In 2013 in the UK a survey revealed that 8.2 million people were diagnosed with some sort of serious anxiety problem. In any given week in England, 4.4% of the population experiences anxiety that is serious enough to seek professional help.
In September 1988, Bobby McFerrin released this song:
Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note.
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double.
Don’t worry, be happy.
It’s a very catchy song and very popular—but it’s not that helpful. No matter how bad your problems are, pretend they’re not there, and at least you’ll feel better for a few minutes. Is that really a helpful solution? I don’t think so. Stevie Wonder sings a song called “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” First of all, he sings it over and over. When you think about it, if you are anxious or very worried about something, hearing those words over and over again can be very soothing. Don’t worry because I’m right here beside you.
The Worry Epidemic
I doubt whether or not you have ever seen a gravestone with the epitaph Died from worry on it, but the fact of the matter is it could be written on many of the gravestones that we have in our land and in our world. Doctors never cease to tell us today that many of the illnesses that we have with us are directly, not just the symptom, but are directly related to the problem of anxiety, the problem of fear and the problem of worry. Now we’re all guilty of this sin. Indeed, most of us worry sometimes, some of us worry a lot of the time, and there’s a small elite group of worriers who worry all the time. There is even a group of people who worry so much that when they run out of something to worry about they worry about that!
Worry could even be labelled an epidemic. An epidemic is simply a disease in a given human population in a given period of time that substantially exceeds what is expected. Our current epidemic is worry. We live in an age of anxiety, a time of many worries. It is estimated that more than forty million people have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This says nothing of the countless more who deal with worry every day.
We worry about our families, our finances, and our futures. We worry how those three things affect each other. Of course, worry is not a new phenomenon. It was the ancient Greeks who coined the term ‘agoraphobia’, which today we use to talk about a fear of public places. The Greeks, however, didn’t have nearly the number, variety, and intensity of phobias from which we suffer today.
A woman worried for 40 years that she was going to die of cancer, and at the age of 70 she died of pneumonia. She wasted 40 years of her life worrying about the wrong thing! Oh, how often we do this. What we’re doing is, we try to take the responsibilities that are God’s out of his hands and put them in our hands. We want to control them, but we can’t control them.
What Jesus Said about Worry
Jesus delivered his own don’t worry song. Seated on top of a hill, speaking to people gathered around him, Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?” He talked about birds and lilies and said we were more important. Jesus is concerned about our hearts, and this includes our worries. Jesus knows that one of the things that can rob our hearts of joy and peace is an irrational fear surrounding things that we think we need.
When Jesus said ‘do not worry’ he did not mean that we are not allowed to have concerns or be interested in the outcome of things. Of course we do, but we’re not supposed to allow this natural concern to override the dominant place of God in our lives. When we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by anxiety, we are relying on our own strength instead of relying on God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “[We] try to do for [ourselves] what [we] do not expect from God.” It’s basically called lack of faith. Do you believe God can answer your prayers and relieve you of anxiety? Our relationship with Jesus and doing what he says comes first. Everything else comes after that. It’s about where our priorities lay.
You’ve maybe heard of Corrie Ten Boom, who spent years in a Nazi concentration camp and helped many Jewish people. She was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and she went through more heartache and trial and tribulation than you and I perhaps all put together will know in our lifetime. Do you know what she said a few years before she died?: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrows, it empties today of strength”.