All worry is sin. Most of us probably don’t believe that. Even if we do it can seem near impossible to quit worrying. For some of us it seems like a normal part of life. There are other sins in life that have clear practical steps that can be taken to stop. If you struggle with drunkenness, do not keep liquor in your house and never go to the bar or a place that serves alcohol. Those clear steps will make a radical difference.
But with worry, the steps do not always seem as clear and easy. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a switch on your mind or heart that you could simply flip to a setting that said “Stop worrying.” God’s word does have an answer for worry though.
There certainly is a righteous way to be concerned for people and care about events. Philippians 4:10 is a good example of that. We cross the line into sinful worry when we begin to think or feel that it is up to us to guarantee a good result. Someone has said, “Obedience is our responsibility, results are God’s.” When we start to take the responsibility for a certain set of results off of God’s back and place it onto ours we are worrying.
In one sense, when we worry we are trying to play God or at least momentarily do His job.
In one sense, when we worry we are trying to play God or at least momentarily do His job. That will never work out well. Your soul is not strong enough to bear the weight of running the universe or even one small corner of it.
My personal definition of worry is “having a conversation with yourself about something you can’t do anything about.” So after you’ve done all you can to be faithful we should go to bed and rest. And yet often, we lie awake in bed, sweating and worrying about what will happen next. We are not trusting God. We are replaying hypothetical situations in our mind of what might happen and how bad it might be.
In Philippians 4:6–7 Paul commands us not to worry about anything. Rather than worry we are to pray. That seems too simple minded, but in reality, Paul is telling us exactly how to combat worry. If worry is a conversation we have with ourselves about something we can’t do anything about, then prayer is a conversation we have with God about something he can do everything about. The clear, easy key to fighting worry is simply to turn worry into prayer. Bring God into the conversation.
Paul also notes that we are to present our requests to God with thanksgiving. What does this mean? At a minimum it means we should thank God for the all the good He has done, is doing and promises to do. That’s a lot to thank God for. This thanksgiving in prayer is part of what forces worry begin to fade.
David’s Example: Problem, Preach, Praise
Many of David’s Psalms start with a problem he is presenting to God. Next you often see David preaching truth to himself. Basically he is reminding himself of all the past ways God has taken care of him. It is as though he is saying to himself “I’ve been in situations like this before where someone was trying to hurt me. And God delivered me last time.” This type of meditation leads David to focus more on God’s goodness and less on his present problematic circumstances.
As David remembers God’s past protections he then moves to praise and worship. This praise often leads him to bold prayers for present deliverance. So many of his Psalms seem to start at a low point of trouble, but end with a high level of optimism that God will come through for him. His prayer life turned panic into praise.
One of my duties with the ministry I work for is to raise money. There have been a couple of years where time is running out and I’ve done all I know to do to raise the money and it still looks as though we won’t hit our goal. It’s almost as if I can feel a physical weight on my back. I go to bed but can’t sleep. My mind is racing. “What can I do? I don’t know! I’m in trouble!”
Then I will remember Philippians 4:6–7. I will quote it to myself. I will quote it to my Father in prayer, reminding Him of the promise He made me. It may not happen instantly, but as I preach that verse to myself and pray in light of it my focus begins to shift from myself and my circumstances to God and His promises. I remember times in the past where God has come through for me. Soon I am at peace and sound asleep.
When I awake the next morning my wife may notice a spring in my step or a light in my countenance that wasn’t there the previous night. She may ask “Did you figure out what you are going to do?” “No,” I respond, “I just got my eyes off myself and back on God and He brought peace like He promised.”
The promise of Philippians 4:6–7 is clear and powerful. If we are faithful to turn worry into prayer God will protect our heart from all fretting. It is as though he will post a guard by the door of our heart that refuses to allow any anxiety to enter. It may not make sense to us but the peace will be real.
If we are faithful to turn worry into prayer God will protect our heart from all fretting.
The best example of this is Christ on the cross. As He suffered terribly alone He still prayed and focused on God’s word. Even as He literally tasted hell on earth for His people He was able to rest His Father’s goodness and promises and yield to His plan.