This is post 2 of 10 in the series “HOW TO …”
- How To Rise Above Resentment!
- How To Quit Worrying About Worry!
- How To Fly Like Eagles When You’re Surrounded By Turkeys!
- How To Look Smart When You Do Dumb Things!
- How To Do Right When Everything Goes Wrong!
- How To Turn Short-Term Losses Into Long-Term Gains!
- How To Get Out Of Death Alive!
- How To Put A Lid On Your Anger
- How To Stay Calm In The Midst Of Storm!
- How To Rekindle The Spark Of The Spirit!
How To Quit Worrying About Worry!
Last year more than 25,000 Americans committed suicide. The overwhelming majority of them took their own lives because they could not whip their worries. Medical research indicates that up to 50% of the hospital beds today are filled with individuals who are now physically ill because they are unable to find answers to their anxieties. They are unable to defeat their despairs. We live in a worrisome time, in a worrisome nation. Don’t forget, please, that this is the country that invented the rocking chair so that you could feel like you were getting somewhere even when you are sitting down! Yes, we are a hard-driving people. That is why we are in danger of being choked with worry and anxiety.
I use the word “choked” deliberately because our word “worry” comes from the German word “worgen” which means “to strangle or to choke.” That’s what worry can do to us. It can strangle the joy out of us. It can even strangle the life out of us. That is why God speaks to us so clearly about worry on the pages of Scripture. However, we need to be sure that we know what the Bible means when it speaks of “worry,” because words have different meanings in different situations.
I think here of the story about a businessman named Ginsburg who was sailing from New York to Europe on a transoceanic liner. He went to his table in the dining room the first night and discovered that he had been assigned to a table with a Frenchman. This Frenchman immediately jumped up from his chair, bowed very politely and said, “Bon appetit.” The businessman bowed in response and said his name, “Ginsburg.” The next morning at breakfast it was the same. The businessman approached the table, the Frenchman stood up, bowed, and said very politely, “Bon appetit.” The businessman bowed and said, “Ginsburg.” It went on like this for three days. Finally the businessman became exasperated that this Frenchman had not yet learned his name. After all, he certainly knew the Frenchman’s name. All of this introducing back and forth was too much. So he went to the dining steward and told him what was happening. The steward said, “Sir, bon appetit is not his name. It is a wish—he is saying in French that he hopes you will have a pleasant meal.” Well, the businessman was immediately relieved. That night he decided that he would be first to the dining table, and so he was. When the Frenchman then approached the table the businessman stood up, bowed very politely and said, “Bon appetit.” Whereupon the Frenchman bowed and said, “Ginsburg.”
You see, words can become confused depending upon their context. And so we must not be confused about what the Bible means when it says don’t worry, don’t be anxious. It does not mean that we are to become care-less about our concerns. It does not mean that we are to forget about things like thrift and planning and good economics and sound preparation for our tomorrows and the tomorrows of those we love. That’s not what the Bible means. The Bible uses a word which means to lose control because of your concerns. To lose control of your appetite, your sleep, your powers of reasoning. That’s the debilitating kind of worry of which the Scripture speaks. And here in Matthew 6:25-33, Jesus calls us to quit worrying about worry. He says that if we remember four things, then we will never lose control because of our concerns:
First, Jesus says, “Remember who you are.”
He says, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” In other words, we are not just machines, constructed for the purpose of consuming meats and vegetables. We are not just collections of bones and flesh and muscle and sinews on which to hang a set of clothes. We are the children of God. We have been fashioned by the loving fingers of the Almighty and have been set upon this earth with a particular purpose for our living. We must never forget the majestic reality of our creation. We are made of the dust of the earth, yes, but also of the dust of the stars. We are the children of God.
You and I know individuals who have some physical weakness or disability and we know them to be remarkable people. When we are in their presence, we are never aware of the disability, we are only aware of their victory over it. These people do not try to conceal the disability as if it didn’t exist. They do not try to flaunt it in an effort to gain sympathy or pity. Here’s what they do. They remember that there is a great deal more to them than the particular disability which is theirs. They understand themselves to be the children of God and they live and they act and they dream and they hope like the children of God. When you are in their presence you are oblivious to the disability and you are thrilled by their courage. That’s what it means, I think, to remember who you are.
T. E. Lawrence—we know him as “Lawrence of Arabia”—took a group of Arabian bedouin chiefs to Paris on a vacation. They saw all the sights but what they enjoyed most were the water faucets in their hotel rooms. They were desert people and to them it was marvelous to be able to turn the little handle and get all the cold, clear water they wanted. When it came time for them to leave, they did not appear in the lobby at the appointed hour. Lawrence went to find them, only to discover that they were trying to pull those faucets out of the walls of their rooms. They wanted to take them back to the desert so that they would have all the water that they wanted. Lawrence had to explain to them that behind those faucets were pipes, and behind those pipes were more pipes, and behind those pipes were conduits, and behind those conduits were reservoirs, and behind those reservoirs were mountains, and on those mountains was the snow, and the snow would come from the heavens of God. All of that had come together to provide water.
I tell you that story to remind you that as you look at yourself in the face of this massive universe of which we are a part, you may have a tendency to feel that you are as insignificant and inconspicuous as a water faucet. But please remember that behind you are all the reservoirs of God’s grace and all of the mountains of God’s spirit and all of the power and capacity of heaven is waiting to flow through you. Remember that and you will never be choked by worry. Jesus says, “Remember who you are. You are a child of God.”
Secondly, Jesus says, “Remember what you can do.”
He says look at the birds of the air and how your heavenly Father cares for them. The word he uses here is the word for “sparrows.” I have never been able to understand how some people interpret this passage to mean that we don’t have to work, that all we have to do is sit back and let God provide us with all we need. All you have to do is to look at a sparrow to begin to realize that there are very few things in all of creation that work as hard as a sparrow does. He is constantly working—getting food, finding bits of straw for the nest, taking care of his brood—those are the things a sparrow can do, and he is constantly doing them. Doing what he can do. I know a lady who says she won’t have a bird feeder at her house because she doesn’t want all those ugly little sparrows around. Well, I don’t share that feeling. In fact, I think it is marvelous to have them around for they speak to me of the things we can do in life. The sparrow is always doing everything he can do.
I think that when Jesus points to the birds of the air, He is not simply referring to things like financial planning, and family organization. He wants us to do those things. Yes. But I think he is also talking about something more. I think he is talking about our moral life. I think he is saying don’t forget to do everything you can do about your moral existence. You see, as long as we are caught up in sin and immorality, we will never be able to know a worry-free, anxiety-free kind of life. That is as old as Eden. Adam took a bite out of the forbidden fruit and then he began to worry about it and he ran off to hide in the bushes in fear. Sin, worry, fear. That’s the eternal triangle. They are always together.
It’s like the slogan of the oil company: “You can’t get power from a dirty engine.” It’s true! So when Jesus tells us to do everything we can do, he is saying that we can avoid being choked with worry if we just get busy making our moral life clean and fresh and pure. And believe me, that is something we can do for ourselves. Jesus says, “Remember what you can do.”
Thirdly, Jesus says, Remember what you can’t do.”
He says, “Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? A cubit was 18 inches. That was the smallest unit of measurement used by the Jews. So Jesus was saying that worry and anxiety will not add even the smallest bit to our lives.
Of course, as always, He is right. I mean, can worry change what happened yesterday? Omar Khayyam puts it perfectly:
“The moving finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on, nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall call it back again, nor all
Thy tears wash out a line of it.”
So, worrying can’t change yesterday. It can’t even change tomorrow. Here’s another bit of poetry, this by Ralph Waldo Emerson called “Anxiety”:
“Some of your hurts you have cured,
The sharpest you still have survived.
But what torments of grief you endured
From evils that never arrived.”
So many times we become choked with worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow. We become afraid about prospects for the future and yet so often when tomorrow comes those fears never materialize. So, Jesus says, “You can’t add a thing to your life by worrying.” But while worry cannot add anything to our lives, it sure can subtract from them. It has been shown a hundred times over that we are less effective, less efficient human beings when we are caught in the grip of worry and anxiety. So, Jesus says, “Remember what you can do, yes, but also remember what you can’t do.”
Then Jesus says, “Remember whose you are.”
He says, “Your heavenly Father knows what you need. So seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well.” There are so many of us who never stop to ponder that God is our Heavenly Father, that He is with us, that He loves us today as He loved us yesterday and that He will love us tomorrow the way He loves us today. We need to remember whose we are.
Martin Luther was once having a difficult time of it. He lost his appetite, he couldn’t sleep, he became short-tempered. When he came down to breakfast one morning his wife Kate was there all dressed in black. Luther said, “Has someone died?” Kate replied, “Obviously from your conduct, God has died.” Luther got the point. Great Luther got the point that God is not dead. That he is alive and faithful and forever true. And with that Luther broke free from the choking worry and anxiety which had gripped him. “Remember whose you are.”
Nowhere do we see it more clearly than in Jesus Himself as He endured that mockery of a trial before the crucifixion. Think about the incredible poise and strength he displayed in a situation that ought to have strangled him with worry and fear. He stands there facing ridicule, pain and death, but His strength never wavers. Think of it, an unfair trial, lies, plotting, conniving, scheming, bribed witnesses, political intrigue, jealousy, hostility, hatred, a kangaroo court, and in the face of it, He stands tall, true. He was betrayed, denied, taunted, beaten, cursed, spat upon, nailed to a cross and still He says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Where did that strength and serenity come from? It came from the fact that He knew who He was, yes, but more, He knew whose he was.
Someone once asked the great preacher Phillips Brooks why he was so confident and optimistic about life. He answered, “Because I am a Christian.” So simple, but so profound. We can be confident because we know that God claims us as His own. That He is watching over us and that nothing, not even death, can separate us from His love. Oh what strength there is in that! “Remember whose you are.”
Near the end of his. life, the great theologian Martin Buber commented on the scene in Exodus where Moses asked God, “What is your name?” And God answered, “I am who I am.” Well, after studying Hebrew text for years, Martin Buber came to believe that we have mis-translated that verse. Instead of “I am who I am” Buber believed that it should read, “I shall be there.” Isn’t that beautiful? The name of God is, “I shall be there.” When we face the difficulties of life, the name of God is “I shall be there.” When we are frightened or lonely or depressed the name of God is “I shall be there.” When we face sickness, heartache or even death, the name of God is “I shall be there.” When we are laid out in the tomb, the name of God is “I shall be there.” And when the day of resurrection comes, the name of God is “I shall be there.” Jesus knew that. That’s why He was so strong. That’s why He couldn’t be strangled by worry and anxiety. Jesus knew whose He was.
And so Jesus says, “Quit worrying about worry. Remember who you are. Remember what you can do. Remember what you can’t do. And remember above all else, whose you are. Your heavenly Father knows the things you need. So seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and then all these other things shall be yours as well.
That’s His promise.
And He always keeps His promises.