A couple weeks ago, I started having trouble sleeping. This wasn’t normal for me. But lately, there have been a lot of stresses weighing on me. I just lay there with pieces of uncertainty or unfinished business glowing on the checklist of my mind.
Potential conversations keep playing and rewinding over and over again in my mind while I plan how to deal with existing problems. Then, of course, I have to try to figure out what unforeseen problems are coming my way.
Somewhere in there, I remember Jesus saying not to worry about tomorrow.
But wasn’t Jesus worried in the Garden of Gethsemane when He literally sweat blood and asked the Father to remove the cup of suffering that Jesus was about to have to drink?
So how is this whole “don’t worry” thing supposed to look in my life? What’s the line between “not worrying” and being naive and unprepared?
Trusting in God’s Strength
In Philippians 4, Paul says 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 God gives.
To Paul, not worrying means we live in confidence of God’s strength.
Worry is the opposite: it is when we live without confidence in God’s strength.
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 from 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 faced. 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 is whether those things loom larger in my mind than God’s goodness and His sovereignty (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.
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 and just accept everything without question.
We serve a God who 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 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.
This is 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 about uncertainty. 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 promises that He will strengthen us as we seek His will both in and through our lives.
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. 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.
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
Henry Cloud, in the Boundaries books series, teaches us that we may also not have very much control over situations that we have to face, but we are in control of ourselves.
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.
But you are 100 percent in charge of 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?”
I take Him to say, “Trust God in the stuff 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 hardships you’ll face, 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.