The Secure Mind
Do you remember a popular song from 1988, written by an almost unknown artist Bobby McFerrin – “Don’t Worry, be Happy”? It’s sung in a reggae beat – I’ve got the words here but I’ll not ask you to sing them. They start off:
Here's a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don't worry, be happy.
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy.
Don't worry, be happy now.
A nice, cheery song – uplifting, even, but not a new concept. Paul wrote the tag line in AD62 in his letter to the Philippians: “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.”
The song sold millions around the world but it doesn’t seem to have had much impact on the level of worry in the intervening 17 years. Paul’s letter, on the other hand, has. Yes, Paul is starting off with the same “don’t worry” message but he goes on to provide help on how to do that – how to actually “be happy”.
Paul was writing to members in the first Christian church established in Europe. Philippians is a positive letter, albeit with an admonishment or two. In today’s passage, Paul encourages Euodia and Syntyche to put aside their differences; we don’t know exactly what their disagreement was about, but it must have been significant for it to have reached Paul’s ears in Rome. I doubt it involved anything too bad, or Paul would have addressed it – I suspect it was one of those disagreements that start on something fairly unimportant in the overall scheme of things but just fester away. Paul encourages them to put aside whatever it is, pass it onto the Lord and get back to the work he (God) has set for them. Paul asks the others in the congregation to help.
It’s a good reminder to all congregations, too, that we are one body in Christ. It’s down to us to help each other. How often do minor disagreements get out of hand and, in some cases, causing congregations to take sides and split apart. Paul is pointing out that’s not the way for God’s people. We must work together.
But I’m straying off the theme of “don’t worry”.
What does Paul mean by this? It’s just not possible for us not to worry at all. Well, I don’t think that’s quite the way he meant it. Worry can come in various forms.
There’s anxiety – what we may feel when our child goes off to school for the first time, or off on a school trip. We probably still get some anxiety when they’ve grown and flown the nest. I’m going to be a grandfather in October – I can’t help but be concerned about my daughter – is she looking after herself, no heavy lifting, the right food, and so on. That, I believe is quite natural and, as long as I don’t let it get out of hand, that’s not bothering Paul. But, if I let that concern lead to me phoning her everyday, or let it stop me getting on with my life, then Paul’s message takes on real meaning. Then, he says, pass the worry onto God. “Pray about everything” – nothing is out of bounds in our discussions with God; if we have a concern, pass it onto him. There’s a proverb that goes a problem shared is a problem halved – with God it’s a problem shared is a problem relieved.
Then there’s that worrying about tomorrow. That interview, the doctor’s appointment, even whether it’s going to rain at the picnic. [My wife is always telling me I’m a worrier, so this message if definitely for me – and I’ll hear it twice this morning here and St. Cyrus/Johnshaven – maybe some of it will sink in a bit more.]
Worry, on its own, is absolutely useless. It won’t make one scrap of difference to what happens. A wise man once said “worry is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere”. Worry can be destructive, though. We can get ourselves so tied up in worrying about what might happen, even though experience should tell us that whatever we’ve spent hours or days worrying about, picturing all the scenarios in our mind – it never turns out like that. All we end up doing is nothing.
In the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 6:28-34), Jesus said: 26Look at the birds: they do not sow seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Aren’t you worth much more than birds? 27Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it?”
As Jesus says, picture the birds in your garden - the sparrows, blackies or tits – scuttering around, searching for seeds, insects or nice juicy worms. They’re not fretting about where their next meal will come from – they go out and find it. God provides, but they have to play their part, too.
Sitting down and worrying about something won’t get it sorted – we need to do something. There are two things we need to do.
The first is to heed Paul’s advice and pray about it. As I said earlier, a trouble shared with God is a trouble sorted. Talk it over with God. He may take away all your anxiety and let you get on with life. Or he may give you guidance on what you can do – take that advice and do something constructive. Or, having passed the problem to God, get on with life.
Each time will be different. Sometimes it will work better than others. Sometimes we just don’t want to let go of our worries. We worry that we’re not worrying about anything; do you ever get that uneasy feeling, you can’t put your finger on it but you know there’s something you should be worrying about – or is it just me?
It’s very difficult to stop but, not only does worry do nothing good, it can also damage our health. And… some would argue that worry is blasphemous. What? In these days where parliament discuss legislation against criticising a religion, we don’t hear much about blasphemy – there are laws but they’re hardly ever used. It seems it’s OK to criticise the one true God – but not others; perhaps it’s because he doesn’t need parliament to protect him.
However, worrying, to get back to my point, is saying we don’t trust him. Jesus tells us that he’ll look after us, come what may; we have no need to worry if we put our faith in him. That means, of course, that we worry because we don’t trust him to keep his word. I think the one thing history teaches us is that we don’t learn from history. Has God ever let you down? I have to say that, every time I’ve trusted him to sort something out, he’s not let me down; he may not have done what I expected, he may not have done quite what I asked, but he actually knew better and things turned out better than I could have hoped. But I have to admit that I still find myself worrying; I then have to remind myself to pass it onto God.
Forget the mistakes of the past, don’t worry about tomorrow, live today.
Let us pray.
Dear Lord Jesus, you told those people, 2000 years ago, not to worry. Just as your Father looks after each bird in our garden, he’ll look after us. Paul tells us not to worry, too, but to pray – pray about anything and everything. Strengthen our faith, our trust; help us to pass our worries and problems onto our Father. Amen.