As Christians, we are often told not to worry because God is in control. While this is a nice sentiment, it’s also an attitude that can create a moral dilemma for those prone to stress. Is it a sin to worry about things that are to come? And where is the line between worrying about a situation and a lacking trust in God?
Worrying Versus Anxiety
Before diving too deep into worrying in relation to faith, it’s important to first differentiate between worry and anxiety. Worry can be brief or long-term, but it’s often related to a specific circumstance. Most times, it resolves after a person is able to figure out how to manage the upcoming event or situation. However, anxiety is a more chronic state of stress. It could be related to a specific event, or there may be no identifiable cause. Anxiety interferes with your ability to complete the daily tasks you need to and can be debilitating. It’s a diagnosable mental illness and can be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Often, people can rationalize their situation to reduce worrying, but there still may be anxiety present.
What the Bible Says About Worrying
The Bible tends to use the terms “worry” and “anxiety” interchangeably. During the time it was written, there was not the same understanding of mental illness, so it’s important to look at the intention behind the verse rather than the terminology used. For the most part, we can assume the writers are referring to worrying in these verses.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6, NIV)
This verse is one of the most commonly referenced portions of scripture when discussing worry and anxiety. Christians may use this verse to say that you only need to tell God what you’re worried about, and your anxiety will go away. Others may argue that this condemns anxiety by commanding us to not be anxious. However, another interpretation is that this is an opportunity to let go of our worries. For the things that are causing us stress, we can put our trust in God. This doesn’t mean God will be angry if we still have moments of worry. Rather, it’s an invitation to give these anxious thoughts to Him.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34, NIV)
This passage can also create some confusion as it sounds like a commandment. You may even be tempted to read it like, “Don’t worry about tomorrow!” Similar to Philippians 4:6, this verse is more of an invitation. In reality, it sounds more like Jesus is expressing an understanding of the stressors of life. By saying each day has enough trouble of its own, he is demonstrating a recognition of the things we are managing. He isn’t telling us not to worry as a condemnation. Instead, he is encouraging us to focus on each day as it comes.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV)
Unfortunately, this verse has been used as an argument that fear (or worrying) is sinful. Christians will state that because God has not given a spirit of fear, then being fearful is against God’s will. However, this argument falls short of a true understanding of who God is and how the world works. It’s true that God is not the One who has given us a spirit of fear because there is no fear in God. But like any other part of our human nature, this is not something that He resents. Even Jesus exhibited fear the night before he was crucified. His human nature left room for uncertainty, and he became overwhelmed and asked God to take his fate away from him (Matthew 26:37-39). God understands our tendency to worry, and His son experienced it first-hand.
God does not view worry or anxiety as a sin. Rather, he understands our human weaknesses and is willing to embrace us in our struggles. Worrying is not sinful, but it is an opportunity to practice putting our faith and trust in Christ.
The Effects of Stress
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), chronic worrying or stress can have lasting effects on your body. Common physical symptoms that emerge as a result of stress include*:
- Muscle tension and pain
- Higher risk for heart attack, stroke, or hypertension
- Inflammation in the circulatory system
- Unstable cortisol, resulting in fatigue, metabolic issues, and immune disorders
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Sexual dysfunction
Not every person who experiences excessive worry or anxiety will exhibit these symptoms, but living in a state of stress increases this risk.
Worrying and anxiety are difficult to manage without proper coping skills. Many times, those who lack stress-management techniques will turn to substance use to help them cope with their situation. It’s also possible for substance abuse to lead to excessive worry and anxiety. In both scenarios, these people need a high level of care from a licensed, mental health professional.
*Note: This is not a replacement for medical advice. If you are experiencing any of the above, you should discuss your concerns with a medical provider.
Faith-Based Rehab for Substance Use and Anxiety
When healing from a substance use disorder and managing chronic worry or anxiety, faith provides a solid foundation to build your sobriety upon. At Celebrate Hope, we will never tell you that your struggles are an indication of sin or lack of faith. Instead, we utilize evidence-based treatment practices that emphasize your strengths in Christ. Our Christian rehab center provides support for substance use disorders and dual diagnoses, so you can learn to manage an anxiety disorder alongside an addiction. If you’re looking for a higher level of substance abuse treatment, contact us today to speak to one of our faith-based recovery specialists.