Well, I finally found something that I am good at. I don’t enjoy it, but I seem to do it quite often. I often do it at 4:00 in the morning. I wake up and suddenly my mind is filled with things that I have to figure out right then. Sometimes I even do it in my dreams. I have sometimes had the strangest dreams, particularly before I preach. In the dream, I stand up to preach and my notes are all mixed up and what I have to say makes no sense. What am I talking about? I am talking about worry and I am an expert.
This is a strange area of expertise for anyone who believes in God because I have no reason to worry, knowing that God is able and loves me, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying. I suspect that I am not alone in this. Having talked to you, I have come to the impression that at certain times, all of us worry. I agree with Augsburger who says, “We find it easier to feel secure with things that we can control and, when something is beyond our control, we worry.”
This morning, I want to tell you what the Bible has to say about worry. I can give you the whole message in two words - “Don’t Worry!” Of course, just because I can give you the message in two words, that isn’t going to stop me from talking about it for the next 25 minutes or so. We need to do more than hear the command, we need to meditate on why we shouldn’t worry and we need to think about strategies to combat worry. Matthew 6:24-34 helps us do that, so let’s read the text and think about what it teaches.
This text begins by commanding us not to worry, but it does more than that. It also helps us understand why it is unnecessary.
Jesus begins by inviting us to look at the birds. He is not just inviting us to enjoy their flight patterns, admire their colors or watch them interact at a feeding station. Jesus is inviting us to pay close attention to their life. How they live has a lesson for us about worry.
I have a bird feeder in my back yard, which I have set up so that when I sit in my favorite chair in the living room, I can see it. I enjoy watching the birds, especially when three or four different kinds are all vying for a place to get a seed. They work hard. They take one seed, fly off to a nearby tree, eat it and then come back to get one more seed. They work hard, but what they don’t do is make a pile of seeds in a tree somewhere so that they will have enough to eat for tomorrow. They only eat enough for today and tomorrow they will do the same thing again. Jesus says, “…they do not sow or reap or store way in barns.” Every day they are dependent on the Father in heaven to provide for them and every day the Father in heaven feeds them. Barclay says, “There is not to be found in them man’s straining to see a future which he cannot see, and man’s seeking to find security in things stored up and accumulated against the future.”
This cannot be said of every animal. Squirrels, bees and ants all store food for later, but birds do not. Matthew Henry says, “…they make no provision for the future themselves, and yet every day, as duly as the day comes, provision is made for them, and their eyes wait on God, that great and good Housekeeper, who provides food for all flesh.”
The Bible communicates God’s care of His creatures in many places. Psalm 145:15, 16 says, "The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." But what is really wonderful is that among all the creatures which God provides for, human beings have a special place. Jesus puts it this way, “Are you not much more valuable than they?”
Worry is totally unnecessary because when we look at the whole world we see that God looks after all His creatures. At the top of the creatures which God has made is the human creature. God has made us in His image and has initiated a relationship with us through Jesus. When we consider all of that we understand why we are more valuable than the birds and why we can be assured that if God takes care of the birds, He will also take care of us. It is not necessary to worry because of God’s care, so don’t worry!
I would like to do an experiment this morning. I would like to invite some children to come to the front for this experiment. There is a magic method for growth called “think up.” How it works is that you think really hard about getting taller and in a few moments you will be taller. We will measure you before and after to see how much change there has been.
We all knew this was silly and that it wouldn’t work, but we do something very similar whenever we worry. Jesus is very humorous when he says in Matthew 6:27, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" The actual word for “hour” in the Greek text is actually cubit which is a measure of distance whereas the word life is a measure of time. This makes it a little difficult to translate. If it was translated “cubit to his stature,” as it is in KJV, that would be a ridiculously large amount of height to grow. Most have translated it “hour to his life” and that is probably the sense. Kind of like when we talk about birthdays being mileposts along the path of life. What it means is that worry isn’t going to allow you to take half a step more in life.
Not only does worry not help us extend our life, the opposite is actually the case. Many studies have shown that worry actually contributes to a reduction of lifespan. WebMD reports, “When worrying becomes excessive, it can lead to feelings of high anxiety and even cause you to be physically ill.” Healthy.lifestyle reports “Continuous worrying, emotional stress, too much of anxiety – all of these can have a heavy toll on your physical health...including muscle tension, premature coronary artery disease, short-term memory loss, digestive problems, suppression of the natural immune system and heart attack.”
So another reason that we should not worry is that it is at best useless and at worst harmful. So don’t worry because it doesn’t help at all.
One of the most beautiful things in God’s creation is flowers. I have often marveled as I have been on a hike or driven along the road at the sheer variety of shapes and colors of wild flowers. It is incredible! There are some gardens, even in our community, which are so beautiful that when they are at their height they are visited by people from all over who come and see their beauty. My favorite flowers are tiger lilies which we have in abundance on the south side of our house and when they are blooming, I often go just to admire them.
Our text talks about their beauty as surpassing that of Solomon. Solomon was the richest king mentioned in the Bible. Even the Queen of Sheba was impressed when she went to visit him. Yet Jesus says, that in comparison to the flowers Solomon’s great splendor was nothing.
For all that beauty which the flowers have, however, as we look around today, we do not see very many flowers out there. Most of them have frozen, or dried up or been taken out of the garden. In Biblical times, plants were used, when they dried up, to provide a quick burning fuel for their ovens. Although flowers have incredible beauty they also have an extremely short lifespan.
Once again, Jesus used this lesson to point out that if God makes the flowers which have such a short lifespan that beautiful, won’t he also provide what we need? Worry is not necessary because God is taking care of us!
One thought which may arise in connection with this is that since the flowers don’t work and God provides for them, does that teach that we shouldn’t work? Of course we know from other passages of the Bible that that would be an inaccurate interpretation. We must work, but there is a difference between anxious toil and meaningful, joyful labor. We are called to work for the joy of work, taking responsibility and being wise, but not to labor under stress and with worry.
If we do worry the conclusion which Jesus makes is that we are people of little faith. When we worry, with the knowledge of God’s care for us the truth of the matter is that we don’t believe in God.
We don’t believe that God is powerful. I was reading in Psalm 114 this week that God is able to bring forth water from the rock. We know that God created the whole world, why won’t we believe that He is able to meet our needs. His power is not a limiting factor.
We don’t believe that God cares. Yet Romans 8:32 says, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" We have this powerful demonstration that God loves us very much and if we have this demonstration that God loves us that much, how can we doubt that He will care for us in every other way as well?
When we worry we forget all of God’s past actions. We forget that God brought Israel out of Egypt. We forget that God sent Jesus to die on the cross for us. We forget all the things that God has already done for us. So the accusation which Jesus makes here that worry reveals that we are people of little faith is very accurate.
Barclay writes that the Jewish Rabbis had a saying, “He who has a loaf in his basket, and who says, ‘what will I eat tomorrow?’ is a man of little faith.”
If we are people of little faith, it reveals that we are actually pagans. As we read on in this text, we see that Jesus says, “…the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
Worry is not surprising among pagans because they do not know God. They do not know as we do that we have a Father who cares for us and is able to help us. They do their utmost to pursue what they need because they are under the belief system that they must provide for themselves by themselves. Or worse yet, they are under the belief that there are powers in the world which are intent on harming them. We had a speaker from the Philippines at our mission conference a few years ago who told us that the people in the village in which he grew up would always be afraid to go into the forest, especially when they heard a certain bird call. Their understanding was that the forest was inhabited by evil spirits who wanted to harm them and so they would go through life constantly worried about what might happen because of all these evil spirits. When we worry, we are just like the pagans. We doubt the care of the Father who is both able to help and cares about us.
When we worry we not only act like pagans who fear their gods, but we also forget that God knows exactly what we need. If we know that God knows exactly what we need and if we know that He is able and that He cares for us, it is a sin to be people of little faith. We are called to trust in God and to believe that He will care for us.
It is interesting that he uses the language of Father because it is a wonderful image to remind us of the tremendous care we have from one with whom we have an intimate relationship as children. We don’t need to worry because we have a Father!
That is the truth of it. We have no need to worry. It is unnecessary, it is useless, and in fact it is sin. But it is also easier said than done. We know all of these things, yet we still find ourselves worrying. In our head we can recite these truths to one another, but in our hearts, we wrestle. We can write out the truth about God’s care and affirm it loudly with our mouth, but in our heart we still are weighed down with worry. How do we change that? How do we actually obey this command which is so powerfully presented in these verses?
In Matthew 6:24, 33, 34, Jesus answers that question.
When Jesus asks the question “is not life more important than …” in verse 25, He already alludes to the first answer to this question. It is when we are focused on this life and the needs of this life that we are most worried. The first problem with worry is that it happens when our focus is on what we want out of this life. The way to correct that is to obey the command in verse 33 which says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…”
Once again I would like to ask for a volunteer. I have asked two people to help me and I would like another volunteer. They are going to go for a walk, and I want you to follow them.
Matthew 6:24 says, "“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
The Greek word translated “money” is the Aramaic word “mammon.” Mammon was the wealth which a man entrusted to someone else to keep safe for him. It came to mean, “…that in which one trusts” and came to be regarded as nothing less than a god.
The word for serve is the word “slave.” A slave has no freedom because he is totally owned by someone. You can have two jobs, but you cannot be slave to two lords. The text is warning us that it is impossible to trust in two different things at the same time. If we desire to have all the good things of this world, and to give our lives to them, and at the same time be servants of God, we are trying to do something that is impossible. Matthew Henry says, “He does not say, We must not or we should not, but we cannot serve God and Mammon; we cannot love both.”
If that is what we are trying to do, no wonder we are filled with worry. The consequence of trying to serve two lords is that somewhere along the way a decision will need to be made. We will love one and hate the other and which we love and which we hate will not always be revealed until we have to make a decision. When we are at the point of that decision that is when we will worry. We will try to hold on to following both God and the things of this world, and we will worry because we will see that we cannot do both.
So the solution to worry is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. If we have a single hearted devotion to God and His way, then we will never have reason to worry because we will know that God is going to uphold His kingdom and His righteousness and if we follow His kingdom, we will never have a divided heart about these things.
The promise is that if we seek first His kingdom, “…all these things will be given to you as well.” I think we have to be careful about how we understand this promise. We cannot think that seeking the kingdom will guarantee all our earthly desires.
If the kingdom and righteousness of God is our first desire and what we seek above all, then we are guaranteed that it will happen. God will give us the desire of our heart because the building of His kingdom will be the desire of our heart.
But I think that blessings in this world will also come to us. We have certainly experienced that in our lives. We came to Rosenort because we wanted to seek His kingdom. We have seen His kingdom grow, but God has also blessed us with great relationships with good people, many wonderful material blessings, the blessing of living beside the river and enjoying it and so many other good things besides.
That does not mean that we don’t worry now as we are in process of transition. Once again I have had to make decisions about what I am seeking and in my heart I have had to answer this question again. That is how it works. Even though we have once made a decision about seeking His kingdom, it is easy to become distracted by mammon again and to begin to follow it and to seek it. That is when worry starts all over again and so we need to repeatedly examine our hearts and decide once again that yes we want to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. When we do that, worry will be gone!
The other strategy for overcoming worry is given in verse 34, where Jesus says, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Every day has its own challenges. Each day we need to deal with those challenges and face them. That is enough to do in one day. If we face the challenges of the day and do what we can to meet those challenges, that will be enough. If we add to the challenges of the day and begin to worry about the challenges of tomorrow, that is not necessary.
It isn’t necessary because the things we worry about for tomorrow may never happen. Now this kind of thinking does not imply that we shouldn’t make plans and prepare for tomorrow. That is, however, a completely different thing than worrying. If I put up a snow fence in fall, I am not worrying about tomorrow, I am preparing for the future. If, on the other hand, I wonder what is going to happen if there is a blizzard on the day I need to get out of my yard, I am thinking about something that may never happen, something that I can do nothing about today and I am borrowing trouble from the future. If we can plan and prepare for the future, that is a good thing. But when we worry about something that may never happen and that we can do nothing to prepare for, that is worry. Barclay says, “…the biggest troubles you have got to face are those that never come.” The advice of Jesus is to live one day at a time and not to borrow trouble from the future.
As we live one day at a time, we are also exercising faith in the providence of God because we have the assurance that God will supply us with what we need when we need it. How often we have experienced the answer we needed when we needed it.
So the question we need to ask each day is, “Do I have what I need today?” If not, then it is time to submit those things to God and ask for His help. If so, then it is time to give thanks and rejoice in God’s gracious provision. So the strategy to overcome worry is to deal with today, today and not worry about tomorrow.
Jesus had sent the disciples to cross the lake while He stayed back to pray. As the disciples crossed the lake, a violent storm came up and began to put them in danger. Just at that time, Jesus walked past and when the disciples saw him they were terrified. He assured them that He was not a ghost and Peter said, “If it is you, then command me to come to you on the water.”
Jesus commanded Peter and Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on water. I am pretty sure that it was the first time he had ever walked on water. What an incredible experience! But, at some point in the journey, Peter became distracted. He noticed the wind and the waves and he began to look at them and he began to fear. When he took His eyes off Jesus and looked at the wind and the waves, he began to sink.
That is what happens when we worry. We look at the wind and the waves, at the difficulties around us, at the impossible situations which are in our life and we worry. The way to avoid worry is to keep our eyes on Jesus and not on the wind and the waves.
But that is not the end of the story. When he began to sink, he looked at Jesus once again and Jesus reached out his hand and saved him. If we are finding ourselves in the midst of worry, it is not too late. If we are focused on the wind and the waves, it is not too late. All we need to do is look at Jesus once again and He will reach out His hand and help us. 1 Peter 5:7 says "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."