Would you say, or admit, that you are a worrier? Do worries and anxieties creep into your mind occasionally, or regularly? Does the song Hakuna Matata irritate you?
I think some people struggle with worry and anxiety a lot, while all of us feel it from time to time, and possibly more and more these days.
If anybody had an excuse to worry it was Paul. He was in prison, unsure whether he would be released or executed. He wrote letters to churches that were going through problems. He had opponents who loved to disparage his ministry. His beloved friends back in Philippi were fighting.
Again, Paul wasn’t lounging under a palm on the Isle of Capri sipping a cool drink, dictating, “Don’t worry, be happy!” No detachment here. Paul’s whole existence was on the bubble; danger was everywhere. Few things were going right for him, humanly speaking.
Paul had more cares and concerns than most of us and we wouldn’t blame him for worrying. But he says this in Philippians 4:6-7
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There seems a lot to be anxious about these days—from politics to pandemics, our children, our checkbook and we could each name a dozen more.
The word “anxious” here means “to be pulled in different directions.” Our faith and hope pull is in one direction and our fears pull us in the opposite direction. No wonder we are frazzled!
The Most Reverend R.C. Trench, who was at one time the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, had a morbid fear of becoming paralyzed. One evening at a party, the lady he sat next to at dinner heard him muttering mournfully to himself, “It’s happened at last…total insensibility of the right limb.” “Your Grace,” said the lady, “it may comfort you to learn that it is my leg you are pinching!”
Oops! Anxiety can cause us to do some foolish things.
Are you a worry wart?
For several years a woman had been having trouble getting to sleep at night because she feared burglars. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate. When he got there, he did find a burglar. “Good evening,” said the man of the house. “I am pleased to see you. Come upstairs and meet my wife. She has been waiting 10 years to meet you.” (William Marshall, Eternity Shut in a Span).
A recent study showed that kids ages 7-12 have an average of 7.6 worries a day.
I’m sure you’re thinking: I wish that was all I had!
An organization known as the Pennsylvania Worry Group discovered that 15% of the population spend half their waking hours worrying.
So worry is clearly a problem, and there are many problems with worry.
Over 100 diseases have been directly attributed to worry! Not only does it affect us physically, it has emotional and behavioral effects as well. It lends to…
- Feelings of helplessness
- Difficulty with making decisions
- A lack of self-confidence
- Difficulty concentrating
- Panic attacks
People who are persistently anxious shorten their lives by 12-23% according to one study.
That’s why Proverbs 12:25 says, “An anxious heart weighs a man down…” Anxiety weighs us down and wears us out.
But Proverbs 14:30 encourages us, “A heart at peace gives life to the body.” What a difference!
Ian Maclaren reminds us:
What does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but it does empty today of its strength. It does not make you escape the evil; it makes you unfit to cope with it when it comes. God gives us the power to bear all the sorrow of His making, but He does not guarantee to give us strength to bear the burdens of our own making such as worry induces.
Anxiety exists in many forms, from mild anxiety to a frantic panic. Some people express anxiety by being jumpy, like some say, “She’s as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” Others express their anxieties by being moody and sullen.
Can you identify with those expressions?
So let’s get back to our definition: Worry is a troubled state of mind wherein we are thinking about negative things that might happen. Worry is primarily a function of our imagination, focusing on how things might be, or how we wish them to be.
Fear deals in actualities; worry in potentialities.
A University of Michigan study found that 50% of the things we worry about never materialize; 30% are issues of the past we cannot change; 10% are petty issues and only 10% is left for legitimate issues.
A bassoon player came up to his conductor, Arturo Toscanini, and nervously said that he could not reach the high E flat. Toscanini just smiled and replied, “Don’t worry. There is no E flat in the music tonight.”
You see, many of our worries are just like that—unfounded and unnecessary.
Maybe you’ve seen the cartoon where the husband says to his wife, “99% of what you worry about never happens!” To which she responds, “See, it works!”
Actually, worry doesn’t accomplish anything. You can do a lot of work and movement in a rocking chair and never get anywhere.
So a majority of things we worry about never materialize, while another major portion of our worries we have no control over.
Why is worry such a serious issue from God’s viewpoint?
Because worry is an act of distrust in God. Worry assumes responsibility that is His and God never intended us to take it. Worry is the act of wresting some personal control over things we cannot control.
We worry because we don’t believe that God cares enough to pay attention to our needs or isn’t powerful enough to control our life circumstances.
As Oswald Chambers put it, “Worry is an indication that we think God cannot look after us.”
That’s why it’s a more serious issue than we might imagine.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:30 that people who worry have “little faith” and in verse 32 Jesus says…
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
A little rhyme, I believe attributed to Elizabeth Cheney and goes like this:
Said the robin to the sparrow, “I’d really like to know, why these anxious human being rush about and worry so.” Said the sparrow to the robin, “I’m sure that you’ll agree that they have no heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.”
Worry gives us the illusion, though we would never say it aloud, that we have no heavenly Father. We are living as practical atheists.
So what are the secrets to worry-free living?
First, get your focus back upon God.
This is actually from verse 4.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
We don’t rejoice in how life is going, we rejoice in the Lord. And that is not only part of the context, but verse 4 expresses the attitude that should predominate our hearts—one that crowds out worry.
It is difficult, really impossible, to rejoice in the Lord and worry about our circumstances at the same time.
Anxiety focuses on the events that are/can be/or should be happening. As long as we’re focused on our circumstances—real or imagined—we will feel anxious, feeling the lack of or need for control.
Worry robs us of joy by keeping our focus on ourselves and our circumstances. Not everything about ourselves and our circumstances is good, so it is impossible to continually rejoice in them. But we can “rejoice in the Lord always.”
When we rejoice “in the Lord” we are focusing on Someone that never changes, is always in control, always loves us, guarantees our good. Worry forgets this.
Remember how Paul and Silas did this? From a dark, dank prison cell, after being severely beaten and not knowing what tomorrow held, instead of fretting and complaining, they intentionally chose to fill their thoughts and mouths with songs praising God. “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…”
Or take Psalm 73. Asaph was sickened by the fact that the wicked lived happy, healthy, wealthy, care-free lives while he was being beaten and battered (figuratively speaking) by life. He said he almost gave up the faith, because it didn’t pay off. But then he went to the sanctuary, got his focus on God and understood what a difference there would be in eternity. Eternity would be tragic for the wicked, while he would enter into glory.
So near the end of Psalm 73 Asaph proclaims:
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
When God became Asaph’s treasure and pleasure, the strength of his heart and all he desired, it didn’t matter if “flesh and heart” may fail. Life could fall apart, but he had God.
Psalm 37 is another passage that directly contrasts rejoicing in God with fretting over circumstances. Listen to Psalm 37:1-7…
1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! 2 For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. 3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
That contrast is communicated in just these two phrases: “fret not yourself because of evildoers” and “delight yourself in the LORD.” Find your delight in God and it eliminates worries.
Habakkuk 3 reinforces this same antithesis between anxiety and joy. In vv. 16-19 we read…
16 I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. 17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
All his circumstances were bad. All his prospects for the future were terrible. But Habakkuk chooses to focus on the Lord. Let me read verse 18 again: “yet [and that’s a big yet] I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
Here’s the point: You can choose joy or anxiety. The key is where you place your focus. If you discipline your heart to rejoice in the Lord instead of fretting about the circumstances, you will be filled with joy instead of anxiety.
By the way, it is interesting that Paul brackets these verses about anxiety with the relational conflict between Euodia and Syntyche in vv. 2-3 and Paul’s teaching about contentment with regard to finances. Relational friction and financial downturns are probably the chief sources of anxiety in our lives.
So, as the song goes, “Don’t worry, be happy.” But don’t be happy in your life’s circumstances, which always change; rather be happy in God, who never changes.
You see, we can (it is actually possible) to “always” rejoice in the Lord. Marshall Segal writes:
Oh, that always — all at once so awe-inspiring, and so haunting. Awe-inspiring because that means always must be possible. What news! In Christ, we never have to be without genuine happiness. And yet also so haunting because of how often we lose our sense of joy — the joy that God, throughout the Scriptures, commands of his people.
Paul’s joy was rooted in Christ and the hope that he had in Him.
Segal goes on to say…
To have more joy in suffering than in peace and comfort, we have to want Jesus more than anything else, including peace and comfort.
Paul didn’t choose joy in Christ because he couldn’t find joy anywhere else. He had tasted and enjoyed the glory of success and popularity — the Hebrew of Hebrews, the Pharisee of Pharisees, the most zealous, the most blameless, the most recognized (Philippians 3:5–6). When he chose to follow Jesus, he surrendered the kind of life others would die for — and he surrendered that life for more happiness, not less.
After listing all that he had earned and accomplished, he says,
Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7–8)
When Paul found the treasure hidden in the fields of Scripture, his pearl of great price, all the other pearls had suddenly faded in color. He quickly sold them all to have just one. His love for worldly success and attention withered and fell away to make way for a new, more vibrant love. He wrote, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
In the end, we do not forfeit happiness to have Christ. Whatever we trade away (and we do trade away real joys to follow Christ), we receive back a hundredfold now, “and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). Joy in Christ is far better than any other pleasure, achievement, or prize. We are fools to ever prefer what we enjoyed before him.
As a Christian you can possess that joy. You can fight against fretting by rejoicing more in Jesus Christ—all He is, all He has done and will do for you—than in the loss or gain of anything else.
John Piper says about these verses,
When we have little and have lost much, Christ comes and reveals himself as more valuable than what we have lost. And when we have much and are overflowing in abundance, Christ comes and he shows that he is far superior to everything we have.
So rejoice in Jesus. Rejoice in who He is, rejoice in all that you have because you are in Christ and you have every spiritual blessing in Him. We have his great and magnificent promises which give us everything we need for life and godliness.
We have everything in Christ. He is our righteousness, our redemption, our wisdom, our sanctification. Everything we need we have in Him.
So rejoice in Jesus Christ. That can never be taken away from you, those treasures that Jesus Christ has and has given you because we are in Him. So rejoice in Jesus Christ. He is worth more than anything that you have or could ever have.