Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why Worry (Matthew 6:25-34) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A news columnist wrote.  “I am feeling great and I will tell you why.   I read an article by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, who said that as males get older, their brains shrink.  Was I ever relieved to read that.  I was really worried.  I thought it was just me. “Many times I am looking all over for my reading glasses-and then I walk past a mirror and notice that they are perched on my head.  Ha, ha, they gaily shout to me, you cretin.  Also I have always been terrible at remembering people’s names, but now I forget names instantaneously, before they have gotten all the way through my ear canal.  Anyway, I was very relieved to find out that this was not just my personal problem, but a problem afflicting the brains of males in general, although as a frequent flier, I hope it doesn’t extend to male airplane pilots - Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching our destination – it’s either Pittsburgh or Honolulu.”

Do you ever worry?  “Is the pope Catholic?”  What do you worry about more than anything else?  We must ask the question – why worry?  I'll tell you why, because there is a heck of a lot of things to worry about.  We worry about our children and grandchildren, our health, our jobs, our finances, our education, social security, government shut-downs, disease, illness, crime, floods, fires, earthquakes, environmental threats, the economy, global warming and I haven't even begun.   We worry about things we can control and over things we can't control.  Yes, there is no shortage of things to worry about.   When someone tells me some bad news, I think, oh no, one more thing to add to my list.

Yes, let's be honest, life itself is worrisome.  So is worry even worth talking about?   Jesus thought so.  He specifically addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount when he spoke to the crowds, so clearly, he believed it was an important subject.  Jesus says:  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”  Come on Jesus let's be realistic.   A friend said - “I just finished a 12-step program, I am now a recovering worrier.”

Why is worrying about things a problem?  Common sense tells us that worrying is a waste of time, there are more productive things to do with our time.  Common sense also tells us that worrying wears us out and drains us of the energy we need to face life day in and day out.  Common sense also tells us that worry is futile, you can't change anything by worrying about it.
Experts have estimated that 40% of things we worry about will never happen, 30% of our worries are things from the past, 12% of our worries are about health when nothing is wrong with us, and 10% of our worries are small and petty.  That means only 8% of our worries legitimately deserve our concern and thought.   Worry can negatively affect our physical health, our mental health, and our relationships   Mark Twain said:  “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”    Now note what Jesus is not saying in these words.  He is not saying: “Life doesn't have any troubles or problems, it's just your imagination.”  He is not saying: “Everything will always come out all right,  everything will be OK, it will always happen the way you hope it will.”   He is not saying its OK to be irresponsible, to have a thoughtless and reckless attitude about life.  He is not saying: “Your mistakes or poor choices won't have consequences.”      He is not saying you don't have to work hard, you'll get by luck.  He is not saying - “Your on your own, get used to it.”   Jesus isn't saying any of these things.

What is Jesus saying?  Let's go a little deeper.  First, the Greek word Jesus uses is merimnan; it means to “worry anxiously.”  Jesus is not speaking about the normal daily worries or concerns which pass through our minds.  A more accurate translation of the Greek is: “anxiety, anxious-worry, fearful worry or worried fear.”  It’s the kind of worry that plagues you, that haunts your ever waking moment, that negatively affects your attitude and health, that keeps you up at night, that interferes with your thinking and functioning during the day.  It’s the kind of burdensome, tormented, and all-consuming anxiety that sucks the joy right out of you. 

Second, Jesus is saying remember, you are of ultimate value to God.  “Look at the birds of the air, your heavenly Father feeds them, are you not much more valuable than them?”  Knowing this, we are to daily spend time with God.  Pray unceasingly.  Pray for wisdom.  Pray for a strong  and life-giving faith.  Trust God in the things that are beyond your control, turn them over to Him, because those are especially the things we tend to worry about.  Give thanks to God for your blessings.  Give thanks always.  Trust that God is ultimately in charge of life and of your life.  Pray for God to deliver you from the debilitating consequences of worry.   Because you are of ultimate value to God, maintain your sense of humor and don't lose your joy.

Phil. 4:6-7 says:  “Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done.  If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  I love this verse.  God's peace is more wonderful than the human mind can comprehend.

God is concerned with everything in our lives.  Include God in the small stuff, in the details, in the little problems as well as in the major crises.   The letter of I Peter says: “Cast all your anxiety on God, because he cares for you.”  There is that word again.  Ask God to unburden you, to free you, to deliver you from the anxious worry that is weighing you down, and sapping your strength, so that you might experience God’s peace and joy.  Ask God to help you experience His power and strength in the midst of stressful and worrisome circumstances. 

You are valued by God.  Recall this story:  “Twas tattered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought is scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin, but held it up with a smile “What am I bidden, good folks, he cried, who’ll start the bidding for me?  A dollar, two dollars, and who’ll make it three?  3 dollars, once, 3 dollars, twice, going for… But then, from the back of the room, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; then wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet, as a caroling angel sings.  The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said:  “What am I bid for the old violin and he held it up with the bow.  1,000 dollars, and who’ll make it two?  2,000 and who’ll make it three, 3,000 once, 3,000 twice, and going and gone.   The people cheered, but some of them exclaimed we don’t understand, what changed its worth?”  The auctioneer replied: “The touch of a master’s hand.” 

And so it us for us.  God touched you when he made you.  God touched you when he sent Jesus to save you by dying on the cross for your sins and bring you new life today and forever.  You have been touched with God's hand.    

Third, Jesus says that anxious worry is useless and pointless.  Verse 27 is ambiguous and can have either one of two meanings.  It can mean that no one by worrying can grow taller or add a cubit or 18 inches to his height.   It can also mean that no one, by worrying, can add time to his life.  You may add time to your life by a healthy diet, or exercise or getting adequate rest, but you won't add one day or one hour by worrying.  Either way, Jesus is pointing out how anxious worrying is futile.  Worrying is passive,prayer is active.

Fourth, Jesus is saying that you and I are to put God first in our lives, not ourselves, not our family, not our career, not our money, but God.  “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given you.”  We are to center our lives on God.  Are you doing that?  Is God at the center or at the periphery?   If we let something or someone else become our number one priority, it will eventually engender stress and worry in our lives.   Jesus is saying: “Be careful about one thing above all others things, your relationship to me.”

Finally, Jesus is saying that during those times when your feeling overwhelmed, and I suspect you have had such times, so have I, break things down into smaller more manageable pieces, take things one at a time, live one day at a time.  “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will bring worries of its own, today's trouble is enough for today.”  Don’t borrow worry from tomorrow. Don’t keep asking – but what if?    Instead, plan for tomorrow, set goals for tomorrow, dream dreams for tomorrow, think about tomorrow, take action for tomorrow, but don't allow tomorrow to consume you with worry. 

Make a list of things you can do.  Maybe you can’t solve the problem completely on your own, but do what you can. Then, reach out for help from others.    Don't retreat or severe friendships and become a hermit.  People are ready to help.  I have always found that true in my life, there is always someone who is willing and ready to help.  Put your energy in taking action, rather than in doing nothing, and waiting around for the worst.  Inaction and passivity gives birth to worry.  It can keep you from living the life God created you to live and accomplishing the things God wants you to achieve.   Don’t allow anxious worry to paralyze you, and immobilize you, and shut you down.  

Someone said that worry is like a fog bank.  Fog can blanket a city for blocks and be as much as 100 feet deep.  But if we were to take that fog and change it into water, it would only fill up a single glass. 

I close with this Irish prayer titled “WHY WORRY”  “There are only two things to worry about - either you are well or you are sick.  If you are well, then there is nothing to worry about.  But if you are sick, there are two things to worry about.  Either you will get well or you will die.  If you get well, there is nothing to worry about.  If you die, there are only two things to worry about.  Either you will go to heaven or hell.  If you go to heaven there is nothing to worry about.  But if you go to hell, you’ll be so darn busy shaking hands with friends, you won’t have time to worry.”  Amen!

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