How many of your worries begin with the words, "what if?"
I probably have a bit more research to do yet, but thus far, all my worries begin, "What if," and then proceed to contemplate various future scenarios, none of which I have any control over, and all of which entice me to live tomorrow before I have finished trusting Christ for today. Worry assumes responsibility for something that is expressly in God's job jar.
Jesus asked, "Will all your worries add a single moment to your life? Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Mt. 6:27 TLB, 6:34 NAS).
There are two places in the Bible where people ask "what if" questions. In Genesis 50:15, Joseph's brothers begin to worry as they contemplate what Joseph might do to them now that their father has died. "When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, 'What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!'" And in the classic passage we are all familiar with, Moses worries about Israel following him, "What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say" (Ex. 4:1)? On this side of history, where we enjoy twenty-twenty hindsight, it is interesting to note that both Joseph's brothers and Moses asked intriguing questions, but they were hypothetical questions that never needed an answer or solution.
It is appropriate to recognize the issues of tomorrow, but if we lose sight of what we know today, we have begun to worry.
The dictionary says worry is feeling undue care and anxiety, and while that is a good definition—after all, it made its way into the dictionary—who's to say when feeling anxious becomes "undue?" If your worst-case scenario begins unfolding, and you are ravaged by the ungraciousness of your dread, who's to say what an appropriate level of anxiety is versus an "undue" level?
Malcolm Smith says worry is fearing that God is not sufficient. I think that is a workable definition. Although the Bible doesn't talk much about worry, God does devote a number of verses in His Book to anxiety. Perhaps the most familiar is Paul's exhortation, "Be anxious for nothing."i The passage we referenced above from Matthew is the Bible's lengthiest and most compelling discussion on anxiety delivered by Jesus during his sermon on the mount: "Do not be anxious for your life, for what you will eat, what you will drink, or what you will wear. Consider the birds. Think about the flowers. Your Father watches over the birds, clothes the flowers, and cares more for you than He does for either birds or flowers. Why be anxious?"ii
I can't help but wonder—as much as Jesus quoted the Old Testament—if He was trying to make an application for His mountainside audience regarding David's statement in the Psalms, "When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, / Your consolations delight my soul."iii The argument could be made that David did not face the ominous prospects we face—war, human rights abuse, computer viruses, infrastructure collapse, nuclear proliferation, terrorist threat—and thus makes an assertion that doesn't apply today. But then again, David spent a fair bit of time running for his life and dodging hurled spears from Israel's disgruntled and insecure monarch, King Saul.
I think we all face the temptation to believe our concerns are the gravest of all time and that no one has ever faced the pressures we face. Of course, in our rational moments, we know this is not the case, but the temptation persists nevertheless. Our Heavenly Father knows the pervasiveness of this temptation and inspired David to say, "Even in the face of multiplying anxieties, / Your consolations—thoughts, comforting perspective, and encouragement—delight my soul."
This leads me to an observation: The wind chill today is 8 degrees. Off and on throughout the morning the sparrows have landed on my window sill to eat the seed I put out for them. After three or four bites, they crane their necks to glance inside. Without hands to shield their eyes, it is all to no avail. I can see them, but they can't see me. As nearly as I can determine, they do not seem any more anxious about today's cold than they were with yesterday's relative warmth.
Below the window sill, in the flower bed, the Pansies seem unaffected by the ice storm and colder-than-normal temperatures enveloping North Texas. Their colors are as vibrant today as they were five weeks ago when the landlord planted them. They do not worry about God's provision; they bloom where they are planted.
Isaiah wrote, "Say to those with anxious thoughts, 'Take courage, fear not.'"iv And I would add, consider the sparrows and the pansies. If you do so, they will bolster your courage and arm you against worry because they are tangible, simple testimonies that God is sufficient for them and will be for you as well.
Determining to believe God, and not yield to worry, is not synonymous with sticking your head in the sand. It is wise to assess the circumstances in your life and consider the challenges you may face. Given the ungracious circumstances around us, this can be an arduous undertaking. But fretting, losing sleep, worrying, or yielding to anxiety does not help. Not only do these responses not add a single moment of comfort, they do not answer the challenges before you or take into consideration the promises of your Heavenly Father to care for you.
Plan, yes. Contemplate, and consider, yes. Evaluation is appropriate, but worry is not. Worry is built upon a false supposition—that God is insufficient to handle your concerns—not to mention that it flies in the face of Father's counsel in Scripture.
God's consolations are before you. Your worry may become a reality, but it won't kill the sparrow on your window sill, uproot the pansies in your flower bed, or diminish God's determination to take care of you today. Take courage. Father's grace is more profound than the potential ungraciousness proposed in your worry.
What do you lie awake and think about?
What motivates the plans you are making?
If your heart had fingernails, would they be chewed off?
Before we consider what to do with worry, let me be clear about one thing: Trusting Christ to give you the victory over what worries you, only to find that your worry returns to the forefront of your thoughts, does not mean you are failing in your bid to be free of worry. Satan will continue to put quarter thoughts of worry into your mind as if you were a slot machine in Vegas in hopes you will return to worrying and grant him the satisfaction of a jackpot of successful deception. The worrisome thoughts may return time and time again, and while this is a major nuisance, you deal with each recurrence the same way as you dealt with the first.
And how is it we deal with worry to begin with?
Dealing with worry, or any other kind of burden you encounter, is a four-step process. First, you Recognize: You recognize the thought as Satan's effort, and therefore, as a temptation. Second, you Refuse: You refuse—with teeth-gritted determination and resolve—the option to consider his illegitimate offering. Third, Recall or Reckon: You recall that Father has you—and everything concerning you—under control. Fourth, Rest: You rest in the truth by setting your mind—repeatedly, and with great frequency—on God's truth with the tenacity of a cornered badger.
So, you have permission right now to summon your worries to the table top of your mind. Examine them. Do they begin with the hypothetical introduction of "what if?" Sure they do.
Now carefully, and deliberately, take the four steps above and tailor each to every worry plaguing you. If necessary, take some notes. The devil will not easily give up the turf he has gained through worry. You will revisit the four steps often. But this is OK. While you will struggle frequently, and intensely, against the ungraciousness of tomorrow's—or the next moment's—worries, you will frequently, and intensely, be reminded of Father's grace.
Father, I know you are sufficient!
That has been a theological concept I have adhered to for a long time. To do otherwise would be un-Christian. That much I have learned.
But I have lived otherwise, and that is certainly not indicative of you or your grace. I know you are sufficient for the big things, like heaven, making everything right at the end of time, and ensuring that the Earth keeps spinning. But it is the little things that the devil uses to entice me to live as though you are insufficient for each day's problems.
Father, I give you the big things, and the little things. The things I can see, and the things I can't see. The things I can predict, and the surprises. I give you others around me, and I give you me. I give you my hopes and dreams, and I give you this moment, and I ask that you enable me to trust you now.
If this happens, and I can trust you now, then when tomorrow arrives—regardless of what it holds—I will be prepared for whatever action your sufficiency will manifest to bolster my trust in you and lead me in the triumph of your grace in ungracious places.
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i Philippians 4:6
ii Matthew 6:25 ff.
iii Psalm 94:19
iv Isaiah 35:4