By Christopher Reese
We live in a world in which there is no lack of things to worry about. We encounter financial and health challenges, relational difficulties, pandemics, and political polarization, to name a few. We also internally wrestle with questions, such as “Who am I?” “What am I to do?” “How am I to be loved?” and “How can I become all that God intended me to be?” 1 Each of these circumstances creates uncertainty, and often our instinctive response is to worry. Scripture, however, exhorts us not to worry, and so we even worry sometimes about our worrying! The Bible has a great deal to say about worry! I’ll explore what Scripture says about this issue and how we can prevent it from robbing us of joy and peace.
First, however, I need to offer a few brief caveats. The type of worry I’m addressing here is not the kind that pertains to conditions such as clinical anxiety or panic disorders, which are serious issues that require professional treatment. Worry that involves disruptive physical symptoms or that interferes with one’s daily life and relationships should be explored with a medical or mental health professional.
Second, we must distinguish between normal and healthy fear and anxiety, and worry. Normal fear or anxiety is part of God’s design for us because it warns us of danger and possible harm. We should all experience fear, for example, if we’re about to run into another car while driving, or if we see floodwaters approaching our home. This kind of healthy fear preserves our lives and well-being.
Finally, there is an important difference between worry and constructive concern. We should be constructively concerned to maintain our physical health, for example, but not worry about it. The following contrasting attitudes help illustrate the difference between these:
- worry paralyzes, while concern motivates
- worry prevents initiative, while concern promotes initiative
- worry results in anxious fretting, while concern results in calm focusing
- worry fears the worst, while concern hopes for the best. 2
Given that the kind of everyday worry I’m addressing here is not a medical condition, a healthy response to danger, or constructive concern, how should we understand it? One author helpfully defines worry as “the practice of indulging fear, clinging to it, feeding and serving it.” It involves “choosing to stay in a place of fear . . . when we could make another choice.” 3
This is the kind of worry that runs contrary to God’s will for us, and that we can overcome as we better understand who God is and commit ourselves to him.
Do Not Be Afraid
More than 300 biblical passages instruct God’s people not to fear (that is, worry). When the Egyptian army arrived to attack the Israelites who had just been released from slavery, the people panicked. But Moses responded, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today” (Exodus 14:13). David declared in the Psalms, “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident” (Psalm 27:3). Three times in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus commands, “do not worry” (Matthew 6:25, 31, 34). There, he addressed anxiety about physical needs as well as about the future: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
But why is it that worry is problematic from God’s perspective? It’s because worry undermines our trust in God, and calls into question his power or love. Trust (or faith) is the foundation of our relationship with God, and serves as the basis for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), as well as our daily Christian life. Paul wrote, “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Similarly, the author of Hebrews states, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
Rather than fear what might happen, God calls us to trust that he is the sovereign ruler of the universe and will bring good out of all of our circumstances (Psalm 103:19; Romans 8:28). Not all that happens to us is good, of course, but God can bring good out of difficulties, trials, and challenges.
Learning to trust God is a process, and we grow in our ability to do so as we mature spiritually. We’ll never trust God perfectly in this life (James 3:2), but growth in this area is part of our sanctification. Here are three practical ways we can overcome worry by focusing on three important truths.
Remember God’s Love and Protection
The Lord is our Shepherd and he watches over us like shepherds guards their flock (Psalm 23). He is our rock, fortress, and shield (Psalm 18:2). He keeps watch over us because of his great love for us, and nothing “in all creation . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). When you’re tempted to worry, remember that God always seeks your good in all the circumstances he allows in your life.
Embrace God’s Peace
Probably the most famous passage in the Bible that addresses worry is Philippians 4:6-7:
“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.”
Rather than worry, writes Paul, we should give our concerns to God with an attitude of thanksgiving for all that he’s done for us. Peter describes this activity as casting “all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
As one pastor and author observes, the word “casting” here refers to “a deliberate action of setting something down and leaving it there.” This indicates that “Jesus wants you to throw your cares on Him and leave them there. You depend on Him for life itself, and you acknowledge this reliant relationship by saying, ‘Here, Jesus. Take my problems. You have the answers! I trust You to show me what to do and to take care of the consequences.’” Entrusting our concerns to God results in a supernatural peace that frees us from anxiety.
Dwell On the Good, True, and Beautiful
We should not only resist worry, fear, and anxiety, but also, positively, dwell on the goodness, truth, and beauty of God and his creation. This is why Paul urges us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8).
A key way to put this into practice is to memorize Scripture—especially passages that relate to the points above about God’s sovereignty, protection, love, and peace. When worry threatens to destabilize us, passages that remind us of the truths we’ve been discussing can guard our hearts and minds and replace anxiety with God’s tranquility.
Much that happens in this life is beyond our control and there are many uncertainties. But we can entrust to God all that happens because of who he is and what he has promised us.
1. Rhett Smith formulates these four questions in The Anxious Christian (Moody Publishers, 2015), Kindle edition, 32.
2. These contrasts and the term “constructive concern” are found in June Hunt, Biblical Counseling Keys on Worry: The Joy Stealer (Hope For The Heart, 2008), 3.
3. Amy Simpson, Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (InterVarsity Press, 2014), Kindle edition, location 65, 1163.
BIO: Christopher Reese (MDiv, ThM) (@clreese) is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Worldview Bulletin. He is a general editor of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2017) and Three Views on Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2021). His articles have appeared in Christianity Today and he writes and edits for Christian ministries and publishers.
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