Vol. 9, No. 3
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When President Bush announced (some years ago) that if Saddam Hussein did not withdraw from Kuwait by noon, the ground war would begin when he chose, I was awake at 4 a.m. as usual, and during the day kept listening from time to dime for news updates. That caused me to wonder if I was practicing what I preached. Was I worried about what probably would take place? Did the fact that my grandson was in the Marines doing infantry training change any principles?
Let me emphasize that despite the fact that I may fail to do what God says, or that my precious grandson may die in battle, the Word of God still teaches what it taught last year. What does the Word of God teach about worry? First, that it is a sin, not just a constitutional weakness. It is a sin because it is disbelief in the truth and trustworthiness of God. Second, it is destructive to the temple of the Holy Spirit. Some might reply, "Yes, I know that. That is what worries me even more! What am I going to do about it?" We will try to get to that in a moment, but first we need to be convinced that worry is a sin, for if we do not believe that, we can hardly repent and try to correct it.
There is another point that may need clarification. Is concern and sorrow for a situation the same as worry and anxiety? The answer is "No," though we may not always be able to distinguish the difference. Jesus was so concerned about Jerusalem that he wept. There is no indication that he was anxious or worried in the sense that he forbids it in us. I am so concerned about the souls of men and women that I have given four years of my life and gone over 25,000 miles to encourage congregations and individuals to help in the ONE NATION UNDER GOD program. Am I worried about it or those souls? If I know my heart, I am not. I am so concerned about lost souls in Africa that I am personally trying to teach about 2000 or more of them, working day and night corresponding with them. Am I worried about them? If I am, I am not aware of it. When I continue to have pains in my chest, I am concerned enough to go back to the doctor to have another EKG, but I have no sense of worry.
Perhaps part of our problem is that the word "worry" is not a scriptural word. We must use English or Greek equivalents. At this point I decided to go to my Webster's Unabridged, (45 years old) and discovered to my surprise that the first meaning given was "The act of shaking or mangling with the teeth" (as "the dog was worrying the bone") and the second was "undue solicitude." I decided to ask my computer, and it told me that the meaning was "anxiety" and listed several synonyms such as apprehension, concern, fear, care and disquiet. Since I am talking about "undue solicitude" or anxiety, and the Bible addresses that subject, this will be our concern. The ASV says, "Be anxious (merimnao) for nothing" (Philippians 4:6). This is the same idea Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:24-34, when the KJV translates the word, "Take no thought."
Even a casual student of the Bible understands that God does not forbid thinking about your life, what you eat, drink or wear, but he does forbid "undue solicitude," anxiety or fretfulness. It is disobedience to God, for he specifically forbids it. It is also wrong because of Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:13, 19, 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 and other similar passages. The first tells us that all things work together for our good. Worry says, "That is not so." The second says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. That means all things that he requires of us. Worry says, "I doubt it." The third says that God will supply all our needs. Worry says, "I do not believe it." The fourth says that he shall supply us and enrich us in all things. Of course that is conditioned on what response we have previously made. Yet in any situation, worry is a demonstration of a lack of faith in God's goodness and interest in our welfare.
If we are to believe the medical profession, worry does more damage to the body than any other vice. It is said to be a major cause of heart trouble, high blood pressure, rheumatism, ulcers, thyroid trouble, arthritis, migraine headaches, indigestion, constipation, nausea, headache, allergies, paralysis and various other things.
It is a sin because it violates express commands of God, wreaks havoc in the home life, prevents sharing the joys of Christianity with others and destroys one's effectiveness in other areas. I never remember seeing a chronic worrier convert anyone to Christ, or even try to do so.
One may say, "I know all that. I know I shouldn't, but I can't do anything about it." I am tempted to reply, "Do not add lying to your sins" but will not be so harsh. We can do something about it, but the negative statement may be a lack of understanding, not a lie.
Some specific examples may be of value. They prove that God's command can be obeyed, and may inspire us to follow those examples. They also will give us some hints about how we may "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). If we read carefully the stories of Daniel, David, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Peter and Paul, surely we can see the lessons and be inspired to follow their examples. Daniel was faced with the den of lions. How did he keep from worrying about it? Two basic things are evident. He kept his faith in God and prayed. What about David, when faced with Goliath, chased by Saul or at almost any other occasion? He kept his faith and acted upon it. Do you think the three Hebrews were worried about the furnace of fire? I have read the story for about 60 years and it still moves me almost to tears to hear their answer to the king. "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and He will deliver us out of thy hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel 3:17-18). They were not sure what would happen to them, but apparently they were not worried. The reason is that they had faith in God, and were determined to rest their case in his loving hand.
When Paul and Silas were in prison singing praises to God at midnight, were they worried? Would you have been? When Peter and the apostles were beaten and commanded to teach and preach no more in the name of Jesus, Acts 5:41 informs us that they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. They did not worry about what would happen to them.
One may reply, "These were merely examples of certain unusual men. How can I keep from worrying?" The answer is, "The same way they did." We may think, "I don't feel like it. I cannot help how I feel." Yes, you can. Not always directly and immediately, but you can control how you think, talk and act, and thus control how you feel. Proverbs 23:7 says, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Philippians 4:8 details how we are to think. "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, -- honest, -- just, -- pure, -- lovely, -- of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
It is sometimes assumed that one cannot control his thoughts. One may need practice, just as one needs to practice controlling his tongue or his feet. If you habitually put your mind out of gear while your tongue idles on, you need to learn how to control both mind and tongue, but it can be done. If not, then Paul makes no sense in admonishing us to think on these things.
Just as you can make yourself smile, laugh and sing when you do not feel like it, you can think and act cheerfully without feeling cheerful. Is that not hypocrisy? It is not necessarily so. If my friend dies and I am sad, yet I smile, am I pretending that I do not care? When Paul was in prison singing praises at midnight, was he pretending that he was not hurting, or that he enjoyed being there with his bruised back? Surely you know that he was joyous and singing in spite of his situation.
I cannot now go into a detailed explanation of the relationship of thinking, talking and acting. Our whole life is composed of those three things. Any time we choose to change one of them in the right direction, we influence the other two. So, one way to overcome worry is to deliberately choose to think, talk or act in a positive way. I am not merely advocating the popular concept of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), but talking about biblical principles. We can praise God with thoughts, words or actions. When we are praising God, we cannot simultaneously be worried.
Very closely related to this is the idea that is suggested in the song, "Count your many blessings; name them one by one." It is difficult to worry as we count our blessings, but the devil can even use this as a tactic to make us worry. "I am grateful for my eyesight. What will I do if I go blind? That is my worry!" So as we count our blessings, we need to be aware that God may remove what we think is a great blessing to give a greater one. Brother Gus Nichols told me that a tornado that wiped out much of his possessions and almost killed his family was a great blessing from God. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." It seems from the statements in the Bible that God never removes a blessing from his children without replacing it with a greater one.
If we are really convinced of the trustworthiness of God and aware of his promises, we can overcome worry. Our problem is probably much like the man of Mark 9:24, "I believe; help thou mine unbelief." We are too much like Peter who had enough faith to start to walk on the water, but got worried about the wind and water, so Jesus said to him, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" The most important way we can overcome worry is to increase our knowledge of what God promised and increase our faith in him. We have too little of either.