If you were to ask me, two weeks ago, where I would have been last weekend, I would have looked at you, smiled and said “At my sister’s wedding—on a white sandy beach—at a resort—in Mexico. As it turns out, I am NOT at my sister’s wedding—on a white sandy beach—at a resort—in Mexico.
This is because people are worried about a flu inspired by 3 creatures and named after one of them that had its origin where we were planning to travel. There are still a lot of people worried about what this flu will do in the future. But we don’t need a pandemic to inspire worry—we have a natural gift for it.
In C.S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, an experienced demon, and in his own words an “affectionate uncle” is writing to his demon nephew Wormwood, about how to ensnare the souls of men. And in one letter he writes the young Wormwood and says, “it is far better to make them live in the future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already…we want a man hag-ridden by the Future—haunted by visions of an immediate heaven or hell upon earth…”
We are so good at worrying it’s a wonder we have time to think about anything else.
We worry about the economy, we worry about our jobs, we worry about health; an article this past week said KC farmers are worried that their pigs will actually get swine flu from people.
We worry about our weight, we worry about terrorism, we worry about our kids, we worry about what to wear, what to say, what others are saying, what others are saying about us; what others are thinking. We worry about what others think we are saying, because we worry that what we are saying doesn’t reflect what we are thinking, and therefore other people aren’t thinking what we are thinking based on what we are saying.
Worry is like dessert to us, there is always room for it.
It’s so bad; we actually worry about not being worried. How many times have you or someone else asked the question “Should I be worried?”
Jesus answers that question in Matthew 6 with an emphatic NO. Matthew 6 is a continuation of a famous sermon on a mountain that Jesus preached where He contrasts how people act who know God with how people act who don’t know God; people who wear religious masks and are more concerned about what the world has to offer than what God has to offer. And in verse 24 Jesus drives the point home. The the word used here is an Aramaic expression that means more than money: It is possessions you trust in. The ultimate contrast between people who know God and people who don’t is where they place their trust and focus; and it is here that Jesus very intentionally transitions into a discussion about worry.
In Matthew 6:25-26, 28-29 it says,“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?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 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.”
The word rendered “anxious” or “worry” or “thought” depending on your translation, isn’t about neglecting responsibility. This is a word that is used only by Jesus in the NT, here and in Luke 12, and it has to do with what you are focusing on. It concerns a perceptual problem. For example, Jesus says “take no thought” [KJV]; but it’s deceptive, because right after He says “consider”. And what He is having us consider is reality from God’s perspective. Worry is a problem of perspective.
When it comes to auto repair and maintenance I have enough skilled to be able to pull out my wallet and extract money and give it to somebody else to take care of the problem. The first time I changed my oil, I pulled out the dip stick, and upon seeing that in fact the oil was low, I lay the dipstick aside; and with tremendous effort, a steady hand, and a keen eye, began to refill the oil by pouring it into the little hole I pulled the dipstick out of.
Only later, did I notice the large cap that said OIL on it atop the engine. I have since corrected the problem. So, for people like me, cars come with what many refer to idiot lights on the dash. They light up to let you know that your engine has a problem—like a lack of oil because you spilt most of it on the driveway. They alert you to potential problems. And what I to propose to you that worry is our idiot light, worry is our warning light that our perspective isn’t right.
Paul gives us a solution in Philipians 4:4-7:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
There is a misconception about prayer that leads us to roll our eyes and scoff when we find out that prayer is the answer to our worries.
When I was growing up my siblings and I were all given pens to mark up the JC Penny Xmas catalog every year with what we wanted. We’d go through and mark the toy that would make life worth living for another year and hope for the best. And that’s how we approach prayer, we ask for stuff hope for it, and get disappointed. And while certainly God asks us to pray and He promises to bless us, that is only a small piece of what prayer is.
The key is Paul’s phraseology in verse 4. Rejoice and AGAIN Rejoice—focus on God’s goodness not your problems in prayer [you can pray and end up worse than before you started]. Prayer is paying attention to God and not the world. Prayer changes our perspective. Prayer connects us with and reminds us of a Being who can see the beginning and the end of history, while we can only see one second at a time. In Philip Yancey’s book “Prayer: Does it Really Make a Difference” he says that, “God needs no reminding of the nature of reality, I do” and that “prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.”
May we focus on God’s perspective on reality.