How would your life look different if you trusted God—really, implicitly trusted him—to take care of your problems? What would happen if you took the concerns that grip you, that keep you awake at night, that clench your stomach in knots . . . and truly put them in his hands?

Unburdened suggests that there's a more weightless way to live than most of us are experiencing. God promised us freedom from worry, yet few people actually walk in that freedom. But we can. We were made for deep-down, heart-level peace. 

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Tyndale 2010, paperback and e-book
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I woke up in the middle of the night recently and lay awake for three hours. I wasn’t planning to worry, I was planning to go back to sleep right away. It didn’t happen. My mind started wandering, and wander turned to worry rather easily. It was about a legitimate concern of substantial importance—it always is. But lying awake was not a very effective way to deal with it.

We have all done that—most of us, anyway. The capacity for the human mind to consider possible threats to our well-being is enormous. We don’t seem to consider that most of the threats we worry about never occur. We want to be prepared for the ones that do. Not that there’s anything we can do about them, usually. We just don’t want to be surprised.

Meanwhile, while we’re trying to prepare ourselves mentally for everything that could possibly go wrong, we often live under a low level of stress and anxiety that wreaks havoc on our physical and emotional well-being. It’s a true cultural phenomenon—people are stressed out. Insurance companies and doctors of many specialties can verify it. We carry an awful load of burdens just by thinking about them.

We might be alarmed, in the vulnerability of stress and anxiety, to find out that worry is sin. Does that seem harsh? Perhaps, but Jesus doesn’t mince words. In the Sermon on the Mount alone, he says not to worry at least eight times. And as I’ve mentioned, “Do not be afraid”—or some variation of it—is the most frequent command in the entire Bible.

Clearly, worry and anxiety are violations of God’s command. But acknowledging this hardly seems a relaxing remedy. In fact, on top of our anxiety about life, knowing the sinfulness of our worry can cause us to worry even more. That’s not God’s intention, of course, because he isn’t a hard master. This is a command that is meant to relax those who have cast their lot with him. It is to relieve us from the responsibility of figuring out the future and planning for every contingency. It is meant to remind us that God is sovereign, he is good, and his watchful eye is on those who trust him.

Why is worry sinful? Look at it this way. What would it say about me as a father if my ten-year-old constantly wondered where his next meal was coming from? Or if he lived in fear for his safety? Barring some unusual psychological disorder, his anxiety would probably indicate that he didn’t put much stock in his father’s character. Perhaps some fathers deserve that mistrust. God doesn’t. His character is impeccable. But we worry anyway. What does that say about him? Or, more to the point, what does that say of what we think about him? 

This tells me that we mentally assent to the truths of the gospel and God’s promises of fatherhood, but we don’t really believe them. In a sense, it’s an emotional slander of his reputation—a defamation of his character. It’s certainly not worship, which affirms God’s goodness and power and wisdom. Worry doesn’t reflect who God actually is; it’s anti-worship, a form of lying about him.

It’s also an affront to biblical revelation. Think about it. When we worry, we are saying, in effect, “God says his faithfulness is great, but I’m not so sure. He says he is a very present help in trouble, but that may not be entirely reliable. He says he covers our sins and has mercy on us, but maybe he’s holding my mess over my head this time.” Our anxiety is a contradiction of biblical truths. But the truth of the Bible is unassailable. It is our anxiety, not the Word, that is built on faulty premises. Though our worry is entirely unreliable, we often trust it more. We act as if God’s mercy depends on whether we deserve it or not. We place fickle gut feelings over the immutable Word of God. That’s no way to live.

We do that for a number of reasons, most of them involving that desperate search for fulfillment that we took upon ourselves after Eden. In addition, somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that God has let some really faithful people go through some really difficult times. He’s quite honest about that. It’s right there in our Bibles, and we’ve seen it in our own experience. Our worry is really an indication that we’re afraid he’ll do the same with us. Never mind that it might be for our greater glory in the grand eternal scheme of things. Never mind that it might be momentary pain for others’ eternal benefit. Never mind that he promises to be right there with us every step of the way and to give us more than enough grace for the situation. Our instinct is to shy away from difficulty. If being in the center of God’s will sometimes means pain for us, our spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. And the flesh is where all the worry is. We shrink back from the God of all comfort, hoping never to be in a position of needing it.

Intellectually, it helps me to know that worry is sin. I can deny anxiety and refuse to feel guilty about my lack of concern. If Jesus tells me not to worry about the future, I can live in the present without fear of being irresponsible. If someone tells me I’m not preoccupied enough with a situation, I can say, “Sorry, I’m just trying to be obedient.” I must plan, of course, but I mustn’t worry. I’m commanded not to do something I hate doing anyway. That’s a relief.

But the emotional side is harder. Real discipleship can be like a roller coaster. We want the excitement of following Jesus and being part of God’s plan. And we know it will turn out all right. But we panic on the twists and dives anyway. The unexpected bends alarm us. Unlike the roller coaster, however, panic in discipleship is not part of the fun—it’s a statement against the operator’s faithfulness. We have to constantly remind ourselves that everyone who believes in him gets to the end of the ride just fine. He makes sure of it.

And that’s our solution. That’s how we can emotionally get past the worry—we worship. It’s simple, but effective. We’ll dig much deeper into that later, but it helps to remind ourselves of the faithfulness of the operator. We praise him for his presence, his promises, and his peace. We spend more time dwelling on how big God is than on how big our problems are. As we do, he becomes our stress-free preoccupation. He is not a hard master. He is a mighty, merciful Savior with an awesome track record.

That’s what I’m going to think about the next time I find myself lying awake at night—his might, his mercy, and his track record. Sometimes it’s an act of worship just to go back to sleep.

© 2010 by Chris Tiegreen

©2013-17 by chris tiegreen