Mar 7, 2011

When worry becomes a way of life

Worrying in one form or another costs the British economy £5 billion a year.  Non-work related stress, anxiety and depression account for more lost days at work than any other form of illness in all but manual workers.

But perhaps more alarming than any statistic is that according to Martyn Lloyd-Jones if you are a Christian ‘The result of worrying about the future is that you are crippling yourself in the present.’ Worry is in essence practical atheism. It is the failure to live in the world as we know it to be ie a world in which we are known and loved by a heavenly Father.

In his book Studies in the Sermon of Mount Lloyd-Jones devotes five chapter to the subject of worry from Matthew 6:25-34. The last chapter is entitled Worry: It’s causes and cures in which he tackles that curious verse, v.34, in which Jesus says  ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’  It’s the best chapter of all and in eight pages Lloyd-Jones gives us some great wisdom on worry.

What Jesus says to us when worry is a way of life.

To make sense of why we worry and what we need to do with our anxieties Lloyd-Jones starts with commenting on Jesus’s words ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’.  The antidote to worry is not to live under the illusion that ‘it might never happen’ but to recognise that in a fallen world Jesus does not offer us a trouble-free life rather a worry-free life.

Our Lord seems to picture life like this. As a result of the Fall and sin there is always a problem in life, because when man fell, he was told that henceforward he was going to live and eat his bread ‘by the sweat of his brow.’ He was no longer in Paradise, he was no longer just to take the fruit and live a life of ease and enjoyment. As the result of sin, life in this world has become a task. Man has to labour and must meet trials and troubles. We all know that, for we are all subject to the same tribulations and trials.

A life liberated from anxiety doesn’t come from avoiding troubles (for how can we) nor in pretending they won’t come our way maybe by constructing some kind of prosperity gospel. The solution Lloyd-Jones says is this to know how to face them.

The great question is, how are we to face them? According to our Lord, the vital thing is not to spend every day of your life in adding up the grand total of everything that is ever likely to happen to you in the whole of your life in the world. If you do that it will crush you. That is not the way. Rather you must think of it like this. There is, as it were, a daily quota of problems and difficulties in life. Every day has its problems; some of them are constant from day to day, some of them vary. But the great thing to do is to realize that every day must be lived in and of itself and as a unit. Here is the quota for today.

We must not go forward and tack tomorrow’s quota [of troubles] on to today’s, otherwise it may be too much for us. We have to take it day by day….Here is your quota for today; very well, face that and deal with that. Do not think of tomorrow. You will have tomorrow’s quota, but then it will be tomorrow, and not today.

For Lloyd-Jones all that has been said so far is essentially good common sense.  A call not to dwell on the past or worry about tomorrow is the kind of advice that we might expect to get from a friend or to find in a magazine.  It’s of course all true but for the Christian there has to be more.  The brilliance of this chapter is to highlight how the Christian must apply exactly the same principle to his relationship with God.  Just as we are not to cause ourselves worry by living out in our minds every possible circumstance that could come our way in the future so we are also not to cause ourselves worry by dwelling on the question of what God might ask of us in the future.

Here is how it should work according to Lloyd-Jones;

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

We must divide our whole relationship to God in exactly the same way. The danger is that, while we believe in God in general, and for the whole of our life, we do not believe in Him for the particular sections of our life. Thereby many of us go wrong. We must learn to take things to God as they arise.

As you must not anticipate your own future, do not anticipate God’s future for you. Live day by day; live a life of obedience to God every day; do what God asks you to do every day. Never allow your self to indulge in thoughts such as these, ‘I wonder when tomorrow comes whether God will want me to do this or to do that.’ That must never be done, says our Lord. You must learn to trust God day by day for every particular occasion, and never try to go ahead of Him.

Jesus wants us to face up to the fact that the cause of anxiety or general worry in the Christian life is firstly the result of the accumulation of all our fears for what the future holds but then it also comes, for the Christian, from our worry as to whether God will meet our need and give us the grace to endure. And the answer is the same to both causes of worry.

Lloyd-Jones concludes;

We can sum it all up by saying that, as we learn in as they come, forgetting yesterday and tomorrow, so we must learn this vital importance of walking with God day by day, of replying on him day by day, and of applying to Him for the particular needs of each day. The fatal temptation to which we are all prone is that of trying to store grace against the future.  That means lack of faith in God. Leave it with Him; leave it entirely with Him, confident and assured that He will always be going before you. As the Scripture puts it he will ‘Prevent’ you. He will be there before you to meet the problem. Turn to Him and you will find that He is there, that He knows all about it, and all about you.

What then should we do when we are tempted to worry?

Here are two pieces of advice from Lloyd-Jones:

1. Remember that faith does not work automatically

Never think of faith as something put inside you to work automatically; you have to apply it.

If we are to deal with worry we need to speak to ourselves everyday.

The child talks to himself; he reasons with himself; he shakes himself and reminds himself of himself and of his faith, and immediately his faith begins to grow.

2. Refuse anxious thoughts.

A large part of faith, consists of just refusing anxious thoughts. That to me is the most important and the most practical thing of all.

1 Comment

  • I cannot express my appreciation enough for this article. I was raised in an atmosphere of worry. I am 52 years old and my parents still worry about everything including me. I will work on this area of my life with Gods strength!!
    Thank you
    Carmen Scott

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