Should fear and worry be a part of the Christian life? Lisa Schmidt speaks truthfully and helpfully into this prevalent issue.
Some sins are so common among Christians they have become acceptable behavior. All too often, sin isn’t even called “sin” anymore. Take worry for example. It’s typically described as “over thinking something,” “feeling uneasy,” or as being “concerned.” Think about the devoted mother with her constant late night watches at the window until her child arrives home, or the concerned husband fearing a potential job loss. Who of us haven’t dealt with similar feelings? Problems arise when worrisome thoughts become all consuming and cause sinful responses.
For those with a “water off the duck’s back” philosophy, it may be hard to understand why anyone would fret or vex about anything. “Don’t worry, be happy” right? For the one who struggles with worry, this idea is nearly impossible to live out. Fear and worry can arise suddenly and linger long. They can sap our energy, cause a lack of sleep, drain our joy, ruin relationships, and even aggravate body aches and pains. They reveal a potential ignorance of or lack of faith in the sovereignty of God (Romans 8:28-29). Most importantly, fear and worry do not glorify the Lord. We can’t just flip a switch to end feelings of anxiety. It requires the discipline of repeated practice of biblical behavior until a new habit of trusting God is formed.
Often times, our problems remain unsolved because they haven’t been identified biblically. Even secular 12 step programs recognize that step one is first admitting one has a problem. How can we do that if we can’t even biblically articulate what our problem is, or we’ve been making excuses for it? So, when is worry sinful? When:
- Our thoughts are unproductive and/or consumed with things.
- It controls us and causes us to neglect relationships and responsibilities.
- It harms our bodies (possibly with upset stomachs, ulcers, migraine headaches, etc.).
- It causes us to lose hope instead of finding biblical answers.
- We stop functioning.
Worry is typically motivated by fear. Fear is a feeling of anxiety caused by either a real or perceived presence of danger, evil, pain, or consequences. The significance in overcoming fear is first in properly differentiating between prudence, godly fear, and sinful fear.
Prudence is wisdom applied to practice, or walking circumspectly as we navigate situations in life. Prudence is exercised more in avoiding evil than in executing that which is good. In Proverbs 14 and 22, the prudent man is described as a sensible man who considers his steps, is surrounded with knowledge, and avoids evil when he sees it rather than continuing on into it. The insensible or naive or foolish man will continue on in the face of danger and consequently suffer for it. In other words, or should I say, in the words of many wise parents to their children, let’s “use the brain God gave us.” One wouldn’t think to sneak upon a sleeping lion and provoke it, nor should we as prudent, sensible Christians purpose ourselves in the direction of danger or evil. The application of the Scriptures, coupled with common sense, are the most effective tools in the exercise of prudence as we choose to steer our course away from trouble.
Godly fear is a reverential respect for the Person and work of Christ in our lives and is manifested in our thoughts, words and actions aligning themselves with the commands of Scripture. Godly fear motivates us to glorify the Lord, whether eating or drinking (indicative of daily tasks not requiring much thought or effort), or in relational activities with God and others throughout our day. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Proverbs 1:7; 28:1; Matthew 14:1-2; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 5:9) We are commanded to set our hearts and minds on things above and not on earthly things and to fear God more than man. (Acts 5:29; Colossians 3:2)
Sinful fear is fear that motivates us away from biblical thinking, speaking, and behaving. In order to help us decipher godly fear from sinful fear, we can ask ourselves, “What am I desiring, more than glorifying God, that I’m willing to sin to get it or sin if I don’t get it?”
Whatever the sinful desires may be, they are commonly motivated by one of three things:
- A desire for the approval of man stemming from a fear of man rather than a fear of God. (Matthew 10:28-33; 26:69-75; Acts 5:29; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6)
- A desire for control stemming from a fear of the loss of control rather than trusting in God’s sovereignty. (Joshua 1:9; Psalm 34:4-10; 91:1-6; Proverbs 1:33; 3:5-6, 21-26; Isaiah 26:3; 43:1-2; Matthew 6:33-34; Philippians 4:19)
- A desire to remain or abide in irrational fears because we’ve become habitually comfortable in that, rather than disciplining ourselves to obey Scriptures and thus allowing the Lord to develop in us a sound mind. (John 4:4,18; 14:27; Philippians 4:8, 13; 2 Timothy 1:7)
The Lord created us with a beautiful spectrum of emotions. It’s not that anyone is expected to never fear or never worry. What is expected of Christians however, is that we follow the example Christ set for us and choose to have the same attitude toward fear and worry as the One we claim to follow (Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 2:5)
In Philippians 4:4-9, the apostle Paul lays out a clear biblical solution for fear and worry. We are commanded to:
- Pray Right (vs. 4-6) by:
Rejoicing and being thankful.
Making our requests to God.
- Think Right (vs. 8) by:
Disciplining our minds to “dwell/think on these things” through the careful study and meditation of God’s Word (Psalm 27; 37; 46; 56; 73; and 94; John 14; 16:33; 1 Peter 5:6-7).
- Do Right (vs. 9a) by:
Learning from other mature believers.
Obeying the Scriptures.
- Feel Right (vs. 7 and 9b)
Interestingly, this is the one step for which we are not responsible. After we choose to obey by praying, thinking, and doing right, God promises to fill us with His peace. As a culture, we have flipped this completely upside down. We have become so focused on feeling right, that we all too quickly psychologize or medicate troubles without first putting the clear commands of Scripture into practice and trusting God to be faithful to His promises. God is lovingly clear about His prescription for the sins of fear and worry and promises to fill us with His peace when we obey His commands.
In John 13:17 Christ says, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Our biggest challenge isn’t necessarily the fear or worry itself, but rather not knowing how to handle it biblically or worse yet, knowing what to do, but choosing not to do it. As biblical counselors, it’s vital that we first handle our own fear and worry biblically, and then disciple our counselees in the same truths, all while encouraging them that there is hope and relief through Scripture.
Lisa Schmidt is one of our breakout session speakers at our Annual Conference in LA October 6-8. It’s not too late to sign up and attend!