Fear is not tame.
Anxiety can be unpredictable and complicated.
Matthew 6:25-34 is one of the most important passages on anxiety. It highlights the importance of belief and unbelief that are often underneath our fear.
We need to examine our fears for levels of unbelief.
But we have to be sure that we’re not giving simplistic answers to complex fear by simply saying, “Just believe.” Or worse: “repent of your unbelief!”
There are biblical truths that we need to hear, but we need to use them wisely. Matthew 6 is a text that you can terribly misuse.
One helpful and wise solution is to ask good questions, allowing for more tentativeness and nuance.
Using Matthew 6:25-34 as our guide, here are nine diagnostic questions to ask yourself as you fight fear and examine what areas of unbelief might be underneath.
1. Am I allowing this to control me too much?
Sometimes fear is simply the result of allowing something to have too much power.
In Matthew 6:25, Jesus says, “…do not be anxious 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?”
Worry and fear become problematic when we start believing that the sum total of life relates to the “stuff” of life.
As important as these things are, we can allow them to control us in a way that isn’t helpful. So, ask yourself, “Am I giving this thing – as important as it is – too much control?” Underneath this question is a belief issue.
2. Am I forgetting God’s love for me?
Sometimes anxiety causes us to have tunnel vision. Our fear causes us to only see what’s missing, what’s scary, or what makes us nervous.
Jesus points to the birds and says, “Your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?”
Jesus is not just saying that you are worth more than birds. He’s trying to remind us that we have a loving heavenly father who is going to take care of us. Jesus appeals to the promise that God cares for his children.
The pressure of circumstances can sometimes cause us to wonder, “How does this fit with God’s love for me?” And it can lead us to doubt God’s love.
3. Am I trying to fix something beyond my ability?
Sometimes worry stems from our desire to fix something that we can’t fix. There are situations are so broken, so complex, or so challenging that it will break you if you become obsessed with fixing it.
“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27)
Verse 27 reminds us that some things in life are divinely designed to be out of your control. Some people gravitate toward worry because it feels like they are doing something – that they have control.
Worry is what fixers do when fixers can’t fix.
Again, underneath is a belief issue: I think I can fix a lot more than I really can.
4. Am I starting to doubt God’s character?
Jesus provides another illustration in verses 28-30. If God provides such beauty to the flowers of the field, which are far less value, will he not provide for you?
But then he adds something – “…O you of little faith?” He adds this here because underneath this kind of worry is a lack of faith in God’s character.
Worry, fear, and anxiety can lead us to doubt God’s character.
Sometimes fear leads us to become sinfully angry with God as we start to accuse him of forgetting about us or abandoning us.
Are you starting to doubt God’s character?
5. Am I acting like a non-believer?
Worry and anxiety can cause us to act like people who don’t believe in God.
“For the Gentiles seek after all these things…, ” (Matt. 6:32)
Fear causes us to talk and act like people who don’t believe. What’s more, it can create environments filled with the air of unbelief because fear and anxiety are contagious.
We need to ask ourselves if we are acting like people who don’t know what God is like, who haven’t trusted him, and who haven’t tasted of his goodness and grace.
6. Do I believe that God knows what I need?
Verse 31 also reminds us that, “…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
This is not an easy truth to believe when life is hard.
I’ve found it helpful for battling my fears and worry to say, “Lord, apparently you believe this is what I need right now. I don’t like this. I wish it wasn’t a part of my life. But you have plans I can’t see.”
I have to remind myself that my life is in the hands of God and trust that God knows what I need.
7. Are my priorities in the right order?
Verse 33 is critical: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…”
Sometimes we are fearful and worried because we are pursuing the right things in the wrong way. In other words, we are not living by belief and trust. We are consumed with a passionate focus to fix the problem, stop the pain, or manage the challenges.
Worry and fear can reveal what we really love.
8. Can I trust God to provide?
Verse 33 also contains a promise – “…and all these things will be added to you.”
This is not a promise that you will get everything you want. It’s a promise that we can trust God’s ability to provide for us.
Sometimes worry and fear can make you less generous. Sometimes worry and fear can make you a workaholic.
It’s helpful to ask ourselves: “Can I trust in God’s ability to provide?
9. Am I living emotionally ahead of God’s provision?
Verse 34 commands us not to be anxious because tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.
At first this doesn’t sound like a very comforting promise.
However, this passage is saying that there is a divinely-allotted amount of trouble in each day. There’s grace for whatever we face, but we don’t have tomorrow’s grace for today.
If we live ahead of today and worry about tomorrow, we are trying to live emotionally ahead of what God has provided for us. We fail to believe that God provides grace each and every day
Fear, worry, and anxiety are not tame. It’s not as simple as saying, “just believe.”
It’s helpful to examine the beliefs underneath our fears by asking ourselves some questions. Doing so helps to gently reveal areas of unbelief.
So, ask yourself:
• What has me worried or fearful?
• Is there unbelief underneath?
• What is God calling me to believe today?
These questions won’t solve all the problems, but they’re a good place to start.
(This article is a summary of the sermon “What Must I Believe?”)
Mark Vroegop is the Lead Pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis. He’s the author of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, winner of the ECPA 2020 Christian Book of the Year award, and Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation (available in August 2020).