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4 strategies to free your congregants from the worry trap

Have you noticed that Christians use their own lingo? You know what I’m talking about. We have these phrases that we like to toss around; terms that describe our spiritual lives but that may be foreign to everyone else: “quiet time,” “traveling mercies,” and of course, “peace that passes understanding.”

That last one differs from the others in that it’s based in scripture. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7)

Unfortunately that peace eludes many believers today. In church surveys, worry ranks first among women and second among men as their most common struggle. More than half of women and two out five men find themselves worrying at least once a week.

Many factors contribute to how much someone will struggle with worry, including:

“Responsible people worry”– Somewhere in the back of our minds lurk beliefs that worry is actually a good thing. For example, many Christ-followers endorse statements like these: “Responsible people worry,” “If I worry about it enough, I can fix it,” and “If I worry about it enough, I won’t be as upset when something bad happens.”

“Worry can make me sick…which really makes me worry” – Many of us realize that worry and stress can harm our bodies. Most church-goers also see worry as a sin. If these beliefs help us to worry less, that’s great. Sometimes though it starts a whole new cycle of worry, where we fret about how much harm our worrying is doing.

“What if it doesn’t turn out the way I want?” – How comfortable we are with uncertainty also strongly influences our worrying habits. The lower our tolerance for uncertainty, the more likely we are to worry.

The last really brings into focus the spiritual side of worrying. Most of the things we worry about either don’t happen or, when they do, aren’t nearly as bad as we imagined. Still, we worry because we are uncomfortable with uncertainty. When we aren’t sure how the economy is going to do next year or what the results of a medical test will be, we feel uneasy and stressed.

This is where our beliefs about who God is – His character, His power, His plans – come in. Our faith and in particular our view of God can make us more or less prone to worry.

In our research, we’ve found that people who trust God more than a higher tolerance for uncertainty and worry less. Similarly, connecting with God through prayer and scripture also helps people accept uncertainty, further building their trust.

So how can you help your congregants break free from the worry trap? Here are 4 strategies that they can use today:

  1. Help them assess how they really think about worry using this simple tool. Once they realize that they are holding on to positive beliefs about worry, it will be easier to challenge those and stop the worry cycle.
  2.  Ask them to make a list of the ways the Lord has worked in their life in the past. This simple exercise is a powerful reminder about how we can trust God in all circumstances.
  3. Help them identify a few scripture passages that speak to God’s promises to care for them. Commit them to memory or keep them close at hand to reread when they find themselves worrying. Use them when praying about the worrisome situation.
  4. Encourage them to set aside a specific time to worry. This strategy sounds counter-intuitive but can actually be quite helpful. Whenever they find themselves worrying, they just remind themselves that it’s not “worry time”. When the worry time actually arrives, they may find that they no longer feel the need to worry about that situation. The time can then be used to connect with God, through prayer and the Word, further building their faith and trust.

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
Jim Farrer

A broadly-trained church consultant, Jim Farrer is the founder of Vital Signs Church Consulting and ...

Charles Stone

Dr. Charles Stone is Lead Pastor at West Park Church (London, Ontario) and founder of ...