IF IT’S SIN, I’M GUILTY

Noting the title of this post, you are probably wondering what the “it” is to which I am referring: it is worry. Many readers will be able to identify with me as I confess I am a worrier.

Yesterday our four year old grandson had dental surgery. We had known for several weeks that it was scheduled for today, but as the date grew closer I realized I was worrying more and more.

For the past few days I’ve been thinking about my habit of worrying. My recollection is that I have been a worrier pretty much all my life. My worries have never been debilitating, but they have had an impact on me. Many times worry has added stress to my life and eroded my joy.

In retrospect I remember my mom was a worrier. I don’t know if worry is hereditary or can be learned from a parent, but I have always been grateful for her interest and concern. I just wish she had not worried so much. However, as a worrier myself I understand.

But I’m asking myself, “Is worrying a sin?” The New Testament suggests in at least two places that it is.

One is from the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:34 Jesus concludes a section of his teaching, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Respected author John R.W. Stott, and one of my favorite writers, concludes from Jesus’ teaching that “worry is incompatible with Christian faith.”

The second passage is from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (New Living Translation). Commentator Ralph P. Martin notes, “[worry] betrays a lack of confidence in God’s protection and care for his people.”

It seems obvious from Jesus, Paul, John Stott, and Ralph Martin that worry is indeed a sin.

Possibly as an excuse for my own worry, I’m not sure all worry is sin. My worry is not due to a lack of faith and trust in God. In connection with my worry I practice what Paul instructs in Philippians 4:6 – I pray taking the things I worry about to the Lord.

I find some comfort and encouragement from what a couple of other writers say about Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Commenting on Jesus’ statement, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34), D.A. Carson notes, “It is as if Jesus recognizes that there will be some unavoidable worry today after all.” Archibald Hunter concludes, “. . . the principle is surely this, that, taking reasonable care, we are to face life with [trust], accepting each day fresh from God, and leaving the unknown future in his hands.”

My sense is that most of us need this teaching from both Jesus and Paul. I know I do. As a matter of fact, I’m a little worried about what some may think about me in light of my admission that I worry.

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GETTING IT RIGHT

Last week while reading Frederick Buechner’s memoir The Eyes of the Heart, an observation he made about his deceased younger brother got my attention. Comparing his brother to himself he wrote, “I want to get it right about the way he took life as it came instead of, like me, brooding about the past or worrying himself sick about the future.” Read what he said again and consider which brother you are most like.

I wish I was more like his brother, but I am clearly more like the older Frederick. I wish I was better at taking life as it comes, but the truth is I spend too much time, energy, and heart brooding about the past and worrying about the future. How about you?

You and I both know people who are robbing themselves of a fulfilling life in the present because of what happened in their past. To get a better sense of its meaning I looked up brood in the dictionary. It means “to think a lot about something in an unhappy way” or “to dwell gloomily on a subject.”

We all have things in our past that negatively impacted us. The challenge is to keep those hurts and failures from destroying our present. It doesn’t mean we are not sorry for what we did or deeply hurt by what happened to us; nor does it mean we cannot learn from the past. But for our own good we need to deal with the past so that in the words of the Apostle Paul we can “forget what is behind” and “press on” (Philippians 3:13 and 14). Admittedly, for a lot of us that is easier said than done; but as trite as it sounds, we can’t go back. I do know, however, that talking with a counselor can be a great benefit for some who are so wounded by their past they struggle in the present.

We also know people who are too focused on and concerned about the future that they are treading water in the present. For me this is a bigger issue than brooding about the past. One morning last week after my prayer time I jotted down this question to myself: “Am I worrying so much about the future that I am not enjoying today?”

When I think about this habit I am reminded of Jesus’ teaching about worry in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:23-34. After a commonsense discussion about worry Jesus concludes in verse 34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” In this teaching Jesus is not forbidding our planning or preparing for the future. In the words of Archibald Hunter, Jesus is giving us a principle of living that “taking reasonable care, we are to face life trustingly, accepting each day fresh from God, and leaving the unknown in his hands.” In others words, rather than living a life of worry, we are to live a life of faith.

If I can borrow from Buechner, I too want to get it right about the way I take life as his brother did—as it comes. Both yesterday and tomorrow can be enemies of today. We can’t live either in the past or in the future. To get it right we must live in the present.

Share this post on social media if you think others would benefit and feel free to leave a reply below or send me an email (bobmmink@gmail.com).

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