By Simon Presland
I recently read that more than 40 million people in our society suffer with some form of anxiety disorder. Considering the downturn in our economy over the last few years, this is not surprising. We are a nation of worriers: the economy, our jobs, our kids . . . the list is endless. But were things so different in Jesus’ day?
In more than 2,000 years, nothing has really changed. The temptation to worry and fret has always been part of the human landscape. Jesus knew that. Thus he addressed our penchant to worry in what is probably his most famous discourse, the Sermon on the Mount. But what exactly is the solution he offers us to overcome our tendency to worry?
Have you ever been called a worrywart? It’s an old expression referring to someone who constantly worries about everything. The word worry means to be in a state of fretfulness; to be overly concerned. When we worry, we perceive the possibility that something negative is going to happen. We are continually asking, “What if . . . ?”
In fact, we are attempting to see into the future and to control an outcome—something we simply cannot do. Jesus points this out to us in these verses from Matthew. Food and drink. Clothes. Shelter. These are basic necessities of life that we all need. However, we tend to look to our jobs, to our bank accounts, and to ourselves to meet the needs we have. Miss a day of work—how will we make up for the loss of money? Deadline for a report at work—where will I get the time to finish it? Jesus understands our situations, yet he tells us that worrying will not change anything.
The fact is, worrying is a fruitless exercise; it consumes our energy, our time, and our mental capabilities. Worrying is exhausting. It can damage our health, both physical and emotional. It is a leading cause of ulcers, headaches, backaches, changes in blood pressure, heart attacks, and depression. Worrying can disrupt our spiritual life; we find little time for prayer and reading God’s Word because we are consumed with the distractions and concerns that come with worrying.
Worrying also affects the way we treat others. We lose focus on what people are saying to us; we tend to be more harsh and irritable; we get short-tempered and sometimes we can be downright nasty. A friend once told me, “Worry is like a rocking chair; it will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that worrying doesn’t accomplish much.
On a spiritual level, worry is akin to a subtle form of idolatry. Consider the first commandment God spoke to Moses: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Worry, however, points to ourselves as a god. We are mainly concerned with ourselves: How is this going to affect me? What am I going to do about this? Who is going to help me? What if I can’t do anything? The moment we step into that place of self-reliance, we open our emotions to a flood of anxiety, worry, and tension.
The good news about worry is that God has provided solutions, and there is hope and freedom for anyone caught in the snare of worrying. While the solutions are simple, choosing them is not easy.
Proverbs 3:5, 6 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” These verses force us to make a decision. Do we think we can handle the source of our worry better than God can? Do we feel as if we can make better decisions by worrying? Can we handle an unknown future? The answers to these questions will go a long way toward either relieving our worry or compounding it. When we admit that we are powerless to change what we are worrying about, we give God the opportunity to work in the situation.
Every day brings us new opportunities to cast our cares upon him. One of the best ways we can overcome worry and tension is with prayer and thanksgiving. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). When we do this God tells us, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). Notice that God doesn’t promise to fix our problems, but he does promise his peace as a solution to our worry. Putting this verse into practice allows God to be Lord in our lives and takes us off the throne of our hearts. We are trusting in God alone.
When it comes to things and stuff we all accumulate, God exhorts us to avoid storing up such temporal treasures. God isn’t against us having nice things; he’s more concerned about them owning our hearts. As Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
In that same verse, Jesus made an all-important point about worry. While we worry about the future, all we really have is the present. The future is in God’s hands, and we must trust him to do what is best for us. It would be good for us to say, “Help me to live my life today for you, and I will leave tomorrow in your hands.” That is putting faith into action, and faith is the solution to worry.
Our heavenly Father understands our propensity to worry. But the more we make him our priority, the smaller the foothold worry will have in our lives.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). This is the pattern God wants us to establish in our lives. We need to have our priorities in the correct order. We need to seek his ways of being and doing and live our lives accordingly.
We are valuable to God. He loves us. Worry causes us to lose sight of this. He tells us if we are about our father’s business, he will take care of us. As we mediate on and rest in his love, we will soon realize that nothing in this world can separate us from him (Romans 8:38, 39). Financial burdens, a family crisis, our job situation, a friend’s sickness—nothing in the past, present, or the future can come between God and us. As we realize this on deeper and deeper levels, we will want to cast our cares upon him (1 Peter 5:7).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to give careful consideration and thoughtful reflection to the work of our heavenly Father in the world. He wants us to marvel at the display and complexity of nature yet realize we are more precious, more important than anything he has created.
Worry causes us to focus on what is temporal, what is subject to change. But when we seek first God’s kingdom, our attention is on what really matters. God lets us decide, and the decision to worry really comes down to a matter of choice.
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
A Bridge Between God’s Truth and Daily Life
Most of us are all too familiar with Matthew 6:25-34. But somehow the words still don’t represent how we live our lives. Minister and author Timothy Keller has six steps that he learned from Martin Luther for helping the truth of Scripture penetrate our lives. The next time you read Matthew 6:23-34:
• Rejoice—praise God for something in the passage
• Repent—commit to turn from something you need to change in your life
• Recount—thank Jesus for his redemption in this area
• Request—ask God for something related to the passage
• Rethink—list ways you need to live differently
• Reflect—consider why God might be bringing this truth to your attention now