Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. ~ Swedish proverb
Worry. Anxiety. There are a lot of different words that can describe these types of feelings. I tend to differentiate in that worries are specific—a presentation at work going poorly, a friend being offended by what I said—while I think of anxiety as a more generalized feeling of dread or fear. That’s not necessarily scientific, just how my brain tends to separate them. Personally, I’m more prone to the latter. And while I wouldn’t consider myself a worrier, I do struggle with this on occasion—pretty much everyone does at some point.
There is a famous quote that says, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Intuitively we know that being anxious all the time isn’t healthy, and yet often it seems like we can’t help ourselves.
I thought it would be worth digging into the topics of worry and anxiety in the bible, to see how we should approach them—are we dealing with a true innate personality trait, or something we can and should overcome? And then we’ll dive into some practical ways to apply this in our lives.
What does the bible say about worry and anxiety?
Actually, quite a lot.
Here are a handful of verses that get right to the heart of the bible’s take on worry and anxiety:
- “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (Prov. 12:25)
- “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul” (Ps. 94:19)
- “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matt. 6:25-34)
- “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27)
- “Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7)
- “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved [shaken]” (Ps. 55:22)
- “And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:41-42)
- “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4)
- “For what has man for all his labor, and for the anxious striving for which they labor under the sun?” (Eccl. 2:22; NIV)
- “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties” (Ps. 139:23, NIV)
And these don’t even count the 100 or so times that we are commanded to “be not afraid” or “fear not”. God clearly sees these topics as relevant to His people and worth addressing.
Read next: Fear & Love Can’t Coexist (Musings on Faith)
How does worry affect us?
The word typically translated as worry or anxious in the New Testament is merimnao (G3309), and it simply means “to be anxious about”. It’s translated “worry” in the New King James mostly, while the King James tends to prefer “take no thought for” or “do not care for”. This word is what’s used in some of the more well-known verses on this subject, such as Matthew 6 and Philippians 4. Let’s dig into that (lengthy) passage in Matthew for starters: