An old fable is told about a man who came face to face with the dangers of worry one morning when he saw Death walking toward a city. The man asked Death, “What are you going to do?”
Death said, “Today I am going to take 100 people.”
“That’s horrible!” the man said.
“Well, that is what I do,” Death told him. “That is the way it is.” So the man ran ahead to the city and warned everyone about Death’s plan. That evening, he met Death again.
“You told me you were only going to take 100 people,” the man said. “Why did 1,000 die?”
“I kept my word,” Death responded, “I only took 100 people. Worry took the others.”
That is how life often works. Half of all people in America’s hospitals today are constant worriers, and 43 percent of all adults suffer health effects due to worry and stress. Research has shown that 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are stress-related complaints or disorders. We spend our lives full of anxiety and frustration and worry.
But here is the thing we need to think about: most of what we worry about actually never happens. Dr. Walter Calvert discovered that only 8 percent of the things people worried about were legitimate matters of concern.
A poll was taken that asked Americans what they worried about the most. The No. 1 response was, “My appearance.” Americans may lose their house, their life savings and get wiped off the Earth in a nuclear blast, but the real issue at hand is, “How do I look in this outfit?” Things don’t change much, do they? Two thousand years ago, Jesus said, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NKJV) Fast-forward to today, and the No. 1 concern is appearance.
Among other things that made the Top-10 list of worries were having your credit card declined in public, being audited by the IRS and having to speak publicly.
When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, he tackled the issue of anxiety and worry head-on. He said:
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? (Matthew 6:25–27 NIV)
A Christian should not be filled with anxiety. However, Jesus was not saying that a Christian should not think about or be concerned with needs like food or clothing. Jesus did not say, “Don’t think about food. Don’t concern yourself with clothing.” Rather, he was saying, “Don’t worry about those things.” Yes, we need to concern ourselves with them. Yes, we need to think about a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs and food in our stomachs. In fact, the Bible has many admonitions about saving our money and investing wisely and working hard for a living. What Jesus was saying is that we shouldn’t be obsessed with these things. We shouldn’t have anxiety about these things. Why? Because worrying doesn’t make anything better; it just makes it worse. Worry is a completely worthless activity. It is like a rocking chair: You are always moving, but you are never getting anywhere. Worry diminishes you. It hurts you. It chokes you out. That is why Jesus warned against it.
As Martin Lloyd Jones wisely pointed out, “The result of worrying about the future is you are crippling yourself in the present.”
Worry will not make your life longer; it will just make it more miserable. In fact, worry can shorten your life – or at least make it more difficult. We live in a culture that is obsessed with trying to lengthen life. We exercise regularly. We eat the right foods. We supplement our diets with vitamins and minerals in the hope of living for a few more years. Of course, there is a place for taking care of ourselves physically. God has put our souls in human bodies, so we need to take care of them. But we will not lengthen our lives. We will live as long as God wants us to live – not less or more. We don’t determine the date of our birth or the date of our death, but we do have a lot to say about that little dash in the middle. Moses said, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NKJV). Live your life carefully and prayerfully, but recognize that anxiety and worry will not lengthen it.
Of course, we live in a world filled with trouble, and there are things that cause us great anxiety. No one is exempt from these things. But when we worry, we are not trusting in the providence of God – the belief that God is in control of the universe.
As a Christian, I believe there are no accidents in my life. Nothing touches me that has not first passed through God’s hands. I really don’t know how nonbelievers cope when a crisis hits their lives, when hardship comes. What do they do? Where do they turn? I am so glad that God is there. Without God, I don’t know how I could have made it through so many things I have had to face in my life. If he hadn’t been there, I would have collapsed. But God has been with me and has walked with me through the most difficult times of life. And if you will put your trust in him, I know he will do the same for you.