I’m humbled by so many of you offering kind words about The Christian Atheist. My prayer in writing this book is that people all over the spiritual map would be moved to a more intimate and fruitful relationship with Christ. Today, I want to share part of a chapter that people have let me know they found helpful.
Worry Is not Your Friend
Worry (or not trusting God) has been a significant issue in my life. Although I believe in God, I’ve trusted more in my own abilities than I have in his faithfulness. For Christian Atheists, our worry proves we don’t trust in God as we claim to. We think, I know God’s a good God and all that, but I’ve got this situation handled. And when it turns out we don’t have it handled, then it falls to us — not to God — to fix it.
Worry reminds me of my feelings about snakes. I hate snakes. I hate them worse than Indiana Jones does. It was a serpent that seduced all of mankind into the fall, after all. Coincidence? I think not. Snakes in general freak me out, but bringing venomous vipers into the equation adds another diabolical dimension. My family lives in a heavily wooded area, where we’re basically besieged by poisonous snakes.
One day, when my son Bookie (whose real name is Stephen Craig) was about two years old, he was playing on our front porch. We were all doing different things around the yard when suddenly we heard Bookie squealing with delight. He was jumping up and down, calling out, “My fwend! My fwend! Daddy, look! He’s my fwend!”
I strolled over and asked, “Bookie, where’s your fwend? Is it an imaginary fwend?”
Bookie chirped, “No, Daddy!” and pointed excitedly.
“Look! My fwend!” And there, directly at his feet, was a small rattlesnake. In case you didn’t already know, a rattlesnake is not your fwend. I jerked Bookie away from the snake, then stomped on the snake’s head and crushed it — immediately after I first cut off its head with a shovel.
Many of us treat worry like our fwend. We don’t consciously think or talk about it that way, of course, but how we live tells a different story. We clutch worry to our chests like our favorite stuffed animals from childhood. We have many different euphemisms to mask this sin:
“I’m concerned about something.”
“I have some issues I’m working through.”
“I have a lot on my mind.”
Using such substitute terminology makes me sound like I’m really smart, like I’m an important person with big things going on. What they don’t do is make me sound like I’m a worrywart.
But no matter what you call it, worry is still sin. In Philippians 4:6, Paul tells us not to be anxious about anything. Romans 14:23 says, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” That’s pretty clear to me. Worry is the opposite of faith; therefore, it’s sin.
When we live by faith, we believe that God has everything under control. But if we start to worry, how we live says the opposite. If we are worried about losing our jobs, we are essentially saying that our jobs are our providers. But isn’t God our provider? What if God has something else planned for us? And what if, as unpleasant as it may be to think about, the path to that “something else” is through some pain? Will we still trust in God to provide during that time?
Worry, in essence, is the sin of distrusting the promises and the power of God. It’s choosing to dwell on, to think about, the worst-case scenario. It’s faith in the bad things rather than faith in God. Second Timothy 1:7 says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (NLT). In this verse, you could also easily translate “fear and timidity” as “anxiety, tension, and worry.” Fear doesn’t come from God. It’s a tool the evil one uses to distract us from our true purpose here.
In Matthew 6:25, Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” The Greek word Jesus uses for “life” is psuche (SuE-kay). It doesn’t just mean your breathing life, the force that makes your body go. It actually means every aspect of your life, taken together in total: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. It means your yesterday, today, and future life. Jesus is simply saying don’t worry about anything.
The Christian Atheist may do everything humanly possible to ensure a situation’s positive outcome, and still worry, I can’t just let this sit. I have to do more. But if we’ve honestly done everything we can, by definition we can’t do anything more. And in many cases nothing’s going to go wrong anyway; there’s really nothing you can do about a nonexistent worst-case scenario. So in our powerlessness we settle for the only thing left within our control: we worry.
Worry is a control issue. People are often obsessed with trying to control their circumstances. And while some things in life are within our ability, many things aren’t.
Just last night I sat on a plane, hoping to make a connecting flight. As we were grounded on the runway, time seemed to fly, chipping away at my chances to make my connection. Even though I had zero control over the situation, I glanced continuously at my watch, consumed with worry — as if my worry had any bearing on the outcome. (In case you’re wondering, after our plane landed, I could have given Usain Bolt a run for his money, sprinting across the airport just in time to catch my final leg home.)
Worry indicates we’re not willing to let God handle certain things — at least not in his way, and certainly not in his time. Matthew 6:27 asks a practical question: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” I wonder how many hours worry has shaved off the end of my life? (Now I’m really worried.)
Fortunately, God’s power and love have enabled me to genuinely overcome much of my worry and unjustified desire to control. I know I still have a long road ahead of me, but I’m going to share with you some of my journey so far.
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