C. S. Lewis’ imaginative book The Screwtape Letters is a fictional story which records a series of conversations between a couple of Satan’s demons. Screwtape, the senior demon, explains to the junior devil, Wormwood, why they must tempt humans to worry and not trust God. Screwtape says, “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy [God]. Our business is to keep them distracted, thinking about what might happen to them.”
Screwtape’s comment gives us an insightful window into the root of worry. Anxiety over the unknown is motivated by the fear of what could happen. A person who worries is apt to let their imagination run wild with all kind of possibilities that they have no control over. J.C. Ryle once said, “Half of our miseries are caused by things we think are coming upon us. All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.” Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom added, “Worry is an old man with bended head, carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are lead.”
A few years ago, a major university did a research project on the things we fret about. Here are the results: 40% of what people worry about never happens. 30% of stressors have already happened and you can't do anything about the past. 12% fretted what others said about you, which most of the time is uncontrollable. 10% of worry deals with health issues and worrying will only make that worse! That leaves about eight percent of the things that are considered to be real problems...and worry will not do any good with these either!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against worry as joy-killer to the Christian life, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they (Matt 6:26)?” Jesus’ point is that worry is irrational. His argument moves from the lesser to the greater. If God can give and sustain the life a bird, then surely He can do the same for you and me.
Jesus also defines worry with an interesting word picture. The Greek word in the text is merimno, which is the combination of two smaller terms—merizo, which means “to divide; and nous which means, “mind.” The idea is that the worried mind is one that is being pulled about in opposite directions. The worrier has their mind divided, or torn between fear and faith. What Jesus is saying here is quite powerful. In essence, worry comes from a heart of unbelief. Worry is a form of practical atheism, because it assumes there is no good God watching over us.
The reason why God doesn’t want us to worry is so that we can focus on what is truly important—building the kingdom of God. The Lord takes care of our physical needs so that we can busy about His work. Tomorrow will take care of itself, if today we decide to trust Jesus.