Is there a sin nice, middle-class Christians commit more than the sin of worry?
You wake up ten minutes later than you had hoped and anxiety already starts to creep in: what if I’m late? What about traffic? What’s the weather like? You pass by the mirror and worry that your face has more wrinkles than it used to. You rush downstairs and because you are in a hurry you let the kids eat whatever they want, so then you start to worry if sugar really does cause cancer. As you get the kids ready you realize one of your boys didn’t do his homework-again. You worry if he’s ever going to get his head screwed on straight, and as you drop the kids off you worry that they may fall in with the wrong crowd or fall off the monkey bars.
Once you get home you pull up Facebook just to unwind. There you read about how awesome everyone else’s kids are and all the amazing cupcakes your friends make and you worry that you might be a failure as a mom. Later in the morning you feel that pain in your knee again. You worry about having to get knee replacement surgery and whether your insurance will cover that and how you’ll pay for it and who will take care of the kids if you are laid up for a month. Then you worry that maybe the pain is something worse, so you check all the medical web sites and realize you probably have a rare case of whooping cough that’s spread to your appendages.
Hours later when the kids are in bed you turn on the television to forget about the day. As you flip through the channels and get caught up on the news you start to worry about the economy and the polar vortex and the rise in crime in your city. You worry about the racial divisions in this country and how you’ll talk to your friend who see things a little differently and maybe you worry whether the police would treat you fairly or you worry about the safety of your brother who is a police officer. So you turn off the TV and talk to your husband and worry about his cough that doesn’t seem to get better and worry the layoffs they’re having at work. And finally as you lay down for the night you feel a tremendous sense of anxiety and you don’t even know why. For reasons you can’t even understand, you start worrying about life and kids and your parents and your church and your health and flying and driving and sleeping and eating and a general fear that the days ahead could be really bad.
Can you relate?
Jesus can help.
Worry may be the most common sin among your “regular” folks in the church. Now, you may think that’s not very encouraging. “Great, I worry about everything. And now on top of my worrying I am going to feel bad about worrying and I am going to worry about that.” But be encouraged: If worry is just a part of your personality or part of being a mom (or a student or a businessman or whatever), God may not do anything to help you. But if worry is a sin, then God can forgive you for it and help you overcome it.
Matthew 6:25-34 is one of the Bible’s great passages on worry. Three times Jesus says “do not be anxious” (25, 31, 34). But he doesn’t stop there. Jesus is interested in more than handing down commands. He wants to get at our hearts. And so he gives seven reasons why we should not be anxious.
Reason #1: Life is too important (Matt. 6:25). We need to get our priorities straight. Does it really matter that you have the good things in life; fancy food, fancy drinks, fancy clothes. Are you living your whole life for a little tag on the back of your pants or the inside of your shirt that makes you feel cool? Are you going to look back on your life and wish you had been more fastidious about your clothing choices? Isn’t life about more than just a clump of cells trying to get sustenance, trying to feel good, trying to look good.
We live in an age where people freak out about food. While most people in the history of the world have worried about whether they will get anything to eat, we worry about the kind of life the chicken lived before we ate it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned with how animals are treated. But let’s remember that life is more than food and the body is more than clothing.
Reason #2: You are too important (Matt. 6:26). We not only insult God when we worry about food and clothes and money, we insult ourselves. Worry says to the world, “I’m not valuable.” Anxiety is an affront to the kindness of God and the worth of men and women made in his image. Let the birds and squirrels be your preachers. God’s feeding them. When you see them peering at you through the window, they’re saying, “What are you looking at? Trust God.” When you hear the birds sing, they are singing a song to remind you of God’s provision. God takes care of little animals; he’ll take care of you.
Reason #3: It doesn’t do any good (Matt. 6:27). Have you ever looked back on the hard times in life and thought, “I don’t know how I would have made it through that if I hadn’t worried?” Nobody reflects on the past and concludes, “Money sure was tight, but worry really pulled me through.” “Junior High was difficult. I only wish I could have worried more.” “The diagnosis was frightening, but then I got all my friends to worry with me.”
If we all took a few seconds right now and worried about making car payments, paying off the mortgage, being without insurance, we’re wouldn’t live one second longer. I haven’t checked this with the doctors I know, but I don’t think they ever stand at the bedside and say, “Well, ma’am, it doesn’t look good. all we can do at this point is worry.”
Man knows not his time. It is not for us to direct our steps (Jer. 10:23). All our days have been written in God’s book before any of them come to pass (Psalm 139:16). You and I need to admit we are powerless over some things. I am powerless to do all sorts of things. I can’t make someone believe the gospel. I can’t raise the dead. I can’t sit at the crib all night making sure the baby is breathing. And I certainly can’t live one more nanosecond than I am supposed to live. No one has ever lived an hour longer because they worried about when they were going to die.
Reason #4: God cares about you (Matt. 6:28-30). God makes the wild flowers grow. Why? Because he wants to. Because they’re pretty. Because he’s creative. Because he likes beauty. Because he wants people to enjoy them. Because he cares about flowers. And he even cares about grass. The grass is going to die. Your lawn will be brown. It will be cold, frozen, dead–probably is already. But in a few months, it will all come back. And you won’t have anything to do with it. Maybe you’ll plant some more seed. Maybe you’ll get a lawn care specialist out to help make things super great. But even if you do nothing, the grass will come back. Because God is God and he likes green grass.
Do you see what Jesus calls worriers? He calls us “little faiths.” Our worry is an insult to God’s character. When we worry we are not believing the truth about God. We are doubting that he sees, that he knows, that he cares, that he is more than able. Faith is more than a vague notion that Jesus existed and we are going to heaven if we ask him into our hearts. Faith is a practical way of looking at the world. Biblical faith extends to all of life, not merely to the salvation of our souls. When we worry, we are telling God, “I don’t trust you to run my life. I don’t think you’re really in control. I had better worry about these things. I need to do everything to take care of myself, because I’m not sure you will.” But think about it: God takes care of wild animals. He takes care of wild flowers. He even takes care of grass. Why wouldn’t he take care of you?
Reason #5: Pagans worry (Matt. 6:30-32a). Some of us worry so much, we might as well be atheists. We are living like God doesn’t really exist. That’s what pagans do.
A pagan doesn’t have to be somebody who worships idols and sacrifices frogs. A pagan is somebody who thinks life is about what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear. Pagans think that life consists in the abundance of one’s possessions. Pagans spend their money and hoard their money like there was no God in the universe watching over them or watching out for them.
Let me pause right here because some of you are asking the question the rest of us are afraid to speak: “But what if God doesn’t take care of me?” What about Christians starving to death? What about Christian’s being driven from their homes? What about the thousands of good Christians who will die this year from cancer or car accidents or cardiac arrest? Doesn’t God promise to take care of them too?
Those are fair questions–and questions that wouldn’t surprise Jesus or any of the writers of the Bible. Revelation speaks of a set number of martyrs. Paul told the Romans that even in hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, and slaughter they would be more than conquerors. Jesus told his disciples, “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life” (Luke 21:16-19). Jesus never told his disciples that being a Christian was a get out of suffering free card.
So can we count on God or not?
First, we need to remember the context. Jesus is talking about people serving mammon instead of God (Matt. 6:24). In Luke’s account in Luke 12, Jesus is talking about rich fools building bigger barns and worry-worts storing up treasures on earth. His point here is that we won’t die on account of over-generosity. That’s the first to note.
But that’s only part of the answer. I think the rest of the answer is found in verse 32: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” What is “them?” Verses 30 and 31 suggest the “them” is food and drink. And what do we need these things for? For life. God knows what we need to keep on living. . . . so long as he wants us to live. God knows that we need clothes, food, and drink to live and he will give us all the clothes, food, and drink to live until he wants us to die.
This is based on a profound theological truth: God is not stupid. God sees us. He knows we are here. He hasn’t gone out for lunch. He isn’t taking a nap. He’s not like a parent who loses a child in some other part of the grocery store. He is for you, not against you. Jesus doesn’t promise all your wildest dreams will come true, but he does promise that God will give you what you need to glorify him and to live out all the days he has written in his book.
That may sound sort of dumb, but it is really profound. There is more to life, Jesus is saying, than living. We are going to die. So don’t make it your goal in life to simply stay alive; you’ll fail at that. We are here to do more than avoid death. “God will give you all the food and drink and clothes you need to live,” Jesus says. “And when I want you to stop living, you’ll stop living. I’m in control. You were put here for a reason bigger than to just live.” Be consumed, v. 31 says, with the kingdom. Be consumed with seeing God’s reign and rule over your life, and family, and church, and the lost peoples of the world. You’re not a pagan after all.
Reason #6: The kingdom matters more (Matt. 6:33). Jesus wants to set the worry wort free. When we have nice cars, boats, tractors, and houses, we worry about them. What if an accident happens, or lightning strikes, or a thief breaks in? Jesus says “How about a better treasure? Why not lose yourself for the things that last?” As Randy Alcorn puts it, “You can’t take the money with you, but you can send it ahead.”
Don’t get rid of all pursuits: replace your pagan pursuit with a pious pursuits. Be consumed with the kingdom. Be consumed with seeing God’s reign and rule over your life, your family, and your church. Spend yourself for the lost people’s of the world. Make it your priority to introduce more people to the King, get more people in the kingdom, train people to live under the authority of this King and his kingdom.
Jesus may not make your life easy. But he will make your life joyful. He wants to set us free from pursuing all the dead ends we’ve been driving down. If you live for money, you have reason to be anxious. If the most important thing in your life is your career, that can go bad. If your health or your looks or your kids are your real passions, you may be colossally disappointed. You have reason to fret. But if you seek first the kingdom, you can’t lose.
Reason #7: Tomorrow will be anxious for itself (34). Today’s grace is for today’s trials. And when tomorrow’s trials come, God will have new grace waiting for you there.
Anxiety is living out the future before it gets here. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him” (Lam. 3:22-24).
What will happen tomorrow?
I can give you a thousand things we don’t know–medical reports, accidents, jobs, tests, dates, babies, criticisms, hard conversations, even death. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. But here is one thing you and I can count on: there will be new mercies from the Lord when we get there.
How can I stop worrying? Look to Jesus. But also look at Jesus. He sees. He knows. He cares. He is a sympathetic high priest. And he will never leave you nor forsake you.