that He is present, knows what we need, and wants to shoulder the burdens of our life. On far too many occasions, we stop short of trusting Him to care for our needs—even though He promised that He would. Our eyes shift from heaven to earth and from the strength of God to our own limited resources.
Jesus also shows us that worry comes down to a matter of priorities. We worry about food and clothing, about competing, and about controlling the future, instead of concentrating on what is most important. So He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (v. 33). Exercise faith. Give priority to God, and you’ll lay up treasures in heaven.
When we listen to Jesus, we realize that getting a handle on our worries requires our choice and God’s grace. Our worries are eased by a deep confidence in God. Even though concerns remain, the obsessive, anxious, desperate feelings are undermined by a real faith and hope in the Lord.
Are we obsessed with worry about our work, our financial security, our retirement, our health? These are all real issues. But in the presence of Christ, they become less threatening.
Turn Worry Into Prayer
Few of us have endured the kind of problems encountered by the apostle Paul. Yet in spite of all the threats on his life, the beatings, and the imprisonments, he wrote to the Philippians:
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 understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (philippians 4:6–7).
There are three words used by Paul in Philippians 4:6 that describe what we are to be doing instead of worrying.
“Prayer.” Paul began with the most common word for talking to God—prayer. It refers to prayer in general and is most likely related to the worship aspect of prayer. When we pray, we are to consciously express our awareness of God’s greatness, goodness, and presence. Such prayer lifts our spirit in adoration, devotion, and reverence. Recognizing God as sovereign Lord, we bring our anxious concerns and worries to Him.
“Supplication.” Next, Paul used the word supplication, or request. These are our earnest desires, our desperate cries for help. These requests can be for ourselves or for others.
When we are worried, we need to take that worry to God. Ask for His help. Earnestly petition Him. The God who told us to ask, seek, and knock will give, help us find, and answer (matthew 7:7–8).
“Thanksgiving.” Sometimes we become so concerned with our problems that we forget the gracious ways God has worked in the past. We fail to see that He has dealt with us according to His grace and mercy and has met so many of our needs. It helps to calm us when we remember how God has cared for us in the past.
When we pray as an alternative to worry, we are removing the burden from our shoulders and placing it on the broad shoulders of Almighty God. And when we trust Him with our cares, we can thank Him for being the kind of God who loves us, understands our problems, and has the power to answer our prayer.
A Practical Approach to Worry
The apostle Peter wrote to people undergoing intense persecution and offered this alternative to worry:
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 peter 5:6–7).
Two steps are involved in this process:
Accept What We Cannot Change. Instead of emotionally unraveling, or avoiding reality by denying our worry, we can humbly accept that these circumstances are part of our life. We don’t have the right to dictate the terms of our own happiness. We need to have an appropriate sense of who we are, and then be willing to accept as much or as little as God gives in the present moment.
Give to God What We Cannot Change. Peter’s words also encourage us to put our helpless feelings of worry into those same all-powerful hands. He urges us to cast our cares on God, entrusting ourselves to the One who cared enough for us to send His Son to die for us.
Such counsel goes against our own inclinations to act on what we can see. It runs counter to our natural desire to rely on our own ability to think or to act through our problems. It challenges our inclinations to self-sufficiency. It helps us to remember that we were not made for ourselves. We were made to prayerfully discover our need for one another and above all for our Father in heaven.
We alone know whether or not we have been practicing prayerful reliance on the Lord or trying to carry a heavy burden on our own. Others don’t know the extent to which we are living under the weight of concerns we’ve been too proud or ashamed to talk about. We alone know what we need to bring to the Lord and leave with Him.