SOTM, part 14 - Jesus’ Arguments Against Anxiety
Let’s start with the passage for this message and go from there:
Matthew 6:25-34 - 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 which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 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. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
I actually began this message with a confession to the congregation. And the confession was that I needed this message more than anyone else listening to it. That was proven over the course of the previous two months when we began to receive notices—and then, bills—for a test my wife needs to have 3 or 4 times a year. And these bills were between $600 and $1,000 a pop. A great thing to get just at the beginning of the Christmas season. It was stressful. Very stressful. I was going to have to dig into the weeds on insurance stuff, on doctor stuff, on the laboratory stuff. Not my idea of fun.
Here’s where I went awry. I added to the stress, which was bad enough, a whole lot of fretting. I had about 15 “What if?” questions, my way of conjuring up worst-case scenarios. You ever been there? Yeah, I thought so. And after about a month and a half of this nightmare, I hit this passage in the Sermon on the Mount, which merely exposed that for much of that month and a half, I had been directly violating a command of Jesus not to be anxious. What a comeuppance! Yeah, the pastor is a knucklehead. I reckon the good news is that pretty much everyone in the church already knew this, so there wasn’t a mass exodus heading for the doors.
In this passage, I found 6 arguments Jesus makes for why those of us in his kingdom shouldn’t be anxious. They have helped me. Maybe they’ll help you all as well.
1. Being anxious accomplishes nothing.
The anxiety score is a big fat zero. It doesn’t improve the quality of our lives, nor the longevity of them. Anxiety is not our buddy. But we can love our anxiety, even use it to get sympathy from other people as we tell them our tale of woe. Still, in the end, it leaves us high and dry—or worse. The British Medical Journal published a study back in 2012 showing that people with even mild symptoms of anxiety have shortened lifespans. We are literally worrying ourselves to death.
2. Today’s worry is powerless to change tomorrow’s trouble.
Now, listen, we should be wise planners, and we should take decisive action; but we shouldn’t engage in useless fretting. I love it that Jesus doesn’t sugar coat this. We’re going to have trouble. That’s reality living in a fallen world as fallen creatures. Truth is, however, we want trouble-free lives. And anxiety is merely the acting out of our frustration and helplessness in not being able to create a trouble-free existence. We can’t control everything necessary to avoid trouble, and that bugs us to no end. Scripture tells us that God is omnipotent. And once I get it that I’m weak and finite and limited, and I put my hands into the One who is none of those things and trust Him, I can start to step out of anxiety. That will just leave me to deal with the stress, but stress without anxiety really is better.
Jesus also says that He’s there to help with the trouble, but He’s going to engage in today’s trouble today, not tomorrow. He’ll deal with tomorrow’s troubles tomorrow. And no amount of worrying about whether He’s true to His word about tomorrow is going to help you today. Might as well knock it off.
3. You and I are immeasurably valuable to God, so It’s not like He’s going to forget us.
Jesus uses this construct: OK, God takes care of birds, which are total goofballs. They don’t sow or reap or put anything away for a rainy day. Yet, God feeds them. And how about those wild flowers? They don’t have jobs. They don’t even try to get jobs. They can’t even be bothered to apply for unemployment. Still, God dresses them up finer than any supermodel. God does that for them, and you and I are far more valuable to God than they are. Why worry, if that’s the case?
It’s even better than that. God tells us in scripture that we’re more valuable than anything in all creation. We’re the only things that carry around the image of God stamped on us.
4. God sees what we need, knows what we need, and acts to meet our need.
Our anxiety often is revealed by the questions we ask ourselves? What if I don’t have anything to eat? What if I don’t have anything to drink? What if I don’t have anything to wear? Or, like Bob in the movie What About Bob?, who asks, “What if I’m out and I need to go to the restroom, and I can’t find a restroom, and my bladder explodes?” It’s easy to get into worst-case scenarios, isn’t it?
Jesus counters with this: God knows exactly what you and I need, and He’s ready, willing, and able to meet those needs. It’s the same sentiment captured in Romans 8, which follows Paul’s long discourse on this amazing thing God has done for mankind through the salvation offered to everyone through Jesus Christ.
Rom. 8:31-32 - What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Maybe we need to turn our “What if?” questions around and start asking “What if God?” questions. What if God really is for us?
Now, a quick pause for a parenthetical: Without Christ, without God as your father, these promises Jesus is making aren’t yours, and your anxiety is probably well justified. Without Jesus, all you have is your own clutching and clawing and scraping and fretting. And your anxiety, if you’re aware at all, is not limited to this life, but what’s facing you in the next. The invitation away from anxiety is, first and foremost, an invitation to Jesus Christ’s offer of salvation. With that in hand, and peace with God affirmed, you and I can have confidence that our heavenly Father sees, and knows, and will act just as He promised.
5. Life is about more than food and drink and clothing.
Priority number one, above food and drink and clothing, is to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. That kind of gets to the point we just made in the previous section, doesn’t it? So, there are basic necessities of life, but none of them are the most important necessity or reality. See, in the West, we’ve redefined basic necessities, haven’t we? We don’t just need clothes, we need fashion. We don’t just need food, we need to eat in the coolest restaurants. We don’t just need a drink, we need Starbuck’s. We can’t possibly go the gym in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. We have to have Under Armor or Athleta. We even have to sweat in style.
An ad in Facebook last month suggested this: Turn all your hangars in your closet the opposite way in January. When you wear something, hang it back up in the regular way. On 1 July, throw everything out that’s still facing the opposite way. Why? If you’ve not worn something in 6 months, you probably never will. We’ve all got more in our closets that we’ll use, than we need. But throw a bunch of that stuff out so you can make room for more stuff. We are not, most of us, seized with basic necessities.
And Jesus bursts in going, “Hey, guys, there are things that matter more than all that stuff. Seek first the kingdom. How about people perishing without Jesus? How about entire people groups around the globe who have yet to hear about Him? How about hundreds of thousands of babies aborted, or orphans in crisis, or kids in need of foster parents, or survivors of human trafficking? How about the wall-to-wall people crowded into homeless shelters trying to keep from freezing during this winter? See, when our focus is on kingdom stuff, it seems our anxieties for the less important begins to wane. And Jesus has come back to this point over and over again in this sermon He’s preaching. And we’ve got to be careful, because we just might be spending our time and our energy and our passion and our resources building our kingdoms and not His. And when we are about our kingdom and not His, we should be anxious. Because God never promised our kingdom was going to make it. Only His reign and rule are going to be everlasting.
6. God promises what you need when you seek what He wants for you.
This is scary, right? Because here’s what we think. If I’m really sold out for the kingdom, I start losing myself in the kingdom like Jesus calls for, then who’s going to take care of me? Jesus answers that: God Himself will do it. He will give you all things. Now, all things might look different as a kingdom dweller than as a materialistic who only lives for himself. Take a look at this passage in 2 Corinthians and see if you don’t see the connection between the “all things” God provides and our being about kingdom things.
2 Cor. 9:8 - And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
Did you see it? Why does God supply all your needs? Why does He make all grace abound to you? Not just because He can. But it’s so that you can continue to be about the business of engaging freely, unencumbered, in the “every good work” He has for you. And you can abound in every good work because you have, thanks to God, everything you need to be about that mission. That’s really the point of 2 Corinthians.
Armed with these six arguments Jesus makes here, it’s pretty clear that Jesus is asking what He’s always asked: Do you trust Me? Do you trust me to do what I say I’ll do? If you know Me, and if you know My words, and if you believe Me, then it’ll take a huge weight of anxiety off your shoulders. It doesn’t mean we won’t have troubles. That’s not what Jesus is saying. He is saying that, just like when God sent an angel to strengthen Him in the Garden of Gethsemane—which was exactly what Jesus needed at that moment to be able to continue to be about what God the Father wanted for Him—God will do the same for us. And even in the face of trouble, we’ll have everything that we truly need.
What a life-altering truth this would be if we just grabbed onto it. It’s coming from a God who loves us and has proved it.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.