If you look around you will find plenty of reasons to worry. The trouble with worry is that it doesn’t seem all that harmful. The sun blasts cancer-causing rays. Air vents blow lung-clotting molds. Potato chips have too many carbs. Vegetables have too many toxins. The economy is going to crash. The bridge is out. The sky is going to fall. On and on the list of worries goes, right? We go to sleep worried that we won’t wake up; we wake up worried that we didn’t sleep. We drive worried what might happen if we walk; we walk worried what might happen if we drive, too worried to fly, too worried to ride in a train, too worried to stay home, and too worried to go to work. And all worry gives us in return is anxiety and indigestion!
Worry comes from a Greek word that means “to divide the mind.” Anxiety splits us right down the middle, creating a double-minded thinker. Rather than taking away tomorrow’s trouble, worry voids today’s strength. Suddenly because of worry our perception and strength are divided, distorting our vision and wasting our energy.
What if I told you that God offers the possibility of a worry-free life. Not less worry, no worry. That is exactly what He does in Philippians 4.
The Christians in Philippi felt like they needed a biosphere. Attacks were coming at them from all angles. Preachers served for selfish gain (1:15–17). Squabbling church members threatened the unity of the church (4:2). False teachers preached a crossless gospel (3:2–3, 18–19). Some believers struggled to find food and shelter (4:19). Persecutions outside; problems inside. Folks in Philippi had plenty to worry about. But to them and to us God gives the staggering directive: “Don’t worry about anything.”
Our immediate reaction is, “Yeah, right. And while I’m at it, I’ll leapfrog the moon. Are you kidding?” Jesus isn’t kidding. Two words summarize His opinion of worry: irrelevant and irreverent.
Look at Matthew 6:25–27 to see why worry is irrelevant. It alters nothing. When was the last time you solved a problem by worrying about it? Imagine someone saying, “I got behind in my bills, so I resolved to worry my way out of debt, and it worked! A few sleepless nights, a day of puking and hand wringing. I yelled at my kids, took some pills, and—glory to worry!—money appeared on my desk.”
It doesn’t happen! Worry changes nothing. You don’t add one day to your life or one bit of life to your day by worrying. Anxiety earns you heartburn, nothing more. Someone clarified our worries this way:
- 30% of worries regard unchangeable deeds of the past
- 12% focus on the opinions of others that cannot be controlled
- 10% center on personal health, which only worsens as we worry about it
- 40% never happen
- only 8% concern real problems that we can influence
Ninety-two percent of our worries are needless! Not only is worry irrelevant, doing nothing, but worry is also irreverent, distrusting God (see Matthew 6:28–30). Worry betrays a fragile faith—an unconscious blasphemy. We don’t intentionally doubt God, but aren’t we essentially doubting Him when we worry?
Paul is not promoting an irresponsible, careless life. We are not to be like the procrastinating minister. “I won’t worry,” he told himself. “The Holy Spirit will give me my message.” All week long he avoided his work. Finally, on Sunday, he stood before the congregation and prayed aloud, “All right, Lord, give me a message.” Much to the surprise of the church, a heavenly voice filled the sanctuary,“Tell the people you didn’t study.”
Paul tells the Philippians that worry is to be replaced with faith. Rather than to worry about anything, pray about everything. Everything? Diaper changes and dates? Business meetings and broken bathtubs? Pray about everything. All of that now needs to be switched from your worry list to your prayer list. Give each worry, one by one, to God.
Next, let’s get six words clearly fixed in our minds. These six words form the foundation of God’s therapeutic process for all worrywarts: WORRY ABOUT NOTHING, PRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING.
So what now? How do you spend the time you used to waste worrying? Go back to the words from Paul to the Philippians. As I read them over, I find three key thoughts emerging:
- rejoice (verse 4)
- relax (verse 5)
- rest (verse 7)
They look pretty easy, but for someone who has worried very long, they are not. Would you today switch everything from your worry list to your prayer list?