How To Deal With Worry In Your Life

(Note: a version of this article originally appeared on worry_lgA couple weeks ago, I started having trouble sleeping. Normally, I don’t struggle with getting to sleep, but I’ve got a lot going on right now.

I have a big project deadline coming up at work, my daughter (who has special needs) is starting school again next week with a new aide, and I have a friend who was rushed to shock trauma the other day with a serious medical issue, These are just a few of the topics that weigh on me as I try unsuccessfully to drift into unconsciousness.

I just lay there with those pieces of uncertainty or unfinished business angrily glowing on the checklist of my mind.

Tape recorders of potential upcoming conversations keep playing and rewinding over and over and over again as I’m planning how to deal with existing problems; then trying to figure out what unforeseen problems are coming my way, waiting to burst all over me like a dam.

Somewhere in there, I remember Jesus saying not to worry about tomorrow.

But wasn’t Jesus worried in the Garden of Gethsemane as he literally sweat blood and asked the father to remove the cup of suffering from which Jesus was about to have to drink deeply?

So how is this whole ‘don’t worry’ thing supposed to look in my life?

Should I not be trying to foresee issues and how to resolve them?

What’s the line between ‘not worrying’ and ‘being naive and unprepared for life’?

Trusting in God’s Strength

In Philippians 4, Paul says that he has learned the secret of living whether he has plenty or is in need, and that secret was that he could do all things because of the strength that God gives.

So to Paul, not worrying means we live in confidence of God’s strength.

Worry therefore, is the opposite: it is when we live without confidence in God’s strength.

Because if I were to vocalize my worry, it would probably sound like this, “When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t have much control over the outcome, and I’m not comfortable with that arrangement.”

That’s a lot different than Paul’s approach which didn’t depend on the situation, but in the unchanging nature and character of God.

Trust vs. Control

Trusting in God doesn’t mean we have to love the situations we find ourselves in. Jesus clearly didn’t love the day of agony and abandonment he was facing.

Paul wasn’t hoping to endure more shipwrecks and stonings.

I don’t want my car to break down, or for my daughter to have a hard time at school; but the question I ask is whether those things loom larger in my mind than God’s goodness and his sovereignty (that is, the fact that he is in control and that he cares about me).

Because if my issues and problems are bigger than God in my own eyes, they will have a bigger influence in my life than God does; and that is what noted and respected biblical scholars like to refer to as ‘a bad idea’.

There’s nothing wrong with making plans and preparations, but if we ignore the nature of God (all powerful, all knowing, all present), how much good can our plans really do?

This doesn’t mean we should run to the opposite approach, embodied by the ancient Stoics who believed that you could only find peace once you accepted that the universe was giving you the best possible outcomes and you obtained peace by accepting everything without question.

We serve a God that has invited us in to his plans of making all things new. He says we have a part to play in that process. Rather than accepting everything the way it is, we can push back against injustice and heartache in our world.

But in the midst of all this, how do we incorporate trust in God’s strength into our everyday lives?

I love to look for ways to make the scriptures practically applicable in my life. When I’m facing worry, I think Paul lobs us a softball in Philippians 4:6-7 (the same chapter where he talks about having the secret to contentment):

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

I like to boil this down to a pseudo mathematical formula:

Pray + Thank = Peace.

  • Pray

This is definitely not about telling God what you want him to do. This is about remembering his nature and character.

Look at Jesus praying in Gethsemane. His prayer wasn’t even about uncertainty. Most of us would probably agree that Jesus knew everything that was coming his way when he was praying in Gethsemane. His prayer was about asking God for strength.

Prayer may not result in God ‘fixing your situation’ the way you would demand from a genie, but he gives us promises that will strengthen us as we seek his will both in and through our lives.

  • Thank

If you’re following Jesus, I’m guessing you have a story or two about instances where things seemed pretty hopeless, but in the end they worked out.

Maybe that’s part of your salvation experience.

Hopefully you have another story or two of times you cried out to God and he responded. Remind yourself of those stories.

God is not a mean kid with a magnifying glass on an anthill. You are not foolish to trust him.

In addition to loving you, God has invested a great deal into you - he’s not going to kick you to the curb.

Thank him for what he’s done, and choose to exercise faith by thanking him in advance for what he will do.

  • Peace

Usually, my worry is directly linked to my ability to comprehend the ‘master plan’. I say stuff like, “I’m willing to trust God, I just want to know what he’s up to.”

Jesus says that his peace goes beyond all understanding, so our ability to ‘stop worrying’ isn't linked to our ability to figure stuff out.

In fact, our uncertainty about the future is a chance to trust God.

God is faithful to us even (especially?) when we don’t deserve it.

So in the times when I don’t get why God is allowing something in my life - I didn’t get into the school of my choice, or I didn’t get hired into a place that I think would have been perfect - it’s an opportunity to reflect some of that faithfulness to God.

  • Remember who is in control

Dr. Henry Cloud, in the Boundaries books series, teaches us that we do not control other people. We may also not have very much control over situations that we have to face, but we are ridiculously in control of ourselves.

Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs in Love and Respect, says it this way: “Your response is your responsibility.”

You can’t decide whether your identity is going to be stolen, or if you will contract a disease, or if your computer suddenly stops working.

You can take steps to lower your risk, sure, but guarantee that they won’t happen? No chance.

But what you are 100% in charge of is how you will respond to the risk.

I think this is what Jesus is talking about in Luke 12 when he challenges us by asking, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?”

I take him to say, ‘Trust God in the stuff that you have no control over’.

Maybe this last thought will put you at ease - stop worrying whether bad things will happen, because they will. Jesus promised that in this world, we would have trouble. So instead of worrying about if or when or what, spend your time becoming the kind of person who responds in healthy ways to the challenges of this life.

Make plans, create strategies for life, but in the midst of it all, draw strength from your trust in God no matter what comes your way. Pray, give thanks, and be at peace.

Justice: Freddie Gray and the City of Baltimore

bal-baltimore-sun-coverage-of-freddie-grayI live in Baltimore County, just a few miles south of the city that is currently in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray, who died while he was in police custody a little over 2 weeks ago. Initially there were protests, but then some people have used what happened as an excuse for violence. The family of Freddie Gray has asked that the violence stop because it does not honor the man whom they loved.

It seems like we have seen this movie several times recently.

Violence leads to more violence.

Pleas for peace emanate from community and government leaders.

Most everyone just wants everything to go back to normal.

But normal means we go back to not being able to have a conversation when something goes wrong, like it did on April 12th.

We have been trained by political campaigns and cable news not to listen to one another, but rather to shout over one another.

When somebody attacks you, you must return it upon them ten fold.

The 'other side' is not just wrong, but also stupid and evil.

Respect, compassion and understanding are signs of weakness. If you're right, you should have the power of conviction that would make it impossible to demonstrate these traits.

Justice, we have been taught, is something you must demand, and if it is not offered, it must be taken.

But even if we are pure in our intentions to seek justice, we are wholly unable to achieve it.

Does that surprise you? What I just said? Let me explain why I believe that:

Jesus said "God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied." (Matthew 5:6)

Do you notice here that justice is not linked with our own action? The implication we get from Jesus is that God will give justice to those who have longed for it.

It does not say be "justice makers", as in verse 9 where Jesus tells us to be peace makers.

It says we should hunger and thirst for it.

Why is God alone able to provide justice? Very simply because we don't know what is just.

How should the police officers who handled Freddie Gray be responded to? Should they be be punished? Fired? Prosecuted? Imprisoned? What was in their hearts at the moment of the incident? We don't know.

And what of the police officers who have been injured by people who are looting and attempting to riot? If their actions were not just (and they certainly seem not to be), then what response should they receive? What does justice demand for them? We will again run into the problem of every person creating their own answer.

So what we end up with instead of justice is retribution.

We will demand punishment for those who have acted wrongly. Those who cry out that the punishment is too light, will say that the punishment is unjust.

If we give the harshest penalty possible, wouldn't those on the other end of the spectrum likewise scream that the punishment was unjustly harsh?

Both sides will appeal to justice for completely different results.

We cannot give justice. Only God can. And that is why he calls us to hunger and thirst for it.

What can we do in the meantime, while we are awaiting God to set all the wrongs to right, to restore this fallen and broken world?

I would suggest we look at verse 9 where Jesus gives us an action step. "God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God."

We can work for peace as we await justice.

Peacemaking, as we already saw why, is not simply getting things 'back to normal'.

Peacemaking is much, much more difficult. It will involve seeking to work on the issues that cause such outbreaks. Why does violence so often occur in our cities? Why is there an undercurrent of frustration that can lead to civil unrest?

This seems like a daunting task. Baltimore is a large city and I am but one person. How can I work for peace?

Perhaps your level of peace making starts with stopping. With not 'picking a side' and using your words on social media to bash the 'other side'.

Perhaps it can start with choosing to pray for everyone involved and not for the people who you prefer.

Perhaps after the unrest has settled, as it eventually will, it will start with reaching out to organizations or missions in areas where there is no peace to invest some time, energy and/or money into the process of peace.

Black lives matter and blue lives matter.

All lives matter to God, and they should matter to us as a result.

So let us hunger and thirst for justice. Let us trust that God will set the wrongs to right. In the meantime, let us work for peace.


(If you are interested in reading some excellent material about this topic, I recommend No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu, Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright, and Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf)

How to Have Peace in Frustrating Circumstances

calmIn the past couple of years, I was in a situation where I felt that God was telling me about a coming transition, but I could never find signs of that transition being imminent. Most of my despair and frustration came from the fact that I didn't know if I had really heard from God, so I was almost always wrestling with despair.

In situations like these, I think about the story in Matthew 8 where Jesus and the disciples are in a boat when a huge squall comes up. The disciples start to freak out, but Jesus remains asleep.

Keep in mind, several of these guys are professional fishermen. They have seen storms before. If they think they're going to die from this storm, chances are good that they knew what they were talking about.

So in this panic, they wake Jesus up. He calms the storm, then he says something that was troubling to me: "Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!" (Matthew 8:26)

Seriously, Jesus?

We're seriously supposed to find ourselves in the midst of deadly storms, look over to see you asleep and say 'No worries!'?

But I found something interesting in what I was reading today.

In Acts 12, Peter has been arrested. He's kept in jail for several days, guarded by 16 guards. The church is praying for Peter, but the day of his execution has arrived.

To be extra sure that Peter isn't going anywhere, he has been chained directly to TWO guards!

And what is Peter doing, hours before his scheduled murder, in prison, chained to the guards?

"Peter slept like a baby." (Acts 12:6)


Well, maybe Peter knew God would free him, and that's where his faith came from. Except that after an angel appears and busts him out of prison, Peter says this:

"I can't believe it - this really happened!" (Acts 12:11) Peter wasn't expecting to be freed. He figured the worst would happen, but he was willing to accept God's plan.

I am reminded of a story that's not in the bible, so take it with a grain of salt. A man named Smith Wigglesworth - a great evangelist - once woke up in the middle of the night to find satan himself standing at the foot of his bed. Wigglesworth said 'Oh. It's just you.', then he rolled over and went back to sleep.

Faith isn't about believing the best will happen until it finally does. Faith is about fully accepting that what will happen is according to God's plan. We can certainly ask God to do things - the church was fervently praying for Peter's release. But when Jesus prayed to avoid the cross, he accepted that then answer was 'no'.

If God tells you something is going to happen, trust in it. Jesus wasn't worried in the boat because he knew God's plan. Nothing would derail it.

Peter isn't worried because even though he doesn't know God's exact plan, he knows that nothing will derail it.

God is in control. That's why we can sleep in the storm. That's why we can sleep like a baby when our execution is scheduled the next day. That's why we don't need to worry about the health of our children, or about where our next job will be.

I know it's easier said than done, but there is hope. Peter went from freaking out in the storm to being at peace in the darkest of circumstances.

Let us continue to grow in our faith until we can rest easy when everyone else is freaking out. I can't think of many more powerful ways to point to God in our lives than that.

The Weapons of War

You’ve heard Isaiah 54:17a: “no weapon forged against you will prevail”. But many Christians have been martyred, by guns or swords or lions or various other methods. So what is God talking about?

First, I think perhaps he is revealing that, as a whole, God’s people will never be wiped out. Despite fierce persecution in the first 4 centuries of Christianity, we’re a billion+ strong now.

But I also think there’s another aspect of this.

Jesus alludes to it in Matthew 10:28: “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. “

Jesus is like, ‘Guns and swords? Don’t even worry about those. They can only kill the part of you that’s going to die anyways.’

I think the real weapons that our enemy has forged against us are greed and lust and self-pity and hate and fear; among many others.

But the reason these weapons are not supposed to affect us is because Jesus makes us immune. His joy is stronger than depression. His peace can’t even be understood, much less defeated.

It’s when our life is “hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3) that we become completely untouchable to the weapons of the enemy.

We live in the cross fire. Bullets of selfish thoughts and actions are always heading our way. People living without Jesus are riddled with holes from these attacks. I think a lot of Christians are, too - when they drag their world-proof vest behind them in the mud instead of wearing it.

Paul is pretty clear about this in Romans 13:13-14: “Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.”

Only in Jesus are you immune to the weapons of the devils warfare. Stay in him. Don’t try to do it yourself. There are no medals of honor to be won in heaven, because Jesus already won them.

Battlefield Earth

I started reading “Waking the Dead” by John Eldredge this morning.  In this book, he is talking about a lot of the same themes I’ve been working on lately: kingdoms, war, soldiers. He looks at the fact that when we encounter hard times, we usually think that either A.) We’re doing something wrong or B.) God is letting us down.

But if this earth is a battlefield, maybe that’s not the case. The solider that engages in a firefight with the enemy didn't do something wrong to get there or get let astray by command.

His job is to fight, to battle the enemy. Contact with the enemy doesn’t indicate something has gone awry.

Jesus tells us this is how it’s going to be. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Look, I’ve secured the victory, but you’re still going to have to fight.

When life gets hard, when you feel like everything is arrayed against you, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have some secret hidden sin that you have to repent for in order to get away from the heat.

“God, I think I borrowed one of those small pencils from the library and forgot to return it a few years ago! Is that why you aren’t giving me a husband/wife/child/job/whatever? Please forgive me!!”

Earth is a battlefield, and sometimes firefights just explode into existence. One minute everything is quiet, and the next minute fire is erupting from every direction.

When a solider finds themselves caught in the crossfire, he or she doesn’t start weeping and get on to the radio to command HQ and ask them to make it all stop. They dig in and start fighting back. It’s that, or be defeated.

Matthew records something Jesus said that we would probably prefer to ignore: “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

There will be peace once we’ve arrived at God’s kingdom. But our purpose on earth is not temporary peace. It’s to bring the eternal peace of God to everyone. And satan hates your guts for that.

So man or woman up. Remember that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)  And when you get up and go out today, do so on war footing. Not looking for comfort or luxuries, but looking to advance against the enemy and take ground for the Kingdom.

Lock and load.