Why Not Worry? (2): Devaluation and Denial
Date: July 12, 2015
Intro – Need a cure for anxiety? Maybe the Psychiatric Hotline will help. Their message goes something like this: “Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline. If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2. If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6. If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call. If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press. If you are depressed, it doesn’t matter which number you press. No one will answer.” I think most of us have felt that way at some point in time. We’ve placed a call for help but no one is listening. Anxiety builds.
Well, Jesus has a response to anxiety. It’s not at all the answer you would expect. His answer is in Lu 12:31, “Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” Worry diminishes God. Faith enlarges God in my life and crowds worry right out of the room. So Jesus’ answer to worry is, “Get over yourself, and get on with God’s agenda.” When we do that, little by little, anxiety has to leave the building. But when we let anxiety reign, bad things happen. Jesus cites 7 to help encourage us to change our outlook.
I. Destroys God’s Peace (22, 29, 32) – V. 22 says, “Do not be anxious about your life.” The word “anxious” means divided, distracted, or fractured. It pictures someone whose mind is taking off in all directions, lacking focus and thus worried about everything. Jesus is saying, “Get focused in one place. Leave the worry to the Lordship of Christ.”
II. Defies God’s Perspective (23) – God’s view is v. 23, “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” That truth underscores this whole section. Life is more than what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel. If it were not, survival would be the name of the game. But in God’s forever universe, physical survival ranks way below being prepared for God’s kingdom. Seek that, and the rest will take care of itself.
III.Devalues God’s Provisions (24, 27-28)
Worry not only diminishes God’s person, it devalues God’s provisions. Worry says, “What God has given me is not enough, and I don’t trust Him for what I need, so I’ll worry about it.” It sounds stupid when you say it that way because it is stupid. If God’s promises are true, then worry is a waste of time at best and an insult to God at worst. That’s Jesus’ point in these verses. His command in v. 22 is “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” So, work for what you will eat and what you will wear, but don’t worry about them. Don’t let those become the focus of your existence. That’s the command. Jesus gives two examples.
V. 24 concerns food: “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” Jesus chooses the most despised of unclean birds for His illustration – the raven. Despised by man, declared unclean by God, and yet – with no means whatsoever to provide for themselves, God feeds them. So why would you who are the apple of His eye worry. Certainly you must work. As the bird must hunt, you must work, but trust the Father rather than worry about what you do and don’t have. If He feeds the despised raven, He will surely feed you. Jesus is really asking here, “Who do you think keeps all of this going? Why do you think you can help yourself by worry?”
That’s the general state of things. Certainly there are times when in God’s providence drought comes, birds die of starvation and so do people – even believing people. Does that mean He has failed of His promise? May it never be, Beloved. It simply means that for some greater kingdom good God has seen fit dry up the resources. Because life is more than food. Rom 8:35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine?” To meet His greater ends, God may withhold food. But even that can’t separate us from His love. A little poem makes the point: Said the Robin to the Sparrow, “I should really like to know Why these anxious human beings Rush about and worry so.” Said the Sparrow to the Robin, “Friend, I think that it must be They have no Heavenly Father, / Such as cares for you and me. Worry devalues what God provides.
Vv 27-28 makes the same point regarding clothing: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!” Once again, Jesus’ point is that God not only clothes the flowers with great beauty – He even clothes the grass that has a short existence and then becomes fuel. How much more will He care for His eternal beings!? So, don’t worry! The question isn’t do I have all the food I want and the latest in fashion? The question, do I have enough food and clothing to fulfill my mission? That’s the question.
What do the ravens and the lilies and the grass have in common? They are all doing His will. They are all doing what they were made for. They’re fulfilling their life’s mission, however lowly. They, of course, have no choice. We do. And what Jesus is urging is – do like them. Fulfill God’s purpose for your life rather than your own; He’ll take care of the rest. Put His will first and He’ll make sure you have all you need and more. It may not look like you think. It may not be caviar and oysters Rockefeller. But you’ll have all that God intends for your best good and for His glory. It may not be designer jeans and Gucci purses – but it will be what you need. Let Him do the worrying. You’ll be amazed how when His agenda becomes yours, some of the things you thought most necessary drop off the list altogether. Seek His kingdom first. That’s the principle. So, do I have the food and clothing necessary to seek His kingdom – to fulfill His intention for my life? That’s the issue.
Let me show you what happens when we get anxious about the wrong things, Beloved. Turn to I Kings. This is King Solomon’s story, and it follows a typical Hebrew literary structure (a chiastic pattern) that bookends beginning and end and builds to a climax in the middle. So, in I Kings 1 Solomon inherits the kingdom from his father David. At the corresponding end to the section in chapter 12 a majority portion of the kingdom is taken from Solomon’s heir, Rehoboam, by Jeroboam. In chapter 2 Solomon’s kingdom is established under God. In chapter 11, Solomon’s kingdom is disestablished because he has gone after other gods. Therefore God says, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant” (I Kings 11:11). You see the symmetry between sections.
In chapters 3–4 we see Solomon's wisdom and literary gifts, which God uses for good. In chapter 10 Solomon's wisdom is misused for selfishness and splendor and his own glory. In chapters 5–6 Solomon builds the shell of the temple, but the utensils have not yet been crafted and set up. In 1 Kings 7:15–9:9 Solomon finishes the utensils for the temple and dedicates it. Bookends.
So, what’s the climax in the middle? In the middle Solomon interrupts building God’s house, the temple, to build his own palace. Note I Kings 7:1, “Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house. (Skip to 7). 7 And he made the Hall of the Throne where he was to pronounce judgment, even the Hall of Judgment. It was finished with cedar from floor to rafters. 8 His own house where he was to dwell, in the other court back of the hall, was of like workmanship. Solomon also made a house like this hall for Pharaoh’s daughter whom he had taken in marriage.” So, in the middle of building God’s house, he got focused on his own – further emphasized by the fact that while it took 7 years to build the temple it took 13 years to build his own. What happened? He lost sight of God as his first love. So all that had been built in the first 6 chapters unravels in the last 6 because of Solomon’s failure in the middle. Put simply – he got worried about food and clothing and lost sight of God’s kingdom. It became his agenda, not God’s, and it all came apart. Dr. Jekyl became Mr. Hyde. He devalued God’s provision which required a king not have many wives. He took 700 wives and 300 concubines and never had a worry-free day in his life. Did that make him an unbeliever? No – but it made him unfruitful, unproductive, unfaithful and unhappy. Read Ecc if you don’t think so.
Professor Bruce Waltke shared that during the 1990’s when he taught on these chapters at his church it was at a time when the stock market was going gangbusters. Remember? Several elders in his church resigned from leadership to seize the moment – focused on making money. One said, “I was thinking of resigning too until I saw what happened to Solomon in this passage. I decided I was not going to put my portfolio before God.” Good decision. I guarantee it saved him a lot of anxiety beginning about 1998.
IV.Denies God’s Providence (27)
What does that mean? It means anxiety tries to control the uncontrollable. Anxiety is a denial of God’s providential working in my life. Look at v. 25, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” There is some debate whether the language used here means add a single hour to life or add an inch to your height. Either way the answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? I can’t add an hour to life or an inch to height – not by worry. I can eat healthy and exercise and from a human perspective extend my life a bit. But I can’t worry myself to greater height or to a longer life. That’s God’s decision; that’s providence, and I can’t change it. I can worry myself to death; but I can’t worry myself to life. Neither can you! Neither can I worry myself to great height. But that doesn’t stop people from trying.
I had a guy who worked for me one day call me into his office. I sat down and he said, “Well, do you notice anything?” I said, “No.” “Oh, think about it,” he said, “you are shorter than me.” This guy had gone out and found a short chair for visitors (or a tall chair for himself, I forget which now) to make himself taller than his visitor. I later found that he wore lifts in his shoes. Frankly, I hadn’t paid any attention to his height one way or the other, but that was of greater concern to him than his work. He didn’t last long, by the way.
Beloved, to worry about that which is beyond our control is to deny God’s providential care. Listen, we are not perfect and we are not going to live physically forever because of the Fall. It has had a devastating effect on all we know. But even given those effects, God says in Psalm 139:15, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” That means that even in our imperfect state and limited lifetime, God has made us to be just what we need to accomplish His chosen purpose for our life. He has. We are perfect for His purpose. And when we worry about that which is outside our control, we are denying His providence. In doing so we are diminishing His value in our eyes, but in the end it is we who are diminished, not He. To the extent that we worry about the uncontrollable, we diminish ourselves for we are wasting time that could be devoted to some positive good that He has planned for us.
Jesus’ point is simple. Worry never ever in the long history of the world changed anything. Never. If there is something you don’t like and you can take some action to change it, go for it. But to worry about it is a fool’s game. And when we are worrying about things that are out of our control, the underlying assumption of our existence is, “God isn’t big enough for this. So I had better worry about it.” We diminish God by denying His providence. We’ve all heard the serenity prayer made famous by the theologian Reinhold Neibuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” That’s a prayer to stop playing God about the things that are out of my control.
You know what worry does? Worry assumes that God has stacked the deck against me. It assumes that I know better than He, so I must worry this situation back into line. Worry takes trust out of the equation. Worry leads to nothing but trouble. Ask Abraham and Sarah. God promised a child that would lead to a great nation and great blessing. Ten years on when Sarah was 85 and Abraham 95, nothing! Anxiety mounted. They were nearing the expiration date on making children. God had stacked the deck. So we get to Gen 16:1, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” Worry led to Abraham taking Hagar. He was denying the providence of God. He got a baby boy. He loved that boy. Fifteen years on God came again and said, “Now that you and Sarah are too old to do this on your own, I’m sending the promised son.” But Abraham loved the son of his anxiety and he responded as we often do in Gen 17:18, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” “I love what I’ve produced. Let me keep that!” But Isaac came. The promise was kept. God reigns despite our idiocy.
But consequences abound. Abraham’s beloved son born of worry broke up his own family and he had to send Ishmael away. And ever since the world has teetered on the brink of disaster as the sons of Ishmael (the Arabs) and the sons of Isaac (Israelites) fight it out. That’s what comes of denying God’s providence, Beloved. We must embrace what we cannot change as coming from the hands of a loving Father who has a plan we do not see. When we do – oh what a load it removes. And it gives us the opportunity to see God high and lifted up – something that you can’t worry your way to, you can only trust your way to that revelation.
Conc – Chuck Swindoll tells of a man in his church who had wrestled for years with turning his business over to God. He knew there were some business practices that would have to change, worried that it would ruin his business and would not do it. But after two decades of holding out his heart melted. He decided he had worried enough, confessed his rebellion, and told his pastor he was giving his business to God – lock, stock and barrel.
That very night his place of business caught on fire. He got an emergency call and arrived in time to watch from the street as his factory and warehouses went up in flames. One of his colleagues raced up, took and look, noticed the relaxed attitude of his normally uptight boss and asked, “Man, what’s wrong with you?! Don’t you know what’s happening to you? It’s – it’s burning up!” The man replied, “I can see that. But just this morning I gave this company to God. If He wants to burn it up, that’s His business.” That’s a man with a big God and no worries. Beats having a small god and lots of worries. Which are you!? Let’s pray.