I’m conscious that time is ticking on and once again its been a while! In fact its been such a long while that we find ourselves on the cusp of yet another Norwegian adventure which jets off on Thursday morning. Since the arrival of young Aaron we seem to have had a really busy few months and even though the student ministry term finished at the beginning of June this past month has been exceptionally full. A full life is not necessarily a bad thing by any means; indeed in lots of ways I would want it no other way! Yet at the same time I recognise that such fullness brings associated challenges. In particular I have been thinking about the theme of worry and anxiety. In what follows I trust that I can communicate something of my thinking on this and the lessons which have been coming up for me. As usual I am very much seeking to counsel myself but I am very happy for you to listen in…
When worry is all consuming…
I don’t know about you but it seems to me like worry comes as naturally as the desires to eat or drink. If like me you value the feeling of control (as opposed to the lack of it) then there are endless things to worry about. Worry is of course an interesting phenomenon and there is much written about it. A quick internet search brings up the following quotations:
“Worrying is stupid. Its like walking around with an umbrella waiting for it to rain.” Wiz Khalifa
“Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.” English Proverb
“Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles; it empties today of its strength.” Corrie Ten Boom
“97% of the things you worry about don’t even happen.”
“Anxiety is a lot like a toddler. It never stops talking, tells you that you are wrong about everything and wakes you up at 3am.”
“A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work.” John Lubbock
We could all identity with some of these sentiments and yet we still worry all the same. It is much easier to worry than not to worry and yet we all know that worry rarely achieves anything. I am not talking about having rational healthy concerns but those all consuming worries that seem to drain us of all energy. Over the past month one thing that would certainly be in the latter category for me was my trip to the dentist. It has been a few years since I last visited such a place and I was terrified about going to the dentist. The last time I went to the dentist I barely slept the previous night while I toyed with various ‘worst case scenarios’; the appointment was fine but it was clear that going to the dentist brought up a fair bit of baggage from the time when I had these feelings at age 16. This time however I needed 3 rounds of treatment to deal with some areas of decay. Nightmare! As if there were not enough things to worry about already without needing work done on your teeth! You will be pleased to hear that I survived it all and it was nowhere near as bad as I had imagined. In fact there was no pain and though it is never going to be the highlight of ones day it was actually no big deal in the end.
There are of course many more rational reasons to worry. I worry about preparations for our upcoming trip to Norway trying to make sure that we have done everything that we need to do before we go. I worry about my children and that worry informs my behaviour in order to protect their safety. I worry about Debbie and her struggles with mental health issues. Progress is rarely linear and while steps forward are a huge encouragement, steps backward bring back up a whole host of emotions rooted in our experiences over the past few years. I worry about providing for my family even though time and time again God seems to come through for us. Most recently you have read in my post Remembering God’s Faithfulness that God has provided all we need to create an extra room in our house for our family. Only two months ago this seemed impossible and a real cause of concern and yet here we are sizing up the plans to move ahead in September. I worry about the uncertainty which currently surrounds our nation following the country’s decision to leave the European Union. I could go on and on (and am sure you could to) but I think you get the point. Life is full of worries…
Responding to Worry…
So if worries are all around us the key question here must be ‘what do we do with it’? How do we respond when worries become intense and all consuming? I’ve talked here before about taking each day as it comes and meeting its challenges with the strength that God provides. It’s a very helpful perspective but when the pressure is really on does it help me to stand firm? The apostle Paul has some good thoughts on this which I find very helpful as I think about this subject.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
As I look at these verses I see that we are told not only to put away our anxiety (a negative) but instead to take them to Jesus (a positive). It sounds kind of obvious advice, why try and solve the problems of the world when we can bring them before Almighty God? Why do we reason that somehow that we can deal with these things on our own when the reason that we struggle derives from the very fact that cannot? Paul’s argument is that as we come to God His peace will guard our hearts and minds. God’s peace transcends all understanding; the truth is that we don’t have to understand in order to be at peace. Peace comes from knowing and trusting that God is still on His throne.
Jesus also had something similar to say about worry when He said;
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:31-34
In that passage Jesus says “do not worry” three times and He gives a whole list of reasons why worry does not achieve anything. There at the end of His teaching on this however is the positive instruction to seek Jesus’ Kingdom and to seek Jesus’ righteousness. Then says Jesus all these things will be given to us as well.
The road from worry to trust…
Prayer is very powerful and it is what leads us to this place of heartfelt confidence in God no matter what life brings our way. Prayer is the means by which we can entrust all of our worries to the God of the Universe who knows each of us intimately and is Sovereign over all. God is God and we are not. As I learn to let go and entrust things to God I am starting to see how God helps us to move from that place of worry, uncertainty and fear to a place of trust. We don’t have to do it all ourselves. Indeed we will not be able to do it all ourselves. God never promises to deliver us from sufferings, trials and hardship but He does promise to be with us in the midst of it. He promises to never leave us or forsake us. He promises to use anything and everything for our good and His glory. Worry achieves nothing but we will still do it anyway. What we can ask God to do in us however is to help us trust Him more and worry less ourselves.
To finish I want to just share the verse which comes before the two I quoted above. Philippians 4:5b says “The Lord is near.” These four short words are really poignant given what follows. A friend pointed out that this is the point. When we worry we need to remember our hope in God because worry is opposed to hope; a hope that trusts that God is near, that God is not detached from our worries but He is actively working in them to achieve His purposes in His timing. Little by little God is teaching me to ‘Cast all my anxiety on Jesus because He cares for me’ (1 Peter 5:7).