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Why Not Worry (1): Everyone Has a Timeline

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June 28, 2015

Intro – Americans are the most stressed-out people who have ever lived. We ooze anxiety! Some of us even organize anxiety. Lucy asks Charlie Brown if he’s worried about the world blowing up. Charlie responds, “It all depends – what day is today?” Lucy reports, “It’s Tuesday.” Charlie replies, “Well, on Tuesdays I worry about personality problems. Thursday is my day to worry about the world blowing up.” If we don’t have something to worry about, we’ll find something. One guy went to the psychiatrist to get cured of worry. The psychiatrist hypnotized him and wiped out every anxious memory. A week later the guy was back. “It’s worse than ever, Doc,” he said. “What’s the problem now?” asked the psychiatrist. The guy replied, “I’m worried because I’ve forgotten what I’m supposed to be worried about!”

We know anxiety kills, but we just can’t seem to help ourselves. The late advice columnist, Ann Landers, received 10,000 letters a month in her heyday. When asked the most common topic, she answered fear. People feared losing their health, their job, or their family. They were afraid of upsetting a neighbor, alienating a friend or committing a social faux pas. Our world is filled with fearful, anxious people, and we are not immune.

The Mayo Clinic reports that statistically 80% of their total case load were ill either in reality or artificially due directly to mental stress. 80%! Not long ago there was an article in a leading medical journal entitled, “Is Stress the Cause of All Disease?” It suggested that while medical attention centered on bacteria at the turn of the 20th century, today mental anxiety has center stage.

So how does the gospel we believe as Christians inform this trend to anxiety? Well, I Pet 5:7 suggests, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Phil 4:6 commands: “Be anxious for nothing.” It’s a command, and yet we find ourselves as anxious as anyone else. Why? Because we have a small God. We have depreciated God to the point that He is basically irrelevant to daily life, and when we have done that we have removed the one possibility to live differently. We have brought God down to size, and now, when we need Him, we are amazed that we cannot find Him.

George Mueller, the great man of faith who used to literally pray food onto the table of his orphanages in London in the late 1800’s, said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” Another way of saying that is, “When anxiety walks in the door, faith walks out.” The two simply cannot co-exist. Worry, anxiety, fear – they are all red flags that say “faith is absent.” We can’t live in faith and anxiety at the same time.

Worry depreciates God. Worry cuts God down to size. Not that we by our actions can either actually add to or take away from God. He could never be increased nor diminished by His creation. Impossible. But what we can do is diminish God in our own life. We can cut Him down to size as far as we are concerned. We can render Him ineffective to us. Let me say it another way. Worry makes us big and God small. Worry inflates the wrong thing. Faith makes God big. Worry makes me big.

That’s what this passage is all about. Jesus has just been talking about money and materialism. This section is a continuation of the same subject, only now Jesus is specifically targeting worry. And He is saying it has no place in the life of a believer. Faith builds God up in our eyes; worry diminishes Him. Jesus shows us 7 ways that happens. I hope as we examine those, we will be motivated to get serious about the sin of worry and eliminate it in favor of faith. Seven ways worry makes God small.

I.Destroys God’s Peace (22, 29, 32)

V. 22: “And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Now, notice, Jesus isn’t saying, “Don’t be anxious about the luxuries of life that you have or don’t have.” No – He’s saying, “Don’t be anxious about the necessities.” Food and clothing are pretty basic, and Jesus is saying – actually commanding – Don’t worry about it. That pretty much eliminates anything from the worry list, right?

Now, notice that He doesn’t say, “Don’t do anything about the necessities.” He’s not saying, “Sit back and relax. I’ll take care of you.” We know that Paul often made tents to finance his missionary work. He says in II Thess 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Jesus is not encouraging laziness or irresponsibility. But He is commanding against the attitude that is worried about whether or not there will be enough for next week, or next year or for retirement. He’s saying don’t get uptight about even the basics, like food and clothing. In the previous section, He has warned about covetousness. In fact, they are to store their treasure in heaven. But if I do that, now I’m worried that I won’t have enough, right? And Jesus is saying to His disciples, “Don’t go there. Go do what you can to meet the need, but don’t worry about it. Leave the worry to me.”

V. 29 extends the thought: “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.” In v. 30 He tells us what we are to seek: “Instead, seek his kingdom.” So, when Jesus says, “Do not seek what you are to eat, but seek his kingdom” is He advising against working for food? No, He’s not. He’s using hyperbole – exaggeration to make a point. How do we know? Matt 6:33 gives us a parallel passage to this. There Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God.” That clarifies the intent. He’s not saying, “Don’t seek food and clothing for this life,” but He’s saying, “Don’t seek that first. Don’t let that be your priority. Seek God’s interests first – then seek what you need and He’ll make sure you’ve got all you need and more.”

Now, we get a little more help on this when we unpack the word “anxious.” It’s the Greek μεριμναω which comes from a root μερις which means to divide, to draw in different directions – to distract. Jesus is saying, “Don’t be torn apart with worry about this life – about food and clothing.” His point is the same as it was to Peter when he was walking to Jesus on the water. Peter was fine as long as he kept his eyes on Christ – fully trusting Him. As soon as he began to look around at all the things that could go wrong, he became divided with torn allegiances. His anxiety went thru the roof as he began to consider, “Who do I trust? Jesus or my common sense that says people don’t walk on water.” Anxiety destroys the peace of God because it gets us focused in multiple directions. It fractures us.

Stuart Briscoe tells of going to preach at a cold, drafty old church in England. The fellow who met him there showed him around and then started talking about the difficulties. They needed new carpet, but could not afford it. There were problems with the organ. The choirmaster had just gotten fired. The pastor was no good. Finances were in dire straits. They had a problem with vandalism. Briscoe says, “After about half an hour he seemed to be running out of material so I asked, ‘Tell me about the Lord Jesus Christ. Tell me about Jesus.’” The man looked like he had been kicked in the shins. He paused, then said, “Come on; we better get going.” So distracted. So anxious. So torn. Why? Never thought about the perfection of Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with Him, Beloved. Focus on Him and anxiety will melt into nothing.

II.Defies God’s Perspective (23)

V. 23: “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” This is the overriding principle of this passage. This is a universal truth. But we do not naturally perceive this truth. We are born with a predisposition exactly 180 degrees counter to this truth. Our physical senses teach us that there is nothing more important than survival; therefore, food is our first priority. Clothing for protection and to attract attention are a close second. That is our natural predisposition and it takes a radical realignment to change that bent. In fact, we could not know that it is wrong except someone higher than us reveal that truth to us. God’s view of reality differs radically from our natural perspective. So we have to decide. Is it God’s reality, or ours? Anxiety defies God’s perspective in favor of my own. Jesus urges a higher perspective.

Now, please note, Jesus does not say, “Life is not food.” He does not deny nor diminish our physical existence. Eastern religion says of physical existence, “Ignore it; it’s not real.” Jesus says, “No, it’s real all right. But it’s not all. Life is food, yes, but it is much more than food. Food is minor compared to the greater reality of your eternal existence.” Thus Jesus is teaching us that what we can see with our senses is only a small part of reality and if we are to get God’s perspective on things, we have to look way beyond what we naturally perceive. We have to look to the eternal spiritual realities that exist beyond the temporal physical realities. When we are anxious about food and clothing as tho they were the most important things in our existence, we are in defiance of God’s perspective. We need to be re-focused.

Life is more than food because death is not the end. And the body is more than clothing because the body is only the outer shell of my inner reality. When I worry about food and clothing, I shortchange my whole existence. I am like the rich man in vv. 16-20 who was building bigger barns to house all the things he had laid up for the comfort of his body. God called him a fool, but think about it. He wasn’t so much a fool for making provision for now; he was a fool for making no provision for the rest of eternity. If there were no hereafter, no eternity, no accountability, no life after death, no spiritual reality; he would hardly have been a fool. He simply wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the fruits of his labor for lack of time. His foolishness was dictated by the fact that “life is more than food, and the body more than clothing,” and he had made provision only for food and clothing. He had ignored his eternal existence which was far more important. Now his soul was required of him and he had made no provision for his soul. Things end; people go on. That’s why “life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” He was living by his own warped perspective and ignoring God’s real perspective.

Our perspective is way too small. We’re like someone being confined in a house all their life. It is a comfortable home, with little areas for planting food and solar panels for generating heat. We get very comfortable in our little world, worrying our way to continued existence. Only after many years does someone knock on the door and we open it for the first time to find a whole wide world of possibilities outside that we had never imagined. Now we must decide – stay with what we know or begin to explore the wonders beyond. That is what Jesus is offering when He says, “life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” This is a view of reality we could never have had it not been revealed by someone outside. But it has been. Now we know. Now we must choose. Whose reality will we live – ours or God’s?

Arthur Rubenstein, the great Polish born pianist became a US citizen in 1946, but he was frustrated with the bureaucracy. He arrived late for lunch one day with the writer, Clifton Fadiman. He entered and ordered then apologized, “Sorry to be so late. For two hours I have been at my lawyer’s, making a testament (will). What a nuisance. One figures, one schemes, one arranges, and in the end – what? It is practically impossible to leave anything for yourself!” That’s a man who was suffering great anxiety in defiance of God’s perspective of reality. You can’t of course, leave anything to yourself. That assumes that life does consist of food and the body for clothing! How much better had he been sending it on ahead, making preparation for eternity rather than only for “now.”

How do you send ahead? Let me give you one example. In Radical David Platt tells of a young man named Daniel, a member of Platt’s church in Birminghan. He was an honor graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering. Coming out of school he had many attractive offers, including one for a high-paying job at a nuclear power plant that would also pay him to go on for a Master’s and Ph.D degree. But two years earlier, Daniel had become a follower of Jesus Christ – a true disciple who was learning what it means to deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Jesus. He now lived to make much of the glory of God. So he turned down the attractive job offers he had to work within an engineering program designed to help impoverished communities around the world. His father emailed Platt soon afterward saying, "Daniel has made a very radical departure from my long-held and traditional value system. I have raised my children with solid Christian values and naturally have expected them to grab the brass ring of opportunity and settle into a productive family life." He went on to describe how much he had learned from his own son and how proud he was that Daniel had “let go of the pursuits of this world in order to "take the gospel to places and peoples unknown to him." Daniel is living in God’s reality that “life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” Platt tells of seeing Daniel soon thereafter and reports he is pursuing unprecedented opportunities God is giving him from America to Africa to Asia to pursue “a much greater dream than he’d ever had before.” Daniel has opened the front door of a limited human perspective and is now living outside in God’s reality.

Have you been outside lately? What that means will be different for each of us, but we must be asking, what does it mean to me that life is more than food? Ask God, what’s look like for me? Defying God’s reality brings all kinds of anxiety about how to make sure we have enough. That melts away when we begin to believe and live like there is more than just this world.

Conc – The greatest example of this is, of course, the life of Christ. If life was just food and clothing Jesus never would have gone to the cross. He could have and would have preserved His own life, confirming that survival is the highest good and physical life is our most precious possession. But “life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” and so He went willingly to that cross to pay the price for the penalty of our sin to make available the most precious possession of all – eternal life in and with Christ. Do you have that? Have you made provision for that – or is your total focus and attention and anxiety centered on this life?

Just outside the Superdome in NO there is a statue called “Rebirth” that depicts Steve Gleason blocking a punt. It recreates the moment early in the first quarter of the first game the Saints played in the Dome after a 21-month absence after Hurricane Katrina when Gleason blocked a punt which was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown igniting the most successful season in Saint history to that time. Gleason was etched into Saints lore, retiring after the 2008 season. But in 2011 he was diagnosed with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease. He has now lost most of his motor skills. He was interviewed by Peter King before a recent Saints game. King boldly asked the obvious question, “Have you thought to yourself, ‘How long do I have to live?” Gleason answered, “Yeah, which is a really good thing to think as a human.” King responded, “Why?” Gleason answered, “Because we all have a timeline, Peter. Most of us don’t live like we have a timeline.” Are you living like this life has a timeline? We all should because life is more than food, and the body more than clothing”. Let’s pray.

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