Of all the times of our 24 hour day, I dislike 3:00 a.m. the worst. I dislike 3:00 a.m. because I usually find myself awaking at that time and if there is something bothering me, it is at 3:00 a.m. that I begin to worry. When that happens, I find my mind going in circles over the problem and I can’t get back to sleep. It is like being on some sort of grotesque merry go round that I can’t get off. There have been times when I have been awake for hours worrying over a problem. Guess what? I am never able to either think of a solution or do anything about it at that time. All that worrying does is reinforce more worrying.
I tell you that today because I think that the Sunday after New Year’s Day is an appropriate time to talk about worry. When we celebrated the New Year with parties, noisemakers and perhaps a little champagne, we conveniently ignored that we have a year of uncertainty before us. We don’t know what our lives will be like next New Year’s Day. We might be uncertain about our employment. We might be uncertain about our health. We might be uncertain about the direction of our children’s lives. We might be uncertain about our finances. Most of us don’t like uncertainty. Many times, uncertainty leads us to worry which can lead to those 3:00 a.m. sessions with the mental merry go round.
And so today I think it would be profitable for us to look at what Jesus instructed us about worry during his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter six. It is here that we see the greatest teaching about life that we will ever read. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorted His disciples to do some radically counter-cultural and even counter-intuitive things. He tells his disciples just before this passage to lay up treasure in heaven instead of on earth, for example. That is counter-intuitive. It is counter-intuitive to lay up unseen treasures instead of things that we can touch and see. And the teaching in the next few verses seems counter-intuitive as well because he is telling us not to worry – particularly about material provision. As we face a new year, I thought it would be a good idea to review what Jesus said about worry. And what does what does Jesus say?
I. Worry over physical provision reveals a confusion of priorities in us.
Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?
Jesus is calling us here to see things in their proper perspective. He is calling us here to evaluate our priorities.
The word translated “worry” in this passage can also mean "distracted." In other words, Jesus is calling us not to let anxiety about food and clothing distract us from more important things in life. We have problems keeping the highest priorities our highest priorities. The government even had to change the law regarding cell phones because they distract drivers from what should be their highest priority -the care and control of their vehicles.
Sometimes it takes wisdom to know what the most important priority is. When I was in high school, one of our geography teachers retired. He was replaced by a young fellow in his mid-twenties. Our new teacher was very frustrated with us because he saw that some of us we were more focused on getting good marks than we were on actually learning geography. He wanted us to learn geography so that we could enter into the joy of geography, not so that we could get an A+ on our report cards. He was trying to get us to see that an A+ on our report cards gave us a temporary satisfaction but that an understanding of geography, as he was trying to teach us, would broaden our horizons, help us understand the world and make us thirstier to learn about it. He basically told us that our worry about marks and our narrow focus on marks was distracting us from the more important and more fulfilling things that a study of geography had to give us. And Jesus is saying something similar, yet much more important, here. He is saying that if we find ourselves obsessed with physical provision we will be distracted from and miss out on the more important things in life than God has for us. Later on we see that the more important thing is God’s righteousness. I will talk more about that later. Suffice it to say now that worry about physical provision shows narrowness in and distraction from life’s more important focus.
Worry over physical provision reveals a confusion of priorities in us.
II. Secondly, Jesus says that worry about physical provision shows in us a practical atheism.
In Verse 31, Jesus then says this:
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things,
Notice that Jesus says that the PAGANS “run after” these things. In other words, seeking material things as a primary priority in life is characteristic of those who do not have a personal relationship with God. Years ago, I heard a sermon by Pastor Jim Reese of Benton Street Baptist Church in Kitchener. The sermon was called, “Practical Atheism.” It was addressed to people who claimed to believe in God but showed by the way that they lived that they were practically atheists. One of his points was that we are being practical atheists when we worry. When we worry we are living like pagans – we are living like people who do not believe in a loving Father God. I remember that sermon because it was so convicting to me. I was a young person and I was worried about my future.
Notice also that Jesus says that the pagans RUN AFTER material provisions. In other words, it is to material things that they labour and strive. Generally they make acquiring the things of this world THE primary priority in life. Their motto is, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” And so, what Jesus is saying here is that if we trust God, we can live differently from people who have no trust in God’s fatherly care and no fundamental goals beyond material things. Again, Jesus is asserting that there are more important things in life than material things. Life is more important than food and the body more important than clothes. What is more important that the pursuit of material things? Again, it is the pursuit of righteousness. Why? Material things pass away and disappear. We can lose them. However, righteousness leads to eternal rewards.
26 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." (John 6)
17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)
If we live for righteousness, God will look after our material needs.
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Worry about physical provision shows in us a practical atheism.
III. Worry is a symptom that we don’t believe that God values us.
25 ¶ "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Here, Jesus is arguing from the lesser to the greater. If God provides food for birds and clothes with beauty the short lived flowers of the field how much more will he provide for us. This doesn’t imply that we can be lazy. God doesn’t drop birdseed into the beaks of birds. Jesus simply points out that birds don’t go through the trouble we do to gather food, yet their provision is there. If God values birds enough to provide for them, surely he values us more.
Worry over provision is a symptom of a lack of faith – a lack of faith in God’s value of us. We are more valuable than birds or flowers. We were created in the image of God! We were redeemed by the blood of His Son!
Worry is a symptom that we don’t believe that God values us.
IV. Worry is unproductive.
Notice what Jesus says here:
27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
The NIV has a marginal note at the bottom that says we could translate this verse to say:
“Who of you by worrying can add a single cubit to his height?”
For someone of my height, this makes a lot of sense. I would really like another cubit added to my height. I mean, that’s 18 inches. That would make me seven feet tall! Imagine what I could do if I was seven feet tall! Imagine the confidence that kind of height would bring! I wouldn’t need to look for a stool to reach things on the top shelves at home. Deb could wear high heels and not have to worry about being much taller than me. I could even discover who has a bald spot! I could dust the tops of my kitchen cupboards. Actually, that might be a disadvantage. Now, I don’t see how dusty that tops of my kitchen cupboards are so I don’t have to dust them. Now, as a young teen, I did worry about my height. Guess what? I’m still short! Worry is unproductive
At the same time, it makes sense to translate this passage as referring to adding an hour to our lives. Worry can’t do that. In fact, worry is more likely to shorten our lives rather than lengthen them.
Regardless of how we translate this passage, we can see that Jesus is calling worry unproductive. It doesn’t do us any good.
You may have heard the sayings about worry:
“Worry is like using a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.”
“Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which will never happen. ~James Russel Lowell
If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today. ~E. Joseph Cossman
Worry is a complete cycle of inefficient thought revolving about a pivot of fear. ~Author Unknown
It only seems as if you are doing something when you're worrying. ~Lucy Maud Montgomery
I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. ~Mark Twain
Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due. ~William Ralph Inge
Real difficulties can be overcome; it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable. ~Theodore N. Vail
All of these are about the unproductiveness of worry.
V. Jesus teaches that the antidote to worry is to live one day at a time.
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
One of my favourite scenes of the Russell Crowe movie, Master and Commander, happens when the crew of the Surprise find that they are being chased by a faster and better armed French ship. As the crew train their telescopes on the enemy ship, they begin to speculate how long it will take before the enemy overtakes them. Captain Aubrey, played by Russell Crowe, makes his orders and then says to the crew, “We must survive this day. Let’s be about it.”
It sounds like what Jesus said. It is enough to deal with the problems of today. We are not required to add tomorrow’s problems on to them. Jesus isn’t telling us not to plan or to prepare. He is telling us not to FRET about tomorrow. Today has enough trouble with which to concern you. We are not capable of handling tomorrow's worries because we have no control over the future and worrying about the future only distracts us from the duties of the present. Today's problems are all we are capable of handling without becoming distracted
How do we let tomorrow take care of itself? By trusting in God! By doing God's will today! By letting our undivided attention be given to seeking God's rule in our lives and by making His kingdom the number one priority in our lives by concerning ourselves with His righteousness, not our riches.
The motto of many is "Don't worry, be happy!” but Jesus qualifies that motto by saying:
"Don't worry, seek God's will first, and you will be happy!"
I don’t know if you have the same problem as I sometimes do at 3:00 a.m. I don’t know if you end up riding the worry merry-go-round in the middle of the night. If you do, I hope that calling these truths to mind might help you to get back to sleep. You may have to ask yourself if your worry is a sign that your priorities are not in line with God’s priorities. You may have to remind yourself that worry is useless and besides, at 3:00 a.m. there is usually nothing you can do about the problem anyway. Lastly, start to pray. Prayer is certainly an act of faith. It is also a way of seeking God’s Kingdom and his righteousness. Specifically ask God to develop in you that fruit of the Spirit known as PEACE. God knows of our problem with worry, and He wants to help us. He wants to give us peace. He gives it to us, as we trust him. As Paul says:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Php 6)
C. 2011 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.