A Better Alternative to Worry

Proverbs, Trust, Worry, Anxiety

For many people anxiety or worry is a big problem. Dr. Richard Leahy, a psychologist and anxiety specialist said a few years ago: “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s”.

You find anxiety in a hospital waiting room, a courtroom, the first day on a job, getting ready for a first date, choosing a college, trying to pay a mountain of bills with an anthill of resources, driving in a fierce storm, or even driving in a location that is unfamiliar to you (and seems to be unknown by your GPS). Worry is a problem to which Christians are not immune.

Counselor Les Carter writes,

Worry can be defined as a feeling of apprehension, distress, or uneasiness, usually related to an anticipated event. Interestingly, our word worry originates from an Anglo-Saxon root word that means “to strangle or give pain.” This implies that worry can literally paralyze us, sapping our energy and strength.

People who worry are not merely concerned about their present and future circumstances; they have a mental agenda of the way things must occur.  The worrier’s mind is so captivated by what ought or ought not to be, that he can only respond with duress and despair when situations displease him.[1]

That last statement is powerful “The worrier’s mind is so captivated by what ought or ought not to be, that he can only respond with duress and despair when situations displease him. In other words, we form a picture in our head of what should happen that is so fixed that if it doesn’t happen, we don’t know how to handle it. There is probably some area of your life where that touches on your experience.

This morning we are going to look at the Bible’s antidote to worry. To do this we will look at the best known verses of Proverbs and one of the most frequently quoted texts in the Bible. The prescription is both simple and profound.

Commands

In Proverbs 3:5-8 we are given a prescription for overcoming worry, anxiety and fear. Look at verses 5 and 6 carefully. There are four verbs. Three are commands for us. One is a verb describing what God will do.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;

do not depend on your own understanding.

Seek his will in all you do,

and he will show you which path to take.

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.

Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Then you will have healing for your body

and strength for your bones.

The three verbs that are commands are: Trust, depend, and seek. The promise is “He will show you which path to take” Verses 7 and 8 amplify on these commands. Let’s take them one at a time.

Trust. Solomon says we are to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” One Puritan writer shares this insight, “Man is a trusting creature: he is always leaning on some object. So deep is his consciousness of dependence, that he dares not stand alone.”[2] In other words we all trust something. Solomon says we should make sure our trust is in the Lord.

This trust is more than, but includes, the command to trust Christ for our forgiveness and salvation. However true trust is more than a one time exercise of faith that leads us to a decision to surrender to Christ for salvation. It is a lifestyle. It means to but our confidence in the Lord for all aspects of our life. It means trusting His commands in the Bible, trusting His wisdom in the times when we don’t understand, and trusting the promptings of God’s Spirit.

Note that we are to trust the Lord. Don’t skip past that. As you read through the book of Proverbs you will see that we are warned about things we tend to put our trust in but should not to trust

  • 11:28 Trust in your money and down you go! But the godly flourish like leaves in spring. [Don’t put your trust in riches or the property you own, your earning potential, or your retirement accounts etc)
  • 17:19  anyone who trusts in high walls invites disaster. [Don’t trust in military power or your perceived ability to defend yourself] (see also 21:22)
  • 28:25-26 Greed causes fighting; trusting the Lord leads to prosperity. [Don’t put your trust in your ability to “get more than the other guy”.  Don’t make greed the motivation of your life.
  • 29:25 Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety. [this is the opposite side of the coin . . .don’t let your fear of people control you. In this case you are trusting only what or who you believe is “safe”. ]

I suppose we could add many things to this list

  • Don’’t trust your superstitions
  • Don’t trust horoscopes
  • Don’t trust government programs
  • Don’t even put your ultimate trust in friends, family, doctors, counselors, Pastors

Solomon points out that all these things are inconsistent. They make promises on which they cannot deliver. Therefore they are untrustworthy. They have no real power to overcome worry or anxiety.

This trust must not be half-hearted. We can’t trust Him only when we “feel” like it (because then we aren’t really trusting Him at all). We can’t trust Him only as long as there are no hard times in life. That is bargaining with God, not trust. We are to trust Him with ALL our heart. No reservations.

We are to trust Him with all our HEART. Some might think that “heart” denotes emotions. They think we should feel confident about the Lord. The word means far more than that. To the Jew the heart was the control tower of a person’s life. It was their “core” if you will. It refers not only to emotions but also to our thoughts, our will, and our behavior.

The second verb gives us a second step in the process. This one is something NOT to do. It is actually a negative stating of the first directive. We are not to depend or lean on our own understanding. If we trust our understanding, we are not trusting the Lord.

This is the hardest part. We all tend to trust our understanding of a situation. We trust our emotions. We trust our ability to “figure things out”.  When we do this we are putting all our confidence in our understanding or ability. We believe the only person we can truly count on is “me”. This is the American way.

That is foolish for a couple of reasons. First, we are undependable and inconsistent. We can’t trust ourselves to be objective or accurate in our thoughts or feelings. We are short-sighted. We aren’t even consistent in our feelings. Sometimes we don’t understand why we feel the way we do. Only God sees the big picture.

Second, we are weak. We can be laid low with a blood clot, a turn of events, or even the weather! We have no real strength. Our strength is really all an illusion!

Someone said, “no man who truly knows himself can be vain.” In other words, if you are aware of the effects and stain of sin in your life you will know that it is a mistake to trust yourself. In fact in verse 7 says, v. 7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.

So we are to trust the Lord with all our heart and guard ourselves from thinking that we are trusting the Lord when in reality we are depending on our own understanding.

The third verb is Seek. “Seek his will in all you do”. Others versions say, “In all your ways acknowledge Him”. This means a couple of different things. First, it means we should recognize that Jesus is Lord over everything in our lives. If we compartmentalize our lives we are not truly trusting Him. He is Lord OF all . . . or He is not Lord AT all.

Second, seeking His will in all we do means we trust His will over our own. When we need to make a choice between what we want to do and what He tells us to do, we should pursue what He says, not what we want. Stop and think about how hard this is. Jesus asks us to do some pretty counter-intuitive things.

  • Love rather than fight
  • Forgive rather than get even
  • Give rather than accumulate
  • Wait on Him rather than rush in and “fix” things
  • Pray rather than worry
  • Keep your promises (commit) rather than be fickle and opportunistic

Let me tell you something: I am not very good at this. My biggest problem with anxiety is not that I don’t believe God is able to do beyond all we ask or think. It is not that I believe I am smarter than God. I know I am a corrupt and foolish man. It is not even that I think God’s way is wrong. I know it is not. I know this by experience!  When I do what He tells me to do there is blessing, joy, peace and a sense of God’s presence that is a greater blessing than anything this world offers us. However my instinct is to trust what I feel I should do rather than what God explicitly tells me to do.

Max Lucado has written,

Worry … makes you forget who’s in charge.

And when the focus is on yourself—you worry. You become anxious about many things. You worry that your co-workers won’t appreciate you, your leaders will overwork you, your superintendent won’t understand you, or your congregation won’t support you.

With time, your agenda becomes more important than God’s. You’re more concerned with presenting self than pleasing him. And you may even find yourself doubting God’s judgment.…

God has gifted you with talents. He has done the same to your neighbor. If you concern yourself with your neighbor’s talents, you will neglect yours. But if you concern yourself with yours, you could inspire both.[3]

Worry drains joy from our life and reveals a problem . . . we have a superficial trust in the Lord. If we trust Him, if we believe Him, then peace replaces worry in our lives.

Verse 7 tells us to “fear the Lord and turn away from evil”. It is a matter of respecting His judgment above all. It goes back to the talk about the ‘fear of the Lord”. When we truly fear or trust God, it will be seen in the way we live our lives. We will do what He tells us to do even though the world around us may think us foolish.

 The Benefit

To give us incentive there is one more verb and that is at the end of verse 6 “and he will show you which path to take.”  We see a similar promise in verse 8:” Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.

The Bible says this kind of thing all the time. In the first five books of the Bible it was pretty clear: Do what I tell you to do and I will bless you as a nation. If you don’t, I will bring foreign nations in to destroy you. As a result Old Testament Jewish history was a constant pendulum going back and forth between blessing and punishment.

One of the most popular questions from believers is this: How can I know the will of God?.  It is as if God has hidden His will and we have to find it. God’s will have been written down for us. God’s will is spoken to our hearts by the Holy Spirt. We know what God wants us to do . . . the one who trusts is the one who does what God tells Him to do and knows that He is doing the will of God for his life.

Suppose someone came up to you today and said, “I really need to get to Burlington. I have to be there in 40 minutes for a job interview.” So you patiently tell them how to get out of town, how to get to Lomax, and then you tell them how to recognize the Carman road and route 34. You are specific and clear. So the person heads out and as he is traveling out of town he notices that there is a town named Disco. He decides he needs to see this Disco town. He sees that there isn’t anything worth dancing about (sorry) in Disco and returns to the road. When he gets to Lomax he sees the big Pink building and decides to check it out. He goes in and has dinner and enjoys it greatly. He gets back on the road stops at the gas station at route 34 to get some Tums. He arrives for his interview an hour late and doesn’t get the job.

This guy is furious. He turns around heads back to LaHarpe and finds you still sitting at the restaurant nursing the same cup of coffee. He comes up to you with a very red face and says, “I asked you how to get to Burlington and you sent me on some wild goose chase. I am holding you personally responsible for my bad situation.”

Does this nitwit have any reason to be angry? Of course not. If he had followed the directions he would have made it in plenty of time (even if there was a train in Lomax).

Do you see the parallel? God has given us clear directions. We pick and choose when and where we will follow which directions. We get into a mess and the first thing we say is: “Why is God doing this to me? I know it was no use trusting Him.”

The promise is: if you will trust him with all your heart, if you will resist the urge to trust your own understanding, if you will seek His will in all things (even when it isn’t the same as yours), He will lead you to where you want to be.

Conclusions

Anxiety can kill you. It can cause heart disease, fuel cancer, aggravate diabetes and cause a host of other problems. Anxiety robs our life of joy. We don’t have to be anxious. There is an antidote to this vexing problem: it is to Trust God instead of ourselves, our education, our wits, our income, our experience of anything else. We are to trust Him completely, wholly and unreservedly.

So what do you think this looks like practically?

  • When you feel God is far away you hang on to His promise that He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Heb. 13:5)
  • When you feel that life is falling apart around you, you hold on to the truth that he “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.” (Psalm 91:2)
  • When your body begins to decay you hold on knowing that “when we die and leave this earthly body we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
  • When the world has turned against you and you are being accused of things you did not do. When you wonder if God too believes the lies (or for that matter, even the truth) even though your trust in Him is true, it means we hold on to Romans 8:1: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.
  • When we have sinned and sinned badly we hold on to 1 John 1:9 that if we truly confess our sin (desiring to repent) He will forgive us.

We reveal trust when we

  • Forgive rather than retaliate or punish
  • Love the person who is unkind to us
  • Stand by what God says even if it is at the risk of our job
  • Are honest even though it may hurt
  • Serve even when we are the one in power

Do you get the idea? Trust in the Lord is like a little child who is walking through a dense maze of people but is not afraid because they are in the arms of their dad. Jesus tells us that we must have the faith of a child. When you are a child you believe your parents will protect you.

This doesn’t mean life will be easy or pleasant. It doesn’t mean we will always understand what is happening or what God is doing. It doesn’t mean we will never get cancer or any other disease.

What it does mean is that in every situation we have a choice. We can focus on the threats, we can be swallowed up by fear and stay awake with worry or . . . we can remember who it is that holds us. If we focus on and trust the Lord rather than being overwhelmed by the circumstances we will not only sleep better, we will enjoy life a whole lot more.

[1] Les Carter IMPERATIVE PEOPLE p. 50-51

[2] David Thomas Book of Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel 1982) p. 40

[3] Lucado, M., & Gibbs, T. A. (2001). God’s inspirational promises (p. 65). Nashville, TN: J. Countryman.

Scripture:

Proverbs 3:5-8