What Do You Care About?

What Do You Care About?

How often are you anxious? You’ll be trying to concentrate on something and you keep getting distracted to a problem. You lie awake at night with something churning in your mind causing consternation. The more you think about it the more your palms sweat. There is a pit in your stomach. Your heart beats faster.

We’ve all felt that way. The question is how often do you feel that way?

It is very common for people to be overwhelmed by anxiety. So much so that it becomes a disorder, a mental illness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.”[1] There are many types of anxiety disorders. One of these is panic disorder. Someone who suffers from panic attacks describes it this way,

"It feels like my throat is being choked. My arms start tingling because I'm breathing shallowly and not getting enough oxygen, which of course panics me more."[2]

The word “anxious” in English comes from the Latin word “to choke”.[3] It’s a word very descriptive of the feelings it brings. Another person described their panic attack this way,

“One day, without any warning or reason, a feeling of terrible anxiety came crashing down on me. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, no matter how hard I breathed. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I thought I might die. I was sweating and felt dizzy. I felt like I had no control over these feelings and like I was drowning and couldn’t think straight.

“After what seemed like an eternity, my breathing slowed and I eventually let go of the fear and my racing thoughts, but I was totally drained and exhausted. These attacks started to occur every couple of weeks, and I thought I was losing my mind. My friend saw how I was struggling and told me to call my doctor for help.”[4]

Indeed, it is good advice to go see a doctor because these symptoms can be caused by a physical ailment. In many cases though there is no seeming cause. The person is just unable to process however much stress they are under and it affects them both mentally and physically. Some people seem more susceptible to it than others. Its not unheard for even a brother or sister in Christ to be afflicted by anxiety in one form or another.

Nowadays, a doctor is mostly likely to recommend a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT for short. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “CBT teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that come on with a panic attack.”[5]

Now that is interesting because what does the teachings of Jesus tell us about anxiety? Is not the Lord’s calling to recognize bad thinking (cognitive) and amend our ways (behavior)? Men and women have always worried. The Bible already has cognitive behavioral therapy. Let’s identify the seriousness of worrying according to the Scriptures and how Jesus, Peter and Paul instruct us to overcome it. I also want to look at how we perceive stress because an interesting aspect of the Greek word for “worry” is that it can be both negative or positive. In the end, we’re going to see what we should be “worrying” about.

Bad Worry

In a previous exhortation I talked about the parable of the sower and how completely it identifies four types of people. One of those types of soil is more susceptible than most to anxiety. Turn with me to Matthew 13:22 and you will see it in the thorny soil.

“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.”

That word “care “is the Greek word “merimna”. Remember that word “merimna”. To the Greek it meant worry or anxiety. It is that which comes to occupy the mind therefore sometimes it is translated “thought”. Another flavor of the word is “concern”. The NASB and NIV translate this as “worry” in this passage. Anxiety over things of the world is obviously bad. Its effect is to “choke the word” which is the very meaning and feeling of anxiety. That’s what worry does. It chokes the word so that we cannot grow to maturity.

Jesus puts it another way in Luke 21:34 (ESV),

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down (KJV, overcharged = baruno, burdened) with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”

Here again is the word “merimna” translated as “cares of this life”. Surprisingly, it is paired with dissipation (squandering in debauchery) and drunkenness. Worrying about things of this life is as serious as being drunk because it distracts us away from being ready for Christ’s coming. Worry is a weight, a burden.

Here’s how Proverbs 12:25 (ESV) puts it,

“Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”

Most of the time we don’t even realize we’re carrying around this weight. It just becomes a part of life but when it is removed we suddenly realize how difficult we’ve made it for ourselves. Worry is a weight. We are told, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb. 12:1). Worry is a sin. Why is worry a sin? Think of what the opposite of worry would be. Is it not faith and trust in God?

Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:7 (ESV),

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties (merimna, KJV care) on him, because he cares (melo) for you.”[6]

Peter is quoting from Psa. 55:22 which says, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.” If worry is a weight, then we are to cast all of it on God. Casting here literally means “to throw upon, fling with a quick toss.” Not just some but “all” of our anxieties. Every big or little worry comes before God and we are to develop our trust in him.

Paul is also all inclusive in Phil. 4:6 (ESV) when he says,

Do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Worry brings fear. Faith brings peace. Bring everything to God in prayer. Are you worried about your job? Pray to God. Are you worried about your schooling, the next exam? Pray to God. Are you worried about the safety of your children? Pray to God. Whatever you may worry about, pray to God. Nothing is exempt. God has concern for every aspect of our lives however big or small.

Jesus’ Teaching on Worry

Jesus’ teaching on this subject in Matthew 6 is the greatest instruction we could ever have. What does he say starting in verse 25 (ESV)?

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious (KJV, take no thought) about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

When ever a verse starts with “therefore” we must connect it with the verse before.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore…”

Do you see the connection? Worry concerning things of this life can become our master. Mammon is personified as if we were enslaved to it. Anxiety is our worship to materialism. Once again, we get the seriousness of worry. It is a sin. If we worry, then Mammon becomes our god. If we trust and have faith (cp. v. 30), then the Lord is our God.

What does Jesus tell us to do? He instructs us to lift up our heads to the skies and consider the birds of the air. Become cognitive of God’s creation around you. Take some time to slow down and contemplate the wonder of a small little bird like a sparrow. God knows every sparrow and he cares for them. Of course, they are always busy about life, but God provides for their needs. If God made and cares for such a wonderful creature then how much more for us?

If we are troubled and anxious should we not do as Jesus says and stop, stoop down and look closely at a flower? What a fantastic piece of artistry. It is truly glorious! If God puts so much into a flower that is gone tomorrow, then how much more is he preparing us for glory. That’s his ultimate purpose, is it not?

It is of little consequence if we don’t get that promotion at work. It is of little consequence if we don’t do as well on a test as we had hoped. It is of little consequence that our children do not grow up to be rocket scientists. On the other hand, it is of great consequence if we do not get into the kingdom of God.

Of course, God wants us to live and do our best, but he doesn’t want us to become overshadowed by constant concern of the things of this life. Worry is simply a distorted perspective on life. These are the things the Gentiles seek after because they don’t have God. God knows what our needs are, and he will supply sufficiently. The necessities of life are second in our thoughts and cares. As a matter of priority, the kingdom of God is first. E.J. Goodspeed translates verse 33 this way.

“you must make his kingdom, and uprightness before him, your greatest care, and you will have all these other things besides.”

Now this is somewhat of a paraphrase because the word “care” is not used here in the Greek. It is interesting though that he chose to use that word in a positive way. Can worry be used in a good sense? The answer is yes.

Good Worry

There are three times in Scripture where “merimna” is used in a good sense. It kind of turns this exhortation on its head. We have to go back and qualify that the sin of worry is about having anxiety over the things of this world or this life. We can have worry in a godly sort.

I mentioned this finding to my daughter and she said, “It sounds like eustress”. I wasn’t sure if I heard her right, “did you say ustress?” She said, “It’s eustress which is the idea of positive stress or good stress in contrast to distress.” She had been taught this in her careers course. Sure enough, I google it, and this term has been used since the late 1960s. It’s not that the stressors are any different but it’s our reaction to them which is either good (eu) or bad (dis) stress. Good stress motivates and helps us focus our energy to do something exciting, accomplish a task or go through a major life change. Getting ready to go to Manitoulin Bible Camp should be a eustress. Getting married should be a eustress. Having a child should be a eustress. Giving an exhortation should be a eustress.

It is interesting therefore that the Bible has positive anxiety. Take for the example this first passage in 2 Cor. 11:28. Here is the Apostle Paul compelled to list all his trials and tribulations from being lashed, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked and in constant peril. Yet for all this he ends up by saying,

“Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”

That word “care” is our Greek word “merimna”. This is the way it reads in the ESV,

“And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

Is Paul right to worry over the ecclesias? Of course he is. You’ll notice that his concern was for all the churches (plural). What motivated Paul to dedicate himself so much to the work of God? Who would go through all that stress? Paul would. It was a eustress. His worry for the ecclesia motivated him to do wonderful things for God.

He wasn’t alone. He had someone who was just like him in Timothy. Look how he describes Timothy in Philippians 2:20,

“But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care (merimnao) for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.”

That word “care” is the verb form of our word “merimna”. Timothy had a genuine concern for the brothers and sisters just like Paul. No wonder they were so close. They had the same motivation driving them on in their work.

If this was the example of Paul and Timothy, then where does that put us? What is our attitude towards the ecclesias? Have we let that concern slip? Our third passage in 1 Cor. 12:25 shows how imperative this is in our own outlook.

“… there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care (merimnao) one for another.”

There is our word again “care”, the Greek word “merimnao”. Every translation has the word “care” except the NET and NIV which have “concern”. It is the same worry that is positive, causing us to have that sympathy so that when one suffers, we suffer, when one rejoices, we rejoice. That is eustress. When we don’t have it, the result is distress, and inevitable division or schism.


Let’s just go over what we’ve seen this morning. The word for worry in the Greek is merimna which has a double flavor. There is a right and a wrong thought, a right and a wrong anxiety, a right and a wrong carefulness. The care for the world and this life is different then the care for our brothers and sisters.

The bad worry weighs us down. It is a sin. It needs to be cast away to God. We are instructed to bring everything, no matter how big or small, to God in the prayer of faith. Faith and the peace it brings is the opposite of worry and fear.

Jesus instructs us how to be cognitive of our behavior. To stop and consider God’s care for us. Without that recognition, worry of mammon becomes our God. Our greatest concern should be the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

The good type of worry is a positive motivator. A eustress. Paul had it, Timothy had it and we are instructed to have that same care to one another.

I would like to end on this beautiful passage in Jeremiah 17:5-8. The Hebrew equivalent to our word “merimna” is used in verse 8. There are many echoes here to what we have been talking about. Ponder its message as we now turn to partake of the bread and wine in memory of all that Jesus has done for us.

“Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”