Do Not Be Anxious
Topic: Default Scripture: Matthew 6:25–6:34
Last week, we looked at what Jesus had to say about money and treasure, this week we go to the other end of the spectrum. We go from abundance to want. Jesus has something to say about those who might lack something or think they might lack something one day. More specifically, Jesus is speaking to those who are worrying that they might not have everything they need in the future. But Jesus’ teachings addresses more than just worrying about material needs. This text is about anxiety in all its forms: Material, health, relationships and losses.
Anxiety is a really complex thing to talk about. Early on in my marriage I made the naive mistake of simply telling Angela to stop it. Just stop being anxious. It doesn’t make sense to worry about something you can’t control. The result was that in addition to feeling anxious, she now felt stupid for feeling anxious. I certainly don’t want to make that mistake here.
There are many reasons anxiety is complex, but one great contributing factor is our culture. There has never been a more anxious culture than the United States of America today. The L. A. Times calls us the United States of Anxiety. There was a interesting book written by a British transplant called America the Anxious. We live in the anxious society that has ever existed. I’m not aware of anyone even debating this fact. And research by the American Psychiatric Association strongly suggests that we fastly are becoming even more anxious as a culture.
What’s really interesting is that the top three reasons for anxiety stated by Americans are physical security, health and finances. You do realize that relative to the rest of the world both today and past, the United States is safer, wealthier and has access to better healthcare than anyone else. It seems like the more we get the things we are anxious about, the more anxious we become about them. In that book, America The Anxious, by Ruth Whippman, she claims that our pursuit of happiness is the very thing that is making us unhappy and anxious. And her theory is backed up by psychologists at UC Berkeley who write, “paradoxically, the more people valued and were encouraged to value happiness as a separate life goal, the less happy they were.”
So, if you are here today and you are feeling anxious about something, I want you to know that you are in good company and Jesus in this passage is giving us a lot more than, “Stop it.” So, I want to spend our time this morning just doing two things. First, I want to define this thing called anxiety and, second, I want to see what our hope is in our anxiety.
- Defining Anxiety (vs. 34)
Jesus gives us a very good way to define anxiety in verse 34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. - Matthew 6:34
The technical psychiatric definition of anxiety is an apprehension over an impending future situation. In Jesus’ words, it’s worrying about tomorrow. I said this a few months ago, but anxiety is fundamentally a forward thinking curse. Where depression is concern over the past (what could have been or should have been or what won’t be in the future because of something that has happened in the past), anxiety is a concern over what will be. Anxiety is a desire to control something that we simply can’t. And, in a really serious case of anxiety, you might not even be aware of what it is that you’re anxious about.
Jesus is saying that anxiety is rooted in not trusting our Heavenly Father with tomorrow. When I drive to my brother’s house, I have to drive through possibly the roughest intersection in all of Orlando. The light was red and one of my older kids just blurted out, “Dad, I don’t feel safe right now.” My youngest on the other hand couldn’t have felt safer. Dad was driving. To him, it doesn’t matter if Godzilla is outside. Dad’s got this! My older kids obviously did not trust in me completely and that produced anxiety in them.
Anxiety at its core is an apprehension that comes from a lack of trust that God is in control. And, yes, that is a sin. And if you’re in this room today and anxiety has such a deep hold on you, I could imagine you pushing back and saying, “Jim, there are chemical, environmental and genetic components to this. I would do anything to not be anxious and here you are saying I’m in sin.” If that’s you, I agree with everything you are thinking. I don’t want to be insensitive, but I want you to hear something very important. If anxiety was simply a personality quirk like just being awkward, there is not a lot of hope in the Bible for that. But if it is a sin, then God makes great promises to you.
But, before we go there, there are a few very important things Jesus is not saying here. First, Jesus is not saying that we can’t be scared or grieve. There is a difference between emotions that surround today and emotions that surround tomorrow. We are told not to worry about tomorrow, but we are not told to be emotionless about today. The way I differentiate the two is this: sinful anxiety has to do with potential events and fear and grief have more to do with actual events. Now, Jesus has much to say to us in our fear and grief, just not in this passage.
So, here are two ways to illustrate this difference. I used to have a crippling fear of public speaking. It still rears its head today, but I have learned some tricks to hide it pretty well. There is a difference between my being anxious about what might or might not transpire and the terror of really being in the moment. Those are actually different emotions.
Or, to give you a more serious illustration, one we have experienced. There is a difference between being anxious about what the CT scan might potentially say and the doctor actually saying, “It’s cancer.” Something in the emotional wheelhouse changes. It goes from a potential concern to an actual concern. If shifts from anxiety about what might be to fear or grief about what truly is.
We have to be able to distinguish between the potential and actual to be able to understand what Jesus is saying. My goodness, just think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before His imminent arrest and execution. He was sweating blood which every doctor will tell you is a condition that results from extreme stress. Jesus, though, wasn’t anxious over what might happen, He was scared and grief stricken about what He knew WAS going to happen. He knew that all of God’s wrath was about to be laid on Him as the atonement for all of our sins. This is why Jesus’ distinction between today and tomorrow is so important. Today is the actual, tomorrow is the potential.
The second thing Jesus is not saying is that we can’t think about tomorrow. The King James Bible says “Take no thought for the morrow” which, 600 years ago, simply meant don’t worry. Our language has changed though. He isn’t saying you can’t think about tomorrow or plan for the future, He’s saying don’t worry about tomorrow. One commentary said, “Jesus isn’t condemning thought or even forethought. He’s condemning anxious thought.”
So, when does forethought become anxious thought? When we begin to dwell over and feel apprehension over something that is potential and not actual. Growing up, my dad would often quote Winston Churchill who said, “If I could live my life again, I wouldn’t worry about all the things that never happened.” At the end of the day, it’s really a control issue. Certain things are more or less within our control and other things just aren’t.
You can control how much you put away each month for retirement, but you can’t control what the market is going to do or what inflation might be. You can control what you eat and how you take care of your body, but often you can’t control whether you get alzheimers or cancer or have a stroke. It is good to think and prepare for what you can control. Jesus is warning us by using the language of tomorrow not to worry about the things that are simply outside of our control. Sufficient is today as its own trouble.
And there is a third thing that Jesus is not saying. He is not saying that there will not be trouble. Trouble and worry are two very different things. Jesus says in John 16 that in this world we will have trouble. And I think that this is part of the reason the United States has so much anxiety. We want a world that we can control. A world without trouble where we will have good health, wealth and happiness. Much of the rest of the world has accepted the reality of trouble, but we haven’t.
Angela often says that we believe the lie that life is one long line of peace and security with little blips of trouble. But, the truth is that life is one long line of trouble with blips of peace and security. And the more we make peace, security and happiness our highest value, the more anxious we will become.
So, that is what Jesus is not saying. The last thing I want to do as I define anxiety is be clear about where it comes from. I said anxiety is worrying about the potential events that we can’t control and that, at its core, anxiety is born out of a desire to control. This is what made the whole world haywire in the first place. The Bible tells us that there was an angelic rebellion before man ever existed which produced all the evil forces we can’t see. That angelic rebellion was led by an angel named Lucifer who wanted what? Control. He wanted to be God.
Then, he comes to Adam and Eve and convinces them of what? That they should be in control. That God is withholding good things from them. But, if they eat the fruit of the tree, then they will be in the driver’s seat. Our lack of trusting God and our desire for control over our lives is what caused all of this anxiety in the first place.
Ok, that’s what anxiety is. Now, what hope does Jesus give us in our anxiety/
- Hope in our anxiety (vs. 25-32)
The first time I read this, I can remember thinking, “Thanks, Jesus. You’re telling me not to be anxious. Very helpful.” But, as Jesus often does, He isn’t just telling us what to do, but how to do it. To see this clearly, though, we need to put our Bible reading skills to use. In our passage we don’t just have three exclamations to not be anxious, we also have three ‘therefores.’ And we all know when we come to a ‘therefore’ we need to ask the question, what’s the therefore there for?
The three therefores give us our three hopes we have in our anxiety. Let’s take them one at a time. The first therefore is the first word in our passage, so we need to look back even before that to see our first hope in anxiety. Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money. - Matthew 6:24
Our first hope is that God is in control. Jesus is saying that all of us will have a master. We will be controlled by something. We can be controlled by money and possession which, ultimately, just rot, rust or are stolen and will only contribute to our anxiety. Or, we can be controlled by God who is in complete control and will always be here. This is where the rubber meets the road in our faith. There is a difference between believing in God and believing God. Jesus wants us to have a deep sense that God is in control.
There is a podcast that I have been listening to that tells the very sad story of the rise and fall of a very well known pastor. It is a story of a man with so many gifts and such public failings. He started this church from scratch and it soon became one of the largest churches in the city. Famous people were being baptized. But, the pastor resigned because of moral failings and soon after committed suicide.
This podcast is produced by Christians who handle the story very graciously and fairly. And on this podcast they interview the former staff people and they ask them at what point did things go bad. What was the core reason for this dramatic turn of events. And one former staff person said this, “The pastor didn’t functionally believe that God was in control. He felt the weight of all this church was on his shoulders. He felt the weight of who people thought he was and who they wanted him to be on his shoulders. And the anxiety that produced led him down a spiralling tunnel of substance abuse, infidelity and ultimately suicide.”
Now, no one in this room is a megachurch pastor, but all of us have areas of our lives where we don’t functionally believe God is in control. Is it your kids? Is it your finances? Is it your health?
It’s easy for us to say we believe in God or even that we believe God is in control. But our anxieties can tell a different story. Jesus wants all parts of us. The Christian faith doesn’t simply require an hour or two of our lives on Sunday morning. The Christian faith requires opening every area of our life to Jesus. The Christian faith is about seeing the resurrection going to every area of our life. And the more we give control of our lives to God, the more we are able to believe that He is in control.
The second hope we have in anxiety is this: God cares. He isn’t just in control, but He cares! So much of our world believes in either a God who cares, but isn’t in control or a God who is in control, but doesn’t care. Jesus is telling us that we have a God who is both.
We see this in everything that precedes our second ‘therefore’ in verse 31. Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, 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. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith. - Matthew 6:26-30
I can imagine birds flying overhead at that exact moment and Jesus pointing to them and saying, “Look, the birds don’t store their stuff somewhere, yet they have everything they need.” Then, pointing blooming flowers, “Look, the flowers don’t even work and they aren’t just kept alive, they are beautiful. And you are of infinitely greater value to God than they are. God loves you and cares for you.”
Repeatedly, the Bible describes us as God’s children. What father in here doesn’t care about his child and wants to take care of them and give them every good thing they need to live a safe, fruitful and prosperous life? The love God has for His children makes the best father in the world look uninterested by comparison. Do you know how I know this? Because He came here in the form of Jesus Christ and laid down His life to rescue His lost children. No cost is too great, no gap is too expansive, no rebellion is too strong for our Father in heaven to overcome and bring His children home.
And if we have a God who cares that much, then our worrying is of no value. That’s why Jesus asks, “Can it add a single hour to your life?” Is it going to do you any good? No!
And we know this logically. When times are tough, when sickness is upon us, what do we as a church body do to address it? Do we gather up a bunch of people to organize a group worry? When someone is nearing the end of their life and taking stock of what they have done, do they say, “I really wish I would have invested more time in worrying.”? No, because we know logically that it has no value. But, we still do it because at a deep level, the true goodness of God has not sunk in.
There is freedom to say, “I am still a work in progress.” But any teacher worth his salt is going to hold this tension and be very concerned that we don’t set the bar too low or too high. We don’t want to just say, “well, that’s just the way I am. I’m a worrier and there is nothing I can do about it.” Jesus is clearly setting a higher bar than this.
But, we also don’t want to say, “Well, you’ve heard these verses, why are you still worrying?” In this fallen world, there are environmental complexities, genetic complexities and chemical complexities. To set the bar too low is unbecoming the power of our God and to set the bar too high in this life is naive of the true fallen state of our world. We all need to hold this tension of believing there is hope and that there is grace in the meantime.
If there is a better example in the Bible of this than Peter, I haven’t seen it. Peter seemed to always be worried. Peter was worried when he saw Jesus walk on water, he was worried when the storm came upon them, he was worried when Jesus was challenged about taxes, he was worried about who might betray Jesus, he was worried about the soldiers coming to get Jesus and later he was worried about what would happen if he sat and ate with gentiles. We call Thomas the doubter, maybe Peter should be the worrier. And Peter spent three years with Jesus!
But look at how far God brought Peter. Far enough that he would one day write this: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because (why?) he cares for you. - 1 Peter 5:7
It was a long, slow and kind of painful process to watch, but Peter learned that God cares for him and Peter learned how exactly that affects our anxieties. Peter doesn’t say, “turn off your anxieties,” he says take them to God. Take them to God just like a little child would take any concern to his loving parent.
God is in control and He cares. This pretty much sums up what we call the doctrine of providence. Do you see the root in the word providence? Provide. Provide-ence. A God who is in control and cares will provide what His children need. But, what exactly is it that we need? This takes us to the third therefore.
God is in control, God cares and then, finally, God is calling. Look at what precedes our third therefore in verses 32 and 33: For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. - Matthew 6:32, 33
There is a word here that I have never fully appreciated before this week. This word ‘seek.’ Jesus is doing something very specific with this word. The gentiles seek after food and clothing. The seek after name brands and vacations and lavish parties. That is their highest concern, their highest ambition. But God is calling us to primarily seek Him. Seek first the kingdom of God and what happens? Then all these things will be added to you.
And this is where what is called the prosperity movement goes so far off track. They look at this verse and say, “If you have enough faith and seek first the kingdom, then you should have money and health. If you have troubles in your life, there is a problem with your seeking the kingdom of God.” There are a lot of problems with this interpretation, not least of which are the lives of the disciples, Paul and Jesus Himself. None of them were spared troubles. Paul goes so far as to say that our call as Christians is to share in the sufferings of Christ. When the prosperity movement hits bumps in the road, they don’t have categories to understand what is going on so they are left to either blame themselves or God.
What Jesus is saying is very simple. If things are your highest ambition, then you should be anxious! You seek after things that you may not get. But, if God is your highest ambition... His kingdom...His righteousness being made known, then you will have all the house, all the car, all the clothes and all the health you need for that! That may mean a very wealthy life for some. It may mean a very modest life for others. A for others yet, it may mean that you lose everything and as He did with Paul, God will give you a deep sense that Jesus is enough.
So, coming full circle, you can see why our culture is an anxious one. Things are our highest ambition. And the more we get those things, the more anxious we become. My dad worked pretty much his whole life with Suntrust. I remember back in the day when Suntrust was Sun Bank and they announced that they were moving from paper faxing to this new thing called electronic mail. Do you know what kind of conversations were happening in the organization? What they were going to do with all their free time. The Now that there is no lag in communication and we can be connected at any time from almost any place, we are going to finish all our work by noon. We might not even need to work on Fridays anymore. Technology is going to give us a more productive, stress free life.
But, what really happened. People were connected at all times, they didn’t know how to disconnect and instead of working less, people are now working much more. Working early mornings, late nights and weekends where before you went home and you were truly off. The studies now coming out linking screen time and anxiety are truly scary.
The point is that our culture is more anxious because we seek the wrong things and we want to control the potential things and that breed anxiety. But the call to seek first the kingdom is a call to seek the actual. We are called to long most for something we already have; righteousness in Jesus. We were actually separated from God and we are actually restored through Jesus Christ and we live as a part of an actual new kingdom. The more that actual reality takes hold of our hearts and our minds, the less the potential of this world will be able to create in us anxiety.