Worry in the Bible: Why We Worry, and How To Find Peace
Worry can become such a part of our lives that we can wind up worrying about the fact that we decided not to worry about something. We worry as we anticipate a future negative event such as receiving a poor diagnosis from our doctor.
We worry as we wait for the outcome of an important exam. We worry as we look at those three pulsing dots as we await an affirmative response from a potential significant other. We worry about the possibility of another pandemic and what that may do to our health or our business.
There is no shortage of things we worry about.
Worry in the Bible: why we worry so much.
What is worry? Worrying is a way of thinking about the future which leaves you feeling anxious or apprehensive. We find ourselves thinking about the future because some future outcome we are invested in seems uncertain, and our worry is one way we try to make sure everything turns out well.
Worry focuses our attention on the possibility that something could go wrong, and we turn the problem over in our minds even though we’ve done all we can in the situation. Worry is how we try to control what is ultimately an uncontrollable reality, and it’s how we try to eliminate risk and uncertainty.
The problem with unbridled worry is that it can wreak havoc in our lives, leading to relationship problems, impaired work and school performance, and even long-term effects on our health from carrying around all that stress.
Not only that, but worrying takes you away from the present, meaning it’s difficult for you to enjoy yourself and relax. Moments with loved ones can be interrupted by worry, and a good mood can be ruined by intrusive thoughts generated by worry. Seeing that there’s little upside to worrying, why do we do it so much?
Some people mistake worrying for doing something akin to problem-solving. Worrying looks a lot like trying to figure out how to avoid a worst-case scenario, but it keeps you going around in circles and spinning your wheels instead of solving a problem. Worry feels like you’re doing something, and not simply waiting. That can be attractive.
Additionally, worrying feels like it helps us stay guarded and ready for the worst-case scenario. Some research suggests that worrying before a negative event will lead to a lower likelihood that you’ll respond to that event with a burst of negative emotion such as disappointment. That’s because when you’re already feeling bad from worrying, experiencing the negative outcome itself doesn’t feel that different.
However, there is a physical, emotional, and mental cost to worrying that doesn’t even out any perceived benefits.
Worry in the Bible: God understands.
We can turn to Scripture to find examples of worry in the Bible and to help us work through our own worries. Though they are removed from us by thousands of years of history and differences in our culture, the people in the Bible are just like us. They had the same struggles as we do, and they worried over many of the same things we typically do. The details may vary, but the worry in the Bible is the same.
If you’re a farmer, do you worry about the weather, your health, the market for your goods, and whether you’ll survive for the next few seasons?
In a time of international crisis, do you worry about the future and what will happen to the people you care about?
When you’re facing economic pressures, do you worry about things like your rent or mortgage payments, whether you’ll have enough to meet your expenses, or if you’ll be able to feed your kids?
If you’re in a situation where violence is imminent or visible around you, do you worry about your life and the safety of your loved ones?
If you worry about these things, you are not alone; many of us have those same concerned thoughts, and in the same way, we see worry in the Bible over the same things.
They might have been worried about hunger during a time of siege from Assyria or Babylon, while we worry about what will happen to our gas and other commodity prices because of conflict in Europe, for instance. An unstable political climate worried them just as it worries us and makes us wonder what the future holds for us and our children. The differences between the people in Biblical times and ourselves are not as substantial as we might believe.
Just as God spoke to people in the time and culture that the Bible was written, He speaks to us through that same word, reminding us of the same truths about Himself and ourselves.
Paul reminds his readers from Corinth (a city geographically, temporally, and culturally distant from ancient Israel) about the Old Testament stories showing that “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11, NIV)
The same goes for us in 21st-century North America. The wisdom of the Bible speaks to us in our time. God’s voice through the Scriptures is still speaking and calling us to listen.
When God says He sees you and cares about your worries, you can take Him at His word and believe that. As your creator, He understands your worry, and more than that He cares deeply about you and your well-being. His words of encouragement and comfort from thousands of years ago are still His words today, and you can take them to heart as you work through your worries.
Examples of dealing with worry in the Bible.
As there are many hair-raising situations in the Bible, you can be sure that there are many passages that address the anxieties and worries of God’s people. To get the most out of any passage about worry in the Bible, it’s good to read it to understand what it is saying in its immediate context.
Understanding the context might require a little bit of digging into who wrote it, to whom they were writing, what genre of writing it is, and the historical circumstances the author was writing in. Also, pray through it all, asking God to guide you and give you comfort and rest from your worry.
James reminds his readers that life is uncertain, and we cannot bank on even being alive tomorrow when he wrote, “…you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14, NIV) Scripture helps us to embrace uncertainty while trusting the God who has all things in His hands.
Uncertainty shouldn’t unnerve us because God is in control. And because God is in control, we can lean on verses such as this: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NASB)
Paul wrote this verse while sitting in prison and with the possibility of death hanging over him. We can let God know our requests because He is the God who is over our circumstances. We can rest in his peace that surpasses all comprehension.
In addition to embracing uncertainty, Scripture enjoins us to live in the present, and not dwell on the future. We may think we are doing ourselves a favor, but worrying, as Jesus says in Matthew 6, doesn’t add a single hour to one’s life (Matthew 6:27). In this vein, Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34, NASB)
Instead of living under the burden of worrying about what you’ll eat, drink, or wear, He reminds His followers of God’s abundant provision for the birds and plants of the field. We can live in the present through a radical trust in the God who knows our needs.
Death seems like the worst thing that could happen. It forecloses all possibilities because it seems so final. And yet, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, death, in the literal and metaphorical sense, was shown to not have the last word. In this way, Scripture also helps us face our worst fears that we often weary ourselves worrying over. This is why David, who went through many life-threatening situations, could write:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4, NASB
This is the same confidence that the three young Israelites who were thrown into the fire had. They believed that God would deliver them from King Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, but even if God chose not to save them, they still wouldn’t bow down to idols. (Daniel 3:16-18)
Help for excessive worrying.
Chronic worrying can interfere with your appetite, relationships, sleep, job performance, and daily routines. Worry can lead people to seek relief in harmful lifestyle habits such as overeating, cigarette smoking, or using alcohol and drugs as ways of dealing with feelings of anxiety.
One major way to deal with worrying is through sharing your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends and family who can help you process those thoughts. You can find this support from loved ones, but you can also find it in a professional like a therapist or counselor.
Your counselor can help you bring your worry under control by helping you work through your worries and reframe your thoughts to counter negative thinking patterns. Your counselor can also support you as you implement lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise and good sleep.
These habits can work alongside skills and practices such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, and journaling to help you reduce your worrying. If your worrying is having an impact on your well-being, reach out to a counselor that can help you believe God’s promises of peace and release worry in your life.
“How Are You Really?”, Courtesy of Finn, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Your Anxiety Is Lying to You”, Courtesy of Jayy Torres, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pandemic Stress”, Courtesy of Engin Akyurt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pray More -Fear Less”, Courtesy of Alex Shute, Unsplash.com, CC0 License