Any quick search on Google or Amazon will confirm what we all already know: worry is harmful to our bodies. Here are a few physical symptoms associated with worry:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry mouth
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle aches
- Muscle tension
- Rapid breathing
- Trembling and twitching
You can almost get exhausted and anxious reading that list. All of these can be experienced to varying degrees depending on how severe a person’s worrying is. Most of the people in your church can probably identify many of these anxiety-producing experiences.
Unfortunately, this is not the only way people in your congregation are impacted by worry. If not addressed, it can have a bigger impact on one’s overall health. People who worry consistently are more prone to the following physical consequences:
- Suppression of the immune system
- Digestive disorders
- Short-term memory loss
- Premature coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
In light of this, it is not surprising when we discover the original meanings of the words we use today to talk about worry and anxiety. The English word worry comes from the Old English word meaning “strangle.” The word anxiety is of Indo-Germanic origin, referring to suffering from narrowing, tightening feelings in the chest or throat.
Statistics reveal that nearly 20 percent of people living in the United States will experience life-debilitating anxiety annually. That is nearly 65 million people! In 2008, American physicians wrote more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and more than 150 million prescriptions for antidepressants, many of which were used for anxiety-related conditions.
What would the doctor say?
Physicians and counselors will tell you that diet, exercise, rest, and some kind of meditation is a proven help to the person struggling with anxiety. Sometimes medication, when taken wisely, can be helpful. You can use your body to fight what is actually trying to undermine it. No one can deny that. But is there another part of dealing with worry that you could share with those imprisoned by worry?
While these things are important, the people in your church also need to know how to connect to God when worries come. We all need God’s grace even if we are going to pursue exercise and diet in a way that is most helpful. Let’s consider the most fundamental aspect that must undergird everything else we do when taking care of our bodies.
What would Jesus say?
Jesus lived at a time in human history that was very unpredictable and less safe than ours. It was a world in which worry was epidemic, too. In every instance where He encouraged people not to worry, He did so with compassion because He knew firsthand what it felt like to be a human being. In Luke 12:32, He spoke these encouraging words to anxious people: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Those simple words sum up all that Jesus said over and over again. He commands them not to worry, but His command is one of encouragement, not shame.
Here are a few simple but profound phrases and truths based upon that passage that you can share with those in your congregation.
Do not be afraid …
Jesus knows that worry is a serious problem. He knows it is bad for you physically, as well as spiritually, and He gets right to the point because He loves you. His commands are always for your good. Whenever you are struggling with worry, it is connected to your relationship with God. The word worry that Jesus uses means “a divided mind.” Within the broader context of His teaching, Jesus says that worry happens when you try to love God and something in creation at the same time. As soon as you do this, you have begun to put your hope and security in something other than God. Anything else besides God is unstable (money, a relationship, a job, education, your own moral record, obedient children, your health). Do you see why Jesus is so straightforward? He cares for you. He knows that you can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).
Little flock …
Don’t let this little phrase that Jesus utters evade you. Don’t miss those two powerful words: little flock. While Jesus challenges you to not worry or fear, He speaks to you as one who belongs to Him, whom He is shepherding and for whom He laid down His life. You are unimaginably dear to Him and loved by Him. You are one of His sheep. Be reassured—He cares for you and loves you even as you struggle with worry, even as you forget Him and His care and give in to your tendency to worry. You may be prone to wander, but you will always be part of His flock.
For your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom …
Your Father is not only going to care for you now, He is in the process and will ultimately give you His kingdom. Your future is certain and you can begin to experience it even now, because His kingdom has broken into your life by the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is a deposit guaranteeing that you will get it all one day. So, right now, in the ups and downs of life, the stresses and strains of the uncertain future, let the certainty of your eternal future be what you cling to.
With all of this in mind, encourage those in your congregation to allow the truth of God’s care for them to work its way into their daily life. We are to prioritize the kingdom by viewing everything through the lens of our faith. When we begin to live for God instead of the things of the world, we may find that our tendency to worry will lessen and our response to God and to the world, spiritually and physically, will change dramatically.