Why Worry?: Jesus on the nature and uselessness of worry

An article entitled “You’re Not Alone: Top Things People Worry Most About”[1] identified four main categories of things we tend to worry about:

  • money and the future
  • job security
  • relationships
  • health

Many of us can relate to those general categories of worry, even as we all likely have areas of worry that may be specific to us and our circumstances.

In His masterful teaching in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus directly addresses the topic of worry, which He sees as deeply connected to the good life as He is outlining it. He says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25)

Jesus tells us that His disciples learn to release worry by getting ahold of God’s Fatherly care and prioritizing God’s kingdom.

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes…most of which never happened.” That statement by an unknown author humorously draws attention to the predicament of worry.[2]

Throughout Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus addresses worry again and again as deeply connected to our spiritual life of faith.

What is worry? To worry is to give way to anxiety or unease; to allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. To put it another way, worry is a preoccupation in the present with fear about what may happen in the future. Worry is unease about the unknown.

As human beings, we tend to worry because we do not know the future. Some psychologists distinguish between healthy future thinking, by which we anticipate and prepare for the future, and unhealthy worry, where we either fixate on something or dwell on worst-case scenarios about the future.[3] As unease about the unknown, worry hinders us from living fully in the present.

This is why Jesus, when teaching about the good life, exhorts His disciples not to worry, particularly about the basics of life. As we become increasingly present to our worries, we become less present to our real life, real people, and our real God.

The first century Roman philosopher, Seneca, wrote: “There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness it is in your expecting evil before it arrives!”[4]

After all, what does worry accomplish? As Jesus says in verse 27: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27). Or in verse 34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Jesus is not espousing a pie-in-the-sky, “Don’t worry – be happy” mentality. Instead, He offers very practical instruction on the good life. Worrying will not make you flourish. Worrying will actually keep you from flourishing. It traps you in your mind through fears about the future. It hinders you from living free and in the present with yourself, others, and God.


[1] “You’re Not Alone: Top Things People Worry Most About,” Psychological Health Care, August 16, 2016, https://www.psychologicalhealthcare.com.au/blog/youre-not-alone-top-things-people-worry-most-about/.

[2] “I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened,” Quote Investigator, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/10/04/never-happened/.

[3] A. Pawlowski, “How to worry better,” Better by Today, May 10, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/praise-worry-why-fretting-can-be-good-you-ncna757016.

[4] Epistolae Ad Lucilium. XCVIII.

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