Is Worry Always A Sin?

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Is worry always a sin? Perhaps that seems like an obvious question. “Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil 4:6). Next question?

But wait. Is that all the Bible teaches on worry: just stop it? That’s a simple answer, but it doesn’t map well onto the complexities of life. If your spouse is seriously ill and you’re not concerned, or if your child’s salvation means no more to you than tomorrow’s weather forecast, something is wrong. Worry goes right along with compassion and genuine love. The same Paul who wrote “Do not be anxious” also said of he faced “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). He loved his churches, and that love carried with it the pressure of anxiety for their welfare. And in Philippians, before he commands us not to be anxious, Paul commends Timothy because he is “genuinely concerned” for the welfare of the Philippians (Phil. 2:20), using the same word for concern/anxiety that he uses in 4:6. So which is it: a sin, or something commendable?

Let’s go back to 2 Cor. for the answer. In 11:28 Paul mentions his daily anxiety, but it’s not the first time he describes this experience. Back in chapter 1 he’s already alluded to something similar: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (1:8-9). That last line is crucial: being burdened was meant to make Paul rely not on himself but on God. And there’s our answer. Sinful worry is a care that you carry instead of casting on God. “Godly worry,” if we can call it that, is running to your Heavenly Father with all the things that are beyond your abilities.

You can’t live in a sinful world without facing worrisome things. And you especially cannot love without being genuinely concerned with the real needs of real people. Those worries, burdens, and cares are meant to lead you to God. When you turn instead to your own resources – planning, scheming, fretting, attempting to control – you’re sinning. When you turn to God, worries and cares become opportunities to rest in your Heavenly Father’s care.

Photo by Evil Erin

Jesus Takes Worry Seriously – And Gives Us Powerful Truth To Fight It (Part 2)

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Jesus?wants you to overcome?the temptation to worry.

In Monday’s post?we looked at Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:25-27. ?Today we’ll look at verses 28 – 33

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (28-30)

Wild flowers, don?t ?toil or spin? – they do nothing to provide for themselves. Yet God is so lavish and overflowing that he clothes wild flowers with splendor and beauty that all Solomon?s royal seamstresses couldn?t imitate. Field flowers are ?grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven? – grass doesn?t last and is of little value. Yet God clothes ?grass? with incredible beauty. Will he not much more clothe you, whom he made in his own image, you who have an immortal soul? If God so lavish adorns wildflowers, will he not clothe his own children? What kind of mother would spend hours and hours working in her garden and then neglect to clothe her children? Why do we have such ?little faith??

Next Jesus says when we are anxious about our worldly provision, we think and act like Gentiles – unbelievers.

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ?What shall we eat?? or ?What shall we drink?? or ?What shall we wear?? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (31-33)

Gentiles worry because they have no guarantees of food and provision. Gentiles have no God to provide for them. But we have a heavenly Father who knows what we need, and cares deeply about us.

Now Jesus tells us where to focus our thoughts and energy: on the kingdom of God and his righteousness. These are we should seek first. Here?s what should occupy our thoughts and energy: loving and serving Jesus, seeking to obey his kingly rule, seeking to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, by which God has declared us righteous.

Finally Jesus says each day has enough ?trouble? to keep us occupied.

?Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (34)

Tomorrow is going to happen one way or another anyway, and we can?t do a thing about it. So focus on today. Seek the kingdom today. Have faith; don?t be of little faith. Have faith that God who provides for sparrows and clothes wild flowers with splendor will be far more lavish with you as his child. Don?t think and act like Gentiles who have no God who loves and provides for them. Act like the child of your heavenly Father who knows your every single need and cares about you.

Don?t be anxious; trust your Father.

Do You Need Proof That Jesus Takes Worry Very Seriously? Look No Further…

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Jesus had a lot to say about worry.

He came into an unstable and unpredictable world. He lived in an agricultural society where one summer?s drought could wipe out crops for the winter. He hung out with fishermen, who might fish all night long and catch nothing to sell or bring home to family. And Jesus knew the human heart and the temptations presented by the cares of this life. So he gave his disciples some excellent instruction on?worry in Matthew 6.

?Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (25)

First Jesus says God gave us our human life and our bodies without us even asking. Human life and our physical bodies are incredibly valuable. Our life is much more valuable than the food we put on the table; our body far more valuable than the shirt we put on. If God gave us life, which is so very valuable, will he not give us food, which is of far lesser value? If God gave us these bodies which are fearfully and wonderfully made, will he not give us clothes to cover them? And even further, if God has given us eternal life, will he not provide for our temporal life?

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (26)

Jesus reminds us that God faithfully provides for dumb animals. Birds don?t sow or reap or store their food in barns – and they don?t fret about whether they?ll have enough for tomorrow or to get through the winter. Yet God feeds them. And Jesus tells us that humans, the crown of God?s creation, the only creatures made in God?s image, are of much more value than birds. If God provides for birds, then surely he?ll provide for those he made in his own image. Furthermore, will not God especially provide for those he bought with the blood of his Son?

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (27)

Worry does absolutely no good. It won?t bring in money, food or clothing. Worry only has negative results: it chokes the word of God and distracts us from God. It is unbelief, the opposite of faith. And it leads to more fear and anxiety. And the different scenarios we play out in our minds can?t prevent a single thing from happening. And besides that, most of the things we spend so much time fretting about won?t happen anyway.

To sum up:

  • Your life and body are far more valuable than any food you eat or clothing you wear. ?If God gave you life and fearfully created?your body, he’ll provide food for that life and covering for that body.
  • God provides for birds who don’t know enough to plant, reap and store up for winter. ?Humans created in God’s image are far more valuable than birds, so he will certainly provide for us.
  • Worry can’t do a thing. ?I won’t bring in a penny. ?It can’t put a crust of bread on the table?or?add 5 minutes to our lives.?

So don’t worry, trust your heavenly Father who cares for you.

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More to come on Wednesday…

photo by Roshawn Watson roshawnwatson.com

An Annual Letter From Worry Incorporated To Stephen Altrogge

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Dear Stephen,

It’s that time of year again! It’s time to renew your annual subscription to Worry Incorporated! We at Worry Inc. greatly value your business, and wanted to remind you of all the great services that we offer.

Here’s a sampling of the great services we are offering this year.

THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL

Technically speaking, you can’t actually control the future. I mean, no offense, but that’s way above your pay grade. However, we can offer you the?illusion?of control. By supplying you with a constant supply of worrisome thoughts, we can make you feel as if you are somehow in control of the future. Is your child sick? Never fear. We have can fill your mind with every possible diagnosis, ranging from the common cold, to something much, much worse. Granted, these thoughts won’t actually change your situation in any way. What we’ve discovered, however, is that most people seem believe that if they worry about a situation enough, it will actually change the situation. That’s where we come in. Let us supply all of the useless, worrisome thoughts you need.

A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY

Unfortunately, despite all of our best research efforts, we have not yet devised a way to translate worry into reality. In other words, no matter how many worrisome thoughts we supply you regarding your finances, those worrisome thoughts cannot produce any real change in your finances. Nevertheless, we are constantly improving the false sense of security we offer people. You may not be able to actually add any hours to your life or any hairs to your head, but we can make you feel like you can do those things. The more you worry, the more you feel like you are actually making things happen. Let us be your primary supplier of false security.

AN ARTIFICIAL FEELING OF INDEPENDENCE

The more in control and secure you feel, the more independent of God you will feel. Now, technically speaking, you need God to do everything for you (SEE: Maintaining heartbeat, protecting children, breathing in and out, etc.). However, the more you utilize our worry services, the more independent from God you will feel. Rather than resting in the sovereign control of God, you can fret and worry your way to independence! Surely someone as wise as you can see the value in this! Let us be the number one supplier for all your artificial independence needs.

The last decade has been a banner year for us! Thanks to the ongoing economic recession, the burst of the housing bubble, and various ?natural disasters, we added millions of subscribers. We’re hoping you will continue to be one of our valued subscribers.

Here’s to another great year!

Sincerely,

Worry Incorporated

Three Words Which Absolutely Destroy Worry

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Worry is the act of imagining a future without God.

When you strip it down to its bones that’s what it really is. I worry when I imagine a future devoid of God. I worry when I project my current feelings and discouragements and struggles into the future. I worry when I take God’s love and faithfulness out of the equation. When I imagine a stark and bleak future, a screaming void in which my faithful and loving Father does not exist or act on my behalf. Underneath all the anxiety and fear and confusing emotions worry is actually a form of atheism. It’s acting as if God does not exist.

Psalm 18:46 provides three words which destroy worry and fuel faith: “The Lord lives…”

Don’t pass over those words too quickly. The. Lord. Lives.

My budget is flatlining and we are financially tanking and I don’t see hope for the future! But the Lord lives. The same Lord who owns everything and provides for ravens and sustains galaxies and calls us his children is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t provide for yourself but your budget is not too tight for God. The Lord lives.

Worry is the act of imagining a future without God.

My child is not doing well spiritually and I’ve tried everything and I don’t have any hope that anything will change! The Lord lives. The same Lord who has saved murderers and prostitutes and Pharisees and drug addicts and money addicts and pastors kids is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t save your child but your kid is not too hard for God. The Lord lives.

My marriage is on the rocks and we’ve tried counseling and we’ve read all the books and I don’t see things getting any better! The Lord lives. The same Lord who created a bride for himself out of rebellious, wicked, God-hating sinners is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t rescue your marriage but your marriage is not too hard for God. The Lord lives.

My spiritual life is dry, and I’ve tried a thousand different things to get it kickstarted, but nothing seems to work, and honestly, I don’t think things are going to get any better. The Lord lives. The same Lord who caused you to become spiritually alive is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t breathe fresh life into your heart but your heart is not too dry for God.

Your circumstances may be bleak. You may not see a light at the end of the tunnel. You may not see any silver lining. But circumstances and tunnels and silver linings are not the basis of our hope, God is.

Don’t be a functional atheist today. The Lord lives. Let’s live in light of that reality.

 

The Anxiety-Killing Power of Creation

Anxiety drains the life from your soul. It?s spiritual death by blood loss: a slow, steady drain on your vitality and passion and joy. It ends with helplessness and hopelessness. How do we fight it? How do we stop the bleeding so that our souls don?t shrivel and shrink under anxiety?s constant squeeze?

While God has given us numerous remedies for the malady of worry, there?s one we often might forget: the created world. All around us, every day of our lives, there is overflowing evidence that God rules his world and rules it well. Creation quietly and constantly reveals the power and wisdom of God. Consider the seasons: The colors of fall are an art display on a grander scale that uses a more glorious palette than any human art exhibit ? and God pulls it off year after year without a single hitch.

There are birds by the hundreds flying over our heads or in our backyards (and stealing our leftover French fries at McDonald?s). Have you ever stopped to consider that not one of them will die without God?s knowledge (Matt. 10:29)? Or watch a hawk in flight and think of God?s pointed question to Job in Job 39:26: ?Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south?? Job?s answer: silence. God?s answer: ?Yes, it is by MY understanding that the hawk soars!?

Or ponder an oak tree growing in the middle of a field.? To reach mature size that oak has had to grow from a tiny acorn, pushing a taproot down into the soil and sending a single flimsy stalk and pair of leaves up towards the light. It has had to survive marauding deer, rabbits, and birds, to escape being trampled underfoot, and to absorb enough water and minerals from its tiny patch of soil to keep from starving to death. It takes at least twenty years to grow past sapling size; mature, shade-tree size oak won?t be reached into the 50-100 year mark. And there are millions of trees in God?s world, quietly proclaiming the power and wisdom of their Maker with every cell in every leaf and branch and root.

Here is good medicine for your soul. The next time you?re outside, particularly if cares are weighing you down, look around you at God?s creation. Thank him that the tree or bird or insect that you see was created by him, and is now being sustained and held together by his mighty hand. Praise him for the wisdom on display in creation, the theatre to his glory. And then recognize this: the same God who made the grandeurs of the universe is watching over your life with the same infinite care.

Grace For Today, And Not A Drop More

My imagination is terrible at predicting the future. I mean seriously, it really stinks.

I’ve always been prone to worry and fear. When I was little, my brother and I would pray every night that we would have “no fires, no fear, and no bad dreams”. As I’ve gotten older, my fears haven’t gone away, they’ve just gotten more sophisticated. Now I fear things like cancer, and miscarriages, my children getting seriously hurt.

When my imagination injects itself into my fears, that’s when things get really bad. Suddenly a little shortness of breath isn’t a sign that I’m out of shape, but a sign of early onset heart disease. Which means that I might die suddenly of a heart attack. Which means that I won’t be around for my kids. Which means…

It goes on and on and on. And it’s not only about health issues. My imagination can run wild with worry over just about anything, from difficult situations in the church to concerns for my children to paying the bills.

But here’s what I’m learning. First of all, my imagination would make a terrible psychic. Most of the things that I worry about never come true. I waste so much time and energy churning over things that probably won’t happen. Mark Twain hit it on the head when he said:

I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

I’m also learning that God gives grace for today. Period. I will meet troubles today and God will give me grace for those troubles. He does not give me grace today for troubles that will come tomorrow. God doesn’t give me grace for imaginary troubles, he gives me grace for real troubles. That’s why worrying is such a stupid waste of time. I don’t yet have the grace for tomorrow, and when I look at tomorrow through the lens of today, it seems overwhelming. In Matthew 6:34, Jesus said:

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

When I get to tomorrow’s troubles, God will be there with sufficient grace. The problem with my imagination is that it always leaves God out of the equation. It always imagines a future in which God has forgotten to show up.

But God showed up today with enough grace to get me through the day, and he’ll show up tomorrow too. So shut up imagination.

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Don’t Worry…Stupid

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Jesus knows that we’re stupid.

That’s why he spells things out so clearly. Like when he says:

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? (Luke 12:25-26)

Worry turns me into a schemer. I squint into the future and try to foresee every possible circumstance. I mentally scribble out various contingency plans. I try to map out and solve every possible problem that could arise. If this happens, I can do this, and this, and this.

But it turns out that I’m a very powerless person. All my scheming and worrying can’t add even a single hour to my life. All my mental maneuvering about how I’m going to pay the bills is wasted time. It doesn’t add anything to my life. It just makes me sick to my stomach and unable to sleep.

Ponder for a moment: has worrying ever been helpful for you?

But it also turns out that there’s freedom in being powerless. That’s Jesus’ point. If I can’t add a second to my life by worrying, why worry? Instead, I need to place myself in the care of my loving Father, who really can add an hour to my life. Instead of anxiously spinning my mental wheels trying to figure out how I’m going arrange every circumstance, I must throw myself into the arms of the One who really does ordain every circumstance.

If I really understood how powerless I am, and how great God is, I wouldn’t waste my time with worry. I would simply rest in the arms of my Father, who controls what I can’t.

Which leads me to the question: If worry is so obviously foolish (which it is), why do we spend so much time worrying?

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+photo by Cavin

Worriers Live In The Future

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Since I was a little kid I’ve struggled with the sin of worry. Some of my fears were normal little-kid fears like, “What if my mom and dad die?” But I was afraid of some pretty strange stuff too. When I was three years old I was convinced that Cookie Monster from Sesame Street was under my bed, which pretty much scared the pajamas off me. When I got a older I was terrified that a storm might arise during the night, causing a lightning bolt to come rocketing through my bedroom window, which would in turn electrocute me. I was also afraid that at some point a tornado might hit our house, even though the odds of that happening are about the same as Mr. Rogers getting into a fistfight. I admit, I had some strange fears.

Unfortunately, worry doesn’t go away when you grow up. It just takes on different forms. Now I fear for the safety of my daughter Charis, and my wife Jen. Sometimes I go into Charis’ room at night just to make sure she’s still okay. I worry about paying the bills on time, and being successful at my job, and the health of my parents and siblings. I’m a grownup now, but I’m still a worrier.

That’s why I’m so grateful for the book Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Ed Welch. This book was written for sinful worriers like me. At one point in the book, Welch says that worriers live in the future. He says:

Fear can be triggered by the past, react to crises in the present, or anticipate them in the future. It’s preferred time zone, however, is the future. Dread, panic, nervousness, worry, and anxiety all speak of our potential future vulnerability…Anxiety and worry are less oriented to the present. They say, “I think there will be a danger;” “Something or someone I love might be threatened in the future.”

These words spoke to me. Generally, my worries are future oriented. Will my daughter be safe? Will I have enough to pay the bills? Will I preach well next Sunday?

As I pondered my fears, God gave me a particularly helpful insight. When I worry, I’m imagining a future apart from the grace of God. For example, I worry that Charis might become seriously ill at some point in the future. I vividly imagine doctor’s appointments and doctor’s appointments. And yet in all my imaginations, God and his powerful, loving, sustaining grace is nowhere to be found. If Charis became seriously ill, it would be a trial beyond my imagination. But I also know that God’s grace would be present each moment, sustaining me, encouraging me, and refreshing me. The Lord would carry me through the trial.

When I worry about the future, I’m essentially functioning as an atheist. I’m envisioning a future devoid of the almighty God who sustains me and carries me through trials. When I ponder the future, I must remember God.

What are you tempted to worry about? Today, as you consider these things, rejoice in the grace of God that will sustain you through every trial!

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Originally published April, 2008

Worry Never Ends

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You learn a lot when a baby enters your life (note: understatement of the century). I’ve learned that babies are cute, no matter how bad they stink. I’ve learned that “there’s always more where that came from”, if you know what I mean. I’ve learned that a baby can cause a mostly mature, grown man to dance around like a deranged clown in an effort to get his baby to laugh. I’ve learned that diapers cost more than gold…and oil. Babies are boat loads of fun.

I’ve also learned that babies give you lots of things to worry about. Sickness, safety, vaccinations. Household hazards and sleeping conditions. Spiritual health. The list never ends. There’s always something else to be worrying about. Charis isn’t crawling yet, and sometimes I worry that she’s not developing fast enough. But I know that as soon as she starts crawling, I’ll begin worrying that she isn’t walking yet. Worry is a sinful, endless, gut-twisting cycle.

And were not just talking about babies here. We’re talking about all of life. There’s always something else to worry about. Will I be laid off? Will I be able to provide for my family? Will my parents be in good health? Will my children follow the Lord? Worry doesn’t take days off. It’s relentless and ruthless.

Changing the circumstances doesn’t solve the problem either. When one worry vanishes, another quickly fills the void. Changing circumstances is a only symptomatic cure for a much deeper problem. Worry is rooted in a faulty view of God. When I’m worrying, I’m failing to see God’s good and sovereign care. In Matthew 6:25-26, 34, Jesus said:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

God cares about birds. Think about that for a second. Ravens are semi-ugly, annoying birds (sorry if you like ravens), yet God cares about them. He feeds them, clothes them, sustains them. Not a single one dies without him knowing about it. Now, if God cares for ravens, won’t he care for me? I’m his child. He crushed his precious son to make me his precious son. He bought me with blood. In light of all this, won’t he take care of me each day? This is what I’m learning to rest in. Each day is going to have some degree of trouble. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that God will be there, caring for me.

What are you worried about today? What does this reveal about your view of God?