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THE ILLUSION OF WORRY

THE ILLUSION OF WORRY

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:6-8

“Worry is the illusion that you’re in control” Rick told us with a sly smile, capping off our Thursday morning men’s Bible study.  After spending much of an hour talking about life’s slings and arrows hurled at men in our group, Rick’s words hit me.  I rushed home and repeated them to my wife, about how “Worry is the illusion that you’re in control”.  I even ‘tweeted’ these words to the world, hoping that someone would be paying attention.

I guess Rick’s words hit me because I have fought, retreated, and fought again against worry for much of my life.   I remember my mother whispering to my father her own worry that Timmy might be a “worry wart”.  And my father’s reminder to me that most of the things we worry about never happen, didn’t help one bit.  I knew that my worrying couldn’t cover all the possibilities, so my worrying work was never done. 

Tracing down the etymology of our word “worry” was a revealing moment for me.  I learned that “worry” comes from the Old English word “wyrgan” which meant “to strangle”.  I felt that was what worry was doing to me.  Worry was strangling the life out of me.  I found it telling that one of Websters’ definition of worry was to “harass by tearing, biting, or snapping especially at the throat”.  Worry always goes straight for our jugular! 

In today’s Scripture text the Apostle Paul sits in a Roman prison and tells us not to worry about all those things we are powerless to control.  Worry is the illusion that we have any control over what is happening to the stock market, the banks in Greece, or nuclear power in Iran.  Rather than ‘awful-izing’ about such things, Paul encourages us to talk to the one and only Person who is in control.  “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”.

I am always struck by Paul’s command to make our requests known “with thanksgiving”.  That means that at the same moment we are putting all these worries into God’s hands, we should be thanking Him for what He is going to do.  Paul’s words here remind me how my father would end his prayers with the promise that “we will be careful to give You the praise, O Lord”.  My father prayed expecting that God would answer his prayers, and wasted little of his energy with worry. 

I have learned a way of praying that helps me a lot with my bouts of worry.  I learned this way of praying from Richard Foster at a conference years ago.  It is an old Quaker way of praying that Foster calls “Palms Down/Palms Up”.  In his book, Celebration of Discipline Foster describes this way of praying: 

  1. “Begin by placing your palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God.  Inwardly you may pray, ‘Lord, I give to you my anger toward John.  I release my fear of my dentist appointment this morning.  I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills this month.  I release my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight.’  Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you… release it.  You may even feel a certain sense of release in your hands.” 
  2. “After several moments of surrender, turn you palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord.  Perhaps you will pray silently, ‘Lord, I would like to receive your divine love for John, your peace about my dentist appointment, your patience, your joy’.”  (Note: here’s where I tell God I will be careful to give Him the praise)
  3. “Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence.  Do not ask for anything.  Allow the Lord to commune with you, to love you.” 

This way of praying has helped me a lot in dealing with worry, and I encourage you to try it and see the difference it might make for you.  I pray Palms Down/Palms Up while lying in bed at night, sitting in a chair, or at my desk.

I still worry and have illusions about things beyond my control.  That’s why Paul then encourages us to practice a kind of “mindfulness”: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

I try to be mindful about the things I think about.  I try to always be counting my blessings, looking for God sightings, remembering God’s love and faithfulness, giving Him the praise, and meditating on His many promises for tomorrow.  “Think about these things,”  Paul says.  You’ll have a lot less time for worry! 

Grace and peace,
Tim

photo by drewleavy

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