Tenth Sunday After Pentecost: Winning Over Worry
25 “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? 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.
Everyone worries. Everyone has anxieties and fears. Including me.
Yesterday I found on line a list of things that may get you to worrying. Here they are:
You may find yourself worrying if...
You wake up face down on the pavement.
You call Suicide Prevention and they put you on hold.
You see a "60 Minutes" news team waiting in your office.
Your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.
You turn on the news and they're showing emergency routes out of the city.
Your twin sister forgot your birthday.
Your car horn goes off accidentally and remains stuck as you follow a group of Hell's Angels on the freeway.
Your boss tells you not to bother to take off your coat.
The bird singing outside your window is a buzzard.
You wake up and your braces are locked together.
You call your answering service and they tell you it's none of your business.
Your income tax check bounces.
You put both contact lenses in the same eye.
Your wife says, "Good morning, Bill", and your name is George.
There are so many things that we tend to worry about. We worry about our money. We worry about our health. We worry about our relationships. We're worried about our jobs. We're worried about our careers. We worry.
Three times we are commanded in this passage of scripture that I just read, not to worry. Verse 25 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life”. Verse 31 says, do not worry. Then verse 34 says, so do not worry. Three times there is a command not to worry. Therefore to worry is sin. If God gives you a command and you disobey it, it's called sin.
Most people do not think of worry as sin. They look at it as something natural, as something that is part of being human.
They look at it as something that is legit, giving the circumstances that they are facing. Yet, the Lord in this passage gives a command and he couples the command with this statement. “Oh, you of little faith.”
The word worry or anxiety means to be torn into. Worry is concern on steroids. Worry is concern that's gone haywire.
There is a difference between concern and worry. Concern is I have an issue in my life that is troubling me and I am setting forth a plan as best I can to address it. That is legitimate concern. But worry is where the concern controls you. It is where, because of the concern, I can't sleep. Because of the concern, I can't control my temper. Because of the concern I am losing my ability to cope. It is where concern has now become the controlling factor because of the issue, whatever it is that you face. It is where the circumstance in and of itself is controlling you. It is dictating who you are, where you are, how you function, whether you function. It tells you if you can get up in the morning and it tells you, you better go to bed right now because your tired of dealing with your circumstances. It owns you.
Our anxiety, our worries, are tied to our life experiences and thought patterns. To be fair, we don’t all experience fear, worry, and anxiety in the same way.
Different bodies feel differently despite similar thought processes and experiences, but God did not tell us to fight a battle that is impossible to win.
With God’s help, each one of us can progressively improve in the way we fight fear, worry, and anxiety.
All throughout the gospels, Jesus addressed the fear, worry, and anxiety that those around Him were experiencing. However, He didn’t just do this to bring physical comfort to those experiencing ill effects of anxiety. He challenged those He encountered to understand the spiritual significance of their anxiety. Fear, worry, and anxiety affect our physical health, but they also reflect our spiritual health. Our brain’s responses are most influenced by our hearts and our values. Our thinking and actions reflect the spiritual condition of our hearts.
When Jesus was teaching His disciples about fear, worry, and anxiety, He taught four key principles. These principles reveal how a wrong response to fear, worry, and anxiety can hinder our spiritual walk, and why we must take our fear, worry, and anxiety seriously as a follower of Christ.
Principle #1: My Anxiety Reveals What I Value
Matthew 6:25 is perhaps the most quoted verse about anxiety in the Bible because it challenges us to trust God rather than falling into worry and anxiety.
What we often miss when quoting verse 25 is that the teaching on anxiety is an application of verses 19–24, where it says things like “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” or “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” and No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other
In verses 19–24, Jesus reminded us all that life on earth is short and we can’t take anything with us. He taught us that what we value will become what we prioritize. If we value the world’s priorities more than we value God’s priorities, we will naturally be anxious about the things of this world like food, clothing, and “stuff.”
Because our money, health, reputation, and relationships are valuable to us, we become anxious when what we love becomes threatened. Anxiety provides us a window into what our hearts find truly valuable. When our hearts align with God’s values, we will view the dangers around us differently. Death, discomfort, and dire circumstances don’t have the same sting when we have God’s eternal perspective. When God’s values and our values align, we will understand what is most important and live out the purpose we were created for.
And so God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on what will last eternally.
Principle #2: My Anxiety Reflects My View of God (Matthew 6:25–34)
One Author writes, “Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.”
How we respond to life’s trouble reflects how we view God and whether we trust how He has acted towards us. Jesus makes the case that our worry really stems from a heart of unbelief that God is acting in a good way towards us. To those who doubt the provision and power of God to do what’s best, Jesus gives a gentle rebuke, “O you of little faith.”
How often we become distracted when we fear the future and take matters into our own hands. We seek to control our destiny and focus our attention on what we want most. We don’t trust God to provide or to keep us safe. We start to think 10 steps down the road and bring tomorrow’s problems into today. Jesus reminded us that worry accomplishes very little and distracts us from being present in our lives today.
When dealing with death, divorce, dysfunction, and distance in relationships, we can come up with all kinds of negative outcomes. Focusing on the possible outcome stems from a heart that ultimately desires to be in control. Rather than trusting a good God, it really is a heart of pride. We are reminded by the Author that “it takes pride to be anxious. . . . thinking I am wise enough to know how my life should go.” Do we trust God with our future so we can stay present in our today?
God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on what will last eternally. And secondly, God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on His faithfulness.
Principle #3: My Anxiety Is Related to My Trust Level in God (Matthew 8)
After Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, the disciples and Jesus embarked on a ministry trip so that Jesus could teach His disciples and model for them the way of life that He was describing in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew records these stories one after another to make the case that Jesus alone has the power to intervene in our troubles and Matthew wanted to make sure you understood the reason why Jesus could stand up and say don’t be anxious. It wasn’t just a slogan to make us feel better or distract us from our troubles. Jesus really was different. People’s lives were really changed when they encountered Him.
Jesus cares about you and your specific circumstances. He cares about the things that keep you up at night. In our anxiety, we tend to focus on the problem, and we find ourselves under the illusion that we must find a way to control what ails us. Jesus makes it crystal clear to His disciples and to us as well that “Without me, you can do nothing.”
And so we see that one, God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on what will last eternally. Secondly, God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on His faithfulness. And thirdly, God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on trusting Him with my trials.
Principle #4: My Anxiety Is Redirected Best by Compassionately Serving Others (Matthew 9:35–10:15)
In our anxiety, we are incessantly inward-focused. At times, we do worry about others, but even these worries are typically how the actions of another might affect ourselves and our ability to relate in a healthy way with them.
In our worry, we may fear losing a parent or fear the self-destructive actions of a young adult spiraling out of control. Jesus taught us that this worry accomplishes little. However, one of the consistent themes throughout the gospels is the call to care for those in need and share the good news of what Jesus has done for us. At the end of the ministry trip that Jesus took His disciples on, He gathered them around and let them in on a secret. It was their turn to go and heal the sick and share the good news of forgiveness of sins. He didn’t just want them to trust Him. He wanted them to help others to trust Him too.
When we can learn to focus on others with a heart of compassion, life has renewed meaning and we experience a renewed purpose and vision for our lives.
So we see, that one, God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on what will last eternally. Secondly, God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on His faithfulness. Thirdly, God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on trusting Him with my trials. And lastly God calls me to overcome anxiety by keeping my focus on serving others.
Teresa of Avila, who encountered many hardships in her reform of the Carmelites, struggled with anxiety. She found herself telling Jesus, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no surprise that you have so few!” With God’s grace and good spiritual direction, however, Teresa learned the total waste of worry. Eventually, when facing hardships and humiliating setbacks, she learned to say, “Lord, I know by faith that you are with me. Whatever happens, then, let me trust you are at work here–healing wounds, freeing the soul of sin, purifying the heart, accomplishing things far greater than I can see.”
Teresa learned that the remedy for worry is to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” Then, whatever we need will be given us by God.