When we worry, we hold on to the idea that we must maintain control over things that are not ours. That we can’t stop thinking about what concerns us and the best use of our faculties is treading over worn ground just for the sake of staying there. That there must be something we can and should do about every situation that grabs our awareness. We elevate ourselves and our own responsibilities above God’s. We diminish our own view of God’s capabilities. We also assume the people around us can’t be trusted.
As my friend Cory said, “Worry has hurt me by causing me to question and not fully trust people and the Lord.” We were created to have trusting relationships with God and other people. On this warped planet, plenty comes between us and those we should trust–worry is just one of many problems. But its effect is significant, keeping us closed and emotionally stingy, carrying burdens we don’t have to carry.
I love football. One of the reasons I enjoy watching it is because success is so dependent on team dynamics. For a football team to run successful plays–and win games–all eleven players on the field must trust their coaches and each other. If eleven people try to run eleven different plays at the same time, the results will be disastrous. They have to let the coaches or the quarterback tell them which plays to run. In any given play, no two people on the field have the same assignment. No one is expendable. And if one person blows his assignment, the whole team suffers. If one player decides to do another player’s job for him–for example, if the right guard doesn’t trust the tackle positioned next to him, he may sacrifice his assignment to make up for the tackle’s deficiency, putting the running back at risk–the team will never make it downfield. Individual players don’t always know whether others are living up to what’s been asked of them. They have to do their part to the best of their ability and hope others are doing the same. The people who see the big picture and know where the plays are breaking down are the coaches. When players listen to their coaches, understand what they’ve been asked to do and do it well, they can expect some success.
Essentially, all worry comes down to a matter of trust–not a cheap, episodic trust, but a deep undercurrent of faith-fueled confidence informed by belief in the nature of God as he has revealed himself. God asks us to trust him, and he presents such trust as the antithesis of worry. For those of us who instead trust in people, material possessions, and “chariots and horses” (Ps 20:7), worry is only natural. The objects of our trust will fail at some point–probably at multiple points–and will ultimately prove just as limited as we are, perhaps even more so.
When we fail to trust God, we behave like frantic sheep who have forgotten they’re following a shepherd. Sheep are made to follow one leader. If that leader is a good shepherd, they will have all they need. They will find rest in green pastures and beside peaceful streams. They will always find their way home. Even when they walk through unimaginably dark valleys, their shepherd will stay close beside them. They will know this about the shepherd: “Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me” (Ps 23:4).
A flock of sheep that stopped trusting their shepherd and decided to go it alone, instead trusting only in themselves and their fellow sheep, would find themselves wandering aimlessly in panicked circles. When danger arrived, they would be frantic with misdirected running, trying to get away from the threat but not knowing where to go. And if they trusted the voices of those who would gladly prey on them–like foxes, wolves and bears–they would find themselves being a quick dinner. How ridiculous it would be for sheep to behave this way with their shepherd standing among them, calling to them and showing them the way to go.
Of course, this is exactly the metaphor used in Matthew 9:36, describing Jesus’ response when he saw the crowds of people who came to see him seeking healing and truth: “He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The Good News Bible translation says, “They were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
God does not condemn us for the many ways we worry, any more than he condemns us for the other self-destructive choices we make, which are covered by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. But he has created a world in which we suffer the consequences of these choices, and God does grieve over our unnecessary pain. And he does covet the attention we give to worry at the expense of his mission for us. God is calling all of us to step out and be different from our worried world, exercising such determined trust in him that we actually let go of worry.
We can always, always trust God. He is the only one who sees the big picture. We can’t always trust other people, but sometimes we must take the risk. Worry keeps us trusting in ourselves (or no one) instead.
This post was excerpted from Chapter 3 of Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry. If you want to read more, you can find the book here.
Taken from Anxious by Amy Simpson. Copyright(c) 2014 by Amy Simpson. Used by permission from InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.
© 2014 Amy Simpson.