By Dr. Greg Gifford, Professor of Biblical Counseling
There are concerns all around us: health concerns, pandemics, economic uncertainties, educational goals, and so forth. Our life is riddled with concerns. But have you ever wondered at what point our concern becomes anxiety? At what point can we say we’re “too concerned”? In this article, I want to show you what the Bible says about concerns, how to know those concerns have become anxieties, and what the Bible calls us to do to remedy anxiety.
Concern vs. Anxiety
The Bible speaks of concerns that you can and should have. Paul says a Christian should be concerned about the other members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:25) and the desires of their spouse (1 Cor. 7:33-34). Paul even commends Timothy for being concerned about the well-being of the Philippians (Phil. 2:20). It’s important to note that we, as Christians, should maintain biblical concerns. God has not called us to be ‘care-less,’ or the proverbial beach-bum for Jesus. Rather, we have concerns that are right and good.
The question is at what point a concern has become too big. When have concerns morphed into sinful anxieties? Jesus speaks to the difference between concern and anxiety and says in Matthew 6:25-32 that anxiety is emphatically wrong—all the time. But how can we know whether something is a biblical concern or an unbiblical anxiety? Well, Jesus answers that, too.
First of all, Jesus says that being preoccupied with self-concern is wrong (vv. 25-26). Your life and body are not the biggest concerns you have—or at least they shouldn’t be. Second, Jesus speaks of anxiety as being functionally God-less. That’s why Jesus shows us the character of God: God feeds, God clothes, and God knows (vv. 26, 30, 32). And finally, Jesus identifies anxiety as being self-terminating. That’s why he asks, “Which of you by being anxious adds a single hour to his span of life?” (v. 27). Anxieties are us trying to fix something—but we can’t fix it.
So, how do we know when concern has become anxiety? Here are three criteria from Matthew 6 that will help answer that question. We know that concerns have become anxieties when:
- Your concerns are primarily about you. It’s all about your life and your body; self-preservation is the end-all be-all.
- You take no thought of God and His goodness, knowledge, power, and ability. One of my professors once said, “Anxiety is a mild form of atheism.” He was right.
- You seek to address your concerns exclusively by yourself. There’s no thought of who God is and how we should depend on him.
Perhaps the easiest way to describe the difference between concerns and anxieties is this:
Concerns are a thoroughfare and anxieties are a cul-de-sac.
Growing up, my family and I lived on a busy thoroughfare. You know, the kind that feels like you’re walking next to a NASCAR racetrack? One misstep and there could be problems! My mother would always tell my sister and I to go to the next street over to play, because it was a cul-de-sac. The cul-de-sac was a dead end; nothing was getting through.
That’s what our anxieties are like—dead ends. Instead of moving toward God and greater trust in His character, we are moving toward self-reliance and self-concern. Our concerns, on the other hand, are thoroughfares in which we take our concerns to God. Yes, we have many concerns—health, job future, education, children, economy, and so forth. But those concerns don’t terminate on us. We take them to the God who knows, who cares, who feeds, who controls, and who is good. Concern is a thoroughfare; anxiety is a cul-de-sac.
Remedy for Anxieties
When we can admit that our concerns have become unbiblical anxieties, we must know that the Bible also provides remedies for those anxieties. Here’s some of what the Bible would have us do in response to anxieties:
First of all, we must recognize that anxiety is something to repent of—Jesus strictly condemns anxiety, and so does Paul (Matt. 6:25; Phil. 4:6).
Second, when we’re anxious, we must remember the nature and character of God (Matt. 6:26-32). Our anxieties are like viewing God through a drinking straw: it’s a small and incomplete view. If we truly understood God’s character, our anxieties would seem silly.
Third, take your concerns to God. Peter, in quoting Psalm 55:22, reminds us to do this (1 Peter 5:7a). We take our potentially anxious moments to God, because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7b). Paul says we do this by prayer (Phil. 4:6).
Fourth, we respond by being faithful to our concerns. Psalm 131:1b-2 says, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” We don’t respond to our anxieties by completely shirking all of our concerns in this life! That’s us being the beach-bum for Jesus. Rather, we respond by being faithful to what God has called us to do—like plan for the future, work hard, go to the grocery store, and wash our hands. Then we trust Him with the rest.
God in His kindness brings us seasons of greater concerns and seasons of fewer concerns. Yes, there is currently much with which to be concerned—but nothing over which to be anxious. We cannot minimize cares or concerns in this life, but neither do we dare to be anxious. God knows. God provides. God is good. So we take our concerns to Him, while knowing He is a good God who truly does care for His kids (Luke 12:32).