Dealing With Worry
The Bible records that God’s servants often faced anxiety-producing situations. How did they handle those worries and pull out of those anxieties? How can you use the same strategies to successfully deal with the potential triggers for worry in your life?
The celebrated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
The American poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which will never happen.”
These two quotes illustrate a large part of the problem with worry—it consumes huge amounts of time and energy that are totally unprofitable. We often realize too late that we will never receive tangible benefits in return for effort spent worrying. Anxiety cannot correct a past mistake, prevent a future calamity or supply us with anything that we don’t already have.
For many, though, being anxious seems to just be an unavoidable part of who they are. Joanna Weaver, author of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, shares her personal story of being a “born worrier”:
“I come from a long line of Swedish worriers. ‘Käre mej,’ my Grandma Anna used to say over and over. ‘Dear me, dear me.’ Too high, too fast. Too much, too little. With all the potential danger in the world, there seemed to be only one response—worry. I remember lying in bed at night going over my list of fears. Somehow, as a young teenager, I had determined that the secret for avoiding trouble was to worry about it. In fact, I worried if I forgot to worry about something” (2002, p. 32).
What Does the Bible Say About Dealing With Worry?
Life’s daily challenges and troubles very commonly lead to feelings of worry. However, the Bible provides very effective tools for avoiding worries as well as responding to these emotions when they occur.
We should also recognize that more severe forms of anxiety can lead to or be caused by certain psychological disorders. We would encourage anyone suffering from severe anxiety to seek the guidance of a trained counselor or mental health professional in addition to applying the biblical tools discussed in this study.
As you explore the Bible, you will find that God wants you to experience the tremendous joys of life as He created it, without the detrimental effects of anxiety. His Word is full of instruction, advice and wisdom on this topic. Let’s look at some relevant scriptures.
What is a primary cause of anxiety?
The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
There is a right and healthy fear of physical and spiritual dangers that keeps us safe. But when our minds focus on improper fear (being fretful or frightened) of physical things rather than proper fear (reverence and awe) of God, worry is the sure result. Likewise, allowing our minds to focus on doubts and uncertainties will fill us with anxious care. As 1 John 4:18 says, “Fear involves torment.”
Can our actions or lack or actions give us things to worry about as well?
“Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”
A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished.
One cause of anxiety is foolish, imprudent or evil (sinful) behavior. The Scriptures counsel us to employ foresight to steer clear of such actions; being prepared to do so helps us to avoid much worry.
Is anxiety caused only by “wrong” thoughts and actions, or are there other sources?
The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.
Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease!
In addition to learning the difference between right and wrong, the Bible teaches us to have balance in all things. These two verses provide an example. Hard work is an excellent tool for avoiding anxiety, but only in balance—too little of it leads to unmet basic needs such as food and clothing, while too much of it leads to unhealthy stress and neglect of other priorities. Both extremes cause anxiety.
Can worry alter our circumstances or change our lives for the better?
Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Jesus’ point is clear: Worry accomplishes nothing. It cannot supply the very least of our needs or wants, so we should strive to eliminate it from our thinking. Our energy is much better spent focusing on God’s way of life (which has real, tangible benefits) and soon-coming Kingdom (which will ultimately satisfy our most deeply felt needs).
If there is nothing to be gained from anxiety, how does it really affect our lives?
Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.
Anxious feelings that are not properly dealt with cause us to have the unhappy and disheartened feelings associated with depression. In contrast, focusing on good and positive things makes us glad and cheerful. The Nelson Study Bible explains that anxiety “loses some of its force in the face of a positive, encouraging word.”
What should we focus on?
A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
The Bible uses the term heart to describe the innermost source of all that we think and do. Focusing on positive things leads to a heart filled with optimism and confidence, while focusing on worry only fills the heart with pessimism and uncertainty.
What is the core problem with worry and anxiety?
Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.”
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
Worry and anxiety are often the result of our being overly focused on our physical capabilities and limitations—what we or others can do humanly—rather than on the awesome and limitless capabilities of God, and what He can do for us and through us.
What did David do when he faced severe anxieties?
I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
Even though David suffered severe anxiety at times, he kept learning and relearning that trusting in God to provide for his needs and deliver him from difficulties would resolve his problems. No matter how big the problem is, God can solve it (Psalm 40:1-2).
What did Paul rely on to help him through times of distress?
2 Corinthians 1:8-10
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us…
Paul understood that God is the only true source of help. Paul faced many anxiety-inducing situations in his ministry and travels, but consistently trusted that God would provide deliverance from these situations that were beyond human control.
What did Jesus Christ do when He felt deep anxiety before His greatest trial?
And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
When He experienced tremendous anxiety over what He was about to suffer during His trial and crucifixion, Jesus wholly committed Himself to the will of God. He knew that the direction God had set for His life would ultimately produce the best possible outcome. Even if suffering had to be endured for a time, He trusted that it was a necessary but brief step on the path to a permanent, glorious future.
How can we overcome anxious worry?
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.
1 Peter 5:6-7
Therefore 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.
The ultimate solution to anxiety is to take the things that cause it—doubts and fears—to God. He is eager to help us deal with these common emotions in the right way so that we can experience true peace in our hearts and minds. He cares for us, and He wants us to cast our cares on Him. Prayer is a key to a stronger relationship with God and to dealing with worry. Pray more, worry less!
For further study, see our article “The Bible’s Keys to Mental Health.”
God wants to help you deal with the anxieties in your life. He wants you to bring your doubts, worries and fears to Him. Don’t wait. Write down at least one thing you are worried about right now, and turn it over to God. Ask God to help you start dealing with your worries more effectively by trusting Him and committing your life to His will.
Going forward, ask for His help to do this each day. You can experience the tangible benefits of His involvement in your life now and into eternity!
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