We live in an age of anxiety. Cultural pessimism is all the rage, both inside the church and out. In an anxious age, we are tempted not only to egregious and obvious transgressions, but to more “common sins” like complaining (which I’ve written about here) and, of course, worrying.
Worrying is a sign that we are meeting cultural challenges with fear, not faith. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote:
Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (CSB)
Think of Paul’s instruction here as a warning to keep us off the wrong road. We’re in a race, Paul would say, and we must avoid the obstacle that might trip us up, or might keep us from the right lane and make us go the wrong direction. I imagine the apostle saying, “A lot of people on the race get off on the road to worry, but that’s the wrong way. They are getting sidetracked.” Instead of being known for running our race, we let our struggles and sins define us. We give in to worry.
What Worry Says
One of my co-workers, Michael Kelley, is a great writer, a good friend, and gifted leader. His oldest son battled leukemia for many years—a serious time of testing for his family. Michael has known hardship, so when he writes about worry, I sit up and take notice. This is someone who knows firsthand what pain and sorrow is, what it’s like to have more questions for God than answers, what it’s like to cry into your pillow at night because of your sorrow.
Here’s what Michael says about the power of a Christian who doesn’t succumb to worry and anxiety:
“When we live with a lack of anxiety about the future, even in those tightrope kind of times, we communicate the truth that our God is indeed worthy of our trust. We don’t fret over the future because he holds it in His hands. We don’t wring our hands in worry because we know he’s charting the course. That sort of confidence invites others into it . . . ”
Do you see the evangelistic appeal of that kind of confidence? In an age of anxiety, peace that surpasses all understanding becomes an evangelistic reinforcement. Peace makes us stand out.
Fellow worrywarts, do you realize what happens when we worry? We start to rehearse in our minds all of the possible scenarios of what could go wrong, of how bad things are, of what might happen in your church, or in your city, or to your kids and grandkids, or in Washington, D.C. (And in a hyper-connected world, we have more opportunities than ever to worry!) We walk through situations, we foresee bad things, and it just consumes us. But we won’t run our race well if we keep getting off the path and going in circles.
Worry as a Roundabout
Last year, when I visited England, I rented a large vehicle for our family and taught myself how to drive on the other side of the road, with the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car. Driving was a challenge. (I lost count of how many curbs I hit while I was there!)
But what was even worse were the roundabouts. The UK must frown on intersections, because time after time, I kept encountering roundabouts, with two and three lanes at once, and they go the opposite way from roundabouts here in the States. You make a wrong turn? Sudden death! Every time we would take a roundabout, I felt like saying, “Don’t mind the people honking, kids! It’s just me, trying to keep us ALIVE!” (The Battle for American Independence was worth it, if only for us having fewer roundabouts!)
I think of worry like roundabouts, except you never get off onto the right exit. You just keep circling and circling, and your trials keep honking at you. Worry is like a roundabout that will keep you from running the race the way God intends.
So, don’t worry, Paul says. Instead, pray! Take those scenarios you keep rehearsing in your mind and say them to God. Replace worry with prayer.
I like how NT scholar Lynn Cohick, puts it. She says:
“Worry is a signal that our gaze has shifted to the swirling clutter of events at our feet. We must lift our head and raise our eyes to the throne of God, the figure of Jesus present with us.”
Sin does not define us. Struggle does not define us. Our salvation in Jesus Christ defines us. Let’s not substitute joy in our eternal salvation for grumbling and worrying.