I counsel more people on the issue of anxiety than nearly any other issue. Worry is common to us all, and its ubiquity makes it a great target for a short Biblical counseling book. Tim Lane, a seasoned and respected counselor within the movement, has written here a concise and devotional look at the issue of worry. Living Without Worry is a simple introduction to the spiritual battle behind anxiety.
Worry is a deeply spiritual issue, according to Lane. “Worry, ultimately, is a response to life lived in God’s world,” he tells us. “Worry is, therefore, a response to God himself” (18). He defines the term as “over-concern” (20), noting that it is different from general concern. We ought to express legitimate concern that demonstrates our own personal understanding of responsibility. We ought also to work hard to resolve what we can. Over-concern, however,”thinks and acts as though everything is up to you, or completely out of control” (20). This definition helps to distinguish between normal, healthy concern, and sinful worry.
Lane is not naive to physical and biological issues related to worry. He speaks to side-effects and potential factors of causation, but he is more interested in the spiritual battle. Much of what he writes, then, is directed to provided Biblical encouragement in the face of worry. He speaks to issues of the past, worry about the future, and struggles in the present. He avoids simplicity by being realistic about our struggle to put into practice what Jesus commands. He knows that simply reading Jesus’ commands not to worry won’t sufficiently excise our fears. He roots, then, real change not simply in information but in desire. Lane writes:
What you worry about is a good indicator to what you truly value and rely upon. When you find that you are filled with anxiety, there is something going on in your heart. You are finding value in something other than Christ; and because you think it might be taken away, you are filled with anxiety. Or you are putting your trust somewhere other than in Christ (yourself, or someone else, or “chance”) and because you cannot truly trust it, you are feeling worried. (93)
Our heart drives what we do, and so our heart likewise drives our worry. We must wrestle with, then, what we love, what we treasure. Lane’s detailed expositions of Matthew 6 help us mightily here. The book as a whole is filled with detailed explorations of relevant passages to help us fuel the fight against worry. Lane truly believes in the power of the Word of God and demonstrates it in his use of Scripture to highlight the nature, causes, and cures of worry.
But, again, he is not simply suggesting we need more information about worry. What we love drives what we do, and so we need to examine and reevaluate what we love. We need to cultivate new desires. He writes:
Thinking rightly doesn’t automatically produce change. So there must be another dynamic in addition to right thinking. What exactly is that additional dynamic? What will take the information that you have gathered and utilize it in such ways that change begins to happen and the anxiety that you struggle with begins to lose its grip over your life? If you don’t answer that question, you will be left with a view of change that is simply cognitive/behavioral; that is, right thinking leads to right living…Real change begins at the level of what we honor, treasure, adore or functionally worship on a daily basis. (115)
It’s here that the real battle needs to take place. I am grateful for books like James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom which fleshes this out beautifully. Lane’s book concurs and brings us to this point. The rest of the book, then, points us to meditation on the promises of Scripture as a means for fighting anxiety and cultivating new desires. Meditation is more than just thinking about texts, it is about “hiding them in our heart.” This is the means to real change, but he warns us that this is not the same as a “quick fix.” Change is a process and takes self-discipline and waiting on God. Those are wise words needed for the anxious heart ready to find immediate alleviation.
One of the other benefits of this book is its constant reminder of the value of the church. The corporate body can walk alongside us in our anxiety and be a voice of reason in the midst of fear. Regularly Lane warns us not to try to change of fight fear on our own. His emphasis on the role of the church is unique and much appreciated.
I liked Living Without Worry. It is simple and accessible, written at a popular level. It avoid simplistically, even as it focuses on the spiritual battle behind anxiety. For those struggling with worry this will be a great introduction to the fight for faith. It will not cover all the practical things that may aid your change, but it will be a helpful guide as you begin the work of healing.