Saturday, September 14, 2013

Don’t worry

For this reason I say to you, don’t be worried about your life, as to what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink; nor for your body, as to what you’ll put on. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, that they don’t sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add one hour to his life?
And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they don’t toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will he not much more clothe you?
     You of little faith!
Don’t worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  So don’t worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 
Matthew 6.25-34

This has to be one of Jesus’ strangest commands: Do not worry. 

Doesn't it seem that when you’re stressed, anxious or worried that if you could simply stop, you’d do so?  Most people simply accept stress as a fact of life.  Financial struggles, family disputes … all sorts of things cause us stress, right? 


External things are temptations to stress, but they don’t cause it!  We accept stress, we fall to the temptation, but we don’t have to.  You and I and all who follow Jesus can learn to refuse to be stressed.  This is one of God’s gifts to us, yet most “Christians” refuse this gift. 

Paul wrote a letter to the Philippi church while he was in prison, and he had many enemies who were ruining the work he’d done with churches, teaching different things, and undermining his credibility – all while he sat there, rotting in jail!  As if that weren't enough, the church sent a man to minister to Paul, and that man got sick and nearly died.  Everything seemed to point to the fact that Paul was not God’s man.  Few of us will never know the temptation to stress, worry or anxiety like Paul did.  But we have a copy of his letter today in our bibles, and many call it the “Epistle of Joy.”  The letter is very upbeat and encouraging, over and over showing and teaching joy.  Under these extreme circumstances, Paul wrote:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, BUT -  in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  (Philippians 4:4-12)
We need not think of Paul and Jesus as exceptional in this.  What they both taught and demonstrated was that we can do this, just as they did.  Paul “learned” it … he didn't know it all along; and even Jesus learned (Hebrews 5.8).  Then they not only taught it, but they showed us how to do the same thing by their examples. 

Of course we all say we’d like to be free from stress, anxiety, worry or fear; yet most of us live with stress as if it were normal, and something we must simply accept and live with.  The fact that Jesus orders his disciples not to worry is very good news for us, because it means that we can actually be free from worry! 

Not only are Jesus’ disciples able to live stress-free lives, but our Boss commands us to do so.  Or to put it another way: stress, worry, anxiety are actually sins.  Think about this for a time, and see if you can accept it.  Your moments of stress are actually moments over which you have control – they are not things that just automatically happen. 

Jesus shows us control over amazing things.  Hunger, sexual temptations, perceived need for rest, security, popularity and lots of other things fit into these categories.  Jesus fasted for forty days and nights, and died a homeless, unemployed and despised virgin.  When people loved him and wanted to make him king, he resisted, just as he resisted the urge to hate those who murdered him.  He showed us … SHOWED us … how to live without “necessities.”  He sent out the twelve and the seventy two without overcoats or money, and he himself had no place to lay his head.  And through all of it, he never worried.  If you think you know stress, consider Jesus: He had three years to establish Christianity, and he had to live a perfect life in order to succeed.  A single mistake would have ruined the whole project, and doomed all humans for all time to hell.  No one has ever faced more pressure than Jesus.  No one 

So how did he do it, and what does he expect from us?  The answers are in this section of the SOM. 

“For this reason”
Jesus begins this teaching with those important words.  They reflect back on Jesus’ statement that we cannot serve God plus other things.  It’s impossible.  And that is our problem.  We are trying to do the impossible.  We want to be popular with God AND people.  We want to love God AND have a big income.  We claim to trust God, but we’d better have a good job, health insurance, retirement plan, AND savings account … THEN we can trust God.  These words “for this reason” is Jesus’ way of reminding them that they must choose.  Again, we MUST choose.  Most of us say we choose God, but then we also want to hang on to all the other stuff. 

This desire is not new or unique to us.  Ancient Israel loved Yahweh for redeeming them from slavery in Egypt, but they saw how prosperous people were in the promised land who worshiped Baal.  Baal was the God of fertility and productivity, so why not worship both Gods?  In battle Israel had Yahweh, but Egypt had chariots, so they wanted to fight in the hills where chariots were useless.  Israel was afraid to fight the giant Goliath.  But David fought Goliath without armor because he trusted God only – he was confident that God was enough. 

“Little Faith”
David was able to face Goliath without fear because he trusted God.  It was his faith that made him capable.  Others trusted their experience, size, armor, skill with a sword, or other things, and they knew they could not trust those things against Goliath.  But David had faith, and faith is what kills fear, worry, stress or anxiety. 
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes…? (1 John 5:1-5 excerpts)

Jesus’ best friend (John) learned the lessons well, and it’s reflected in his letter above.  Belief/faith is tightly connected to obedience and love.  Obedience is what love looks like, love is why we obey, and faith is how we obey.  Faith is the power that makes obedience possible, and even so that it’s not “burdensome.”  And our faith is our strength (power/muscles) that makes it possible for us to overcome the temptations of the world. 

In this case, Jesus called them a name.  It might be translated this way:
“But if God so clothes the grass … will he not much more clothe you, littlefaiths?  So don’t worry”

He is saying the same thing he does elsewhere: small faith is why we fear, worry or get stressed out. 
  • He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.
  • Jesus stretched out his hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
  • Jesus said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread?  

 (Matthew 8:26, 14:31, 16:8)

“So don’t worry”
If you really believe … deep down … that God loves you, that He is true to His promises … then what do you have to worry over?  What will provoke you to fear, if God is your all-powerful and loving Father?  If God forgave you while you were a sinner (Romans 5.8), and if He so loved the world that He gave His Son to save us … then what do we have to worry about?  What to be afraid of? 

The trick to obeying this command is two-fold:
  1. Learn & Grow
  2. Seek first God’s Kingdom & His Justice

Next time I’ll focus on the second one (Kingdom & Righteousness/Justice), but for now I want to encourage you to concentrate on (as Paul said) learn the secret.  Learn to be content, even when life is hard.  Even when external circumstances are tempting you to be stressed and anxious.  This isn’t a kind of learning you can do with your mind only, it must be experienced. 

Think of a child who’s afraid to jump in the pool.  Stress and fear and anxiety fill her little head … so the teacher stands and offers to catch her.  After the first jumps and she finds out it’s OK  then she learns to jump without a “catcher.”  After a few dozen more experiences, she’s bold enough to jump without even thinking about it.  This is also how we learn and grow faith. 

Pay attention to the things that have gone right in your life, and consider that God did that for you.  God has carried you this far, even though you have taken credit for it.  God gave you your parents, your education, even your healthy body.  He has provided you with everything, so keep reminding yourself of that, and stop thinking that God is suddenly going to let you down! 

Instead, move forward and test God to see if He really will care for you.  If you’re feeling tempted to stress, go out and find someone to help.  Do the work.  That’s like the kid jumping into the pool … it’s you testing to see if God really will “catch” you!  Try it.  Start with something you’re slightly uncomfortable doing, and then do more and more until one day you look back and realize you’re ready to jump in that pool and swim a race to win. 

Lots of us have discovered a benefit to stress.  So long as we enjoy the benefit of stress, we will be less likely to leave it behind.  What is that benefit?  Attention.  We all know that if we tell our friends or family how hard our life is … they’ll feel sorry for us and come to our rescue, or offer assistance or attention.  If we’re not going through something hard in the eyes of others, then who will comfort you?  I know many people whose life consists of excuses and stress and burdens and drama … not because they’re weak or dumb, but simply because they love the attention and affection that comes with it.  And why?  Because they've never learned to feel the greatest love of all: the love of God, and His peace. 

Only you know your heart.  If you’re one of those people, your friends suspect it; but they won’t say so, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.  This is personal.  You need to be honest with yourself and sort it out with God, or you’ll never learn Paul’s “secret,” you’ll never accept Jesus’ yoke and find rest for your soul.  You MUST drop your current “support” structures and training wheels and need for human/earthly things and gods – or you will never, ever be able to obey Jesus, who has commanded us not to worry. 

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

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