By Pastor Glenn Pease
An Hasidic saying goes like this: "To worry is a sin. Only one sort of worry is permissible: To worry because one worries." This sounds reasonable, for if one never worries about his worrying, he will never try and stop. Whereas, if he worries that he worries too much, he is likely to try and do something about it, and in so doing he will also eliminate his worry over worrying. The whole point being, that even worry isn't all bad. At certain times, and in measured degree, it can even be an asset to life. The person that develops a phobia to all worry is as abnormal as the person who worries all the time. The poet has captured the humor of a person who fears all worry.
I've joined the new don't worry club,
And now I hold my breath,
I'm so scared for fear I'll worry,
That I'm worried most to death.
I think it is important that Christians understand that coming short of the ideal is not evil on their part. Until we are fully Christlike we will be always falling short of the ideal. It cannot be God's will for us to feel guilty and burdened down by this fact. God's plan is certainly as wise and reasonable as our own plans for our children. We want our children to have a happy childhood, and not feel guilt and shame because they are immature. We want them to be happy teenagers, and not come to hate themselves because they haven't yet arrived, but are in a state of awkward transition to adulthood. We want them to have happy years in their early adult life when they have to make many adjustments. The point is, we do not want or expect our children to be miserable and guilt ridden as they journey to maturity. We want them to be happy all along the way, and God wants no less for His children.
God desires that we rejoice at every stage of our progress toward the goal of Christian maturity. This means that when we fail to live up to the ideal, because of weakness, ignorance, and sheer lack of spiritual yieldedness, God wants us to be happy Christians. This means we must learn to worry wisely. Since is it not likely we can escape worry altogether, we must learn how to handle it on the level of second best. This applies to all areas of Christian living. Christians who are forever filled with guilt for their failures to be perfect are usually far more imperfect than Christians who can accept their imperfections as a normal stage along the way toward the ideal.
The Bible makes it clear that you can travel first class or second class in many areas of life. First is best, of course, but it is no sin if second is the best you can do at the time. For example: In Isa. 12:2 we read, "Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and will not be afraid." That is first class traveling when it comes to the issue of faith and fear. But does God despise the testimony of David in Psa. 56:3 where he says, "When I am afraid, I put my trust in Thee." The ideal is to trust and not be afraid, but if one is afraid, the next best thing is to trust in the midst of fear.
So it is with worry. The ideal is to be anxious for nothing, just as Paul said. This is great when we can attain this level, but what if we don't? What if we do find ourselves giving way to worry, and letting our life get over burdened with cares? Are we to add another burden, the burden of guilt and a sense of failure to the already overloaded system? Not so! At that point we need to do the second best thing, and learn to worry wisely. By so doing we can still come out ahead, and fulfill the will of God. Second class traveling can get you to the same destination, even if it isn't as convenient.
The first principle for wise worry is to take your worry in small doses, and worry only about the troubles you face today. Then you will be able to handle it. If you have a test today, or some other obligation that puts pressure on you, go ahead and worry about it if your worry leads you to action that makes success more likely. It is no virtue to be calm and unprepared. It is better to be worried and active in preparing. Christians who never worry about doing their best have the peace of indifference, and not the peace of Christ. The proof of this is in the fact that the New Testament uses the very word Jesus used for worry in a positive way so as to make its presence a compliment in the Christian life.
Paul uses the word this way, and in the very epistle where he says, "Be anxious for nothing." Note this: When Paul said in Phil. 4:6, "Be anxious for nothing," he used the very Greek word Jesus is using here. It is the word merimnao. But Paul then uses the word again in Phil. 2:20 to refer to a positive virtue in the life of Timothy. He wanted to send Timothy to the Philippian church, and he writes, "I have no one like him who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare.." How can Paul compliment Timothy for being anxious when he said we are to be anxious for nothing? It is quite simple. Paul would answer, he is anxious about what really counts, and not things, but people. He cares and is concerned about the spiritual growth of others. This is not harmful worry. It is positive, and it motivates him to action on behalf of others. Those who don't worry about others go their own way and meet their own needs.
Timothy is a wise and worthy worrier who worries about doing all he can for the glory of Christ. He would not have been a better man, or Christian, if he could say, "I never let the problems and needs of the Philippian church bother me." He was bothered, and he did something about it. If worry leads you to action for the glory of Christ and the good of others, then go ahead and worry. If it only makes you spin your wheels, however, it will be harmful, and you will be a hindrance rather than a help to the growth of the kingdom. Paul uses the same word in a positive way in I Cor. 7:32, 33, and 34. He speaks there of how married people tend to be anxious about the things of the world, but how the unmarried are more free to be anxious about the things of God, and how to please Him. We see then, that the same emotion of worry can be either good or bad depending upon the nature of what we are anxious about. The thing that is perfectly clear is that not all worry is wrong, and not all anxiety is awful.
In I Cor. 12:25 Paul tells the Christians they should have care for one another, and it is the same word for worry that we are studying. If we watch both the quantity and the quality, it can be a virtue. The quantity is to be a day at a time, and the quality is to be the things that matter to God. If we are anxious about what God is concerned about, it will not be destructive worry. It will be divine worry which will lead us to action that solves problems.
Jesus made this point clear when He rebuked Martha in Luke 10:41-42 and said, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion...." Martha was a worry wart because she was anxious about all kinds of trivial things that didn't matter to Christ, but Mary was anxious about only one thing, and that was a deeper knowledge of the wisdom of Christ. She chose quality, and if we limit our worries in life to what really matters, we will be wise worriers, and better Christians. Worry is not wrong in itself. It is what we worry about that makes it helpful or harmful.
If you never worry for the unsaved, your very lack of worry is a sin, and evidence that you are quenching the spirit. It is of no value to fret and stew, but it is of value to be anxious enough about someone to pray, and to give thought to how you might communicate the good news to them. It is also a blessing if the unsaved worry about their salvation, for that can lead to conviction and action that brings them to Christ. One of the biggest blessings in life can come from worry over ones sin, for this can lead to finding the solution to sin in Christ.
God wants us to fight real evil, but when we worry wrong we waste our energy on foolish and fictional foes. Someone described negative worry like this: "Waging a warfare to which we were not sent; meeting in our own strength a foe without form or name, and hurt and beaten in a fight with ills that never came." When we let the waves of negative worry wash over our own little sand pile of defense we are submerged in defeat, and the loss is all for nothing. But if we suffer and lose health, and even life, for the sake of fighting a real battle that Christ wants fought, then we cannot lose whatever it costs. A wise Christian worrier is one who makes sure that when he worries he worries about what really matters.
Daily worry on the level of the minor even is not contrary to what Jesus is teaching here. He says we are not to worry about what we will eat or wear tomorrow, but He does not mean by this that we are to have no concern over these matters. He says the birds do not sow and reap, and the lilies do not toil or spin; are we to conclude that we are to stop our sowing and reaping, and our labor, and be as carefree as birds and flower? Not so. He who does not work is not to eat says Paul. He would not tolerate any lazy lilies who did not toil or spin. The point of Jesus is that nature functions according to the plan God made. If we do the same, and carry only those burdens in which we can fulfill God's purpose, then we can worry successfully. The key is to focus on the real issues of today rather than the unreal issues of tomorrow.
Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray.
Keep me, my God, from stain of sin, just for today.
Let me both diligently work and duly pray.
Let me be kind in word and deed just for today.
Let me no vain or idle word unthinking say,
Set thou a seal upon my lips, just for today.
Let me in season Lord, be grave-in season gay.
Let me be faithful to Thy grace; and, if today my tide
Of life should ebb away, grant me dear Lord Thy sacrament divine.
So for tomorrow and its needs, I do not pray.
But guide me, keep and love me Lord, just for today.
It is important that we do understand that there is a positive kind of worry that is an obligation on the Christian. Hallmark is famous for its slogan, "If you care enough to give the very best." This is good care, for you give careful consideration and want the best card that expresses your love. It is good, that is, if you do not fret for hours and get full of anxiety over it, but to care for a brief time to make sure you get what is right is good. A careless grabbing of just any card can be thoughtless, and may be embarrassing when the card turns out to say something you did not mean to say. Care, concern, and worry are all in the same word that Jesus and Paul use. So we are to care even about trivial matters that are not eternal, but we are not to get obsesses with them, for this leads to being a worldly Christian.
If we do seek first the kingdom of God, and our primary care is for the things of the spirit, what will this care be called? It is the same word as is used for the forbidden care of worry. So it is not the emotion of care that is wrong, but the object of it that can be wrong. The emotion is good and a virtue if directed toward that which is eternal. In other words, it is right and good to worry about the kingdom of God and what you will contribute to the getting of God's will done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus worried about what worry could do to the believer, and that is why he is teaching this message. Paul was worried about what false doctrine could do to the churches, and that is why he wrote his epistles to deal with the issue and keep the church from corruption. Worry can be the best thing when it has the right focus.
If you find yourself floating across a river thinking you are clinging to a log, and then discover it is a crocodile, I thinks the Lord would expect you to do a fair amount of worry about your temporal situation. You cannot avoid some worry about the material realities of life. It is just that Jesus wants to steer you away from making that the focus of your life. Look to higher values to worry about. You do not have to feel guilty about worrying over some trivial matters, but just make sure these matters do not become habitual and dominate your concerns.
Bad worry just burns up energy for no good purpose, or for a secondary purpose. It is driving with the break on. Good worry burns energy for purposes that please God and benefit man, and with the faith to believe that the material needs will be provided for without demanding the major devotion of your life. Jesus is saying, give your energy to the kingdom of God and trust God to care about your basic needs.
There is an Eye that never sleeps
Beneath the wing of night.
There is an Ear that never shuts
When sinks the beams of light.
There is an Arm that never tires
When human strength gives way.
There is a Love that never fails
When earthly loves decay.