When it comes to worry, Jesus has just one word: Don’t. Jesus wouldn’t ask us to do what we can’t do. He doesn’t ask us to dance like Beyonce, to throw a football like Tom Brady—Jesus knows what we can and can’t do. And he knows that we can choose to live without worry. For some of us, worry is natural, habitual. We’re experts at imagining the worst case. We worry so much that we’re hardly even aware of it; therefore, when we try not to worry, it only makes us notice how much of our thinking is actually taken over by worry. That’s why we can’t stop worrying by simply trying not to worry.
We have to shift our focus. We have to put all that anxious energy into something else. According to Paul, the way to break free from the habit of worry is to replace it with a new, healthy habit: prayer. Take a look at what Paul says in the fourth chapter of Philippians. In verse 4 he starts by saying, “Always be full of joy in the Lord.” Finding joy in the Lord is the first step away from worrying.
Truly, joy isn’t always found in my circumstances, because they are always changing and uncertain. But I can always find gladness in the Lord, because he doesn’t change. That’s why, when I am “in the Lord,” I can always be full of joy. What is more, Paul’s instruction takes advantage of a basic principle: I can’t worry in the Lord. It’s impossible. In Christ, we have confidence and courage, faith and hope.
In his presence, my worries vanish. That’s why the habit of worrying reflects a spiritual problem; it’s a bad sign for my faith. The closer I get to Christ’s perfect love, the further I get from your fears. But that’s not all. In Philippians 4:6, Paul goes on to say, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.” You don’t simply stop worrying—you replace the negative habit with the healthy behavior. Turn all your worries into prayer. Many of us worry about everything.
Interestingly, we’re told never to worry and always to pray. The two practices are indeed similar but opposite. In fact it’s been said that worry is actually praying to yourself for things you don’t want—how insane is that?! We can worry without ceasing, but we can’t even imagine what it would be like to pray without ceasing. Paul says, simply “tell God what you need.” Tell him. It’s the beginning of prayer.
Of course he already knows what you need better that you do. If I pray for this, but what I need is that, God will give me that. In other words, his care for me is based on his perfect wisdom and not my imperfect praying. That’s why I’m never told to pray with knowledge; I’m told to pray with thanksgiving. Again, Paul says, “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Maybe that’s the worst part of what worry does—it makes me forget all that God has already done for me.
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