May 08 - Don't Worry, Be Happy

Don't Worry, Be Happy

May 8, 2016

Matthew 6:25-34

 

 

Don’t Worry, Be Happy[1]

May 8th, 2016

Matthew 6:25-34
 

John always worried.  In fact, everyone knew that he was a worrier.  He worried about his children, his job, his wife, his health, about everything.  Which always made him anxious and irritable and feeling down.

One day his friend, Steve, noticed that he was extremely calm and at peace.

"Why are you so calm, John? What happened to you?

John replied, “You never guess what I did, Steve.  I hired this guy to do all the worrying for me.”

Really?  How much are you paying him?

“$ 1,000 a week!

“$ 1,000 a week??  You can’t afford to pay someone that much.”

John responded, “Hey, that’s no longer my problem.  Let him worry about it!

 

Today we are continuing in the Sermon on the Mount and, seeing as mothers often worry a lot about their kids, I thought that the topic of worry seems a good one.

 

Worry has been described by some as the # 1 joy stealer in life because it can rob us of our inner peace and joy, as well as take away our ability to look at ourselves and our lives objectively. 


Worry, anxiety, existential angst, as well as panic attacks, are on the rise.  In fact, this exponential rise has been called an epidemic among those born in or after the early 1980’s. 

 

Pathological worrying is often diagnosed as General Anxiety Disorder.  People with anxiety disorders worry about the very same things as everyone else.  The pathology is because of the intensity of the worry and the apparent inability to stop from worrying. 

 

Today’s young people are 8 times more likely to deal with anxiety disorders and major depression than those who were their age 50 years ago.  Girls are almost twice as likely as boys to deal with anxiety and depression.

 

There are a number of reasons proposed for this.  For one, the early 90’s brought about the web, Pentium processors, Windows 3.1, and gaming consoles. 

 

As a result, children and youth tended to be much less likely to be physically active and play physical games.  They are much more likely to be in their room and live within their electronic world.  Obesity is on the rise.

 

The once a week soccer practice or game, simply doesn’t make up for the daily exercise and outdoor play and socialization that characterized the normal lives of children years ago. 

 

Further, parents by and large provided much more or their children and over a much longer time span than previous generations. 

 

For example, I had to make my own way to anything I might have wanted to attend – sports programs, clubs, concerts.  There were no rides to school – ever, even when it took 1 hour each way on the bus.  If I missed the bus, I would need to catch the next one and would get in trouble for it at school.  Chores were not optional and I didn’t get paid for them. 

 

In many ways, individuals who are 17 were treated by their parents like 7 year olds would have been by a previous generation, leading to the erosion of self-confidence and self-initiative, while furthering a sense of entitlement. 

 

As much as students today are connected electronically, they feel significantly more isolated, socially inept, emotionally fragile and unstable than those even a few decades ago. 

 

They are subsequently more self-absorbed, less religious, prone more to alcohol and pot.  They are less altruistic, give less (if at all) to charity, and volunteer less than previous generations.  They are unlikely to vote, less prone to get married, and sexually and morally more ambiguous than previous generations.

 

One aspect of anxiety disorder is that the individuals who have it feel that they have a profound sense that they lack of control over their lives.  They think that external factors are in control, not themselves.  In the 1960’s 80% of young people still believed that they were in charge of their lives.  Not so today.  There is a sense of apathy and despondency in a relatively large number of youth because they don’t think they have the ability to change their lives or determine their future.

 

Some psychologists suggest that this feeling of being helpless and out of control is due in part to a profound shift in society towards goals that are based only on the importance of externals like money, possessions, and status, rather than the importance of internals, like family, personal relationships and spirituality. 

 

The more a young people see what others have, the more anxious and depressed they become, as they work their minimum wage student jobs, even after they graduated from college with a degree in something that interested them, but has no practical value in obtaining a career. 

 

Long before terms like “existential Angst” or “panic attacks” or “clinical depression,” were coined, Jesus spoke about worry.  But he wasn’t addressing the growing mental health problems of our modern society, he was addressing the quite normal worries about needing money for the future. 

 

I’m continuing on in the Sermon on the Mount, and our passage can be found toward the end of Matthew, chapter 6 (beginning at verse 25).

 

 

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, that you have something to eat and drink, nor concerning your body, that you have something to wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air.  They neither sow nor harvest nor store reserves in barns.  Your heavenly father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they? 

Who among you can lengthen your lives even by one hour by simply worrying? 

 

And why do you worry so much about your clothes?  Learn from the lilies which grow in the fields.  They neither work nor spin.  But I say to you, even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t clothed as beautiful as they.  If God clothes the grass in such splendor, which stands in the field today and is thrown on the fire tomorrow, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith. 

 

Therefore, do not worry and do not ask, “What will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?”  These are the things that are important to the pagans (= non-Jewish), but your heavenly father already knows that you need those things.  You should primarily be concerned about seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness (or: justice), and then everything else (you need) will be given to you as well.

 

Do not worry about tomorrow[2] since tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough of its own troubles.

 

Jesus is speaking about the kind of anxiety or worry about tomorrow, about the future, the fear of not having enough of the necessities of life, like nourishment and covering. 

 

The context is Jesus’ teaching on being overly concerned about wealth to the point that the acquiring of wealth takes priority over a relationship with God – over his rule or kingdom and righteousness or justice.   

 

Where do we worry the most?

 

Most often at home (65%), between the hours of 9 pm and 3 am (55%).

 

How many of our worries are well founded?

 

40% of worries are about things that never happen

30% of worries are about the past, which cannot be changed - It has been said that worrying about the past is wasting today’s time to limit tomorrow’s opportunities.
12% of the worries are about the potential criticism of others

10% of worries are about health (a figure that goes up as a person ages)

8% of the worries are about things that actually will happen

 

What specific things do we worry about?

 

When it comes to today or tomorrow, most of us worry about money:

 

  •  Do we and will we have the financial resources to pay the rent or mortgage?

  • Do and will we have the financial resources to continue living the lifestyle we want to?

  • Will we have enough money to pay for our tuition and books in college or university?

  • Or will we have the resources to pay those expenses for our children when they reach college age?

  • Will we have enough money once we retire?

  • Will we have a job so we can pay the rent and our bills? 

  • Will we lose our job?  Will we get laid off?

  • Will the Dow Jones index fall below 8,000?  Will my investments bring me any return?  Will I lose money?

  • Will our children or grandchildren have the ability to purchase a home?

 

And we don’t just worry about finances but also about relationships:

 

  • Will I find a spouse?  Will I find a spouse that doesn’t have too many quirks or personality issues?

  • Will our children or grandchildren be able to find a loving spouse?

  • Am I doing the right things as a parent?

  • How can I make my marriage work?

  • What will I do about my aging parents?

 

We can worry about health and safety:

  • What kind of world will I or my children or my grandchildren live in - given global warming, pollution, loss of biodiversity, armed conflict, cultural secularization, Islamic expansionism, all of which will likely become more and more pronounced in the years to come.

  • What will happen to me when I get old and who will look after me?

  • Will I get into an accident when I drive, fly, or sail?

  • When will the big earthquake hit?

  • Am I going to lose my health, get a terminal illness, or will someone I love get terminally sick?

 

We can also worry about the kind of things that could happen daily:

 

  • Did I leave the house unlocked? 

  • Did I leave the lights on? 

  • Is the dog in the house? 

  • Did I leave the stove on? 

  • Did I leave the keys in the ignition? 

  • What will I do if I get a flat tire? 

 

In essence, worry is unhelpful, it’s unreasonable and it’s unhealthy.

(1) Worry, just on its own, is unhelpful because it never resolves or accomplishes anything. 

  1. It cannot change the past

 

  1. Worry cannot control the future.  Just because you opened an umbrella doesn’t mean it is going to rain!

 

  1. On its own, it also won’t affect the present … except to make us miserable.  It is unhelpful.

 

With regard to this kind of anxiety, Jesus asked an important question: “Which one of you, can add a single hour to your life simply by worrying?

 

Put another way, we are meant to experience the troubles of today and tomorrow only once.  By rehearsing the troubles of today and by worrying about the potential troubles of tomorrow, we multiply our suffering, that Jesus said, will not add any time to our lives, that is, they won’t bring about one positive thing.

 

Someone once said:  Worrying about tomorrow is a down payment on a problem you may never have.

 

(2) Worry is unreasonable. Worry often magnifies a potential problem. It often makes potential mountains out of likely molehills.  

 

  1. To worry about something we can’t change is useless, because nothing good will come of it.

 

  1. To worry about something we in fact can change is just silly, because when we have the ability to change our behaviour or circumstances in order to avoid potential problems in the future, we should do so, shouldn’t we?

 

I believe that many of us spend more time worrying about problems than we do on working to fix them.  

 

What do I mean with fixing the potential areas of worry?

  • For example, we can take steps to avoid getting sick. 

  • We can take steps to avoid being poverty stricken when we retire. 

  • We can take steps to avoid dangerous situations. 

  • We can do your part, to try to make the earth a better place for your children and grandchildren … and while our personal efforts may not seem like much, enough invested people will make a difference. 

 

Jesus is not calling us to live irresponsibly, to not plan ahead.  When I first became a pastor, I made the grave mistake of thinking that I didn’t have to worry about putting funds aside for my retirement, in part, because I was paid so poorly I was unable to.  A certain pious naivety, that can certainly backfire.

 

When I thought about this, an elderly missionary couple in Nanaimo who I used to visit came to mind.  They lived in a tiny low rental unit, had no possessions to speak of, no funds put aside for their retirement, and no kids to take care of them – they were social welfare cases. 

 

While they may have eternal treasures in heaven the rest of us can only dream of, imagine if they had lived in a part of the world where there was no social assistance, no social net of any kind.  They would likely have starved to death. 

 

That doesn’t mean that I, or my family, even when we tithe 10% of our income back to God, lacked the necessities of life, nor that Kathy and I won’t have shelter and food in the future – particularly because we have become more fiscally responsible.  But it does mean that our options are more limited than we would like them to. 

 

So the problem most of us face, is NOT that we cannot do certain things to alleviate our worries, to avoid the problem that we know will come our way if we won’t change.  The problem most of us face is that we can in fact do something about avoiding certain issues in the future, but we simply don’t want to – or we feel powerless to change because deep down we want to fulfill our desires and wants, and avoid the stuff that might be good for us, but would take away our comfort or ease. 

 

  • Yes, I can spend less time online, gaming, watching TV and do something that will make my life better, but I don’t want to. 

  • Yes, I can go to AA and not hang around my drinking buddies, but I don’t want to. 

  • Yes, I can go to the gym and order salad at a restaurant, but I don’t want to. 

  • Yes, I can go to counseling or support groups but I don’t want to. 

  • Yes, I can stop spending money I don’t have, but I don’t want to. 

 

You get the idea.  Worry is unreasonable because sometimes our own choices are the reason why we may be facing potential disasters in our lives.

(3) Worry is unhealthy. Our minds and bodies are not created to deal with ongoing anxiety or worry. Worry can cause ulcers, backaches, headaches, insomnia, and possibly worse. Like ongoing stress, ongoing worry is unhealthy.

 

If worry is not helpful, not reasonable, and it leads to negative side-effects, both emotionally, physically, and maybe relationally, shouldn’t we ask ourselves the question how we can stop all the worrying and fretting?  How to become less anxious about tomorrow?

What did Jesus tell his followers to do, instead of worrying or being anxious?  In essence, he told his followers that they needed to trust that God will take care of the necessities of life:

 

You should be primarily be concerned about seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness (or: justice).

 

Or, a more traditionally translation: Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.

 

Jesus is talking about two things that we can do instead of worrying.  For one, if we are most concerned about the kingdom of God, then maybe it will help us not to be focused on the here and now to such an extent that we worry. 

 

We sometimes think that the struggles of this life are horrendous, when viewed in a different light, an eternal light, they are mere inconveniences … speedbumps along life’s highway. 

 

This may be the reason why Jesus tells his followers to live one day at a time. 

 

But secondly, I believe God’s kingdom also speaks of a certain relationship with God, that is closer and more personal than is the norm. 

 

Again, prayer seems to be a key component of that relationship:

 

Do not fret about anything.  Instead, whatever the circumstances, speak to and petition God, bringing your requests with thanksgiving to him.  And the peace of God, which surpasses human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.             Philippians 4:6-7


Cast all your worries on God, because he is concerned about you.                                                                     1 Peter 5:7

These passages point out that being in and experiencing God’s presence is a way to greater peace – even a supernatural peace. 

 

Instead of being focused and potentially consumed with the problems around us, we should be spending more time and energy focusing on God, on the love of God, on our eternal souls, on seeking to rest in God’s presence.  

In part, that means that our picture of God may need to change.  This Jesus does with the metaphor of father and child.  A father looks after and provides for his children.  Another analogy that is used in the Bible to depict God and us, is that he is the shepherd and we are the sheep:

 

Like a shepherd he (YHWH) will lead his flock to pasture and gather them with a strong hand.  The lambs he carries in his arms, the ewes he will lead with care.

                                                                        Isaiah 40:11

 

The author of Psalm 23 does likewise:

 

The LORD (YHWH) is my shepherd, I will not want.

                                                            Psalm 23:1


A shepherd looks after the sheep.  Jesus picks up on passages such as these when he calls himself the good shepherd.[3]

 

So what does a good shepherd do?  How does he look after his sheep?[4]


1. A shepherd PROVIDES  

 

He makes sure that the sheep have the basic necessities of life:  Food, water, and, if necessary, shelter.  That means the shepherd has to lead the sheep to places where they can get these necessities for life … a place where there is grass to eat, water to drink, possibly a creek, or perhaps a well from which he can draw water for the sheep.

 

This in essence is what Jesus tells his followers in the passage we are looking at today.  The apostle Paul also picks up on this idea that God will provide all that we need.  Writing to the believers in Philippians (who had just sent him some financial support):

 

My God will supply you with all of your needs from the riches of his glory through Jesus Christ.   Philippians 4:19

 

We may have two problems with Jesus’ words to his followers.  For one, we usually have a difficult time distinguishing genuine needs from wants.

 

  • Is owning my own home a need or a want

  • Is being able to pay my prescriptions a need or a want? 

  • Is being able to travel a need or a want? 

  • Is having a family or a spouse or children a need or a want? 

 

You see, some individuals would take Jesus’ words, the promise that God would provide all THESE things, to refer to whatever hearts’ desire someone might have:

 

If you draw near to God, he will provide you with the lifestyle you want.  He will provide you with the spouse you want.  He will provide you with the pay cheque you want.  He will provide you with the healing you want.”  And so on.

 

But that is NOT what Jesus is speaking about in our passage, or what Paul is writing to the believers in Philippi.  The promise is specifically about the necessities of life.[5]

 

I am reminded of the prophet Habakkuk.  He lived at a time (598 BC) when the Babylonian army, feared because of its incredible cruelty and its scorched earth policy, was about to sack Jerusalem and destroy the kingdom of Judah. 

 

At the end of the book he writes, as he ponders the reality of what is about to hit the nation:

 

The fig trees will no longer bloom and there will be no fruit on the vine; the olive trees will not produce a harvest and there will be no wheat in the fields; there will be no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the barns.  Still, I will rejoice in the LORD (YHWH); I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.                                   Habbakuk 3:17-18

 

He wrote this because he believed with all his heart that, despite the current reality, God will eventually right every wrong. 

 

A shepherd provides.

 

2. A shepherd PROTECTS.  

 

A shepherd had to protect his flock against predators – in Israel, those could be jackals (likely golden jackal), lions (extinct by the time of Jesus), bears (ursus syriacus), and wolves (special foes of flocks, known to prowl around sheepfolds).  The shepherd also had to protect the flock from human poachers or rustlers. 

 

One way that a shepherd could provide additional protection was to build a walled sheep fold, which the shepherd would guard at night by sleeping at the only gate to the sheep fold.

 

So God protects us – not from any and all trouble, like car accidents, or even from humans who take advantage of us.  We are not immune to suffering or illness or death. 

 

However, if we see our struggles as a means of refining us and helping us grow spiritually and emotionally, we will gain greater peace about them.  If, like Habakkuk, we realize that this life, with all its difficulties is just a blip in time which our eternal souls will survive, we will have a different perspective altogether.

 

However, if we are called to live through something very difficult, and we view it as nothing more than an unmitigated disaster, it has the potential to break us.

 

God protects us in another way.  By thwarting the most dangerous of our enemies … which the apostle Paul calls the spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:12) who seek to destroy us.  But, as Paul points out in Eph 6, we need to draw near to God and speak with him.  That is why prayer is an indispensable practice in the life of a believer. 

 

But also, God will need to save us from ourselves, not necessarily from the consequences of our bad actions, words, and attitudes … but from the gulf that we create between God and ourselves because of some of those bad actions and attitudes.

 

So a shepherd provides, he protects. 


3. A shepherd GUIDES.

 

A shepherd guides the sheep who do not know the path, or are heading in the wrong direction, and he brings back those who have wandered off. 

Next week is Pentecost, the time when, nearly 2000 years ago, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, descended on Jesus’ followers in a way that previously hadn’t happened.  And we know that the HS came in this way to empower, teach and guide them into all truth (John 16:13) … if they are sensitive and open to his leading.

 

For some, this may beg the question, “how does God (or Jesus) become my shepherd?” 

 

As recorded in the gospel according to John, Jesus pointed out need to accept him as the one who was willing to sacrifice his life to make it possible to reconnect with God.  He was the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. 

 

And secondly, Jesus said that God is our shepherd, when our priorities start to reflect God’s own priorities, our actions and attitudes begin to reflect God’s will, his hopes for his creation.

 

Does that mean that our worry will simply disappear?  Not necessarily, especially if we suffer from chronic anxiety and worries.

 

But we have to realize that worry and anxiety are really a distorted way of looking at life.  It is the belief that the world is more dangerous than it really is.  It overestimates the probability that things will turn out badly.  It immediately jumps to worst-case-scenarios.  It treats every negative or scary thought as if it were fact.  It will underestimate our own ability to handle life’s problems and bring about positive outcomes, leading to inertia.  And this happens so automatically, that we aren’t even aware of it.

 

What is needed is for us to retrain our brains into thinking differently, and one huge step in that direction is when God becomes our hope, our light, our salvation.

 

That in itself, is the first step to developing a new and more balanced perspective:  Be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2).

 

Maybe we will start of by connecting to God on a more intimate and personal level, learning to trust him in small bites while we live in the presence and in His presence. 

 

 

WHAT CAN I DO TO BECOME MORE AWARE OF GOD’S PRESENCE IN ORDER TO WORRY LESS?

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

[1] Song by Bobby McFerrin, released in 1988. 

[2] Note:  Jesus is not just talking about the coming day, but “tomorrow” is really meaning any given day in the future. 

[3] John 10:11, 14.  The good shepherd is “good” because he is willing to die protecting his sheep.

[4] Dogs are mentioned as early as Ex 11:7 in the Bible.  However, there is no reference to dogs herding or guarding livestock.  By and large, they are depicted as carrion eaters and scavengers (cf. 1 Kings 14:11), something of little worth (cf. 2 Kings 8:13) or even something that is morally evil (Phil 3:2; Rev 22:15).

[5] However, even when limited to the necessities of life, that does not mean that Christians cannot be executed by ISIS or starve during a drought.  Nor does it mean that Christians won’t have miscarriages, or that their children cannot die young.  Nor does it mean that Christians cannot get terminally ill at a relatively young age.  Jesus’ teaching reflects a “general” promise that does NOT hold true at all times (even for devout Christians) and therefore needs to be understood as such, in complete contradiction to the health and wealth teaching that is becoming increasingly popular.  This can be compared then to the promises found in Proverbs … that are generally but not universally true.