Starting in the mid-1950’s and well into the current century, a fictional character by the name of Alfred E. Neuman graced the covers of MAD Magazine. His image became a national icon, along with his well known phrase, “What, Me Worry?” Neuman’s line could well be adopted by Christians, as there is an abundance of instruction in the Bible about avoiding worry. Current medical knowledge backs up the Bible in this regard, as excessive worry has been shown to be detrimental to our physical and mental health.
In Philippians 4:6-7 (NASB) we read “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Let’s unpack these verses and see what they are telling us.
Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. It is our body’s natural response to stress. So, stress is not necessarily bad. There are times we should be uneasy or nervous. But God provides a way to deal with it. Notice I said it is a natural response. As Christians we live supernaturally. Worry should have no control over us.
We are not to worry about anything. Think about that. Nothing is too small to give to God. Give him your worries, your concerns, anything. In times past, I have internally scoffed at prayer requests that some people make. But I was wrong. We can bring anything to God.
Why is worry a problem? It is not God’s ideal. Worrying goes beyond our minds and can affect the body. The list of physical ailments caused by worry is long and includes dizziness, dry mouth, fast heartbeat, fatigue, headaches, inability to concentrate, irritability, muscle aches, nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling or twitching, suppression of our immune system, heart attack, short-term memory loss, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Proverbs 12:25 reads “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” Why carry that extra burden?
How do we deal with worry? This verse tells us to take it to God through prayers and petitions. We know what prayer is, but what are petitions in this context? A petition is a request made for something desired, especially a respectful or humble request, as to a superior or to one of those in authority. I don’t think the Bible is being redundant. All prayers are not petitions. As we talk to God in prayer, offer Him our petitions, but lift up prayers of thanksgiving, praise, and confession.
When we do this, God gives us His transcending peace. Not only do we get this marvelous gift of peace, we get a promise that he will guard our hearts and minds. Just stay focused on Christ. What if we slip back into worry? Don’t worry. Give you worry to God again.
In addition to His peace, God has given us some help to overcome worry. Daily meditation helps us keep worry at bay. Having a strong social network we can turn to; it always helps to share our burdens with other Christians. Exercise, healthy eating, learning to relax are also good coping mechanisms. Don’t deny your worries. Be conscious of them. If we are aware of our worries we can better deal with them. In severe cases, talk with your doctor or a therapist. These mechanisms do not deny the power of God to bring us peace, they facilitate it. Think of your physical body. When something goes wrong with our bodies, we take steps to correct the problem – medication, doctors, changes in our lifestyle. They are basically the same as worry. We take our physical ailments to God but we use the tools he has given us to overcome those ailments. It is the same with worry. God has given tools. Use them. But, in either case, pray first.
Isaiah 40:31 (NIV) reads “ those who hope [wait] in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Let’s soar!