Maatthew 6 25_34
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living Matthew 6:25-34
Kim Reichelm is the “extreme skiing” world champion. You may have seen him on television skiing down the peak of a treacherous mountain that looks like certain death for anyone trying to go down it on snow shoes, let alone skis. Some have died on these attempts, and others have become seriously injured, but the sport of extreme skiing is alluring more and more people to the dangerousness of the challenge. The November 1999 issue of Outside magazine, in an article entitled “The Trees: Lovely, Dark, and Deep,” says that one of the favorite extremes of skiers is running through a stand of trees after a fresh, deep snow. It is extremely dangerous, as Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy, both of whom died after crashing into trees while skiing, found out. Tim Etchells, the writer of the article says, “What you focus your eyes on becomes critical in the woods. Look at the spaces between the trees — the exits where you hope to be traveling.” Reichelm, the expert in the sport says, “The secret is not to stare at what you don’t want to hit.”
What he is talking about is focus. The extreme skier who focuses on the trees is more likely to hit the trees. The one who is looking for the spaces, or the exits, between the trees is going to miss the obstacles. So this morning, I want to talk about focus. If we are focused on our fears, we will likely go crashing into them. But if we focus on the open places between them, we will likely avoid them. In the article, the author says, “With practice and a little luck, you’ll soon be ripping through the tightest of trees without getting a mouthful of bark.” So we want to learn how to practice with our faith maneuvers to see how we can get through the forest of fear without getting a mouth full of bark. The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
So how do we stay on the straight paths which God has made for us? The first faith principle is this: Focus on the fact that God will see you through anything, not on the bad things that might happen. How many of you play a movie in your mind of all the bad things that could possibly happen in the future? There is always something to worry about: losing your job, aging parents, wayward children, illness, terrorism, just to mention a few. It is easy to focus on the tress, and not so easy to focus on the open spaces. Since September 11 we have been bombarded by fear words that many of us were only vaguely familiar with before that day: weapon’s-grade Anthrax, Cipro, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and bio-terrorism.
How do we deal with this kind of worry? In one of the movies about astronauts — I believe it was Apollo 13 — one of the astronauts is looking at the earth from space. As he stares at planet earth, which now seems so small, he lifts his thumb until the entire earth is blocked out. The earth, which seemed so large before, was now so small that he can no longer see it. This, in effect, is what we do with the worries and fears we have. We lift the finger of faith and place it over our fear. We focus on the face of God, and in so doing the problem that at one time seemed so large before, now seems almost insignificant. We have a promise from Scripture which says, “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials. . . .” (2 Peter 2:9).
When we accept the fact that bad things will happen, but a good God will see us through them, it changes our focus. We begin to concentrate on how big our God is, not how big our problems are. We know that God is able, and that is all we need to know. We have the confidence that nothing will happen to us that God cannot handle, and even use for our benefit.
Listen to the words of Scripture which say, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry. . . . The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:17-19).
This is why the Bible can say things that seem absurd to those who have no faith. Hear the Word as it says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). We have the assurance that God cares for us, is watching over us and using even the ugly places in life to do something beautiful in our lives.
The second faith principle we need to understand is: Focus on what is unseen, rather than what is seen. What is seen is often the fantasy, and what is unseen is the reality. I love the Old Testament story of the prophet Elisha and his servant as they were staying in the town of Dothan. The king of Aram and his army come to make war with Israel, and they surround the city. When Elisha’s servant got up early in the morning, he went to look out over the city wall. When he did so, he saw the great army of the enemy amassed around the city. He ran back to the prophet Elisha and told him about the threat of terror. You can almost hear him gasp for breath as he tries to get the words out fast enough to the old prophet. But Elisha is calm and says something that his servant found skeptical. He said, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The servant thought Elisha was hallucinating. There were not more people in the city, even if you counted women and children, let alone warriors. But then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” And the Bible says, “Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-17). There was a heavenly army which surrounded the people of God of which Elisha’s servant was totally unaware. They had been invisible, but his eyes were opened. The unseen was the reality, what was seen was the illusion. The unseen reality can only be seen by faith.
The Bible explains why what is unseen is so much more important than what is seen. It says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). If what is unseen is the eternal, and the seen is temporary, then we need to focus on what is unseen rather than what is seen. The Red Sea was the illusion, the dry ground through the middle of it was the reality. The walls of Jericho were only an illusion, their collapse was the reality. Goliath was the illusion, little David was the reality. The cross was the illusion, the resurrection was the reality.
Every magician knows that the secret to his success is getting people to focus on what he wants them to see so that he can fool them with what he does not want them to see. The devil is the evil magician who wants to fool you with an illusion of fear which he places before your eyes. He does not want you to see that he cannot fulfill what he threatens, and that even if he succeeded, God would use his own magic against him. God would turn his work into something which would bring about God’s plan rather than thwart it.
The book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells of the trials of many of the biblical characters. As it talks about them it says, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16). God’s heart swells with pride over those who through perseverance have learned to trust him, even though they could not see the answer to their prayer coming. It pleases God, and he is preparing something very special for them.
Do you remember Moses? He was put in a basket by his mother and placed on the Nile River when the Egyptians were killing all the Hebrew children. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as an Egyptian noble. He could have continued the charade, but he chose a difficult life opposing the Pharaoh and leading his people out of Egypt. The Bible says, “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:26-27). To focus on the unseen is to focus on real things — eternal things. This is faith. This is reality.
The third faith principle that we need to understand in order to stop worrying and start living is: Focus on the fact that God is in control, not on your inability to control. Understand that God has a plan for the world and a plan for your individual life, and that he is carefully working it out. He is in control — so you don’t have to be. For the Christian, things do not happen by accident, they happen on purpose. Nothing catches God off-guard. Nothing surprises him. He is carefully, and with great skill, weaving all the events of life together into his eternal plan. The Bible says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, KJV). Even when I don’t see how what I am facing could possibly be a part of God’s plan, I believe that it is. I hold onto that by faith. He knows what he is doing, even though he may not have informed me what it is. My responsibility is to walk in faith, not in fear. My responsibility is to persevere and push through the present dilemma I am facing until I come through on the other side.
François Fénelon, the seventeenth-century French Bishop, said, “Don t worry about the future — worry quenches the work of God within you. The future belongs to God. He is in charge of all things. Never second-guess him.” You cannot see the whole picture — only God can. Just because your life seems out of control does not mean that God is not in control. So you have to trust that there is a plan, even if you don’t understand what the plan is. Just because you cannot grasp it does not mean it does not exist.
Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the great missionary to India, has a beautiful passage in his book Transformed by Thorns. He writes: “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath — these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely — these are my native air. A John Hopkins University doctor says, ‘We do not know why it is that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, but that is a fact.’ But I, who am simple of mind, think I know. We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against reality.” Fear deteriorates the quality of my life and even destroys me physically. I was not designed to live this way. Faith breathes life and joy into my mind and body, and I find wholeness.
I recently read that a dense fog that covers a seven-city-block area one hundred feet deep is composed of less than one glass of water. It is, however, divided into sixty thousand million drops. So little water creates so much gloom, and it can cripple an entire city. Worry and anxiety are like that. Just a small amount can settle on you like a great cloud of gloom and keep you from enjoying your life.
Jesus was trying to change our focus from fear to the faithfulness of God when he said: “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” (Matthew 6:26-29). What helps me most when I begin to worry is to change my focus to the faithfulness of God. I see it in the world all around me. I have experienced his faithfulness in the past, so I have every reason to believe I will experience his faithfulness in the future.
Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 6:31-34). Indeed it does, but if we live by faith, each day has enough joy of its own as well. And that is where our focus should be.