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Worry about Nothing Pray about Everything
The following passages are taken from Charles R Swindoll’s book “Laugh Again---Experience Outrageous Joy,” published in 1992.
The trouble with worry is that it doesn’t seem all that harmful. It is a little like the first few snorts of cocaine. A person may know down inside it is not good, but surely it can’t be as bad as some have made it out to be. Foolish thinking.
When it comes to worry, we blithely excuse it. For example, one evening we say to a friend, “Hey, don’t worry,” Our friend responds, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t, but you know me. I’m just the worrying type.” We answer back, “Yeah, well, I sure understand. I myself am a worrier. Can’t blame somebody for feeling a little concerned tonight.”
What if we changed that conversation to refer to drinking too much alcohol. Imagine this: “Hey, things will work out.” Our friend responds, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t, but you know me. I’m just the liquor-drinking type.” Answering back, we say, “Yeah, well, I sure understand. I myself drink too much. Can’t blame somebody for drinking a couple extras tonight.” Suddenly, worry takes on a new significance.
Analyzing the Problem
Of all the joy stealers that can plague our lives, none is more nagging, more agitating, or more prevalent than worry.
We get our English word worry from the German word wurgen, which means “to strangle, to choke.” Our Lord mentioned that very word picture when He addressed the subject on one occasion.
The sower sows the word. And these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy, and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary, then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:14—19 NASB)
In other words, when worry throttles our thinking, choking out the truth, we are unable to bear fruit. Along with becoming mentally harassed and emotionally strung out, we find ourselves spiritually strangled. Worry cuts off our motivation and lifeline of joy.
In spite of all these consequences, more people are addicted to worry than all other addictions combined. Are you one of them? If you are, you might as well put on hold all the things I have been saying in this book about being more joyful and carefree with an optimistic attitude. You will need to come to terms with your anxiety addiction before you find yourself freed up enough to laugh again.
I know what I’m writing about, believe me. There was a time in my own life when worry controlled me and the tentacles of tension choked much of the fun out of my life. I cared too much about what people thought and said, so I ran a little scared on a daily basis. And then I wasn’t sure about my future either. So I worried about that. The churning intensified after I joined the Marines. Cynthia and I had not been married very long. Where would we be stationed? What if I got sent overseas? How would Cynthia do without me . . . and vice versa? The worry list grew once I got my orders—--Okinawa! Why would God allow this to happen? I mean, the recruiting office promised me that would never happen (you’re smiling, right?). One by one, day after day, my worries intensified as my joy faded. Prayer was only a formality.
It was while Cynthia and I were separated by the Pacific Ocean for well over a year that I was forced to come to terms with my anxiety addiction. I finally determined to stop that nonsense. I began taking God and His Word much more seriously and myself a lot less seriously (we usually get those two reversed). I found that prayer was never meant to be a ritual but an actual calling out to God for help. . . and each time I did, He came through. I also discovered that He was in control of life circumstances as well as the details of my life and my wife. In fact, she was in better care under His sheltering wings than she ever could have been under my roof. She and I both did just fine; matter of fact, incredibly well. I kept a journal and I also wrote her letters, sometimes four five a week. Looking back, I realize it was in the midst of that lonely, involuntary separation that I began to cultivate an interest in writing. (Who would have ever guessed what that letter writing in a little Quonset hut at Camp Courtney, not far from Naha, Okinawa, would lead to?) As I gave my anxieties to God, He took them and solved every one of the things I placed in His care. As I relaxed the tension, He moved in with sovereign grace. It was wonderful.
The major turning point occurred when I did an in-depth study of Philippians 4:4—9, which I can still vividly remember. It was then I began. . .
Understanding God’s Therapy
Do you realize that God has a sure-cure solution to worry? Has anyone ever told you that if you perfect the process you will be able to live a worry-free existence? Yes, you read that correctly. And if you know me fairly well, you know that I seldom make statements anywhere near that dogmatic. But in this one I am confident. If you will follow God’s stated procedure, you will free yourself to laugh again.
First, let’s let the Scriptures speak for themselves:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4—7)
Next, let’s get six words clearly fixed in our minds. These six words form the foundation of God’s therapeutic process for all worrywarts.
WORRY ABOUT NOTHING,
PRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING
Say that over and over until you can say it without looking. Say the six words aloud. Close the book. Close your eyes. Picture the words in your mind. Spend a minute or more turning them over in your head. What qualifies as a worry? Anything that drains your tank of joy—--something you cannot change, something you are not responsible for, something you are unable to control, something (or someone) that frightens and torments you, agitates you, keeps you awake when you should be asleep. All of that now needs to be switched from your worry list to your prayer list. Give each worry--—one by one—--to God. Do that at this very moment. Tell the Lord you will no longer keep your anxiety to yourself.
Now then, once you buy into this all-important plan God has provided for those who wish to be free, you will begin to have time left in your day. . . lots of extra time and energy. Why? Because you used to spend that time worrying. Your addiction, like all addictions, held you captive. It took your time, it required your attention, it forced you to focus on stuff you had no business trying to deal with or solve.
So what now? How do you spend the time you used to waste worrying? Go back to the words from Paul to the Philippians. As I read them over, I find three key words emerging:
rejoice (v. 4)
rest (v. 7)
They look pretty easy, but for someone who has worried as long as you have, they are not. You haven’t done much of any of these three lately, have you?
To begin with, REJOICE! Worry about nothing . . . pray about everything, and REJOICE!
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
Because we have repeated the term and several synonyms throughout the book so often, the whole idea could begin to lose its edge. Don’t let it. Rejoicing is clearly a scriptural command. To ignore it, I need to remind you, is disobedience. In place of worry, start spending time enjoying the release of your humor. Find the bright side, the sunny side of life. Deliberately look for things that are funny during your day. Loosen up and laugh freely. Laugh more often. Consciously stay aware of the importance of a cheerful countenance. Live lightheartedly! Stop reading only the grim sections of the newspaper. Watch less television and start reading more books that bring a smile instead of a frown. That’s exactly why you picked up this one! We put a cover on it that would attract your attention (I think my publisher did a bang-up job don’t you?), and as you thumbed through it you probably thought something like, I need to quit being so serious—--maybe this book will help. Don’t stop with this book. Choose others like it. Feed your mind with more uplifting “thought food.”
Locate a few acquaintances who will help you laugh more at life. Ideally, find Christian friends who see life through Christ’s eyes, which is in itself more encouraging. Have fun together. Share funny stories with each other. Affirm one another.
Shared laughter creates a bond of friendship. When people laugh together, they cease to be young and old, master and pupils, worker and driver. They have become a single group of human beings, enjoying their existence.1
Fred Allen, one of my favorite humorists of yesteryear, used to say that it was bad to suppress your laughter because when you do, he said, it goes down and spreads your hips.2 Maybe that explains those extra pounds.
Solomon writes that “a cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15), and he is right. I find that a spirit of cheer spreads rapidly. Before you know it, others have joined you at the table. Choose joy! There are very few days in my life during which I find nothing to laugh at. Laughter is the most familiar sound in the hallway where my staff and I work alongside each other. And what a contagious thing is outrageous joy . . . everybody wants to be around it. So, rejoice!
Next, RELAX! Worry about nothing. . . pray about everything and RELAX!
Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5)
Where do I find “relax” in Paul’s statement? See that unusual expression, “forbearing spirit”? It means “gentleness,” or “easy.” We would say “easygoing.” It is “sweet reasonableness” . . . the idea of a relaxed, easygoing lifestyle. A worry-filled world can increase your tension to a dangerous level. Physically, it can take a serious toll on your health.
Lighten up! So much of what we get nervous about and jumpy over never happens anyway. Let me get downright specific. Relax more with your children. Take it easy, especially if they are junior highers (whom my friend, Kenny Poure, calls “pre-people”). If your son or daughter is struggling through a stage in the stormy adolescent years, have a heart. Back off. Loosen the strings. You will realize later that God was there all along—--in control—--taking care of business, His business. Oh, if only I had applied more of this when our children were younger. Every once in a while, during one of my unrelaxed, high-tension, tightwire acts, one of our kids would say, “Just take a deep breath, Dad.” Ouch! When I took their advice, my “forbearing spirit” resurfaced.
My dear friend, Ruth Harms Calkin, describes our dilemma with this insightful reminder:
This was my calculated plan:
I would set aside my usual schedule—--
The menial tasks that wedge in routinely.
In the peace and quiet of my living room
I would relax in Your glorious presence.
How joyfully I envisioned the hours—--
My personal spiritual retreat!
With Bible and notebook beside me
I would study and meditate—--
I would intercede for the needy world.
But how differently it happened, Lord:
Never has the phone rung so persistently.
Sudden emergencies kept pouring in
Like summer cloudbursts.
My husband came home ill.
There were appointments to cancel
Plans to rearrange.
The mailman brought two disturbing letters
A cousin whose name I couldn’t remember
Stopped by on her way through town.
My morning elation became drooping deflation.
And yet, dear Lord
You were with me in it all!
I sense Your vital presence—--
Your sure and steady guidance.
Not once did You leave me stranded.
Perhaps, in Your great wisdom
You longed to teach me a practical truth:
When You are my Spiritual Retreat
I need not be a spiritual recluse.3
And then, REST! Worry about nothing. . . pray about everything, and REST!
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6—7)
I know of few Scriptures that have helped me more than the words you just read. Go back and read them once again, this time slower. Maybe seeing them in The Living Bible will help. That’s where I picked up the idea of resting.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 TLB)
Paul writes of God’s peace which “shall guard your hearts and your minds.” When he mentions peace as a “guard,” he uses a military term for “marching sentry duty” around something valuable and/or strategic. As we rest our case, as we transfer our troubles to God, “Corporal Peace” is appointed the duty of marching as a silent sentry around our minds and our emotions, calming us within. How obvious will it be to others? Go back and check—--it will “surpass all comprehension.” People simply will not be able to comprehend the restful peace we will model. In place of anxiety—--that thief of joy—--we pray. We push the worrisome, clawing, monster of pressure off our shoulders and hand it over to God in prayer. I am not exaggerating; I must do that hundreds of times every year. And I cannot recall a time when it didn’t provide relief. In its place, always, comes a quietness of spirit, a calming of the mind. With a relieved mind, rest returns.
Rejoice. Relax. Rest. The three substitutes for worry. And impatience. And turmoil.
Correcting Our Perspective
Three simple exercises will help you stay worry free.
1. Feed your mind positive thoughts.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
No matter what you’re dealing with or how bad things seem to be or why God may be permitting them, deliberately letting your mind dwell on positive, uplifting thoughts will enable you to survive. Literally. I frequently quote those words from Philippians 4:8 to myself. I say things like, “Okay, Chuck, it’s time to let your mind dwell on better things.” And then I go over the list and deliberately replace a worry with something far more honorable or pure or lovely, something worthy of praise. It never fails; the pressure I was feeling begins to fade and the peace I was missing begins to emerge.
2. Focus your attention on encouraging models.
The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things. (Philippians 4:9a)
In the Philippians’ case, Paul was their model. From his example, there were things to be learned and received and heard and seen. What a demonstration of encouragement he provided!
In your case and mine, it will help to focus our attention on someone we know and/or admire. That life, that encouraging model will give us a boost, a quick charge when our battery starts getting low.
3. Find “the God of Peace” in every circumstance.
. . .and the God of peace shall be with you.(Philippians 4:9b)
This is the crowning achievement of recovering from anxiety addiction. Instead of living in the grip of fear, held captive by the chains of tension and dread, when we release our preoccupation with worry, we find God’s hand at work on our behalf. He our “God of peace,” comes to our aid, changing people, relieving tension, altering difficult circumstances. The more you practice giving your mental burdens to the Lord, the more exciting it gets to see how God will handle the things that are impossible for you to do anything about. And as a result—--you guess it—--you will begin to laugh again.
What is it, in the final analysis, that makes worry such an enemy of joy? Why does anxiety addiction take such a devastating toll on us? I have been thinking about that for months, and I believe I have the answer, which we might call a principle. At first it may seem simplistic, but this is crux of the problem. This is exactly why anxiety holds us in such bond
WORRY FORCES US TO FOCUS
ON THE WRONG THINGS
Instead of essentials, we worry about nonessentials. Rather than looking at the known blessings that God provides today—--so abundantly, so consistently—--we worry about the unknown and uncertain events of tomorrow. Invariably, when we focus on the wrong things, we miss the main thing that life is all about.(197-205)
1. W. Grant Lee, in Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 174
2. Fred Allen, in Quote/Unquote, 174
3. Ruth Harms Calkin, “Spiritual Retreat,” Lord, You Love to Say Yes, 16-17
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