Q: Jesus said, “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25–34), but that can seem impossible. How can I overcome persistent worries?
A: If you wrote out all of your day-to-day concerns, what would be on your list?
If yours are anything like mine, there are two main categories where most concerns fall:
1. “What-ifs.” These are all of my dreams, anxieties, thoughts about the future, and “what-ifs” that pack themselves in my brain like a loud, crowded party (except a lot less fun).
2. “To-dos.” This list includes everything that I know, perceive, or imagine is required of me. These “to-dos” scamper around my brain like dust bunnies, hard to catch and wildly pervasive, reminding me that nothing is as neat and tidy as I wish it was.
On a good day, I live above the what-ifs and the to-dos, seeing them as details, not dictators of my life. But on not-so-good and downright difficult days, these concerns distract me from the present and steal away my joy. And when one bad day turns into a few bad weeks or even months, I find that this list of troubles becomes a breeding ground for doubt in God’s provision and faithfulness.
It’s never a life-changing earthquake that shakes my trust. It’s the slow-going erosion of a life where concerns crowd out my active trust in God. God becomes a shadowy, disinterested figure, and I become a shallow, anxious person.
The Issue of Trust
What I’m realizing is that trust is at the root of the problem here. I deceive myself into thinking that God doesn’t care about my future and my to-do lists—that these minor concerns are no concern of his. But Jesus actually says otherwise.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we find Jesus’ longest teaching about what it looks like to live in his Father’s kingdom. In Matthew 5–6, Jesus details how his kingdom operates. He teaches his followers about priorities, prayer, and even worry. In Matthew 6:32–34, he says:
Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
This sounds like a perfect prescription for my angst, but applying it is a little more difficult. Of course I want to trust God, to believe him at his word, and to leave tomorrow’s troubles alone. Of course I want to fight against a life of angst and instead rest in God’s hands. But how do I actually do that? How do any of us?
Here are four ways I’m working toward trusting God right now:
1. Remember Who Joy Comes From
Psalm 35:9 reminds us that our hearts rejoice and delight in God’s salvation. Psalm 37:39 encourages us to know that God is our strength in trouble. Psalm 51 is a prayer of David, petitioning God to restore David in the joy of God’s salvation. Their focus was on deep, eternal truths—yet often we may lose sight of the big story as we’re caught up in the minutia of our daily concerns.
When we find our trust faltering, we need to remind our souls of the rock-solid promises we find in the faithful love of Christ. We have the promise of forgiven sin, of right standing, and of permanent adoption as children of God because of our salvation. Sometimes the reminder of where we’ve been and how God has rescued, redeemed, and restored us can be the truth that lifts us back into trust with him. At its core, remembering the joy of our salvation is the way we encourage our souls. He’s been there for you before, and today is not the day that’s going to change.
2. Expect God to Show Up
Trusting God is what happens when our faith intersects with reality. Trusting God means expecting to encounter him every single day. God continually promises his presence to those who will come to him with their whole heart, humble and ready to receive whatever he provides. James 4:8 tells us to “come close to God, and God will come close to you.” Psalm 68:19 reminds us of God’s daily promises: “Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms.”
Our what-ifs and to-dos can shout so loud and demand so much that we wouldn’t see Jesus if he passed us on the street! What would it be like to focus not on eliminating trouble, but
instead, lifting your eyes and walking in faith, believing you will find God’s presence, provision, and sustenance right in the midst of the trouble of today? Henri Nouwen said it this way: “Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us.”
3. Change the Station
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to let go and trust God, our anxieties get stuck in our head. Anxieties are like bad songs on repeat, cycling through in our minds even when we don’t want them. So change the song by changing the station. The best way to rid your mind of anxieties is to create new pathways to peace.
Psalm 119:97 says, “Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.” Most of us cannot spend our days staring into our Bibles, so we must get some verses into our hearts. This creates available “peace stations” whenever your soul gets stuck on what-if repeats. If you find memorizing difficult, just start somewhere—even if you memorize one verse this entire year, that’s one more verse than before. It might be a simple phrase from the psalms or a verse from Jesus’ teaching.
Regardless of how little (or much) you know of the Bible, God’s words are living and active and will never return empty in your life. The Bible promises that the Word of God always accomplishes the purposes for which God sent it (Isaiah 55:11). As Beth Moore says, “No time is ever wasted in God’s Word.” Find a few new peace stations and willfully turn your mind toward those words whenever you find yourself living in the what-ifs of the future.
4. Offer a Sacrifice of Praise
If praise was always a feeling that just welled up within us, why in the world would Hebrews 13:15 say “let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God”? Last I checked, a sacrifice always has a cost associated with it. Sacrifice requires killing something or giving up something precious. When we offer a sacrifice of praise, we die to ourselves. We die to our agendas and our ideas of how things should go. Or we give up something precious, like our plans and or dreams. We tell ourselves that no matter how we feel about it, God is truly faithful.
No matter if we feel like praising or not, God is worthy of our praise. And when we praise him continually and intentionally, he gives us peace in abundance because our hearts have changed.
Today does have enough trouble, but every trouble is an opportunity for trust. Allow your what-ifs and overwhelming to-dos to be a reminder that you are limited, but you serve an
infinite God. You can only handle one day, but he’s already written all of them. Trust that there is peace for the children who will truly trust in his plans—today.
Nicole Unice is a TCW regular contributor. Nicole is on the ministry staff of Hope Church and author of She’s Got Issues. She writes for a variety of magazines and speaks nationwide at retreats and leadership events. Nicole and her husband Dave have three children. You can find her blogging about honest living at NicoleUnice.com.