Winning Over Worrry
Winning over Worry
In the awareness of His control and our lack of it, I think, we can alleviate our debilitating worry....
"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 important than food, and the body more important than clothes?
"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? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies 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. 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, O you of little faith?
"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. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Several summers ago, my family and I were on the Greek island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea. We had to take an eight-hour ferryboat ride through choppy waters to get there. The moment we set foot on the dock, though, we noticed a very strange sight Everywhere we looked, there were Greek men nervously fingering strings of beads—worry beads, they called them. There were old men fingering worry beads, middle-aged men fumbling with worry beads, and young men fidgeting with worry beads. We saw them on the coast and we saw them as we moved farther into the interior of the island—worry beads were everywhere! The island was such a beautiful place we couldn't see what they all had to worry about.
Then an interesting thing happened. We wanted to take some sort of souvenir home with us to Texas—and we decided the only appropriate one would be worry beads. But the more we thought about it, the more we began to worry about what kind of beads we ought to get.... There were different colors, different sizes, different strings that made different sounds. We were worrying about worry beads!
Everyone worries. It's the favorite American pastime. If we don't worry, we're probably worried that we aren't worried. And if we worry, we surely worry that we worry too much.
At the age of four, we worry about a dark room. At thirteen, we worry that we won't fit in at a party. As parents, we worry about our children.
The young executive, who has spent days preparing a presentation that will affect his future, worries what the boss will think. A factory worker reads of cutbacks in the defense industry and worries how it will affect his job.
All of us wrestle with worry. It's so much a part of our lives, so much a drain on our energy and attitudes, that Jesus devoted one-seventh of the Sermon on the Mount, the most famous sermon in history, to the subject. Evidently He believed that coming to grips with worry was of great significance for our lives. He devoted one word out of seven in this landmark sermon to how we can be liberated from it.
What do you think are the greatest concerns of living? Jesus recognized that we seem to be more concerned about the body that supports our life—what we'll put in it, what we'll put on it, and how we'll sustain it. But Jesus' response to these concerns is short, simple, and very, very true: We can stop our perpetual worry about these daily anxieties when we give ourselves to life's greatest concern—the reign and rule of God within us.
How is that so? To make His point very clear, Jesus gave us a command to heed, an argument to understand, and some illustrations to explain.
A Command to Heed
The command He gave us was this:
"Take no heed of what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will put on your body."
In other words, stop worrying about this "secular trinity" that we make so all-important. Three times in the Sermon on the Mount He speaks of these three areas of life: what we will eat, what we will drink, and what we will put on. This materialistic trinity can consume all our thoughts.
If we kept a worry list for seven days, most of our worries would fall into one of these three basic categories. In King James language, we'd say, "Take no heed." Today, we'd say, "Quit being so distracted with anxiety." The word "worry" in the Greek means literally to tear apart, to distract, to come apart at the seams of a garment. And the grammatical construction Jesus used in these words tells us that the people to whom He was speaking were habitually, perennially, torn apart by anxious care. "Stop being so torn apart by worry over the basics of life," He was actually saying. It's not foresight He's prohibiting, but foreboding, not necessary preparation and planning, but constant, useless anxiety.
But it's all easier said than done, isn't it? Stop worrying! For many of us, that's like saying, "Stop breathing!" I read a little poem the other day. It went:
"I've joined the new 'Don't Worry Club'
And now I hold my breath.
I'm so afraid I'll worry
That I'm worried most to death."
An Argument to Understand
But Jesus must have understood that it's never enough to simply tell us to stop worrying. He didn't just give this bare command to stop being anxious about the basics of life, but He showed us how by giving us a very logical, spiritual argument. There is a secret, you see, to winning over worry. And that secret is grasping a "Lordly logic"....
Let's examine the "Lordly logic" of Jesus. He said that God's greater gifts always include His lesser gifts, too. He seems to be asking three questions: "Do you believe that God gave you the great gift of life and that He gave you a body to sustain it? And did your worry have anything to do with that gift? And can your worry improve that gift?" And then, He makes His point: "Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?" (Matt. 6:25).
Jesus often used a technique of teaching from the higher value to the lower one, and it never works better than it does here. The device makes us see the situation through His mind. We begin to see how futile, even silly, much of our worry is.
For instance, have you ever thought about this: when we were at the most vulnerable moment of our entire lives—those months before we were born—we not only didn't worry, we couldn't worry. And yet we were born. He gave us that gift of life. Why would He give us that greater gift if He were not going to give us what we needed to sustain it? God doesn't do things halfway. He's not that kind of God. Did you ever see half a mountain? Or half an ocean? He gave us a world full of life and eyes to see it. He gave us a world full of knowledge and minds to comprehend it. And as Romans 8:32 reminds us, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"
If God gave us that great gift, surely He can be trusted to sustain us with the basics of life for as long as we live. Job 14:5 says, "Man's days are determined." We must understand that fact We don't know that number. But I believe God wants us to grasp that for the lifetime determined for us, He will give us everything we need for our bodies. In the awareness of His control and our lack of it, I think, we can alleviate our debilitating worry. Just a little readjusting of our perspective makes His Lordly logic ours.
Illustrations That Explain
We can see this truth in the Exodus story. When God liberated the Israelites from Egypt, that great gift of liberation also included the lesser gifts to make their liberation successful. Manna fell every day for all those years, water flowed out of the rock, a pillar of smoke led them by day and a pillar of fire by night. God took care of them.
And so He will take care of me. My worry has given me nothing. God gave me everything, and He will always include the lesser gifts we need to sustain the greater gift.
The key word here, though, is "sustain." We live in a very affluent society, and often we can get our needs mixed up with our desires, don't we? This text is a wonderful promise. But it is not a promise to fulfill our desire to satisfy some society-bred greed. It's a promise to meet our needs. That's all. And there's a big difference. Jesus didn't say that we will feast, but He said, "you will be fed." He didn't say, "I will open up a charge account at Neiman-Marcus or JC Penney for you." In effect he did say, "Look at the lilies of the field.... Your Father in heaven takes care of lowly flowers. He will take care of you."
Americans have all kinds of fears. I recently read an article that reported how a thousand people responded to a poll of their ten greatest fears. The first one was death of a loved one. The second one was serious illness. The third was financial failure. Fourth was nuclear war, and fifth was fear of being a victim of crime. Do you know what number six was? Fear of snakes and spiders! One man wrote in to say that the Russians could place him in a room, release a couple of snakes, and he'd tell them anything. It's estimated that between two and five percent of all Americans live with constant, festering concern and fear—literally disabling phobias of one kind or another (Psychology Today, Dec, 1982, p. 84). This is to say twenty-five million among us are constantly battling some phobia. Agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces, alone affects twelve million in this country.
But the Lord is telling us that if we lock into His Lordly logic and realize that He will sustain what He's given, we have nothing to fear.
Look at the Birds
And knowing how effective illustrations are, Jesus gives us several to make His point even more vividly. He says, look at the birds. Worry for them is unnecessary. God is watching over them. The Greek word He uses is literally a command. "Look!" He commands. "Look closely at the birds." If we do, first we'll see that the birds are inferior to us. They can't sow, they can't reap, they can't gather. That is, they cannot plan or produce or store anything away for the future. They can't pray. But Jesus points out that our Heavenly Father feeds them. If you ever study an almanac, you'll read that one of the signs of a coming heavy winter is that the berry bushes will have more berries on them than normal. The birds are being taken care of. They will fare well even though they cannot plan, produce, or store away. And with His Lordly logic, Jesus asks in effect, "Are you not much better than they? If God so cares for the sparrow, will He not care for you?"
Of course, the cynic among us will point out the dead bird he saw the other day. But as mentioned earlier, our days are numbered; so a sparrow's days are numbered too. Jesus never said we wouldn't die. What He said is the sparrow doesn't have to worry while it's here.
I've always been fascinated with hummingbirds, so fragile, tiny, and beautiful. There are actually 320 kinds of hummingbirds. The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us the tiniest among them is the "Bee-Humming" bird. It is 2 and ⅛ inches long and half of that is tail feathers and beak. It only weighs five grams, just about the same weight as several aspirins would be in your hand. And yet that bird can hover, it can go up and down, sideways, and in and out with the most amazing grace and flexibility. It flaps its wings ninety times a second. And that little bird somehow knows that when it begins to get cold, for its own health it's best to leave far Northern Canada and migrate across the United States and the Gulf of Mexico, all the way to the Panama Canal Zone. And it knows when to turn around and go back. Just an accident? If you think so, you're the type who believes there could be an explosion in a printing plant and unabridged dictionaries would fall from the sky! Jesus points to the birds and says, "Look at God's concern for that small creature—and learn."
God cares. Even for little hummingbirds. And that means He cares for us.
Jesus' next point, in essence, is this: "Look at yourself," He says. "Which of you by worrying can add one inch to your stature? You can worry yourself to death, and you're not going to be the least bit taller." As always, Jesus' arguments speak volumes to any age, but this argument meant even more to the men of His time. In his book on Luke, Ray Summers says the average Jew in Palestine was only about five feet tall. And at that time, the land was occupied by Roman soldiers who were taller and much brawnier. So many of the Jewish men would spend a lifetime feeling upset because they would never be able to look their Roman captors right in the eye. So they felt the soldiers looked down on them. Jesus responded by stating the obvious—they could worry all they wanted to, but it wouldn't change their height one inch. He said, in effect, "Look at yourself. There are boundaries to your life, and worry will not change them. Accept that."
Sir Walter Scott, the great poet, lost all his money through a bad investment. He later lost his grandson and was told his wife had an incurable disease. His reply came from a Shakespearean play, Henry IV. He said, "Are all these things necessities? Then let us face them like necessities." Our Lord expects us to use common sense, to accept certain boundaries in our lives that worry will not help. So stop worrying about these matters. It's totally useless. Paul prayed and prayed for God to take away his thorn in the flesh. God didn't do it. So it became a necessity of his life, and he said, "Nevertheless, in my weakness I was strong." Zacchaeus was very short. Instead of feeling sorry for himself because he couldn't see over the crowd to see Jesus, he climbed up in the tree. He faced the necessity.
Look at the Lilies
And then Jesus cites His last illustration. "Look at the flowers. Why are you worried about what you will wear? Become a 'disciple' of the lilies of the field." That's literally what He meant. Make yourself a thorough disciple of the wildflowers. He wasn't talking about a pampered, hothouse lily. He was talking about the little flowers common all over Galilee. They were eaten by cattle, trampled by soldiers, even harvested and placed in little clay ovens where the people made their bread. Jesus pointed out that these flowers are only temporary. Consider them. They toil not, neither do they spin. Flowers don't even have the advantages of the birds. Birds at least can hunt and peck and migrate and build nests. Flow ers just stand there. The most any flower can do is what the sunflower does—turn its head toward the sun in the morning, hold its head up high at noonday, and turn to the setting sun at the end of the day. Yet Christ said, "Pick out one of them, just one. Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like the flower."
How was Solomon arrayed? A group of architects totaled up the cost of Solomon's temple as it is described in the Old Testament. Using all the gold, all the silver, and all the other precious building materials, they estimated it would cost eighty-seven billion dollars to build it today. And yet Jesus said, one wild flower is clothed in more glory than Solomon in all his glory.
Is the Lordly logic seeping in? Maybe we can believe it in our minds, but find it difficult to accept in our hearts. In other words, maybe we can't make the jump from believing the fact to getting rid of our worries. Yet if we can believe that God does sustain the gifts He's given us, then why don't we put that belief into practice?
"Oh ye of little faith," Jesus says over and over. Oh ye of pygmy, midget faith, He's saying. What can we do?
I remember a story that illustrates the answer wonderfully. One of those daring early pilots was circumnavigating the globe in his tiny airplane. Some 2,000 miles out to sea, away from any sort of land, he heard a gnawing somewhere under his cockpit. As he listened, he realized that it was a rat gnawing away at the wires and insulation of the plane. And he realized that he was in big trouble. What could he do? Then he remembered that rats are either subterranean or terrestrial creatures. So, he flew the plane a thousand feet higher, then another, and another until he was up to 20,000 feet. The gnawing stopped. When he reached the end of his journey and finally landed, he found a dead rat under the floor of his cockpit. The rat had been gnawing away at his very life line. But what did the pilot do? He found that when he lifted the whole situation up into another atmosphere, literally, the threat of the rat that was worrying him was removed. Jesus says we need to move into another atmosphere—a calm, confident trust, the kind that little children have, toward the Heavenly Father.
Facing the Future
I can hear you say, "Well, I'm not worried about anything like that. I'm worried about the future." There's a degree of sophistication, it seems, in worrying about the future. Books like Megatrends and Future Shock keep us continually thinking about it. Movies like Terminal Generation can't help but make us worry. But here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34). The Lord makes this clear, concise promise: "I will sustain you in the worries and the concerns of a single day." You can master the demons of worry if you'll confine them to a single day. Absolutely. We must understand this... God Himself never promised that He would help us carry the guilt of yesterday, the burdens of today, or the fears of tomorrow. He said, "You put your guilt from yesterday under the blood of Christ, you give your anxieties about tomorrow to tomorrow, and I'll help you sustain yourself today."
In actuality, if you go to tomorrow to borrow worry for today, you're going to find the interest is astronomical. It just grows and grows. "I will help you live today," is what the Lord promises.
Poet Robert Burns had problems with alcoholism and depression. He battled all through his life with both. One day he saw a field mouse and wrote a famous poem, "To a Mouse," to it. "Oh, you wee, creeping, timorous beastie," he said to the mouse. "Thou art blessed compared with me, the present only touches thee. I look back on prospects drear/And I look forward at only guess and fear." He envied a mouse because a mouse has no choice. It lives in the now.
That's where God wants us to live. Several years ago, several ministers I know each returned from a partnership mission tour in Brazil with a stuffed piranha. Finally, after seeing several of these creatures placed strategically on their desks, I asked one of my friends what the ugly piranha's significance was. He explained, "One piranha may hurt you, but it cannot devour you. Piranhas only become lethal when they overtake you while swimming in schools."
The stuffed piranhas were a reminder that anyone can handle one worry at a time, one day at a time. And the Lord told us that He can help us handle the worries of a single day. We can master anxiety if we confine it to today.
And past today? Christ's ultimate cure for worry is this—"Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6:33). The bottom line when it comes to getting rid of our worries, our distracting cares, is simple. Substitute life's greatest concern for our little concerns. The tense of the verb "seek" is to keep on continually seeking the reign of God in your life as a habit.
When I was in junior high, we did an experiment with iron filings on a piece of paper. When we poured the filings on the paper they fell into a disheveled pile. Then we put a magnet under the paper and, as if by magic, the iron filings lined up... and followed the magnet's shape and force of direction. All our anxieties are like so many iron filings poured out on the surface of our lives. Jesus says, "Put My presence and My kingdom underneath your life, seek Me as a habit, and you'll find that your worries will line up and take My shape." The greater gift is given, and the lesser ones will be taken care of.
That's His promise, and our choice.
Growing Pains of the Soul.