WORRY | NewChurch 3-21-15
We’ve been looking at the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus addresses His followers and gives them a complete overhaul of the way we are to look at the world going forward. He turns conventional wisdom, and the things that everybody thinks they know, upside down. This is Jesus giving us His updated version of what it means to be a person who desires to live their life following God. Over the last four weeks we have talked about anger, judging people, making promises we can’t keep, an eye for an eye, let your yes be yes, walking on water — and this week we are going to talk about a subject that affects all of us. Tonight we are going to talk about worrying. Anxiety, fear, obsession and what we can do about it.
I want you to think about something, what is your “go to” worry? Is there something that pops in your head when you wake up in the middle of the night? Is there something you are worried about right now? What are you afraid of? What makes you nervous? Anxious?
Worry can be overwhelming. It can suck the joy out of life. What if this happens? What if that happens? We worry that something bad is going to happen, or might happen. We think if we worry about something, maybe we can prevent the bad thing from happening. Or at least keep it from getting out of hand. Worriers think it is their duty to worry about the anything they can imagine might happen—like it’s the responsible thing to do. The truth is, worrying doesn’t do anything good. It’s actually really bad for us.
Dr Robert Leahy wrote a book called “The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You” and he says “Worriers are more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, fatigue, aches and pains, In addition, it is a present symptom of anxiety disorders and overlapping psychiatric disorders such as depression.” He calls it “what if” disease, and says it robs people of their potential and well being.
So, from a psychological standpoint, worry is not a good thing. It is not a pleasant thing. Tonight we are going to look at what Jesus has to say about it. I’m not pretending to be an expert on worry, I’m not Dr Phil, and this message is not a LifeHack. My hope is that we can look at God’s word together with an open mind, hear what God is saying to us, let it stir things up, and start a conversation about what we should do about it. A conversation with each other—which we will have time to discuss in our HangTime afterward, and a conversation with God. Listen to what the Spirit is saying to you through the Word.
Let’s turn to Matthew chapter six, starting at verse 25.
Jesus is talking to His followers about how they should look at their life and He just explained to them that they can not serve both God and money. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we can not be obsessed with material possessions. Then He gets on the subject of worry. It’s funny to me how very little has changed in two thousand years concerning what people tend to worry about.
…So, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, or what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Well, there you go. Simple. Just don’t worry about your life. Don’t worry about food—whether you like it or don’t like it, whether you eat too much of it, or don’t have enough, whether it’s covered in cheese or vinegar—don’t worry about drink (whether your water is bottled from a natural spring and filtered, or out of the tap, if the Coke is diet or if the Coke is Dr Pepper—which only makes sense in the South, if the beer is from a microbrewery or has a multimillion dollar ad campaign rather than flavor), and don’t worry about your body. I mean, what kind of self-obsessed monster ever worries about their body? Or clothes, I can’t think of anyone who gives a second thought to their clothes, or shoes. Maybe this passage doesn’t apply to us any more, maybe modern man just doesn’t worry about such mundane things. Or maybe it’s amazing how the petty things we tend to worry about haven’t changed at all. Although, It’s true that we tend to worry about these things in a more “first world” way. They might have been more concerned with starving to death or being forced into the streets naked. Continuing in Matthew…
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
A cubit is the measurement from your elbow to the tip of your fingers, about a foot and a half. It would also be a pretty big increase in height. If I was a cubit taller, I would be seven and a half feet tall. I think this is Jesus being funny. Which of you, by worrying can make yourself Yao Ming?
The average height of a Jewish man in Jesus’ day is thought to be around 5’1”, and the minimum height for a Roman soldier is believed to have been 5’10”. If this is the case, then it might have been a common inferiority complex for the Hebrews that they were so much shorter than their oppressors, the Romans, and they probably fantasized about being taller. Kind of like how some of us obsess over wishing we were thinner or had more hair—not that I personally know anyone who thinks about such shallow things. Weight and baldness. Not constantly. Like maybe every five minutes or so.
Try not to picture Jesus as five foot tall now. He continues:
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin
This is a very well known passage of scripture and it’s one that I have hilariously misunderstood for years. I pictured the lilies of the field literally spinning. Like they were trying to get the other flower’s attention with their wild spinning, dance moves. Which makes no sense because He clearly said they DO NOT spin. Plus, that’s not what this is talking about. Remember how Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel? A spinning tool was used to make thread and clothing. Thus, flowers don’t spin. Jesus goes on…
29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Jesus is saying the grass is clothed with flowers, more beautiful than the most glamorous, wealthy, blinged-out person they could imagine. And it’s only grass, which is here today and used as kindling for a fire in an oven tomorrow. Grass was burned in clay ovens to bake bread with an open flame—kind of like the tandoori ovens you can still find in Indian restaurants for making naan. Naan is delicious, and now I’m hungry, which brings us back to verse 31…
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek.
The Gentiles. Those filthy dirty Gentiles. “Gentiles” is a word that simply means “not Jewish” but the word used for “gentiles” in this passage is the Greek word “ethnos” which actually has a slightly different connotation. “Ethnos” is the same word Jesus used in The Great Commission when He said to go into every nation (ethnos) making disciples. He’s comparing the people who follow Him to the “ethnos”—the people who are not yet following Him. He is teaching on the Kingdom of God—He is King and we are the royal subjects—and comparing us, the citizens of Heaven, to the barbarians (the “ethnos”) we are sent to conquer. We are the people He has called to follow Him, and He wants us to understand that we no longer have to worry about petty, childish, silly things like the pagans who don’t know any better. Verse 32…
For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
We don’t have to worry about those things because we know that God will worry about them for us. He knows what we need and will make sure we have enough. And He ends with this..
So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
There you have it. Just stop worrying, it’s that simple. The end. Amen. Let’s all go home and live our new worry-free lives. Hakuna Matata.
Except we can’t. It doesn’t even sound like good advice, except we know we are supposed to think it is good advice because Jesus said it—but doesn’t it sound a little irresponsible–like a stoner teen trying to get out of a difficult conversation with dad? “Man! Stop worrying about whether I get a job or finish school, there’s plenty of time for all that, it’ll all work out.”
It sounds like bad advice. Is Jesus really telling us to be irresponsible and not plan for the future? No. He is saying to stop worrying about whether God will take care of us or not. That’s why He says “O ye of little faith.”
Think about it, a lot of our worry is functional atheism. We’re worried about something we think might happen and we don’t believe God will take care of us. Maybe He won’t take care of us because He is not there, maybe there is no God—we doubt that He exists at all—or at least in our worrying we act like it. Or maybe we think He’s there but just isn’t going to help us—we doubt His character—that He is good, or we think He’s not paying attention. O we of little faith.
Over the last twelve months I’ve had my share of worry and doubt. It had been a long time since I had been so consumed with anxiety. I don’t want to go into much detail, or fan any remaining flames of bitterness, but the last year was riddled with personal crisis leading up to my being laid off from a job I loved while at the same time my mother was slipping into dementia and dying. Heavy stuff. I fought giving in to worry and doubt, I prayed constantly, I searched God’s Word for comfort and direction and I woke up many, many nights not knowing what to do—trying to simply trust Him but struggling to find peace. I reminded myself that God is good, that He’s in control, that He loves me—and loves my mom. That He is not finished with me, and there is hope for her. I tried to stop worrying but I couldn’t. I tried to rely on my faith but all these doubts kept jabbing at me.
By the way, do you know the difference between a question and a doubt? I think this is a helpful clarification. A question is looking for an answer, but a doubt is just looking for a fight. Questions have answers. “What does Jesus mean when He says we shouldn’t worry?” That’s a question, we can think about it, talk about it, study God’s word until we find an answer. But, “What if the Bible isn’t true?” or “What if God isn’t really there?” Those are doubts, and these kind of demonic statements need to be punched in the nose. “What if the Bible isn’t true?” “What if it is?” Bam! What if God isn’t there?” “What if He is?” Bam!
So, we are going to assume that God is real and His word is trustworthy. And we are going to look for an answer to the question, “What does Jesus mean when He says we shouldn’t worry?” What can we actually do about it?
Here’s the first thing: We aren’t supposed to start with “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.” An old preacher friend of mine used to say, “When we see a ‘therefore’ we have to find out what it’s there for.” In the Bible, “therefore” is always pointing to a previous point, it’s the conclusion of an argument. So, what is the argument Jesus is concluding?
Verse 33: …seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…
We can stop worrying about tomorrow when we seek first the Kingdom of God. He’s not telling us to stop thinking about things—He says “all these things” will be given to us. He doesn’t expect us to just stop obsessing altogether—He made us, He knows we are human— He wants us to change what we are obsessing about. He is telling us to obsess over—seek—the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Jesus is our King, and He wants us to be in good standing with Him. Obsess over that. Take comfort in that.
We don’t have to worry about our standing with God, He took care of that for us. What does it mean to “seek” the kingdom of God, though?
Last week we talked about the Law and what God wants—demands—from all of us. The Ten Commandments can be summed up in the two great Commandments “Love God and Love People.” If we want to please God—if we want to do what God wants us to do—then the message is clear, He wants us to love people. Which sounds simple, except it isn’t. It turns out that people are the worst, and it’s really hard to love them. Especially the ones that we don’t like and who get in the way of our uninterrupted happiness. Murderers, thieves, rapists, liars, pedaphiles, bad drivers—you know what they have in common? They’re all people—of all the creatures under heaven, people might be the most difficult to love.
But, God loved us so much that He sent His only Son. He knew full well what was going to happen too, and He did it anyway. Jesus loved us, and loved perfectly for us. But, since people are the worst, we killed Him. He died the death we deserved, and by doing so made us completely right with God. We are put in good standing by what our King did for us on the cross. Obsess over that. Take comfort in that.
You might be thinking, “Fine. Got it. But, shouldn’t we plan for the future? How can I do that without worrying?”
Worry isn’t the same thing as concern or planning. There is a difference between running into a bear in the woods—definitely something to be concerned about—and worrying that a bear is going to attack you if you go outside in your own backyard at night, because worrying about that in Katy is a waste of time. Being concerned about an actual threat is warranted and wise. Making a plan to deal with the actual threat is prudent and responsible. But, worrying about imaginary scenarios that may or may not happen will only rob us of joy and lead to all kinds of bad things—as mentioned earlier.
Here’s a few simple ways of dealing with worry:
- Write it down. Make a list. Identify what you are worried about. Even better, write down a prayer about what you are worried about. Be a prayer worrier. I have an app on my phone and ipad where I write my prayers—not every day—but when I start to feel overwhelmed. It helps in so many ways, it defines what I am worried about, which a lot of times puts the worries into perspective and makes them less oppressive. It also clarifies what I am hoping God will do about it. And I can rest in knowing that I have given the burden of it all to Him.
- Analyze the list. Look over what you wrote down. Is there something you can do about any of them? Ask God to help you make a plan for what to do. Is there nothing you can do about it? Then realize it is an unproductive life draining exercise in futility to continue worrying about it. Losing sleep over whether or not you are going to be mauled by a bear is dumb—so is losing sleep over whether or not you will get cancer.
- Trust God. Embrace your uncertainty, but cling to faith in His goodness. Whatever the outcome of the thing you are worried about, trust that God is loving and faithful.
- Be patient. Wait on the Lord. We are always in a hurry to get an answer, to know the outcome, to get what we want, but God’s timing is not our timing. The Lord will fight for us we need only to be still. They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.
- Talk about it. Yes, talk to God, but also talk to the people God has put in your life. Admit what you are worried about with the people who love you. Let them help you find what’s at the root of your anxiety. Don’t be afraid to show emotion and be vulnerable. You might find that you are so afraid of bears because of a traumatic childhood experience with Winnie the Pooh. You wouldn’t be the first.
The most important thing is to remember who we are. God loves us. We are important to Him. We’re more important to God than birds, or flowers, or grass. We are made in His image. We are His beloved children. Jesus is our King, our brother and He called us His friends. It’s true, this life is a vapor, a mist, it’s short and temporary—our lives will fade like flowers, wither like grass and we will all die like birds, but we don’t need to spend our days worrying about it. We will certainly die, but we will only die once. A comedian said, “Every day thousands of people die and it’s never me.” That’s gonna be true every day of our life except for one. And even then, it’s not the end. The difference between a happy ending and a tragedy is where we stop telling the story. We have the promise of resurrection and eternal life because of Jesus. From dust we came and to dust we will return but that is not the end. It’s only the beginning. So, we’re free to not worry about death. Not our death, or anyone else’s. Our loving God has taken care of it.
And while we are still here, He wants us to love people. He wants us to love the people He has put in front of us, the people who are all around us. He wants us to consume our days with loving people—that’s what it means to seek first the Kingdom of God. We are to be faithful to our King by following His orders, even though we will not be able to do it perfectly.
He doesn’t want us to worry about that either.
We are free to fail because Jesus took every worry we could ever face and showed His power over them. We worry about money but He lived in poverty, We worry about people liking us, and He was despised, misunderstood and had many enemies, He was falsely accused and put to a horrible death, humiliated and publicly tortured. The night before His execution He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane and was so disturbed by what laid ahead of Him He sweat great drops of blood.
Over the last year, I had many sleepless nights but on no occasion did I sweat blood.
He drank the cup that the Father set before Him. On the Cross of Good Friday, and in the resurrection of Easter, Jesus proved everything He ever said. We can trust that God will take care of us today because Jesus said He would, and He keeps His word.
Don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Mankind is prone to worry, and it is impossible to not worry in our present state. I believe Jesus is giving us a remedy for our destructive inclinations by telling us to focus on Him. He will provide for us so we are free to “obsess” over His Kingdom instead of our own.