Dr Phil Monroe defines anxiety as viewing ambiguous data and interpreting it in the worst possible light. You do this when you worry about being able to pay all your bills because you overspent at the grocery store last week. Or when you think that you’ll fail your class because you overslept and arrived late. If you are a parent you have probably had a conversation with your child who is convinced that their friend hates them because they didn’t sit together at lunch or because they didn’t play together at recess.
These are all examples of interpreting ambiguous events (data) as signs of immanent disaster but, if I’ve been describing you or someone you know, you should recognize that this kind of anxiety or worry isn’t necessarily bad. It simply means that you are aware of the risks and rewards of every situation. Probably you are a better long-term planner than people who don’t worry.
But sometimes worry or anxiety can become debilitating. When you can’t sleep for worry, or you can’t concentrate because of the thoughts racing around in your mind then you’ve moved from healthy to unhealthy.
Jesus offers a way out of this. He said: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34 NET)
It seems to me that most often what we take from this passage is: “don’t worry.” Frankly, that is impossible. If you’ve ever struggled with worry or anxiety you know that already. The solution that Jesus offers is this: Pursue the Kingdom of God first. If you are looking for peace and security God’s Kingdom is where you will find it. Instead of looking at worry as an obstacle to seeking the Kingdom of God, use your worry and anxiety as a prompt.
Instead of trying to avoid worries, turn them into prayers. Ole Hallesby wrote that “To pray is nothing more involved than to let Jesus into our needs. To pray is to give Jesus permission to employ His powers in the alleviation of our distress. To pray is to let Jesus glorify His name in the midst of our needs.”
When you are feeling worried or anxious, that is an opportunity to let Jesus into your life to work for your good. Choose to take your worries to Jesus in prayer and then wait to see what he will do for you!
Bob McAlpine is the pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.