Gaining Victory Over “What Ifs”
By LESLIE LUDY
Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…
2 Corinthians 10:5
I sat tensely on the bed, trying to slow down my breathing. My heart was beating rapidly. My thoughts were racing. My hands were shaking. It was happening again. That overwhelming sense of doom that seemed to come over me without warning. Paralyzing worry. Foreboding and dread of what the future might hold.
Desperate for perspective, I began to express some of my fears to my husband, Eric. I had worries about finances. Worries about health. Worries about friendships. Worries about ministry. Worries about family. And the list went on.
Most of the things I was worried about weren’t based on any valid concern. They were just random “what ifs” that darted through my mind without warning. As I recited my long list of worries to Eric, he shook his head incredulously. “Most of what you are saying is about as ridiculous as thinking that clock hanging on the wall is suddenly going to fly off and hit you in the head.”
It helped to hear someone else say that my worries weren’t based on reality. But in my own mind, they still felt terribly real — like all my worst “what ifs” were looming on the horizon, just about to unfold in my life through one disastrous event after another.
I had read the verses in the Bible that commanded me to “fear not.” But I had no idea how to actually live out those words. Fear and worry seemed to have a grip on my soul that would not let go. The Proverbs 31 woman “smiled at the future” but for some inexplicable reason, I only knew how to worry about the future.
I began to ask God to show me how to be set free from the grip of worry.
In answer to my prayer, over the weeks and months that followed, He began to illuminate specific biblical principles that showed me how to exchange worry and fretting for peace and rest. It wasn’t an overnight process, but as I began to apply the truths God was teaching me, worry began to lose its hold on me. I began to sense a hope and a future instead of a black hole of doom. And soon, the constant plague of “what ifs” began to fade into the distance.
If you find yourself in the grip of worry, unable to get those awful “what ifs” out of your mind, I’d like to encourage you that you don’t need to live this way! God intends for us to be free from the control of fear, and for hope-filled thoughts — rather than worry-filled thoughts — to be at the forefront of our minds.
Freedom from worrisome “what ifs” may seem impossible, but remember that with our God nothing is impossible. When we deliberately set our hearts on following His pattern, we can be sure that He will supply everything we need to walk in the victory over fear that He desires us to have.
I’d like to share three of the most important biblical principles that helped set me free from the grip of worry. If you begin to apply these principles today, you will soon begin to see the control of fear and worry lose its hold on you.
Principle #1: Live in the Present
Jesus plainly tells us not to try to carry tomorrow’s cares ahead of time. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34).
One of Satan’s biggest goals in tempting us to worry is to rob us from fully living in the present moment. Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength — carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared “good works” in advance for us to walk in. But when we are consumed with future worries, we so often miss those opportunities for serving and giving that He has placed right in front of us. We become so distracted by what might happen in the future that we are unable to fulfill the calling that He has placed on our lives today.
Elisabeth Elliot said, “Worry is refusing the given. Today’s care, not tomorrow’s, is the responsibility given to us, apportioned in the wisdom of God. Often we neglect the thing assigned for the moment because we are preoccupied with something that is not our business just now. How easy it is to give only half our attention to someone who needs us — friend, husband, or little child — because the other half is focused on a future worry.”
So just how do we resist the temptation to fret and worry about what might happen in the future? How do we learn to live fully in the present instead of carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength?
For me, the key was to gain a clearer understanding of God’s grace. Yes, trials may come in the future, but to worry about them was to discount the grace of God that would come along with every difficult test.
Corrie ten Boom once wrote about a time when she was a little girl and asked her father how she would ever be able to handle suffering for Christ. His response was truly profound.
“When you and I go to Amsterdam,” he said, “When do I give you your ticket?”
“Why, just before we get on the train,” she replied.
“Exactly. And our wise Father in Heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. [When the time comes for you to suffer], you will look into your heart and find the strength you need — just in time.”
Contrary to what we often believe, God’s grace is more than His “embrace” or “smile.” It’s the supernatural, enabling power to do what we could never do in our own strength.
Because of God’s grace, countless Christians throughout history were able to face suffering and persecution with joy and peace.
Because of God’s grace, countless believers have been able to truly forgive those who deeply hurt and wronged them.
And because of God’s grace, we can triumph even through difficulties — not in our own strength but in His.
Yet like Corrie ten Boom’s father said, God gives us the grace we need to walk through trials right when we need it — and not before. So don’t try to picture what it will be like to walk through future trials because our fearful imaginings never incorporate the amazing grace of God.
When we truly receive God’s grace, it turns everything the enemy means for evil to good in our lives. In Joseph’s story in Scripture, the extreme trials he faced were turned to incredible blessings in his life because he leaned on God’s strength and continued to trust Him, even in the darkest times. Romans 8:28 tells us that God causes “all things to work together for good” for those who love Him.
When the enemy tries to tempt you to carry tomorrow’s load with today’s strength — remember the grace of God. Stand firmly upon the promise that no matter what happens, He will never leave you or forsake you. And no matter what valley you may walk through in the future, His grace will be there every step of the way. Trust that as you give your full attention to the task sitting in front of you, He will take care of your future.
Principle #2: Don’t Confuse Worry with Wisdom
Our culture constantly bombards us with the message that worrying is equivalent to being wise. For instance, we should be worried about money and career, or else we might end up in a homeless shelter. During our single years we should be obsessed with finding the right guy, or else we might end up lonely and unfulfilled. We should be consumed with health, exercise, and dieting, or else we’ll die young from obesity or heart failure.
I’ve known many moms who are obsessed with all the latest studies about what electronics could be giving off harmful radiation and what kinds of toys may cause their kids to get lead poisoning. The more knowledge they gain about what might harm them or their families, the more paranoid and self-protective they become. Who has time for the “good works” that God has prepared for us when we have so many urgent, important issues to worry about?
I know these pitfalls all too well. Throughout my years in bondage to fear, I developed a lifestyle of self-protection designed to barricade my life from trials and discomfort. Along the way, I somehow convinced myself that in doing so, I was being wise and responsible.
For example, because I was worried about my health, I put myself in bondage to all kinds of dietary restrictions. To protect my emotions, I would slip away after speaking events to avoid being drained by the many young women who wanted to ask me for advice. To protect my reputation, I avoided speaking truth as straightforwardly as I knew God wanted me to. To protect my privacy, I became reluctant to open my home to strangers or practice hospitality. To protect our finances, I remained in a constant state of frantic busyness, stressing about one urgent task after the next. And the list went on and on.
God showed me that I was using up a lot of hours not on wisdom, but on selfishness; I was turning inward and becoming preoccupied with my own happiness, well-being, and protection. I had learned to build life around my own health, comfort, and security instead of living for Jesus Christ and joyfully embracing His call to turn outward and sacrificially serve others.
Though the world’s wisdom says, “It’s your responsibility to protect your own life and interests!” God’s wisdom says something entirely different: “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6) and “Seek first My Kingdom, and everything you need will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33 paraphrase). Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for following sound “life principles” such as working hard in school, taking care of our health, protecting our children, and avoiding outright stupidity, but I have come to realize how easily worry can disguise itself as “wisdom.”
Living in worry is not equivalent to living in wisdom. Rather, living in fear is living in direct disobedience to God. The Bible doesn’t just suggest that we don’t worry. Over and over again we are commanded not to worry. Here are just a handful of the statements Jesus made regarding worry:
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life… Matt. 6:25
Therefore do not worry… Matt. 6:31
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow… Matt. 6:34
When I finally understood that embracing worry was embracing disobedience to Christ’s commands, I repented of my sin and asked God to reshape my habits in these areas. Instead of taking my cues from the latest studies, the newest books, or the advice of secular magazines, I began to turn to His Word for wisdom on how to eat, how to practice hospitality, how to approach finances, and how to invest in the lives of others.
I began to realize that God had all the wisdom I needed for every practical area of life, and that His wisdom far surpassed the “latest studies” or the “voices of the experts” that swarmed all around me.
Jeremiah 8:9 is a great reminder of this principle, “Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD; So what wisdom do they have?” (emphasis added).
As I learned to tune out the world’s “false wisdom” and instead focus on Jesus, His Word, and His priorities for my life, I was set free from the debilitating need to barricade and self-protect. It became my joy and delight to embrace the call of God upon my life, knowing that He would protect my health, finances, and emotions as I built my life around Him.
Yes, I still seek to make sound decisions in areas such as health and finances, but my security no longer comes from my own self-protection or the advice of the world. Rather, it is my desire to find my confidence in simple, childlike faith in my faithful God.
I encourage you to prayerfully ask God to awaken you to any areas of your life in which you are living in fear and self-protection, yet calling it wisdom. Ask Him to reshape your attitudes and habits in these areas.
Practice turning to the Word of God instead of worldly or ungodly counsel, and build your decisions around His wisdom instead of this world’s.
Instead of clinging self-protectively to your life, health, finances, comforts, or future dreams, ask for the grace to completely entrust those areas of your life to Jesus Christ. When you do, you will discover a tremendous freedom from the bondage of constant worry.
Principle #3: Take Worry-Filled Thoughts Captive
Martin Luther once wrote, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
We may not be able to keep fearful thoughts from entering our minds, but we can kick them out the moment they arrive so that they don’t take root inside our hearts and control our lives.
That is the essence of 2 Corinthians 10:5, which says, “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
In my journey to overcome worry, I slowly began to learn how to take authority over every thought entering my mind and to replace lies with truth. If fearful thoughts about finances began to flit through my mind, such as: I wonder if our finances will be able to handle all these unexpected bills? What if we end up losing everything? I would immediately refuse to turn those thoughts over in my mind and instead begin meditating upon God’s promises for provision, such as: “My God will supply all [my] need according to His riches in glory” (Phil. 4:19).
If fearful thoughts about health began to arise, such as: I wonder what that strange pain in my shoulder is — I hope it’s not something serious! I would immediately say no to those thoughts and instead dwell upon God’s promises for protection and strength, such as: “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling” (Ps. 91:10).
At first, it felt tedious and time-consuming to switch fearful thoughts to faith-filled thoughts, but the more I put this principle into practice, the more it became habitual in my life. Now, after many years of working on this discipline, it comes much more automatically.
Whenever you are tempted to dwell on fearful “what if” scenarios, fill your mind with truth instead. A great way to start this principle is by memorizing some of the Psalms. Some of my favorites are Psalm 27, 34, 37, 46, 91, and 112. Whenever you are faced with temptation to fear, those words of truth can become vital weapons with which to chase away those thoughts. The more you fill your mind with truth, the scarcer lies will become.
Another great tactic is to pray for someone else when the enemy harasses you with fearful thoughts. When we pray for someone else, we take our focus off ourselves and our own fears. Prayer for others — intercessory prayer — turns us outward instead of inward.
When we know our God and believe Him to be exactly as His Word says He is, we have no reason to let fearful thoughts overtake our minds. Ask God for the strength to take authority over fearful thoughts. Train your mind to dwell upon His reality and His truth and develop the habit of immediately saying no to the enemy’s foreboding suggestions.
Are you ready to be free from the grip of worry? The exciting news is that God is ready to enable you to walk in confidence rather than fear. Allow Him to build you strong in His truth and to dress you in His holy armor. Remember, God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of “power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).