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Stepping-Stones toward Worry-Free Living
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
I am wondering How many people reading this can actually say they have not worried about something at some time in their life. A parent has a child who is ill with a 104-degree temperature. Another waits up late at night when a child does not come home. Another worries about how to pay the bills, now that the economy has fallen and she has lost her job. Still another is anxious about the seven combat tours into a war zone. Anxiety is a real issue that real people face in daily life, and it certainly can pierce your heart with great and unnecessary pain.
Fearful one, it just might be that this passage in Matthew 6:24–34 was written for you. It was not written to make you feel guilty. Nor was it written to shame you, because you are not living up to the highest standards of the Christian faith. It was not written to identify you as someone who has sinned greatly for committing this sin of worry. It was written to help you cope with worry.
Let me say something very clearly here. Jesus is not implying or saying in any way that worrying or being anxious is sinful. He is not saying that you are sinning when you worry about something. Jesus never sinned. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.) But I can guarantee you that He became anxious at least once in His life, and He worried with overwhelming grief. You may ask, “What in the world are you talking about?” Jesus and worry don’t seem to be able to exist in the same universe. Well, let’s take a look Jesus’s bloody day of word.
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him. On reaching the place, He said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood that fell to the ground.
The big day was coming. The cross was looming awesomely on the horizon of tomorrow. It was not something that surprised Him. He knew that it was coming, and He had even told His disciples that He would be dying. They simply did not want to hear it. Now that it was near, even at the door, Jesus was beginning to feel the pressure. So He went to pray. Three disciples followed along. And as Jesus prayed, a phenomenon occurred that could have been extremely frightening to any observer. The more He prayed, the more He sweated. The more He sweated, the more He began the steady drip…of blood—His own blood—mixing with His sweat and falling to the ground.
The human body is an amazing creation. Within its physiological complexities are arteries and veins. As the arteries take oxygen away from the heart, they are relatively large; however, as they go farther from the heart, this delivery system of tubes becomes smaller and smaller until the oxygenated blood is carried out to its tiniest capillary, where the oxygen is delivered and the blood returns deoxygenated back to the heart and lungs via more tubes called “veins.” It’s at the tiniest point, where the oxygen is released, that the phenomenon of blood mixing with sweat occurred in Jesus’s human body.
If the human body becomes really stressed out with anxiety and worry to a point of intense pressure, the capillary holding the red blood cell that is carrying the oxygen may rupture. If it does so, it will release the blood outside of the body. The blood will then mix with the sweat. In other words, sweating blood comes when a human being is extremely anxious or worried. Jesus, in Gethsemane, sweated blood because of His highly anxious state of being. Yet Jesus never sinned…ever!
However, Jesus experienced life, just as all we human beings experience life, and He did so as an overcomer. Here in this teaching, He is trying to give us a rock-solid foundation for everyday living, and everyday living carries with it the potential to worry or be anxious. Here, as with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is giving us the “stuff to be enough” when we do not have enough in us to face life’s trials. He is not creating a law that we can break and thereby sin. He is giving us the guidance to help us overcome, even as He overcame.
Don’t Feed The Wrong Thing: A Real Life Issue
The twenty-fifth verse is key to learning how to cope with worry:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more than clothes?
Jesus makes a great point with this statement. He begins this wisdom with “therefore.” Anytime you see this word in the Bible, it is good to take a look at why it is being used. When you do this, you see that Jesus is talking about competing allegiances or “masters.” The two things competing for dominance in our lives are God and money (mammon)…or stuff. Then Jesus moves into the stepping-stone of wisdom of this passage. It seems that there are three “stuff” issues that people in Jesus’s day were worried about regarding staying alive: what to drink, what to eat, and what to wear. Things have not changed a lot, even though the United States, Europe, and a number of other places seem to have more wealth than people during the days that Jesus journeyed on earth.
In the twenty-first century, we simply think of these things in other ways. The addictive behaviors of our day affect the things (and amounts) we drink and eat. People really guzzle during happy hour to feel better and freer. Some do so to the detriment of their own lives. Eating has become an epidemic issue for people with bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and obesity. Even our government tries to control our eating and drinking because our elitist, politically correct, and leftward-leaning gurus of well-being want us to be healthier, according to their standards of what constitutes health. And we certainly worry about our clothing. Wearing the right labels is of utmost importance to some, and those who are financially well off may still choose those brands, even if it is to the detriment of their friends that don’t have the money to buy those labels. I remember that when we lived in our nation’s capital, young people were shooting other people for their shoes because the shoes had Michael Jordan’s label on them. Yet they were really just shoes.
Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus actually says so that we can pull ourselves out of the quicksand that is consuming our lives. When Jesus says, “do not worry about your life,” He is not talking about packing ourselves with a whole bunch of stuff to make us feel better or freer. He is saying something far more important. The word “life” comes from the Greek word psyche (which means “soul”). You may recognize this word, although it is pronounced differently in the Greek language. A search on my Logos Bible Software tells me that it is also the origin of the word “psychology.” Psychology, in its most simple form, is the study of the soul (although I don’t know if some psychologists would agree).
As we continue to discuss this concept, I want to reemphasize that Jesus is not trying to make people feel guilty for failing in these matters. He is simply making a simple appeal in hopes of giving you and me stepping-stones to true life.
Spiritual Drink, Eternal Soul Food, And Heavenly Clothes.
Somewhere I have heard that information is power. In this case, the following information is powerfully powerful…so much so that it will pull us out of the futility of our thinking. Here, Jesus informs you and me, “If you really want to live life and have it to the full, don’t make the deadly mistake of satisfying the needs of your soul with food that is not soul food.” The soul needs far more than food or drink. And the soul has clothing that only God can provide. Try to make soul garments with the cloth of humanity, and the soul will suffer. Jesus appeals to you and me to “put it all together.” He says that we need to drink from the well that never runs dry, which is spiritual in nature; otherwise, our souls will dry up. He tells us to feast on the bread of life if we want food for our soul or we will become spiritually emaciated. He says that we should clothe ourselves in the heavenly garments from above, all of which come from the heavenly Father by faith. Worrying about the wrong thing will not take care of us. I will say more about this shortly to provide a better perspective on this.
Keep It Simple Saint
As Jesus continues His appeal, He uses three simple illustrations. Jesus is big on the K-I-S-S principle: keep it simple, saint. He does this to provide three appeals to help you find rock-solid sanity.
JESUS APPEAL FOR YOUR SANITY
Birds — Life Expectancy –Flowers
Jesus uses birds to illustrate His first appeal. When I thought about this part of Jesus’s appeal, I tried to remember if I had ever seen a starving bird. I couldn’t think of a time that I had. Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no mood to be eating worms, but then again I am not designed that way. Birds, however, are created by the Creator to do just that. Worms, to them, are a feast. I also don’t ever remember seeing a bird looking worried. I have seen a mother bird look dejected after her babies had flown away, and we have a psychological term for that: “empty-nest syndrome.” Yet this comes from the mother bird successfully getting her babies to a place of maturity so that they could fly away. God supplies the birds with their needs daily. Sometimes He uses my house, with our birdfeeders and birdbath, to do that. I have never seen them worried.
Jesus’s second appeal has to do with our life expectancy. He tells us not to worry about tomorrow. When I think about this, I think about my own life. I have some issues with anxiety because of some traumas I experienced in the military. One day my cardiologist confronted me. He made it clear that I could quit my job or reframe the way I was coping with things because, if I continued to do what I was doing, it would shorten my life. I took him seriously, and I did some soul-searching and some changing. I have done much better in how I handle stress; however, the fact is that we cannot add a second, a minute, or an hour to our lives by worrying about things that we can do nothing about. In fact, if you asked my former cardiologist, he would say that worry has the opposite effect.
Jesus’s third appeal asks us to consider the flowers. Flowers don’t stay around very long. Yes, they are beautiful, and they smell really great. Besides, our culture spends billions of dollars on flowers each year because of what they symbolize; however, when we get right down to the details, how long do they last? The answer is simple: not long. And eventually they are thrown out or maybe pressed in a Bible or another large book; however, Jesus wants to make it very clear that the lilies of the field do not need any help clothing themselves extravagantly. As they rest in their Creator, they are dressed beautifully for the day, and no worry is involved at all. Why? Because God cares about them. More importantly, He thinks we are more important than they are; yet, God still takes care of them, and He will take care of you and me.
Indeed, once again Jesus makes it clear that, as important as these creations are, no one or no-thing is more important to God than are human beings. Did I say no one? Did I say no thing?I certainly did. Jesus closes out this part of His appeal by making it clear that, when it comes to the physical, you and I can count on God to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory. (See Philippians 4:19.) But there is still the much bigger issue…providing for the soul, which is what is really needed.
Jesus’s Altar Call And His Stepping-Stones Toward The Altar.
After closing out His three-pronged appeals by saying that “even pagans” seek after these things that don’t really give life, Jesus invites you and me to advance onto three
stepping-stones of rock-solid living in the pagans’ quicksand world.
Stone Number One: Seek First His Kingdom
Jesus was all about the kingdom of God. His first messages involved sentences like “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” In other words, Jesus told us to turn from the life we are living to God, for He is close by. (See Matthew 3:2.) Here is an example: “When He was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (See Luke 17:20–21.)
Jesus’s teachings are very clear. If people really want to live, it is an inside job. He tutors us about kingdom living. He coaches us on how to turn from living by the standards of the world to truly becoming alive. He guides us about how to have life and to have it fully. He teaches us how to reclaim the life that Adam and Eve lost when they died. Their spirits died, and that part of them that communicated with God and was intimate with God died. All throughout His teachings, Jesus speaks of resurrected living, where people who believe in Him “will not perish but share in God’s life forever.” (See John 3:16–17.) He cultivates our minds regarding God’s ability to resurrect our spirits…about how to truly become alive by having faith in Him. He makes us His apprentices by showing us how to deny ourselves, take up His cross, and follow Him. In a nutshell, He tells us to seek Him first. “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” When we do this, He will take care of the rest.
Stone Number Two: Seek First His Righteousness
Over the years, I have coined a word that I use from time to time. It is a word that you most likely won’t find in any dictionary at the time of this writing. I use the word “rightwayness.” There is a right way to live, and there is a wrong way; therefore, I use my new word, “rightwayness,” in place of the word “righteousness.” The wrong way to try to find life is to try to feed the soul with that which is not food for the soul. The wrong way is to try to be righteous on my own by making up my own laws for how to live.
To try to keep this simple, and to focus the issue more clearly, I will use some of Paul’s terminology as well as my new word.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe
Once Jesus came, lived His sinless life, died on the cross to take away the sins of the world, and was raised from the dead, God established (through Jesus’s body and blood) a New Covenant. This New Covenant makes for living a life that is truly life. Now a life that empowers humans to follow the true-life path of rightwayness has been established. Moses the lawgiver foreshadowed this path of life, and it was foretold by the Old Testament prophets. This rightwayness comes through believing in Jesus…period. This is the righteousness that we are to seek first. All the other remedies for our lostness, our pain, our brokenness—and especially our sin—are simply exercises in futility. (See also Hebrews 8, 9, and 10.)
When we make seeking the kingdom of God, and His rightwayness, our prime priority, a side effect will begin to unfold. Life will begin to really happen. Once we focus on God’s rightwayness of rock-solid living, God takes care of everything else … one day at a time. So, it’s a choice we have to make for our souls. It is a choice we make if we want to be whole. It’s a choice we need to make to overcome those things in life that overcome us.
Stone Number Three: Seek First Today —
Your First and Only Day
This third stepping-stone on the path to rock-solid living is also very good for the soul. And, as I have become more of a seasoned citizen, I have been more intentional about incorporating this step into my life. Here it is:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
This spiritual exercise is written in very few words, but my own experience has taught me that it is packed with all the potential that life holds. Indeed, the wisdom of this verse has become such a part of my life that when someone greets me by asking, “How are you doing?” I answer, “I am living one day at a time…taking one step at a time. And that works most of the time…except when I mess it up.” Whenever I am able, by God’s grace, to focus on living today—and not project my thoughts days or weeks into the future—my tendency to worry dissolves. It’s not that I don’t make plans or set goals. I do both of these; however, once the plan is set, I focus on what is in my control. However, when I do mess up, I allow myself to experience enough anxiety for others as well as for myself. When I say I mess up, I mean that I start worrying about things that are completely out of my control. I don’t know who said it or where it came from, but somewhere there is a cliché quote that has served me well. “The past is the past, and the future is the future; however, today is God’s gift. That is why we call it ‘the present.’”
There is something truly special about allowing God to form me into Christ’s image, as He grows me to live in the moment. I am thinking about something truly precious— the “Serenity Prayer,” by Reinhold Niebuhr. Most people quote the serenity, courageous, and wisdom part of the prayer; however, for me, the most potent part of this prayer is asking God to give me “the power to live one day at a time and enjoy one moment at a time.” Learning to trust the sovereignty of God and live in the moment is a blessing. When I am actually able to do so, I truly feel more alive. I experience life. Jesus was correct when He said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”