Easy to say, hard to accomplish.
There are so many things that needle us into worrying: the economy, cultural changes, natural disasters, taxes, epidemic diseases, violence, and mayhem. Beyond those broad cultural forces, we each have individual worries: health, career, relationships, money. I know I worry, and I’m pretty sure that you do to (but we’ll keep that little secret between us).
Yet scripture persistently admonishes us to not worry. Of course the admonition doesn’t take our worries away. We just feel guilty about being worried. And the guilt might even intensify our worries.
To stop worrying, we try different remedies. Some of us try to control events, which usually makes things worse. Others seek distraction from the worry. That strategy sets the stage for even worse problems down the road. Still others look for another person to rescue us, even though people inevitably disappoint.
Scripture teaches us what to do with worry. In dealing with worry, Paul tells us: “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)
That sounds deliciously simple. When we are worried, present our requests to God.
However we should let scripture teach us what it means to prayerfully present those requests.
First, we should honestly present our feelings of worry before the Lord. I know it sounds strange, but tell God how your experience of worry feels. David does this: “My soul is in anguish, how long, O Lord, how long…” (Ps 3:2), “I am worn out from groaning, all night long I flood my bed with weeping…” (Psalm 3:6), “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2) “My heart has turned to wax, it has melted away within me…” (Psalm 22:14). These are not simply pretty poetic words, they are expressions of a heart in deep anguish, anxiety, and fear. Take the time to verbally name your worries before the Lord.
Second, as we present our requests, we should be sure to fix our attention on the right thing. Jesus tells us not to worry about clothes and food, but rather to “…seek first [God’s] kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This is not a call to irresponsibility, but rather a powerful way of re-framing our worries. Jesus calls us to re-direct our thought patterns away from our worries and to place them on seeking the Kingdom of God.
This is not some kind of mystical direction. It is very practical. Stephen Covey, in his classic work The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, gives us the idea of the circle of influence and the circle of concern. In the circle of concern are all those things over which we have no direct control: society, the weather, the economy. Also in this circle are the actions, attitudes, and behaviors of other people. Like it or not, you cannot force another person to believe or feel anything. You might be able to coerce their behavior, but that will never win their hearts. And the more we try to control another person, the more they will try to slip away from us.
In contrast to the circle of concern is the circle of influence. At the core of our circle of influence are the very few things we can control: how we act and what we say and how we treat other people. These things lie at the heart of what it is to seek God’s righteousness – to seek right relationships with God and with other people. Jesus says to the Pharisees looking for a sign “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say ‘here it is’ or ‘there it is’, because the kingdom of God is in your midst”(Luke 17:20-21). The more energy we pour into these things, the wider our circle of influence expands.
Now here’s the tricky part. When we take a deep look the circle of influence, we realize that we don’t really have control there either. We realize that to have any sort of growth, we need grace, we need God’s power in our lives. Paul says concerning the authority of God’s word: “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (I Corinthians 4:20).
So, I’m endeavoring to be more honest in my prayers; more honest about my worries. And I’m asking for the grace to keep my heart fixed on the kingdom of God. Perhaps you’ll join me? “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7).
Soli Deo Gloria
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This article originally published in the July 2013 issue of the Covenant-First Courier.