While I don’t remember the first time someone said this to me, I have certainly heard this saying many, many times and have spoken these words internally:
“If you’re going to pray, don’t worry. If you’re going to worry, don’t pray.”
So, what does this mean for the anxious Christian? Am I lacking faith if I worry? Does my worry dishonor God and His infinite wisdom and power? Am I making my problems bigger than my God? These are the questions that have plagued me, especially as I have grown closer to God and matured spiritually.
I worry, too
I have committed several scriptures to memory, verses that I recite when the pressures of life become overwhelming and when I feel myself nearly drowning in a sea of anxiety; but one of my favorites is 2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV) – “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
I love Jesus, and I exercise my faith muscles daily; yet I do worry. I am a perfectionist. I operate in a different space. They say done is better than perfect, but I say it won’t be done until it’s perfect. I obsess over the minutiae. I wrestle with the “what ifs” and replay conversations in my head. Some nights my fears keep me awake. I wring my hands and shake my legs when things weigh heavily on my mind. I get irritable and short-tempered under duress. Doubt tries to deter my course, to waylay my God-given purpose. And, I know I am not alone. Other believers struggle with worry, too.
In Genesis 1:27, the Bible says that God created us in his own image. He designed each of us with 3 unique parts – the spirit, the soul, and the body. As Christians we strengthen our spirit so that we clearly hear God’s voice, understand His will for our lives, and govern ourselves accordingly. Our soul encompasses our mind (ability to think and reason), our will (decisions we make), and our emotions (feelings and beliefs). Our body represents our flesh, the temple within which the Holy Spirit dwells.
God made emotions
Our Heavenly Father created emotions, both positive and negative. He allows us to experience both as we go through life. We know joy, gratitude, love, and awe but also sadness, anger, confusion, and disappointment. I believe God gives us these emotions to enrich our lives; but they serve a greater purpose, too. Emotions draw us closer to Him while simultaneously deepening the power of human connection and community within the body of believers that exists across the world. This means God gives us worry and fear. There are benefits to worry. Worry about doing well on an exam can lead to more studying. Concern about your weight can lead to lifestyle changes. Fear serves a warning sign so that you will act quickly and appropriately in dangerous situations.
What He desires is that we recognize these negative emotions, acknowledge them, but then act by seeking Him first. We cannot allow anxiety to derail His plans for us. Our first response to worry and anxiety should be prayer, prayer for wisdom, clarity, and discernment. Through prayer we receive wise counsel, direction, and peace that only God can give and that transcends all human understanding.
Even Moses Struggled
Moses, a mighty prophet and leader, had a speech impediment. He stuttered. In Exodus 4: 10 – 13 (NLT), he is pleading with God to allow someone else to speak, saying “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been … I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled … Send anyone else.” Despite God’s attempts to assuage his fears, Moses continued to doubt his abilities.
Gideon suffered with anxiety as well. Judges Chapter 6 describes his lack of confidence.
When is Worry Abnormal?
Worry is a normal and common human emotion. It’s presence, alone, is not indicative of a psychiatric disorder. Worry leads to a psychiatric disorder when it chronically interferes with an individual’s ability to function whether at work or school and in relationships. People with an anxiety disorder are:
- tense and on edge
- restless, trouble relaxing
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty falling or staying asleep
- muscle tension
- headaches or stomachaches.
It is best to get help when worry becomes unmanageable. The Bible says we should seek wise counsel. This might encompass talking to a friend, exercise, or revising your strategy. It may mean scheduling an appointment with a therapist or seeing a psychiatrist to discuss medication options. The point is there is no shame in experiencing negative emotions. It’s what you do with those emotions that matters. Seek God first and He will make your path straight; His word will be like a lamp to your feet.
If someone decides to pursue formal treatment, ask for a referral from your primary care physician or a friend. You can also call your insurance company to see which providers are in network or such for a therapist on your own. Treatment options include different types of psychotherapy or talk therapy and various medication choices. Anti-depressants treat anxiety (and depression) as well as anxiolytics such as Buspar or Propranolol.
Finding Direction in God’s Word
Irrespective of the severity of our anxiety symptoms, we can find comfort in scripture. I am sharing several that grow my faith and give me the strength to speak to my storm. I hope they resonate with you as well.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
So, do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Psalm 56:3 (NIV)
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Philippians 4: 6 – 7 (NIV)
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.
Joshua 1:9 (NLT)
This is my command – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Matthew 6: 34 (NLT)
So, don’t’ worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
I Peter 5: 7 (NLT)
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.