Most of us have been there: a problem is on the horizon, and we begin to worry. Whether that’s the first day at a new job or a speech we have to make, dread pools. Negative thoughts swirl. Images of all the things that could go wrong threaten.
Eventually, the situation comes to pass, and our worries dissipate. But sometimes, worries linger, or become so overwhelming they impact our day-to-day lives. What does this mean? What is the difference between healthy worry and a genuine problem?
Can worrying become a sin? While most worry is natural and has some benefits to our lives and circumstances, the answer is yes — sometimes worrying can indeed become a sin.
What Does it Mean to Worry?
Worrying is defined as repeated negative thoughts, feelings, or mental pictures, typically surrounding an actual future circumstance.
Worrying is temporary and usually goes away when the circumstance has passed. It is different from persistent, ongoing anxiety, which is present even when the concerns are unrealistic.
Worrying is not considered to be a mental disorder or illness but rather a natural mind and body response to a perceived threat or fear. It is much like stress in this way.
Can Worrying Be Good for Us?
Worrying can actually be a good thing. It is a sense, even a gift, from God in response to danger. It also means our cognitive skills are working right, as we sense a perceived threat, analyze the situation, and begin to problem-solve as a way of coping and handling the consequences of that threat.
What Is the Difference Between Worry and Anxiety?
While worrying is a temporary negative thought cycle in response to a future situation, anxiety is often long-term and in response to a situation that isn’t necessarily logical or realistic. It is marked by exaggerated and catastrophic thinking.
For some, anxiety is a way their brain tries to cope with a threatening situation. For others, anxiety is rooted in a brain chemistry imbalance.
Neither basic worry nor anxiety disorder is a sin. Jesus had anxiety about his coming arrest, praying to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane to “take this cup from me” if the Father willed it so (Mark 14:36). Worry and anxiety are normal and natural parts of life.
As for the difference between the two, worry is mostly in our thoughts, mostly specific to a situation, grounded in logic, and doesn’t destroy our daily life.
For instance, if we are worried about having to fly in an airplane for a business trip, we might fear a plane crash and spend a few days worrying about the possible things that can go wrong, get our affairs in order, and tell our loved ones how much they mean to us. But that worry doesn’t stop us from going, and when the flight is over, we stop worrying.
Anxiety, in addition to being in our thoughts, might also affect our bodies, making us dizzy or nauseous, or giving us heart palpitations. It can be vague rather than specific, meaning we can’t figure out exactly what we are anxious about.
It can persist for a long time, impact our lives, cause difficulty with focus or accomplishing tasks, and have highly exaggerated imaginings about the risk of a certain circumstance.
How Does Worrying Go from Being Good to Being a Sin?
Again, while basic worrying and anxiety are not sins, there does come a time when they can become a sin.
For example, when they begin to dictate and control our lives, and we allow them to without seeking to manage and control them. Another example is when we choose to listen to the voice of worry rather than the voice of God in our lives.
God is very clear in the Bible that we are to put Him first in our lives. When He gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments in the wilderness, He proclaimed, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).
By “gods,” our Lord means anything that comes between us and Him. He means false gods, such as Baal or Asherah or others that some people worshipped back in those days, but He also means gods in the form of money, relationships, kings, or otherworldly concerns. He means fears, worries, and anxieties, too.
There is a reason God tells us not to fear roughly 365 times throughout Scripture. He knows we humans are created to recognize danger and respond accordingly.
But God wants us to know He is bigger and far more powerful than our fears. And while we initially might not see that, He tells us we are to recognize that and trust in Him.
When we choose not to, or willingly allow the voice of fear and worry to overpower His voice, choosing to believe that voice instead of God’s, that is when worry becomes sin.
What Can We Do to Conquer Persistent Worry?
Worry is normal and natural, but we are called by God to rise above our worry and worship Him first.
And throughout the Bible, God tells us exactly how to conquer worry. We need to put Him first and trust in Him in spite of the negative voices and concerns that surround us. That’s the same way we conquer all sin. We choose to follow Him and His will instead of our own.
Focusing on God Rather Than Worry
Here are some Bible verses that can help with this:
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).
… and do not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27).
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalms 46:10).
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Remember that it’s okay to worry — but not too much. God is in control, and He will take care of everything in the end.
For further reading:
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.