10 Ways to Battle Worry

This isn’t a definitive list by any means, but here are ten ways to fight worry. 

1. Take stock if concern has led to “over-concern” in the form of fear, worry, or anxiety.

Concern is not the same as worry. There are many things it’s natural to be concerned about, or that we even should be concerned about. It’s not that trials are small and we shouldn’t be concerned at all, but in our trials, God tells us to not carry them ourselves but to cast them on him and rest in him (Matt. 11:28-30). The challenge is concern can quickly morph into worry and anxiety. It’s difficult to determine where that line is or whether we’re being cautious versus worried (consider asking someone who knows you well). But look for symptoms such as sleeplessness, a frantic mind, frustration with circumstances or people, or general feelings of being overwhelmed. Like the warning light in your car, these signs alert you to the need to address something in your life.

2. Consider the source.

Try to determine what’s causing your worry, or what the bigger worry underneath it might be? If I’m worried about money, what are worries underneath that (such as worry about security, a loss of comfort or material possessions, what others might think, or my future, etc.)? Like those pesky dandelions in your yard, the bigger problem isn’t what you see but what’s underneath. Worries, like all our idols or temptations, must be plucked up by the roots.

The good news is worry, or hard circumstances causing worry, can actually expose some of those idols or reveals areas we can trust God more. Though we don’t think of worry as an opportunity—at least I usually don’t—it shines a light on areas we can strengthen our faith in God by showing where our trust in him might have small cracks. When we get to the real problem, we can turn to God to find real help.

3. Talk back to worry rather than listening to worry.

Many of our struggles get out of hand because we listen to our problems rather than talking back to them. Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”[1]

We passively give our doubts and fears our attentive ear and let them lead us down a vicious cycle of thoughts, but God calls us to actively speak biblical truth to our fears and worries (Rom. 12:1-2). Worry must be put in check by God’s Word rather than given free reign. We speak God’s truths and promises to our worries rather than listening to the whispers, doubts, and fears behind them. Scripture tells us to be on alert and to take charge of our thoughts (2 Cor. 10:3-6). When you’re worried, are you active or passive in your thought life? David provides a model of doing this in Psalm 42. It’s okay to talk back when it comes to thoughts and whispers out to do you no good. Listen more intently to God through his Word, but talk back more intentionally to your worries.

4. Put your theology on trial.

Think about your thinking. Worry ultimately reflects how we’re viewing or relating to God. Do we trust him? Do we believe he is good, faithful, and kind? Do we trust his promises to provide for us, care for us, and keep us? Do we believe he’s in control, all-powerful, all-knowing, and wise? What does my worry reveal about God, and what do I need to remember or cling to about God to fight my worry?

When Jesus tells us not to worry, he roots that command in specifics about God. God provides for the flowers that are his, and so how much more will he provide for the children that are his (Matt. 6:25-30). God knows your troubles and God knows your needs, and God also knows how to help you and care for you (Matt. 6:31-34). God is with you and for you. What we need when it comes to fear and worry isn’t just a solution or an answer, but the presence and promises of God. We need to look up in faith when looking around causes fear or worry.

Choose in advance a specific verse, promise, truth, or even a song you need to push the worry out of your mind and heart.

5. Give up control and entrust God.

Worry almost always leads to wanting more control or not feeling powerless.  This often begins with feeling like God isn’t in control, and so we seek to take control into our hands. Unfortunately, we can’t get the control we desire so it often leads to more worry or giving more energy to grasping for control. Like so many of our idols, control is illusive; a mirage that allures us but disappoints.

The response is to lean into our dependence on God and trust him, which means entrusting him with what worries you. To entrust is to put something in someone else’s hands, and so we entrust what worries is to God’s hands rather than gripping it with our own hands. This is hard, but ultimately, a source of hope and comfort since God is God and we are not. We can cast our cares on the one who cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7).

One way, maybe the main way, we do this is through prayer. You can’t give things to God without talking to him. Don’t try to just “let it go” and not let things bother you, but let it go by entrusting your cares onto God through the means of prayer (Psalm 37:5; 55:22). Someone will carry the burden, but the good news is Jesus offers to take it from us (Matt. 11:28-30). Tell God what you’re worried about, and entrust those worries to him. God speaks to us through his Word and we remind ourselves of what he’s said (points 3 and 4), but we then communicate back to God in prayer.

6. Remember; Don’t forget.

The Bible repeatedly exhorts us not to forget who God is, what he’s done, the things he’s taught us, and lessons learned (Dt. 6:12). Instead, we are to remember by calling them to mind and living in light of them (Ex. 13:3; Ps. 143:5). Hard or scary circumstances that cause fear or worry tend to jolt us so that all we see and feel is the hurdle in front of us. This can even skew our recollection of the past, such as how Israel in the wilderness mis-remembers slavery in Egypt by talking about how it was better than freedom (Ex. 16:3). When we look back and remember God’s faithfulness in the past, it strengthens our faith and gives courage to face what’s next. If God provided, delivered, or sustained us in the past than we can trust he will do so again today and tomorrow.

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered” (Ps. 105:5).

7. Choose gratitude over grumbling.

Israel grumbles against God when they forget all he’s done in the past and assume wrong things about him in the present (Ex. 15:24). Grumbling chooses to focus on what’s hard or what we don’t like about the situation. Grumbling isn’t just feeling frustrated, but it ultimately expresses wrong beliefs about God and frustration with him. Grumbling fuels worry, which operates off the same bad assumptions.

While grumbling feeds worry, gratitude chokes the life out of it. Gratitude reminds us all has done and the ways he has been faithful, merciful, and good. Gratitude rehearses truths about who God is and bolsters our faith in him. As we sing about, talk about, pray about, or write about God’s blessings in our life, it’s amazing how gratitude gives perspective to our worries. It’s not that our worries vanish, but as God gets bigger our worries start to shrink. In everything, there are reasons to give thanks (Eph. 5:20), and we fight worry by leaning into gratitude rather than grumbling.

8. Live on daily grace.

When Israel faced worry because of starvation in the wilderness, God’s response was not to stock their shelves with food in bulk. God wants to meet our needs but he also wants us to experience our dependence. Faith requires living on God’s daily grace, or daily bread, (Matt. 6:11), not occasionally making an order from God when supplies are getting low. When you feel worried, it’s in part because we’re confronted by our limits, our powerlessness, and our dependence. God promises to help us one day at a time. He doesn’t promise to provide everything we need for tomorrow—whether that’s resources, strength, or answers—but he does promise to give us what we need today.

Not long after teaching us to pray for daily bread (Matt. 6:11), Jesus adds, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34). If every day has enough trouble, every day God supplies what we need to face those troubles. He sustains us and strengthens us day by day. Charles Spurgeon said, “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”

If you’re going to climb a mountain or do an extended hike, you break it into smaller segments. Sometimes our worries and fears—or any trials—overwhelm us because we imagine having to endure them forever. God’s grace will be sufficient for you today and he will provide everything you need today, so go gather and live on the manna he’s providing, day by day.

9. Go outside and observe creation.

If we’re inside all the time then we start to shrink the universe to the size of our world, and then we get stuck in the box we create. But getting outside can remind us we are part of a larger, amazing, complex universe where God is present and active.  It provides perspective about life, who we are, and our problems. Creation displays God’s good gifts in front of us and helps with gratitude (point 7). There’s also common grace in how God refreshes us with things like a breeze, sunshine, the sounds of birds, the sky, or any number of things.

“Nature outside his window is calling him to health and beckoning him to joy. He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of the birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy.”[2]

Another reason to be in creation is it has built-in (designed) lessons illustrating truths to combat our worry. Jesus points to the birds and the flowers to show that God provides—feeds and clothes—for them, and how much more valuable are we who are his image-bearers and children (Matt. 6:25-34).  If his eye is on the sparrow, then we can certainly know he watches me. The climax of Job and seeing God is largely a meditation on his creation (see Job 38-41). It reminds Job of how big and powerful God is, and yet he small and dependent we are.

It’s spring-time, and even here we learn that seasons might feel like they will last forever, but after winter eventually comes spring. The stripping of the trees in fall and winter produces the vibrancy of new life in spring. The work of nurturing a garden in a world of severe weather and pests teaches us to do what we can, but that many things are ultimately out of our control. Every tomato or pepper plucked off the vine gives us a chance to give thanks as we receive from God’s hands. Creation teaches us, but we have to be in its classroom to see and hear what’s being taught.

10. Take the long view.

Though the world tells us this life is all there is, the Bible says this life is temporary. To take another object lesson from creation, our lives are like the morning dew that appears and vanishes (James 4:14). Our worries might be big, but they need set in the context of the deeper realities of the gospel and a long-view of eternity. The gospel reminds us if we are in Christ (by grace through faith), then our sins are paid, our future is secure, God is for us, and eternity on a new earth will be ours. That means as bad as things can get in this life, they are not ultimate. Even death itself is not ultimate, which is why we celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday (1 Cor. 15). Whatever the world can do to me, whatever trials I face, whatever worries confront me, I have a foundation underneath my feet through the gospel.

This helps me keep the long-view in mind. Temporary suffering isn’t enjoyable and can be really painful, but Paul (acquainted with great suffering) reminds us it’s no match when compared to eternal glory (Rom. 8:18). My worries often don’t amount to what I think they will, and when I look back, I’m almost embarrassed by how small so many of them are. But even when worries are just as bad as we think, or worse, they are a small part of our life in this temporary, broken world. But our ultimate hope anticipates the day when all will be made right, pain is wiped away, and Eden (paradise) is restored. And not just for a little while, but forever. The happily ever after we all long for will come true one day for those in Christ, and that is what we were made for. In the midst of worries and trials, we need to set our feet on the firm foundation of the gospel and cast our eyes on the long-view of the glorious eternity awaiting us.

 

Footnotes

[1] See the extended quote as Justin Taylor quotes Martyn Lloyd Jones https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/talk-dont-listen-to-yourself/. See also D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 158.  See “John Piper on Not Neglecting Spiritual Refreshment through Nature” at indycrowe.com, or “Social Distancing Does Not Mean You Have to Stay Indoors.”

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indycrowe

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