Sunday, August 25, 2013

Worry Is a Choice

Worry Is a Choice

Matthew 6: 25 – 34.


A friend shared with me a list out of the book How to Make Yourself Miserable, by Dan Greenberg and Marcia Jacobs.  If you want something to worry about, this is a good place to start.
·         Make a list of all the people you know who are younger than you and more successful than you.  (Or read the daily obituaries to see how other people lived much more interesting lives than yours.)
·         Go on vacation and imagine either the office falls apart without you or that the office runs better without you.
·         Write a letter and place it in the mailbox.  Then, try to figure out which part of the letter will be misunderstood.  (Of course, this also works with text messages.)
·         Get a medical book (or log onto and look up ten fatal diseases.  Then, see how many symptoms you already have.
·         Go to the cosmetics counter at the mall.  Ask the woman working there what you can do to improve your face.
·         Buy a stock and check the market value of the stock every day.  Try to figure out how much money you are losing per day.

Anxiety and worry are an important part of who we are.  If we think of anxiety and worry as forms of fear—fear of the future, then we could even build a case that we would not have survived as a human race without anxiety and worry.  In some cases, fear can be a positive and protective force.  Imagine a prehistoric man coming face to face with a saber tooth tiger…Or an African man who walks up on a lion…Or a Texas cowboy hearing the rattles of a rattlesnake.  Fear is what protects us from danger.
Worry is a positive when it causes us to wear our seat belts or to resist the urge to drive 100 miles per hour.  Worry is a good thing if it leads us to buy insurance policies for our homes, cars and even our lives.  Worry is a helpful thing as long as it drives us away from risky lifestyle choices, because we don’t want our kids to grow up without a father.  However, there is a difference between the fear of a rattlesnake and worrying about children growing up without a father.  Fear is a response to a real threat.  Worry is the fear of an imagined threat.  Most of what we worry about never actually happens in the real world.
We have all experienced worry at one time in our lives.  You know what worry feels like.  But, do you know what the word “worry” actually means?

“Worry” comes from the Old English word “wyrgan,” which means “to strangle”…In other words, to worry is to allow your imagination of the future to strangle you and squeeze the life out of your present life.

One of my favorite words to use describing my own worry is the word “Fret.”  “Fret” comes from the Old English word “fretan” and the German word “fressen.”  Both of these words refer to the act of an animal’s eating.  Therefore, to fret is to allow something to eat away at your heart or mind.
Maybe you are thinking: “I don’t worry or fret.  I am just anxious.”  Well, “anxious” comes from the Latin word “anguere,” which also means “to choke.”  It has the same root as the word “anger.”

From a practical standpoint, I think we can all agree that worrying, fretting and being anxious are not good for us.  Worry paralyzes us in the present, because we are so afraid of our imagined future.
Medically speaking, we have learned in recent years that worry can shorten our lives and cause health problems. 
Spiritually speaking…Well, Jesus had something to say about worry in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus tells us that worry is a sin, because it reveals how little we actually trust God to take care of us in the future.  Jesus makes an obvious connection between worry and “O, ye of little faith.”
Matthew 6: 25 – 34.
25 "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? 26 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? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? 
28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 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? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The first word Jesus said in this passage is the word “therefore.”  Usually, the word “therefore” tells us to look back at the passage that came before.  In this case, Jesus is calling our attention to his teaching about storing up treasures in heaven rather than treasures on earth.  Treasures on earth is the biblical phrase for “stuff.”  Jesus teaches us that “stuff” we accumulate on earth cannot satisfy our desires.  It does not satisfy, because it is only temporary and it can never be secure.  The more “stuff” we accumulate on earth, the more likely we are to worry about our “stuff.”  We worry about thieves, rust or market fluctuation.  In this case, we don’t have “stuff.”  Our “stuff” has us.  It controls our lives through worry and anxiety.  Therefore, do not worry.
Notice that Jesus gives us the command, “Do not worry…”  This tells me that worry is a choice.  We do not have to worry.  We choose to worry instead of placing our perception of the future in God’s hands.  We choose to worry by imagining the future as a “worse-case-scenario.”
On one hand, there is a difference between worry and fear.  Fear is real.  Worry is imagined.  On the other hand, there is also a difference between worry and faith.  Worry is obsessed with the future.  Faith places the future in God’s hands.

Worry Cannot Provide Security

Sometimes we worry about security because we can’t see any good options.  We run out of week before we run out of work to do.  We run out of money before we run out of month.  We never know week to week or month to month how it is going to work out, but it always works out. 
Jesus tells us that worrying over security is a distinctive human characteristic.  The plants and the animals don’t worry about their security. 
For example…Birds do not plant crops, harvest crops or hoard crops in barns.  Yet, the birds have plenty of food to eat. 
Wildflowers do not labor and spin.  I used to imagine flowers in the field spinning around in circles when I read Jesus’ words.  That is not what “spin” means.  It refers to the act of spinning wool into thread.  In other words, flowers do not labor over making their own clothes.  And, they don’t go to the mall or drive to Tyler and The Woodlands trying to find something to wear.
Worrying is something only humans do.  And worrying is silly when we compare ourselves to the rest of God’s created order.  Human beings are the only created beings that were created in the image of God.  Human beings were the only created beings with whom God desired an eternal relationship.  Therefore, if God can provide for the birds and the flowers, God must also be capable of providing for those he loves.
Food and clothing are two of the three basic human needs: food, shelter and clothing.  Jesus is not talking about something that is insignificant.  Yet, we once had an even greater need.  Sin separated us from God.  Our sin condemned us to eternal death in hell.  So, God took the initiative to send his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross and to rise again.  If God can be trusted in eternal matters, then God can be trusted with temporary matters like food and clothing.

Worry Cannot Make Life Better or Longer

Verse 27 demonstrates the true futility of worry.  Life is in God’s hands, not ours.  Worrying does nothing to improve life.
There are two ways to translate verse 27.  Literally, it reads: “Who of you by worrying can add a single cubit to his height?”  Symbolically, we can translate it: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Believe me…If I could worry myself about 4 inches taller, I would have done it 20 years ago.  And, if I could make myself younger…Well, at 42 years old, I have days when I think I am an old man…  No one can make themselves taller or younger through worry.  This is in God’s hands.
This verse contains a hint of irony as well.  Worry cannot make life longer, it makes life shorter.  Worry does not make life better, it makes life worse.
Since none of us can make our lives longer, the only choice we can make deals with the kind of life we will live.  We cannot control the quantity of life, but we can control the quality of life.  Since we cannot add days to our lives, we ought to add life to our days!  The best quality of life is a life lived with Jesus in the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is the place where God is the King…The place where God is in control of all our decisions and all our steps.
The Kingdom of God is the place where Heaven and earth come together.  As Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6, “Let your Kingdom come, Let your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”  The Kingdom of God is when God’s will is done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Where God is King on earth as he is in Heaven.  Where God’s justice is done on earth as it is in Heaven.  In short, the Kingdom of God is Heaven on earth.

Worry Cannot Honor God

Jesus makes two statements about how worry does not honor God. 
In verse 30, Jesus makes a connection between worry and a lack of faith.  Obsessing about food, shelter and clothing denies God’s ability to provide for all our needs.  It is a confession that we trust more in our own ability to provide for ourselves than God’s ability to provide for us.
Of course, this does not mean that Christians are not supposed to earn a living or to plan for the future.  In the context, it teaches just the opposite.  Jesus praised the birds and the flowers for their ability to live life without worry.  Yet, notice that the birds are very industrious creatures.  Robins dig for worms…Woodpeckers burrow holes in trees for insects…Buzzards fly in circles for hours searching for dead animals…Hawks hunt and stalk live prey.  Also notice that plants develop buds and flowers as a result of an internal process of growth and development.  Both birds and flowers are good examples of the ways we are to work and trust in God.  Do what you can do to provide for your needs, but recognize that only God provides.  Do what you can do, and leave the rest in God’s hands.
In verses 31 and 32, Jesus compares our worried activity with a pagan lifestyle.  The pagans were not atheists.  Pagans believe in a whole pantheon of gods.  If you have ever read the stories of ancient Roman and Greek mythology, you will remember how these false gods were preoccupied with their own needs and desires.  The false gods could not be trusted.  They were unreliable and constantly changing their minds.
When we worry, we confess to the world that we do not believe our God is trustworthy.  Yet, Jesus teaches us that God is like a Heavenly Father who knows us, loves us, and places our needs above all else.  He knows what we need even before we ask.  He wants to bless us and provide for all our needs…Just as an earthly father desires to give good gifts to his own child.

Worry Cannot Make Tomorrow a Better Day

Jesus ends his teaching about worry with a confusing statement about tomorrow.  I think we can interpret this by saying something like: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow there will be something entirely different to worry about.”  Face tomorrow when tomorrow comes.  Don’t obsess about something that may never happen.  How many of your worries have actually happened?  Most of the time we worry about the “worst-case-scenario,” only to face problems that are not as difficult as we first imagined them. 
Some people live in the past, nostalgic for the “good ole days.”  Living in the past guarantees that we do not have a present or a future.
Other people worry about the future, exchanging life today for the worries of tomorrow.  Living in the “worst-case-scenario” guarantees that the past does not matter and the present is irrelevant.
Jesus did not tell us to stop worrying, because the future will be better than the past or present.  He actually told us that tomorrow will be filled with “trouble.”  Literally, Jesus said, “Each day has enough EVIL of its own.”  Yet, he did promise to be with us… The same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  As long as it is today, live in the presence and provision and protection of Jesus.  Tomorrow will bring its own problems, but Jesus is already there.


The remedy for worry is found in verse 33…  Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
The verb “seek” is a present imperative.  Imperative means it is a command from Jesus.  The present tense means that is should be interpreted as continuous action.  In other words, Jesus said: “Keep on seeking the Kingdom of God…”  Don’t stop seeking the Kingdom of God.  Don’t interrupt your seeking to spend time worrying about things you cannot control.
Keep on seeking God’s will on earth as it is in Heaven.  Keep on seeking God’s sovereignty on earth as it is in Heaven.  Keep on seeking God’s justice on earth as it is in Heaven.
In 1934, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr prayed a short, simple prayer that has become life changing for many people.  It has been titled “The Serenity Prayer” and has been adopted by many groups of folks, including Alcoholics Anonymous[1].

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Imagine a world in which we lived out that prayer…Accepting the things that we cannot change…Working to change the things we can change…Listening to God to discern the difference between the two…
Imagine a world in which we followed the command of Jesus…Keep on seeking God’s Kingdom…Don’t allow the cares of the world to interrupt our number one priority…

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