You're already late for work, and traffic comes to a dead stop.
The stock market drops another 500 points.
You suspect your son is experimenting with drugs.
In situations like these, it's normal to feel anxious. Anxiety (or worry) is an emotional response to a thought or circumstance we perceive as negative.
The Greek word translated as "worried" in Matthew 6:25 means "distracted." It refers to uncertainty about the future. For many people, worry is a way of life. If that describes you, I encourage you to read again the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. His command is clear:
Anxiety (or worry) is an emotional response to a thought or circumstance that we perceive as negative.
- For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
- Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? (Matt. 6:25-26)
You may say, "But I can't help feeling anxious; I have always been a worrier!" I've heard that from many people through the years. My response is, "Oh yes, you can."
Contrary to what some people think, worry is not some trait that is inseparable from our nature. Rather, anxiety occurs because of the way we respond to a problem or troubling situation. You can select what to think about (2 Cor. 10:5), and you can decide how to respond to a circumstance. Your ability to choose is part of God's gift of free will to every human being.
No circumstance automatically causes long-term anxiety. It isn't the Father's purpose for you to be controlled by worry. The Lord may allow an unpleasant situation in your life to develop stronger faith, stimulate spiritual growth, or change a bad habit or negative attitude. But He does not set you up to feel anxious. God is always at work to bring you to a place where you will increasingly trust and obey Him and receive more of His blessings.
Concern Differs From Anxiety
We must be careful not to confuse concern with anxiety. It is normal for a Christian to care. This attitude motivates us to intercede and to take godly action toward meeting the needs of others and/or ourselves. For example, we are to be concerned about our families, health, and performances at work.
Furthermore, some concern is rooted in responsibility. As Christians, we are to fulfill God's commandments in our daily lives. In other words, we should live in an honest and moral manner—paying our bills, telling the truth, giving a full day's effort for a full day's wage, and so forth.
We also express this attitude in relation to the people under our protection. If, for example, a child is injured, her parent has a genuine right and responsibility to be concerned about whether the ankle is sprained or broken. Concern will lead to taking action and seeking medical advice.
And what if you were to lose your job? You'd naturally—and justifiably—be somewhat preoccupied with how to find a new one so you could provide for your family. A concern rooted in caring or obedience is not the same as anxiety. But to fall apart emotionally, become paralyzed with fear, or allow thoughts of bankruptcy, homelessness, and a bleak future to overtake your mind—absolutely not! That's anxiety.
Concern motivates us to take action; anxiety paralyzes us.
Concern is positive: it is forward-looking and constructive. Anxiety is the opposite—it is counterproductive, stuck in the past, and negative. In other words, concern motivates us to take action; anxiety paralyzes us.
Concern may be marked with tears, expressions of sorrow or sympathy, thoughtful reflection, or quiet time for meditation. In the end, concern leads us to make decisions. Appropriate thinking in such cases might sound like this: "I choose to trust in God. I want to seek His purpose and plan in this. I'll take the action He leads me to take."
Anxiety, on the other hand, tends to be marked by hand-wringing, uncontrollable crying, deeply furrowed brows and slumped shoulders, sleepless nights, nervous twitches, and endless pacing. Worry is a treadmill that tends to keep a person in a state of fear and negativity.
The Choice Is Yours
We are all human, so occasionally we will be blind-sided by unsettling incidents or discoveries. At such times, it's normal to react emotionally. But God's children should not remain in that condition for long. Instead of falling into a downward spiral of anxiety over difficult circumstances, a healthier response is to pray something like this: "Heavenly Father, I bring my problem to You. The situation is beyond my control and influence, and I feel helpless; but You have the power to change circumstances. I know You love me perfectly and whatever You have planned for me is for my good. Show me how to respond, and I will obey You. I look forward to seeing the way You choose to express Your love, wisdom, and power." Friend, this is the way of peace—the road out of anxiety. Let it go.
Adapted from "Finding Peace: God's Promise of Life Free from Regret, Anxiety, and Fear" (2003).