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As I travel throughout the community, Ebola is on everyone’s mind. The Ebola virus leads the news coverage. Schools and hospitals are going into lockdown until firemen and others arrive in full hazmat suits. People are on edge just watching the news, much less if you or your relative is in one of the buildings where it is happening. To say the least, we as a country are more than just merely interested; this is extremely serious.

For anyone planning to do any travel, you can’t help but wonder where all the other people around you have been, what they’ve been exposed to, and what possibly you are being introduced to in terms of illness. We hear some people tell us that it is only passed from one person to the next through direct contact, but then others speculate how these nurses are catching it in spite of their incredible efforts at protection. As far as we know, there are only experimental medicines and few specialty units throughout the States who can truly keep it isolated.

Should we be worried?

That’s a tricky and great question.

A better question is, “Should you be concerned?” Simply put – yes. We should be aware of what is happening around the nation related to the outbreak. We should take diligent care and concern toward our responsibilities and toward those for whom we are responsible. You find several places in the Bible where appropriate care and concern are modeled (2 Corinthians 11:28; Philippians 2:20; Galatians 4:19) and where planning is commended (James 4:13-15).

An easier question to answer would be, “Are we worried?” Again, many are.

The reality for many of us is the same. We look around us and determine what our responsibilities are to those close to us in our communities. We consider our individual roles and determine what we must do individually to help protect ourselves and those around us. Most of us do not have roles where we are responsible for more than just a few, so we watch what’s going on around the nation more as spectators than participants. This is our nation and we are concerned. But, there is so little to really do other than watch – which potentially builds more worry.

What is the difference between worry and concern?

Worry is an over-anxious concern regarding the future and things that keeps a person from fulfilling current responsibilities. In the Bible, the word worry literally means a divided mind. The word also can be translated as anxious or anxiety. It is more than just a concern; it is an over-anxious concern. It is a pre-occupation with the future that divides or distracts the mind from current responsibilities. Specifically in this case, it is allowing the Ebola virus and a potential epidemic in the United States to distract you to a level where you are impeded from fulfilling your current responsibilities to your family, your work, or to yourself.

David Powlison explains worry. He writes, “Central to worry is the illusion that we can control things. ‘If only I could get my retirement right, I could control the future.’ ‘If I could get my diet and medicine right, I wouldn’t get cancer.’ ‘If I could figure out the right childbearing technique, I could guarantee how my kids turn out.’ Worry assumes the possibility of control over the uncontrollable. The illusion of control lurks inside your anxiety. Anxiety and control are two sides of one coin. When we can’t control something we worry about it.”[1]

The Bible calls worry a sin.

In Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus addresses worry and forbids it three times.

  • v. 25 Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
  • v. 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”
  • v. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6 also exhorts Christ-followers to not be worried or anxious. He writes, “Be anxious for nothing…”

So what makes worry a sin?

Worry is a sin when we want to control the future and not trust God with the future. In other words, you give yourself over to some person, goal, ideal, concern, or object rather than trusting Christ with what happens to you or others. You put your desires above God’s desires and commands for your life. You allow your concerns over the future and things to be more important than thinking and acting God’s way. So instead of carefully living for Christ in everyday moments, you allow your worry to steal time, waste energy, and basically accomplish nothing (Matthew 6:19-34).

Essentially, you worship your desire for the future more than you do God. You allow anything or anyone – in this case, a desire to not get Ebola or allow it to spread – to capture your heart and mind and affections more than God. You substitute your worship for God and trust in His control for a counterfeit or substitute god – your desire to control this situation.

The things you worry about reveal your substitutes. The Bible calls this idolatry. It could be finding a mate, getting a promotion, health, money, success, children, people’s opinions, etc. It is a self-centered focus and worship of self or what you want rather than God.

When does godly concern become sinful worry?[2]

  1. When your thoughts are focused on changing or controlling the future.
  2. When your thoughts are unproductive and seem like they are in a spin cycle.
  3. When your thoughts about what you want control you instead of you controlling them.
  4. When concern causes you to neglect your other responsibilities and relationships.
  5. When it starts to damage your body through tension and other bodily responses to stress.
  6. When you start losing hope instead of finding answers.
  7. When you shut down and stop functioning.

So what does godly concern look like?

Godly concern produces three specific actions.

First, you pray.

Talk to God about whatever it is that is concerning you (Philippians 4:6-7). God is your heavenly Father and is interested in hearing what’s on your mind. Tell Him. Ask Him. Talk to Him.

Second, you think what’s right.

Consider Bible truths that you know (Philippians 4:8). Think about what the Bible teaches: God is in control; God cares for you and anyone who is sick; God wants us to trust Him; God desires us to grow in the midst of tough circumstances; God provides us grace that’s equal to the pressures and challenges in our lives; etc.

Third, you do what is right.

Ask yourself what good preparation looks like. If you are in a low risk job and do not know anyone who has been in West Africa recently, then you are at little risk they tell us. There is little we can do – for 99% of us. Simple good hygiene measures are good for any kind of viruses like Ebola and Enterovirus, and the flu – like regular hand washing. We also can go back to the first two steps; that is, we can pray and think correctly related to God and our circumstances. If there is a local outbreak, then follow the instructions given to us by the authorities over us.

What are specific prayer requests you can pray related to Ebola, Enterovirus, and other concerns?

Prayers for what you and others think and want:

  • Pray for wisdom as you hear the reports and decide how to respond
  • Pray for trust in God’s plan
  • Pray for creativity to know how to serve others around you – creative love
  • Pray for a strong God focus
  • Pray for God’s help to view the fearful situation as an opportunity to grow for God’s glory
  • Pray for gratitude as you go through this trial

Prayers for the situation and health concerns:

  • Pray for those in positions of authority to have wisdom
  • Pray for those in positions of danger to have protection and safety
  • Pray for those infected to be healed
  • Pray for safety for you and your own family
  • Pray for an antidote
  • Pray for opportunities through this to share the Gospel and hope that you have in Christ

[1] David Powlison, Worry, Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, pg. 12.

[2] This list comes from a lecture I give as part of our counseling training. I used some material from Dr. Robert Smith and Brad Bigney.