Friday, May 29, 2009

Worry, Queen of the Throat Kill

The lioness stalks her prey: golden frame poised, rippling muscles taut, ears perked sharply, yellow eyes on fire, black nostrils flaring with the scent of an unsuspecting victim, her panting mouth and salivating tongue greedy with bloodlust. Ready for the kill, she watches, she lowers her head, and then, almost imperceptibly, her left paw slowly rises and falls with silent stealth upon the tundra. Another hushed step, then another, slowly at first, but deliberate, mechanical, and graceful, like a tragic ballet. Then with a sudden burst of speed, strength, and fatal intent, she springs forth with precise ferocity towards her prey. Circling wildly, spinning madly, swirling sharply, ever closer and closer, until with one final, vicious leap, she embraces her victim in a frenzied dance of death. Her pointed claws distend into wounded flesh. Her vice-like jaws and razor canines commence their search, their gnawing search, their deadly search—not for the pulsing, tender vitals; not for the beating, crimson heart, but for the throat. Instinct has taught the lioness, thousands of years of lethal, ancestral instinct, and millions of primeval kills—find the throat. Once she finds the throat, she is the queen, the queen of death, queen of the throat-kill.

The throat-kill and its aftermath are an horrendous spectacle of "nature red in tooth and claw." Even the mighty water buffalo, how much more the zebra or antelope, seized by the throat will quickly die. The victim’s body surrenders, its knees weaken and buckle, it falls to the ground; its eyes dilate in terror. Then the panting begins, the awful panting. The pitiful mouth gapes widely and gasps for precious air, but to no avail—the queen has the throat. The victim grows still, only the tail swishes, as helpless hooves paw at the unmerciful African sky. Finally, a nerve here and there twitches in desperate futility. But the feast has already begun, the grisly feast—first at the tender belly, ripped and shredded to expose the bowels, and then the blood bath. The queen’s face is kissed with the color of violent death, her chest draped in scarlet, her forelegs bathed brightly red. Ironically, her own throat, once golden, now shimmers like a ruby. The queen is clothed in crimson; she is the queen, the queen of the throat-kill.

In ancient Europe, hunters from different countries coined words for the throat-kill. The old Germans called it wurgen, which means "to strangle." Lithuanian hunters called it vertzi, "to constrict." The medieval Brits called it worien, meaning "to choke or strangle." We call it—worry; that’s right, worry. You can hear the phonic similarity between our word worry and the German wurgen, the Lithuanian vertzi, and the Middle English worien. Wurgen—worry; vertzi—worry; worien—worry. Strange isn’t it, that the vocabulary of the hunter, the dialect of death, the terminology of the throat-kill, would wind their way through thousands of years of ancient language into our modern vernacular and become our word for "mental distress, anxiety, or agitation resulting from concern for something impending or anticipated"—worry, the lioness of human anxiety; worry, the queen of the throat-kill.

Worry is like that, isn’t she? —A cruel queen that has us by the throat. In the jungle of life, on the plains of human experience, worry stalks us. She lurks behind every tree; she waits in every path; courageous to our cowardice, bold to our fear, ever vigilant to attack our vulnerabilities, worry stalks us; she hunts patiently for the precise moment of our weakness, then she strikes, suddenly and without warning; the lioness worry goes for the throat-kill.
Worry startles us with sudden bound, leaps upon us and, before we know it, worry has us by the throat. Like prey in the lioness’ mouth, we struggle against worry, we fight for our lives, we gasp for air, but worry has us by the throat. The lioness worry is killing some of us; we are almost worried to death, and she may kill us yet. But worried about what? What has us by the throat? Difficult children, financial adversity, sickness, failing marriages, others’ opinions, professional problems, past sins, present burdens, future concerns, hard choices—all these things and more stalk and prey upon us. We are food for the lioness worry.

Upon consulting my dictionary, I was surprised to learn that the primary definition of worry was not the noun for mental anguish, but rather a verb associated with the throat-kill. The lioness worries her prey. As Webster says, to worry is "to tear, bite, or snap at the throat . . . to shake or pull at with the teeth." Secondary definitions of the verb "worry" are equally violent, "to disturb something repeatedly . . . to assail with rough and aggressive attack."

Of course Webster includes our more familiar concept of worry—mental anxiety and emotional distress over an anticipated event or consequences." This definition of worry, though correct, is unthorough; it is correct in that it identifies worry as mental anguish and emotional distress about what might happen. In this sense, worry is prospective; worry speculates with fear about the future. We might call this futuristic element of worry the queen’s first and sharpest canine—dread—worry bites with dread; worry dreads what might or might not be. But like the lioness, worry has two canines; unlike the lioness, worry has four eyes. Worry doesn’t merely look forward; she looks backward as well. Worry has eyes in her face and in the back of her head. Worry is not just prospective; she is also retrospective. Worry glances into the past; no, worry glares into the past. When worry looks ahead, she dreads; when worry looks behind, she regrets. This is the queen’s second canine—regret. When the lioness worry stalks us, she watches with all four eyes, forward and backward; when she strikes us, she pierces us with both canines, dread and regret.

In a less metaphorical, more absolute sense, we understand worry to be mental fretting and emotional distress over what was or wasn’t, what might be or might not be, and the possible consequences of what was—regret—or what might be—dread. Worry is a brutal and ignorant beast; brutal in that her grip upon our throat is terrible and painful, ignorant in that the lioness worry has only one roar, "what if?" What if I had or had not done that? What if I do or don’t do this? What if this happens, what if that happens? What if?

Now we should not draw the shallow conclusion that mental anguish and emotional struggles are always unhealthy. None of us wants to be like Mad Magazine’s red-headed fool, Alfred E. Newman, whose motto is, "What, me worry?" Of course we don’t want to worry, more precisely, we don’t’ want to be worried, taken by the throat with the queen’s canines, dread and regret. But we do want to, maybe not want to, but at the very least we must struggle with life’s difficulties; trouble and trial are essential and integral necessities of life, as much as food and water, just harder to swallow, especially when they have us by the throat. If we could merely dismiss all our problems, never think about them, never feel them, we would be emotionally dead and intellectually oblivious to reality. No, we must struggle with the problems of human existence. It’s normal. We are to feel problems, deeply, to think about problems, wisely; but thinking wisely and feeling deeply about problems are not the same as worry. Worry feels, but she does not think, at least not wisely. Worry dreads; worry regrets; worry is the world’s worst pessimist. But worry is more than this; worry is also a great sin.

In fact, worry breaks every commandment of God. Worry denies the LORD God, and chooses the despot Despair. Worry erects idols to false gods. Worry worships the god of Fear, and slaughters the soul as sacrifices upon the altars of Anxiety and Anguish. Worry takes the name of the LORD our God in vain, and silently curses God. Worry observes no Sabbath, but makes us labor seventy times seven. Worry never rests. Worry is a murderer; she kills peace; worry is a thief; she steals time; worry adulterates love, and lusts instead for dread and regret. Worry dishonors and disavows the goodness and mercy of God the Father. And Worry covets; she covets self—self-interest, self-concern, and self-pity. Worry is a great sin.

Worry is also a foolish waste of precious time, mental power, and emotional energy. If you regret something in the past, fix it if you can; if you sinned, seek atonement; if you injured someone, make restitution; if you offended another, ask forgiveness. But once you have done all you can, what else can you do? Worry? If you have done all you can to remedy a wrong, or even if you cannot undo what you have done, why worry about it? If the tree falls to the north or to the south, let it lie. And if you dread something in the future, why boast thyself of tomorrow? If the Lord wills you may or may not have cause to dread, but in either case the future is a kingdom, not a queendom; God is sovereign there, not the lioness worry.

But the dreadful and regretful soul betrays the Sovereign of the Future and the Prince of the Past, and says, "we will not have this king to rule over us. Give us worry; let us pay homage to the Queen of Dread and Regret. Let us obey her decrees of ‘what if,’ ‘what might be,’ and ‘what might have been.’" But worry is a queen as impotent as she is cruel, a regent of empty possibilities, and a despot of despair. Worry can’t change a thing, but she can change you; she can change your allegiance from the king’s merciful hand to the queen’s merciless canines, regret and dread. And she can bring you under her power, and seize you by the throat. Worry is vanity and vexation of spirit, a waste of time, mental powers, and emotional energy.

Worry is also a complaint against God. Our lives are in God’s hands, every aspect of our lives. Our circumstances, our failures; faults; sins; every event past, present, and future—all are in God’s hands. His sovereignty has planned our lives, and His providence guides us, even through the jungle. But when we worry about this or that, we are in fact protesting God’s plan and resisting God’s hand. Even worse, worry is the antithesis of trust, which is the very essence of a right relationship with God. Worry says, "I don’t like God’s plan; I don’t like God’s hand; I cannot trust God in this matter." Worry murmurs against God. Worry denies the power of prayer, and the power of God to answer prayer. Worry resists, quenches and grieves the Holy Spirit, whose grace is peace, and says, "I do not want the peace of God which surpasses understanding. Give me regret and dread, give me fear, anxiety, and distress. I will not have the peace of God in my heart, but the world’s worry at my throat."

Worry is like Shimei, always throwing stones at us; worry is like Pharaoh, a cruel taskmaster; worry is like Judas, she finds us even in our most peaceful gardens, and kisses us with betrayal; worry is like Thomas, she doubts; worry is like Peter, impetuous, fickle, and sometimes in denial; worry is like the devil himself, a great red dragon with beating wings flying in the storm clouds of our minds; worry is a roaring lion that stalks us in our dark jungles of fear; worry is a snake that slithers into the hidden crevices of our hearts, laying her eggs and injecting her poison; worry is a wolf that howls in the middle of the night and makes us tune our trembling ears to her voracious voice. Worry is devilish.

What do we worry about—our children, our marriages, sickness, sorrow, death, financial pressures, professional failure, marital strife, mistakes, others’ opinions? Well, get this straight—we will have problems with our children. Don’t worry about it. It’s going to happen. Yes, our marriages will have some rough spots. Don’t worry about it. Yes, we or someone we love will get very sick one day—our parents, our spouse, our children, a precious friend—don’t worry about it. Yes, we will have financial pressures; we might even be poor, or go bankrupt—don’t worry about it. Yes, we will somehow fail in our professional lives; we might even hear some badly coiffured Donald Trump say to us—you’re fired! —don’t’ worry about it. Yes, we will make mistakes, probably embarrassing ones—don’t worry about it. Yes, some people will think I’m a jerk, or a loser; don’t worry about it. Yes, we will have sorrows in life, and burdens to boot; sorrows so great they will overwhelm us, and burdens too great to bear alone—but don’t worry about these. Job said, "Man that is born of woman is of a few days and full of trouble." Job suffered, but he didn’t worry. Even Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation." But he also said, "don’t worry about it"—"be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

"OK," you say, "I shouldn’t worry. But I do worry; the lioness has stalked me and caught me; her teeth have seized my throat with regret and dread. My knees are weak and buckling, my eyes wide with fear, and I am gasping with worry. What shall I do? How do I stop the throat-kill of worry?"

Well, dear friend, your first problem is that you are a bad speller. "A bad speller?" you reply. Yes, you are a bad speller. You spell p-r-a-y p-r-e-y. The one—p-r-e-y—is the lioness’s teeth in your throat, the other—p-r-a-y—is the king’s hand upon your shoulder. Both Queen Worry and King Jesus require you to bend the knee, but to whom will you bow and how? Will you bow to Queen worry, with her teeth in your throat, your knees buckled, your heart weakened, and your breath begging for life and peace? Or will you bow the knee to King Jesus, with His hand upon your shoulder to strengthen the feeble knees, empower the fainting heart, and breathe the invigorating wind of the Almighty Spirit? Will you bend the knee as prey, or bend the knee and pray?

The Great apostle teaches us, "be careful for nothing," which means that we should not be "full of care" about anything; but some of us interpret Paul’s words too precisely; we think that when Paul says, "be careful for nothing," that that is exactly what we should do, "be full of care about nothing," full of care about nothing we can control, full of care about nothing we can change, full of care about nothing we can do, which are precise definitions of worry—to be full of care about nothing. But we have missed Paul’s meaning, who enjoins us to be full of care about no-thing; no matter how great or difficult the problem, no matter how loud the roar, how terrible the beast, how sharp the teeth, Paul enjoins us to "be careful for no-thing, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God." Change your spelling, dear Christian, and no longer say p-r-e-y but p-r-a-y. Declare this to Queen Worry and King Jesus—every time the lion roars, I shall pray; every time the beast attacks, I shall pray; every time the queen’s canines, dread and regret, seize me by the throat, I shall rebuke the devourer and say, "Get behind me, Satan. This is the King’s matter, not the queen’s murder. I shall not be prey, but I shall pray." By prayer, I shall translate every earthly burden into a heavenly blessing; by prayer I will make the lion to lie down with the Lamb. By prayer I shall transfigure regret into redemption, and dread into hope. By prayer I shall overcome the world, and the worries of it.

Another way to break the throat-grip of worry is to meditate upon Christ and His word. Now, it is almost a humorous question, but if a lioness had me by the throat, about what would I be thinking? The raw power that has me in her grip? To be sure. The awful jaws around my throat? Without a doubt. The sharp teeth in my windpipe? Most certainly. The regret of what has befallen me, and the dread of what awaits? Of course. But do we not understand? This is exactly what the queen of the throat-kill wants us to do—think about her, her power, and her teeth, dread and regret; think about worry while we bleed into her teeth. "Think about me," says the lioness worry. Think about my strength, my jaws, my teeth; think about the throat-kill. But above all," worry says, "don’t think about lion-slayers."

Don’t think about Samson, upon whom the Spirit of the LORD came mightily when he met a young lion in the way and tore her to pieces with his bare hand. Don’t think about that. And don’t think about how God strangely filled the dead lion with honeybees to make honey in the lion’s carcass, to strengthen Samson and his family. Don’t think about the supremacy of the bare hand empowered by the Spirit, or the sovereignty of God to bring honey out of a lion’s teeth, and strength out of struggle. Don’t think about that; that about me, my jaws, my teeth, the throat-kill. Don’t think about lion-slayers.

"Don’t think about the shepherd boy David who, to protect his flock, took the lion by the beard, smote him, and slew him. And don’t think about David’s mighty man, Benaiah, the son of valiant Kabzeel, who "slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day." Think about the adverse conditions in your life. Think about the snow, the pit, and the lion; think about the throat-kill.
"Think as the slothful man thinks, ‘There is a lion in the way, and I shall be slain in the streets.’ Think as the defeated Israelites thought, ‘The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer . . . is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make our land desolate; and our cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant.’ Think about the lion-fearers, not the lion-slayers; not Samson, or David, or Benaiah. And dare not think of Daniel. Think not of fearless obedience; think not of joy and peace amidst trial; think of the evil queen worry, lurking in the den of regret, crouching in the cave of dread; shall you not tremble? Think of her there, waiting for you. ‘The lion hath roared, who will not fear?’4 But think not of Daniel, to whom God ‘sent his angel . . . and shut the lion’s mouth.’5 And above all, do not think of Lamb, the Lamb against whose darling soul the strong lions roared, and opened their mouths like hell without measure. Think not upon the Lamb, not upon His flesh torn for your flesh, not upon His soul pierced for your soul, His blood spilled for your blood. Think not upon the slaughtered Lamb, but upon your own slaughter, your own throat, and upon the lioness’ teeth. Think not upon Lamb, who by His death slew the lioness worry, for He will convince you that ‘neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,’ not even the lioness worry, can separate you from the Lamb’s love. Think not upon the Lamb, for He will keep you in perfect peace. Think upon me," says the lioness worry, and "I will keep thee in a perpetual fret. I will have you by the throat. But if you think upon the great Lion Slayer, I will lose my grip, for He will have you by the heart."

That Samson will slay worry, and summon the honeybees; that Benaiah fears not the snow for His household, and will tread any pit to slay worry; that David wields the deadly sling of grace and will strike worry in the forehead; that Daniel silences worry’s roar and stills her teeth. Worry cannot bite the throat whose mind stays upon the Lion Slayer, and whose heart is reposed upon the bosom of the Lamb.


Jacob G├╝cker said...

Thank you for this definition. In many sermons worry has been the enemy of self-esteem or personal progress, as if one could somehow say to this huntress, "No thank you, madame, I don't think I should like to have this dance today because I'm purpose-driven."
But worry is really the antithesis of faith, the sin of disbelief. I can't will my way out of being hunted by the evil one but I can raise the alarm and cry out for salvation. Does a man will himself out of cardiac arrest? How much self-esteem does he have then?
I say that I believe in the sovereign Lord - oh sweet sovereignty - but I have consistently asked Him, " Lord, Why did you make me thus? Why did you call me out of Egypt with promises of hope only to have me die in this wilderness? Or, have I been like Saul? Will I fall ruined on Mt. Gilboa too? Surely Judas did not set out to be THE Judas! What if I am Esau and I just don't know it? Round and round, turning myself like a wheel.

I go through this when God has consistently reminded me that I am His inheritance, and that He will not lose His inheritance. When I hear and obey this reminder, I am filled with more joy than I can comprehend. When worrying it is so hard to look at Jesus, but when I am finally able, I find, as Spurgeon did, that I can almost look my eyes out.

Hal Brunson said...

Jacob, a beautiful thought of yours and Mr. Spurgeon's . . . thank you!