Welcome back. Yesterday we looked at physical rest, mental perspective and finding purpose to recover peace… and boy do we need that.
In 2013 there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK. Surveys in 2018 found that 61% of 16-25 year olds regularly feel stressed. We get anxious about job security; the safety and wellbeing of children; the threat of terrorism; and we get worked up about money. 67% of the British population say money causes them anxiety. Right now all of these stats have jumped up to (now we’re all painfully familiar with the term) exponentially higher levels thanks to the coronavirus.
What are you worrying about right now? Sometimes I don’t think I just have a nervous system but am a nervous system. What about you? As I said yesterday, and I’m labouring the point again today because I think it’s important, a good starting point is recognition and acknowledgement. Naming something is the beginning of knowing what to do about it. Like the game of musical chairs, take some time to sit down where you’re at, however ‘sweaty’ and agitated you may be, turn off the ‘noise’ as best you can, and share honesty with God where you’re at.
Today and for the next few days, we’re diving into Jesus’ amazing ‘Sermon on the Mount’ from Matthew’s first century biography, 6:25-34. Stop now, if you can, to read and prayerfully reflect on these verses.
The theme of anxiety, which begins in verse 25 is related to the preceding passage as the “Therefore” suggests: the danger of worldliness, money’s many temptations and enticements. We should be thankful for Jesus’ practical counsel here, for we won’t find much truly effective advice outside of the Bible. The world says, “Don’t worry – Be happy” or pack up your troubles in your old kit bag. But you can’t just wish yourself happy – not in a sustainable way. Online articles and forums advise giving in to anxiety for short periods of time (that’s not really a solution is it?). They say distract yourself (isn’t that burying your head in the sand?). They say act unconcerned (isn’t that hypocrisy?) and just accept uncertainty (which is rather terrifying if you don’t believe in a good God who is in control).
The most effective remedy, I believe, is found in paying careful attention to what Jesus has to say here. But before we rush to Christ’s cure we must understand the condition.
Jesus is not forbidding legitimate concern; worrying whether watching too much daytime TV is bad for your health (I suspect it is by the way); He’s forbidding anxious thought. And, I should add, He doesn’t just say don’t do it, He gives us the help we need to overcome it.
The word Jesus uses for worry literally means to be drawn in different directions. In other words, anxiety pulls you apart. Heart palpitations. Nausea. Wet patches under your arms. Sleeplessness. Agitation. Irritability. Clenched jaw (at least for me).
A good illustration is the story of Mary and Martha. In Luke Chapter 10 Jesus says to Martha, “you are anxious and troubled about many things but one thing is needed”. Martha was stressed about feeding all the extra dinner guests, and why wasn’t her sister helping? Mary’s undivided attention, however, was on Jesus, as she sat at His feet, and she is commended.
The problem with worry is not just that it’s toxic to people’s health. It’s not just that people worry themselves sick and develop ulcers. It’s that it reveals a divided heart, a “little faith”, verse 30; that is neither countercultural nor stand-out different from, verse 32, “pagans” – people who uncontrollably crave (whether they realise it or not) earthly treasures, particularly the security they think money (or stockpiling toilet paper) will bring.
Anxiety is, in effect, saying to God and everyone else, “I don’t trust you” when we’re meant to be salt and light. We become like torches with drained batteries, producing light but it’s yellowed, flickering and uncertain. “You of little faith” teaches that the root of anxiety is unbelief. And so Jesus reasons with us in these verses to put faith in Him because He’s infinitely better than chasing worldly things that never satisfy, and if anything, only increase anxiety because you’ve more to lose.
Take a moment to confess any unbelief you may be holding on to; pray as one man did (and is recorded for us doubters encouragement): “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Luke 9:24). It’s okay to have doubts but Jesus wants to bring us all to a place of faith, confidence, trust -> peace.
The first thing that Jesus does to help us find that peace is ask a question, in verse 25, “is not life more than food, the body, and clothes? It’s a question designed to deconstruct wrong ideas about what really matters. What is life actually about? we’re meant to mediate on…and when we do we should hopefully see that it doesn’t consist in an abundance of possessions that can’t give you identity, meaning or security or most importantly, life. At any moment they can be taken from you by fire, theft, virus, or death. That’s why Jesus called a rich farmer a fool in Luke’s first century biography about him, check it out, chapter 12.
This is true of all earthly treasures; they’re ultimately empty things. People who live for beauty, for example, will get wrinkles, grey hair and fat in all the wrong places (think love handles and spare tyres). I’m not enjoying having to trim the hairs that keep growing out of my nose now that I’m getting older!
Don’t be a fool. There are better things, eternal things to give your energies to: eternal life with Jesus in the new heavens and earth, where there is eternal beauty and perfect health in the presence of God.
So go through your worry list today, one by one, from money, mortgage, career, kids, partner, and remind yourself that Jesus promises, “Your life is more than _____.”
[Thank you David Powlinson for your great wisdom on this one point!]