Worry may be prodded and poked by the accumulation of stresses from commutes and work and grades and kids and relationships and money and health and bad things that happen in our world. We may worry over a decision or decisions that may bring loss as well as gain. We may worry because we feel threatened, for example, by loss of our reputation or we become worried that we may be inadequate for our job or as a parent or spouse or friend. And sometimes it gets to a point where we are not sure exactly why we are worrying or why we panic.
There is nothing new about people worrying. Long ago, Jesus spoke of the worry problem (Matt. 6:25-34). In doing so, arguably He did not intend to encourage people to take little thought or care in fulfilling God's commandments. He assumes that humans work to reap harvests and store in barns, for example (6:26). Nor on the flip side was He callous toward human suffering. If He was, why would He bother to speak about alleviating our worry?
Jesus thus gives principles that can help the Christian to defuse and deflate worry.
One, if God cares for His less important creatures, then He will care for those uniquely made in His image, human beings. If the Lord provides for birds, much more will he provide for human beings. If God clothes the lilies, how much more will He clothe us humans. Humans are more valuable than birds and lilies. Lilies are here today and gone tomorrow, yet God cares for them. How much more will He care for people.
Two, stop focusing on your "what if" future and start focusing on what God has already done for lesser creatures. The past works of God show what God will do in the future. He already clothed the lilies, therefore He will clothe you. Do not worry about what might happen to you tomorrow (cp. v. 34).
Three, worrying does not increase your power over your own life. Worry just does not accomplish what you want. It is ineffective. Which of us by worrying can add to the pathway of our lives? Nobody. So why bother worrying?
Four, God knows your need and cares for you. A Christian's worry implies he or she does not believe God knows our needs and cares for us. The Christian's belief and behavior is thus the same as that of pagans (v. 32).
And how do pagans believe and behave? As if there were no benevolent Deity supervising all of history and human lives in particular. As if survival were entirely the result of our actions. So they desire and search after what they need or think they need. Or whatever they think will stop them from worrying.
Is Jesus then saying that the Christian is forbidden to work? Just trust and God will provide? Certainly the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe has such power. Certainly He is good and benevolent. Certainly there was a time when the Israelites did not toil or spin in the wilderness wanderings so that they might be taught that "man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Deuteronomy 8). But again, the underlying assumption here in Jesus' teaching is that the hearers are working--reaping and storing in barns, laboring and spinning yarn, and so on (vv. 26, 28).
Jesus also assumes the whole religious system of Moses is governing or ought to govern the Jewish society to which He speaks. Part of that is normal labor, such as reaping and making clothes for oneself, having a hand in providing for one's family, the poor, the priesthood, and civil society.
Worry among pagans drives them to trust tangible riches, even to the point of worship, rather than to trust in God (Matt. 6:19-23). The "worries of this life and the deceitfulness of riches choke out" the seed that is the message of the kingdom (Matthew 13:19, 22 NIV). Worries and the deceitfulness of riches lead the Christian to being unfruitful and of no use in God's kingdom.
I know that sounds harsh. Jesus is also not addressing every possible worrisome situation in Matthew 6:25-34. Perhaps you are reminded of your own circumstances. But remember that Jesus is giving principles that teach the Christian how he or she can avoid being afraid and worried.
Trust God instead of worrying. If there were no difficult circumstances, no testing, nothing to make us worry, we might for example say to ourselves "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me,"whereas it is God "who gives you the ability to produce wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17, 18). Now try substituting the word "wealth" with "whatever makes me feel calm and comfortable." Things that make us worry are an opportunity to learn to trust God.
Five, the Christian needs to keep priorities and perspectives in order. Situations that contribute to our worry are sometimes like the Israelite wanderings in the wilderness, when the Lord humbled His people and tested them "so that in the end it might go well with them" (Deuteronomy 8:16). The test of the Israelites lasted 40 years as they wandered in the wilderness. Satan tempted Jesus for 40 days while He fasted. God tests His people that it might go well with them in the end. Only after we learn the lessons of our own "wilderness wanderings" will we order our priorities for our ultimate good and God's glory.
As the Israelites were to live in larger measure by every word God spoke (rather than living by bread alone), so the disciple of Jesus is to seek God's kingdom and His righteousness as of first priority. We worry when we see our pressing needs and worrisome situations as more important than what God says is most important. The prayer the Lord taught as a model includes the petition "give us this day our daily bread" sure enough, but it begins with "Our Father who art is heaven, may your name (and character) be considered holy, may ... your will be done." If we seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness, God will give all things needful in consequence (Matthew 6:33).
What Jesus means by seeking God's kingdom and righteousness as of first importance may be judged in part from Matthew 6:25-34 and in part from Jesus' other teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, which I urge us worrying Christians to read carefully. Here, suffice it to say we are to love God and our neighbor, trust God that He has our best interest in mind, and that God intends that we learn though our trials to trust Him rather than worry.
Copyright (c) 2010 Peter Rubel