Depending on your season of life, worry may come and go. If you are facing a life-altering decision, you may worry that you’ll make the wrong choice. When parents have children, they might worry about their children’s lives and how they will turn out. No matter where you are today, it can be encouraging to know that we have somewhere to look when we are struggling with worry. There are many stories of worry in the Bible, and in this article, we will examine three of them: Naomi, Martha, and Jonah.
Stories of Worry in the Bible
The stories of Naomi and Jonah are from the Old Testament, while Martha’s story is in the New Testament. We see that worry isn’t escapable across the breadth of the Bible except by turning to God.
In all three stories of worry, the answer didn’t necessarily lie in the problem being solved, the day going just as planned, or the way ahead being easy. The answer was found in the promise of a God who loves and provides for His people.
What does worry in the Bible mean?
The word worry in the New Testament is a Greek word, “merimnao,” which translates to anxiety. It is a combination of two words, merizo, which means “to divide” and nous, which means “the mind.” So when we think of worry or anxiety, we know it divides our minds.
It keeps us from being present, it can steal our joy, and it can rob us of peace. But the good news is that God has prepared a script for us – a story in each of these people’s life that shows us a way to find Him in the midst of our anxious thoughts.
Naomi expressed the pain she was feeling because of life’s hardships. She had lost both of her sons, and she was in a position where she had nothing except the two daughters-in-law who were left. She assured them they needed to return to where they were from so that they could be with their families of origin after both of their husbands died.
She said she wanted her name to be changed to Mara due to feeling embittered in her relationship with God. She knew that He had dealt her hand, so to speak, and it was less than desirable; it was marked with pain, sadness, and grief.
In addition to the loss of her sons, Naomi had no grandchildren – which could have signified a curse or, at the very least, lack of God’s blessing – and there was a widespread famine. If she wanted to blame God for her worries and woes, she certainly had reason.
Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? We think, “If only God would change this, my worries would clear up. Maybe if God takes this circumstance and makes it lighter, I will feel better about my life.”
So what happened to Naomi? What got her through the worry with which she struggled? Her daughter-in-law Ruth had faith and loyalty that spurred Naomi on toward a new place to live and the belief that something or someone could redeem the hardships she’d endured.
The end of Naomi’s story is that she did end up having a grandchild, and her daughter-in-law married a man who they discovered was actually a distant relative. They had food to eat and newfound security. Naomi’s grandson would become the father of Jesse, the father of David, who was in the family lineage of the ultimate Redeemer, Jesus.
What can we learn from Naomi’s struggle? We can learn to lean on others’ faith when we are struggling with our own.
There will be times in life when your friends and family members, a church service, or a pastor may need to call you from your worry and show you what God can do. Let them. When we try to hide our fears or worries from others, it doesn’t help us, and it does not allow the love of God to flow through them to our hearts.
To read more about Naomi’s story of worry in the Bible, and the redemptive ending, go to the book of Ruth.
The book of Jonah comes as the fifth book in a group of twelve that bear the names of minor prophets. Unlike the other minor prophets’ stories, which told about their oracles, the one about Jonah talks about his life as a man.
We can take great comfort from his struggle to decide: follow what God was leading him to do or take a more predictable and perhaps more peaceful route. Jonah’s worry could be summed up in a two-word question: What if?
- What if I obey and something bad happens to me?
- What if I do this thing God is asking and it angers a group of people?
- What if I fail or chicken out at the last minute?
- What if the place where I am going is hostile to me and rejects me?
It’s easy to let these two little words spin our minds into worry. Let’s look at Jonah’s story of worry in the Bible and how he overcame it.
In Jonah 1, when God proclaimed His love and mercy for a people that Jonah hates, the Ninevites, we can imagine how Jonah felt: betrayed, unworthy of God’s favor, and abandoned by God. Have you ever felt unworthy of God’s favor? Abandoned by God?
It’s not surprising that Jonah surrendered to his fear and hatred of the Ninevite people and ran in the opposite direction after God told him to specifically share about His love and mercy in Nineveh. Jonah boarded a ship to Tarshish, far from Nineveh, where he met some pagan sailors.
His worry was taking him away from the Lord and away from the calling God has placed on his life. As we see in this part of Jonah’s story, his worry forced him to confront his own pride.
While on the ship a great storm brewed, and the sailors recognized it as a spiritual storm. They called on Jonah, their new shipmate who happened to be sleeping at the time, and they asked him what he thought they should do. What seems like a noble instruction on Jonah’s part, to throw him overboard, was actually Jonah’s attempt of getting out of God’s call on his life for good.
But even in the act of throwing him off the boat, the sailors turned away from their own sin and placed their belief in God.
Jonah was “saved” by a whale, and this is where he should have accepted that his pride had endeared him to worry. Still, Jonah didn’t come to full repentance, he simply recognized that God had been faithful. He thanked God for sticking with him and promised he would go to Nineveh to share about God’s mercy.
Once Jonah was vomited out by the whale back onto dry land, God reminded Jonah of his promise to obey. He instructed him (again) in Jonah 3:2, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Jonah started out on the long journey and gave a version of God’s message. However, in his version, the message missed some key points: He doesn’t mention the sinful activities for which Nineveh had come to be known, nor the way for the Ninevites to respond to God. He simply said that they will be “overturned.”
Whether it was worry or fear that caused Jonah to give halfway obedience to the prophetic call on his life, we see that God still used him. The king of Nineveh and all the people turned from their wickedness and worshiped the Lord.
What’s ironic is that Jonah’s prophetic message for this city did actually come true. They were not overturned in the sense of being destroyed (God forgave them and promised not to destroy the city when they turned to Him). No, the city was “overturned,” meaning that their hearts were transformed.
How does this relate to stories of worry in the Bible?
The book of Jonah isn’t really a story about Jonah and his worry; it’s about the source of his concern. He didn’t want to live in a world where a compassionate God would care as much about his enemies as for him. If you continue in the book of Jonah, you will find that we don’t get to see a clear resolution to his story.
The point of the story is to hold up a mirror to our worry. It can be rooted in selfishness or pride, and God in His great mercy calls us to be willing to examine the source of our worries.
Martha often gets a bad rap. We remember her simply for one story when actually, she would become a dear friend to Jesus during His time on earth. But just like the other stories of worry in the Bible, we see Martha primarily as a tale of anxiety mixed with maybe a little jealousy.
When Jesus came to dine at her house with a gathering of others, Martha became frustrated with her sister, Mary, because she wasn’t helping around the house. In Luke 10:38-39, we read that Jesus was on his way somewhere when he stopped at Mary and Martha’s house, and Mary chose to sit at His feet and listen to everything He said instead of helping Martha.
On the other hand, Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (Luke 10:40a, ESV) Martha is remembered primarily because she was distracted by and probably worried about how everything would get done. Have you ever been worried that not everything would get done in time?
What we learn in Martha’s story, however, is that even our to-do lists come under submission to the Lord. In His response, Jesus showed His compassion and His authority to Martha.
He first addressed Martha with what she was facing – worry. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.” (Luke 10:41, ESV) Here we see that Jesus’ compassion on Martha required that He help her see that her real issue wasn’t a clean house or a full table; it was worry. He invites her to recognize the destructive thought patterns to which she had succumbed.
Second, He reminded Martha of His authority. He instructed her to remember what the most important priority in life is: a relationship with God. In Luke 10:42, Jesus continued, “but few things are needed – or indeed only one.”
If you read to the end of the story, you see that Jesus addresses Martha about Mary’s inaction. But the takeaway from this story isn’t about Mary. It is that Martha recognized her worry and saw it next to the light of Christ.
What we learn from these Bible stories
As these stories may remind you, God cares about your worries. He would not have included so many stories of worry in the Bible if He were not a compassionate, loving Father. His call to you might indeed be to “cast your cares on the Lord.” (Psalm 55:22, ESV)
One excellent way to cast your cares is to take the first step toward counseling. Call our offices, so we can match you with a counselor who will listen and help you take the next step to overcome worry. The Lord has more in mind for you, and we’re here to help.
“Bible”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Sitting on the Dock”, Jametlene Reskp, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Open Bible”, Courtesy of Emmanuel Phaeton, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Psalms”, Courtesy of Emmanuel Phaeton, Unsplash.com, CC0 License