I worry about everything. Big things, small things, it doesn’t matter: I’m an equal opportunity worrier. The length of airport security lines. Who our next president will be. Parent teacher conferences. What our future will look like after PhD(s?). That whining sound the car engine keeps making. Whether or not the parking meter will run out before I put more money into it. Where the other sock went.
So you can imagine that when Tim said to me, about five years ago, “I want to go to seminary,” it was like the lighting of the torch of the Worrying Olympics. Will I be able to find a job? How will we pay tuition and still eat food? Will we accrue crippling debt? What about selling our house? Where will we live? What about a church? What about friends?
Matthew 6 became my constant companion. In these familiar, poetic verses, Jesus addresses the subject of human anxiety.
Matthew 6:25-34: “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? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
There’s only one antidote for worry, and that’s the gospel: putting our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior instead of trying to work to be our own saviors. So many of my anxieties really boil down to frenetic mental attempts to save myself. Jesus tells us in this passage to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. What does that mean? It means, first of all, to acknowledging Jesus as our good and wise king—he’s the one who truly rules over our circumstances. It means replacing worry with submission to him. And it also means that rather than frantically striving to produce our own righteousness, we rest in his righteousness, imputed to us, his children.
Worry is the antithesis of trust. Worry says, “I might not get what I want.” Trust says, “I believe that what God wants is best.” Worry wears us out as we “labor and spin” to earn the things we think we want and need. Trust revives us as it enables us to rest in the sovereignty of God. Worry turns us inward toward ourselves. Trust turns us outward toward God, the author and finisher of our faith.
We know in our heads that distrustful anxiety, far from accomplishing anything good, can in fact poison our relationships with God and other people. As Corrie Ten Boom said, “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.” But as with other truths, it’s sometimes difficult for that head knowledge to permeate our hearts and change our affections.
God knows our frailty and our weakness. He remembers that we are dust. And in the midst of all of our distrustful anxiety, he meets us. Speaking to us through his word, he gives us repeated, clear reminders of who he is and what he has done for us. And one of the most surprising and beautiful things he does is that he often chooses to use those very situations that caused us so much worry to bless us and teach us and cause us to grow.
So here are 5 things I worried about in coming to seminary and how God turned my fears into blessings and opportunities for growth.
Worry #1: That we would be dirt poor and living someplace really sketchy. I was terribly concerned that our house in Colorado wouldn’t sell, that I wouldn’t find a good job, and that we would have to pay an exorbitant amount of rent. Each step of the way, God provided. Our house in Colorado sold in four days at asking price. We were offered a lovely, low-rent guest house from a Christian couple in Escondido. And I was hired at Calvin Christian School for exactly the same position I had in Colorado Springs: head high school English teacher (because the teacher who had been there 10 years suddenly got engaged and moved away—what a happy “coincidence”).
I’ve heard so many similar stories from friends at seminary. Each new obstacle, each unforeseen difficulty becomes an Ebenezer to God’s faithfulness. Sometimes, that faithfulness comes in the form of abundant material provision. Other times, that faithfulness is God teaching us to rely on His power and presence more than on material things. It always amazes me, in light of God’s faithfulness, how prone I am to forget his past mercies and focus on my future unmet needs.
Worry #2: That I would never see my husband. This one actually turned out to be kind of true. However, it did make our time together sweeter and more intentional. I valued his presence more, and took it for granted less than I had when we had every Saturday together. And God taught me how to view the time Tim was studying as a gift that I was giving him to help him prepare for future ministry.
Worry #3: That Tim’s theology would change dramatically, and I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Tim’s theology did change, but not the way I’d expected. Most of the details of his beliefs stayed the same. He believes the same things about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church government that he did before he came to seminary, with maybe some different nuances and certainly many more concrete, biblical reasons for holding these beliefs. The seismic shift that happened in his theology (and consequently in mine) was his understanding of the centrality of the gospel and the absolute necessity of its application to every aspect of the Christian life. We had both fallen into believing that the good news of what Jesus has done was the starting point of the Christian life instead of the motive and power behind everything we do as Christians. It didn’t help that we were still holding onto some rather toxic sanctification theology that was leaving us weary with striving to better ourselves instead of trusting in God for our spiritual growth as well as for our justification. The gospel doesn’t just set us free from trying to earn our salvation. It sets us free from fruitless attempts to perfect ourselves also. The dramatic change in Tim’s theology ended up being a change that I desperately needed to help free me from a works-based mentality that had slowly crept into my relationship with God. And as far as not being able to keep up with Tim…that was a groundless fear, because seminary helped make him an excellent communicator of truth. Early on, he was maybe a little too enthusiastic in ‘correcting’ my theology, but he quickly learned how to speak the truth in love.
Worry #4: That I’d be forced into a pastor’s wife role that conflicted with my personality. Although presently Tim’s plans include a Ph.D. program, he expressed early on an openness to becoming a pastor one day. I really struggled with this before we went back to Colorado in the summer for Tim’s internship. I was terrified of the long list of expectations that I believed would come with the role of pastor’s wife. I had in my mind a cookie-cutter ideal of someone unerringly gracious (even when her husband was criticized), someone who could play the piano and sing beautifully, who would cheerfully head up the casserole committee, the prayer chain, the nursery volunteer schedule, and VBS, who was equally friends with every member of the congregation, and who was never, ever awkward. This person was not me.
Our internships in Colorado taught me that I didn’t have to change who I was. God showed me, first of all, that most pastor’s wives don’t fit that cookie-cutter ideal, and second, that he could use my present talents as well as my weaknesses to walk alongside my husband in ministry. And at an ordination service for two new pastors at New Life Church, Dr. Johnson’s words to the congregation pierced my heart as he reminded the new pastors and their families that ministry isn’t about us. And it’s not about people’s expectations of us. It’s about reaching lost people with good news.
Worry #5: That my sweet, compassionate, humble, good-humored husband would become puffed up with knowledge, prideful, and would start taking life way too seriously. What I failed to realize is that the curriculum at Westminster isn’t just the lectures and the papers and the research and the thousands of pages of reading. The hidden curriculum is the professors themselves. These are people who have personally served in ministry, who are humbled by what they don’t know instead of full of what they do know, who admit their own brokenness, and who cling to Jesus Christ. Tim learned from their lives as he was learning from their lectures. At the end of seminary, we both applied to Ph.D. programs and we were both accepted—to schools in different states. Tim ended up declining his offer, and the full scholarship that came with it, so that he could support me in my program first. He didn’t emerge from seminary full of arrogant knowledge and focused on displaying that knowledge in his career. He emerged with a passion for serving the church and communicating the gospel to people. What he told me, as we made the terribly difficult decision to pursue my Ph.D. first, is that his seminary degree can be put to equally good use in a tiny church of 50 people as it can in the most prestigious university in the world. Faithful service needn’t be glamorous, and it usually isn’t.
My encouragement to you today is to turn outward to Jesus instead of inward to your own resources. To rest in God’s sovereignty instead of striving to fulfill your own plans. To preach the gospel to yourselves and to one another so that your worries might be diminished in light of God’s immense and abiding faithfulness to you. And my prayer for you is that you might see your worries turning into blessings as God uses your circumstances to grow your faith.