Friday, June 19, 2015

Worrying about Tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A man had a big reputation as a worrier.  He drove his friends’ bananas worrying about things which might or might not happen.  Suddenly his friends noticed a drastic change in his demeanor.  He was happy and calm.  He stopped talking about being worried all the time.  A friend asked him what had changed.  The man said he recently had a revelation and decided to hire someone to worry for him.  “How much does this cost you?" the friend asked.  "Oh, about $1,000 a week," the man replied.  His friend exclaimed:  “But that's a lot of money, how can you afford to pay him?"  The man answered calmly, "Oh, well that's his worry!"

Do you ever worry?  Silly question I know.  Worry seems to be intrinsic to the human mind.   What do you worry about more than anything else?  So be honest and ask yourself this question - why do you worry?  I'll tell you why, because there is a heck of a lot of things to worry about, that’s why.

What is your worry du jour, your worry of the day?  We worry about our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, our health, our jobs, our finances, our education, social security, government shut-downs, disease, illness, crime, floods, fires, earthquakes, terrorist threats, the economy, growing older, global warming, the Padres winning and I've just begun.    

We worry about things we can control and things we can't control and often get confused about which is which.  The more we can’t control the more we worry.  We worry about things that might happen, that most likely won't happen, and that have never happened.   Yes, there is no dearth of things to worry about.   Worry seems to be natural to human nature.  The longer we live the more we realize that life itself is worrisome. 

So if this is patently true, is the subject of worry even worth talking about or is it a waste of time?   Jesus apparently didn’t think it was a waste of time.  He specifically addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount when he spoke to the crowds.   Jesus believed it was a salient subject.  Jesus says:  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”   Someone said - “I just finished a 12-step program, I am now a recovering worrier.”

Why is worrying about things a problem?  It’s a problem because at the core of worry is fear, underlying worry is fear, and fear is a powerful emotion.   Worry wears us down, it saps our strength, it drains us of energy and joy and hope.  It can change our personality, break our spirit, and cause us to be downcast all the time.  We know worry is detrimental to our physical health, our mental health, our spiritual health and our relationships.   Worry can paralyze you and immobilize you.  

Therefore I tell you, Jesus says, do not worry about your life.”  Now think about what Jesus is NOT saying in these words.  He is not saying: “Life is easy, it doesn't have any troubles or problems, it's just your imagination.”  He is not saying: “Life is always fair.”   He is not saying: “Everything always turns out all right, it will happen the way you want it too.”   He is not saying:  “It's OK to make irresponsible decisions and to lead a reckless 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 can get by on your charm and good looks.”  Jesus isn't saying any of these things.

What is Jesus saying?   First, the Greek word Jesus uses is merimnao; it means to “worry anxiously.”  Jesus here is not speaking about the normal ordinary worries and concerns which pass through our minds on a daily basis.   A good 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 spirit and health, that can harm relationships, that confounds your thinking, that draws the joy out of you.

I remember my wife Nancy telling me about sitting on plane getting ready to fly from CO to CA.  She said a young woman sat down next to her obviously extremely agitated.  The young woman said:  “I hate to fly and just saw something very upsetting but I won't say what until after we land.”  She proceeds to order drink after drink during the flight.  After the plane lands, the young woman turned to Nancy and said:  “Did you know a woman was flying this plane?” 

Second, Jesus says that “anxious worry” is useless, futile, pointless, unproductive.  It is a colossal waste of time and energy.   Mark Twain said:  “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.”  Matthew 6:27 points this out.  It is ambiguous and can have 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 live longer or extend one’s life.  You may add time to your life by a healthy diet or through exercise, but you won't add one day, or one hour or one minute by worrying.    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 convert it into water, it would only fill up a single glass. 

Third, Jesus is saying remember this truth, you are of ultimate value to God, you are precious in God's sight.  “Look at the birds of the air, your heavenly Father feeds them, are you not much more valuable than them?”  Knowing this, believing this, trusting this is crucial for faith.  It is having the assurance that God gave us the gift of life and that we can trust God to give us the lesser things of life

One way to remember this is through prayer.  Turning worries over to God, and doing it again, and again.    Worry is passive, prayer is active.   Pray unceasingly.  Pray for God to deliver you from the weight of worry.  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 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.  Include God 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 same word again, anxious worry.  Ask God to unburden you, to free you, from the anxious worry that is weighing you down.  Ask God to help you experience His power and strength in the midst of stressful and worrisome circumstances. 

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.  God’s peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  I love this verse.  Peace is one of God's greatest gifts.  You are of ultimate value to God; don't lose your sense of humor and your joy.

Fourth, Jesus is saying that you and I are to put God first in our lives.  God is to be the center, not ourselves, not our family, not our career, not our money.  “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.  Is God at the center or at the periphery of your life?   If we let something or someone else become our number one priority, it will eventually become our number one worry.  Concentrating upon God, upon God's kingdom, upon accepting and following God's will and way, will help to defeat the burden of worry in your life.

Finally, Jesus is saying cultivate the art of living one day at a time.   Today is known.  Live each day as it comes, handle each demand as it comes, carry out each task as it appears, and don't worry about the unknown future.  “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will bring worries of its own, today's trouble is enough for today.”  Plan for tomorrow, set goals for tomorrow, dream dreams for tomorrow, think about tomorrow, but don't allow tomorrow to consume you with worry. 

Here are the first four steps from the twelve steps for worriers: 

1. Prepare for the worst - Hope for the best.  Accept the worst possible outcome and then take action to improve it.

2. Get Busy. When you find yourself beginning to worry - get busy on your to-do list.  List your goals and the action steps required to meet them. One of the benefits of your to-do list is you will stop worrying about forgetting something important.

3. Distract Yourself. Call a friend. Read a good book. Watch a funny movie. Take the kids to the park. Take a walk. There's dozens of things you can do.

4. Get Support. Friends and family can be an excellent source of support. Especially if they will tell you how they see things. Sometimes just talking things out, helps the worry go away.  People are ready to help.  I have always found that true in my life, there is always someone who is willing and ready give support. 

An author wrote:  “There are two days of every week about which we should not worry. There are two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.  One of these days is Yesterday, with all its mistakes and cares, faults and blunders. Yesterday is passed, forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back yesterday. We cannot undo a single act we performed and we cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday has gone.

The other day we should not worry about is tomorrow with all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promises, and poor performances.  Tomorrow's sun will rise in splendor, or behind a mask of cloud, but it will rise.  Until it does we have no stake in tomorrow, for it is yet unborn.

That leaves only one day, today.  Any person can fight the battles of one day.  It is only when you add the burdens of those two awful eternities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down. It's not the experience of today that drives people mad, it is remorse or bitterness for something that happened yesterday, or the dread of what might happen tomorrow.  Let us journey together, with God, but one day at a time.”  Amen

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