By Jim Corley
Sales of sleep aids are booming. According to Marketdata Enterprises, Inc. three major drugs—Lunesta, Ambien CR, and Rozerem—sell $3 billion annually.
What keeps us awake?
In America many of us are blessed to not have worries about food, clothing, or shelter. Instead my mind goes into a negative spiral over other things. What about my daughter’s chronic unemployment or my dad’s addiction?
My fear sees best in the dark. So although Jesus’ message was preached in the daytime, it whispers to my nights: “Do not worry . . .”
Open Matthew 6:25-34 with me. I’m sure you have heard it before. Look carefully. Three times Jesus said, “Do not worry.” But he never said, “Don’t think about tomorrow.” He pointed to creation to explain.
“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?” (v. 26).
According to Jesus, watching birds tells us about God. Birds don’t stockpile grain. They don’t lose any sleep over where their next meal will come from. Yet God feeds them. God’s default setting is open-handed generosity. Jesus added that God values us even more than birds. So God will take even better care of us.
Birds never worry. But they do work for their food. Like Grandpa said, “the early bird gets the worm.”
Jesus also urged us to do a reality check. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (v. 27). Worrying makes nights seem longer. But worrying won’t extend my life span even by a few seconds. It’s dysfunctional. It burns the clock and generates wrinkles. Worry is worse than useless.
God Is Extravagant
“See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these” (vv. 28, 29).
Hollywood’s red carpet glitterati, with all their wealth, cannot compete with the wardrobe God gives to wildflowers. Lilies don’t ever do anything. They’re rooted in one spot and never pace the floor. However, the same provider who feeds the birds dresses flowers exquisitely. He’ll make sure we have enough in our closets.
Jesus closed the case against anxiety this way: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (vv. 31, 32).
Fretting is something pagans do. Atheists don’t believe in a benevolent heavenly provider. If we believe, should we join the skeptics by trying to grab control? Grasping is what causes anxiety.
Does God know what’s happening to me? Or is it all up to me? It’s possible to believe in God and still think like a pagan. Jesus commands his followers to be countercultural about our view of our Father.
What Jesus Didn’t Do
Jesus rejected worrying. But he wasn’t negative about thinking ahead. In fact, Jesus actively planned for the future.
Jesus spent some sleepless nights looking ahead. In Luke 6:12, 13 we learn how Jesus spent the night before he appointed the Twelve: “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” He didn’t worry about food and clothing. But he did plan for when he would be gone and his disciples would own his mission.
Three things are certain:
• Jesus planned for the future.
• Sometimes he discussed those plans all night with his Father.
• Jesus never worried—not even once.
Seeking the Kingdom
Jesus’ alternative to worrying eludes many of his followers. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Instead of worrying, Jesus wants us looking for the kingdom that he spoke of so frequently. But where should we look?
In Luke 10:9 Jesus told his disciples to preach, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” The kingdom is not far away. If the kingdom is as near as my next breath, then maybe I’m supposed to seek it right where I am.
What if the challenges keeping me awake are really gifts from God? Maybe my problems are hints about this coming kingdom. Properly pursued they might lead to solutions for other people in the same jam. That’s what it means to seek first his kingdom. Maybe Jesus wants me to see the possibility of his rule in the chaos that engulfs me.
Participating with God
God wants to change the world. He doesn’t want us to sit around worrying and waiting for changes to happen, but to participate with him in making a difference.
For example in Tucson, Arizona, a man named Gilbert grew up in a community where alcohol abuse was rampant. Gilbert got caught in it himself. Then God transformed Gilbert’s life. He began praying about how to help kids by teaching the truth about drugs. Gilbert and some friends put together a program he presented in public schools. The presentations were brutally honest about drug use. Kids were helped.
Jesus said that it is in kingdom seeking that we find freedom from anxiety. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
What if we stopped running from our fears? What if we took a hard look at those challenges we face? Maybe then we would discover God’s purpose for sending them.
Maybe the kingdom Jesus spoke of is as close as the things churning in our minds in the dark. What if instead of worrying I started praying:
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.”
Maybe it’s Jesus keeping me awake. And maybe if I’d listen I would hear Jesus whispering a solution, something I could do that would leave me feeling energized in the morning . . . even if I didn’t sleep a wink.
Jim Corley is a freelance writer living in Queen Creek, Arizona.