Monday, August 16, 2010

Worry as a Christian? Five Ways to Stop

Copyright (c) 2010 Peter Rubel

Worry is the quiet little worm that chews holes into the
ship of life. It is small the drip in the roof that keeps
you awake at night. It even afflicts Christians.

Worry may be prodded and poked by the accumulation of
stresses from commutes and work and grades and kids and
relationships and money and health and bad things that
happen in our world. We may worry over a decision or
decisions that may bring loss as well as gain. We may worry
because we feel threatened, for example, by loss of our
reputation or we become worried that we may be inadequate
for our job or as a parent or spouse or friend. And
sometimes it gets to a point where we are not sure exactly
why we are worrying or why we panic.

There is nothing new about people worrying. Long ago, Jesus
spoke of the worry problem (Matt. 6:25-34). In doing so,
arguably He did not intend to encourage people to take
little thought or care in fulfilling God's commandments. He
assumes that humans work to reap harvests and store in
barns, for example (6:26). Nor on the flip side was He
callous toward human suffering. If He was, why would He
bother to speak about alleviating our worry?

Jesus thus gives principles that can help the Christian to
defuse and deflate worry.

One, if God cares for His lesser creatures, then God will
care for us humans. If God feeds the birds, how much more
will he provide for humans. If God clothes the lilies, how
much more will He clothe us humans. Humans are more
valuable than birds and lilies. Lilies are here today and
gone tomorrow, yet God cares for them. How much more will
He care for people.

Two, stop focusing on your "what if" future and start
focusing on what God has already done for lesser creatures.
The past works of God show what God will do in the future.
He already clothed the lilies, therefore He will clothe
you. Do not worry about what might happen to you tomorrow
(cp. v. 34).

Three, worrying does not increase your power over your own
life. Worry just does not accomplish what you want. It is
ineffective. Which of us by worrying can add to the pathway
of our lives? Nobody. So why bother worrying?

Four, God knows your need and cares for you. A Christian's
worry implies he or she does not believe God knows our
needs and cares for us. The Christian's belief and behavior
is thus the same as that of pagans (v. 32).

And how do pagans believe and behave? As if there were no
benevolent Deity supervising all of history and human lives
in particular. As if survival were entirely the result of
our actions. So they desire and search after what they need
or think they need. Or whatever they think will stop them
from worrying.

Is Jesus then saying that the Christian is forbidden to
work? Just trust and God will provide? Certainly the
Creator and Sustainer of the Universe has such power.
Certainly He is good and benevolent. Certainly there was a
time when the Israelites did not toil or spin in the
wilderness wanderings so that they might be taught that
"man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that
comes from the mouth of God" (Deuteronomy 8). But again,
the underlying assumption here in Jesus' teaching is that
the hearers are working--reaping and storing in barns,
laboring and spinning yarn, and so on (vv. 26, 28).

Jesus also assumes the whole religious system of Moses is
governing or ought to govern the Jewish society to which He
speaks. Part of that is normal labor, such as reaping and
making clothes for oneself, having a hand in providing for
one's family, the poor, the priesthood, and civil society.

The problem with pagan worry is that it leads them to trust
and worship earthly treasures rather than God (Matthew
6:19-23). The "worries of this life and the deceitfulness
of riches choke out" the seed that is the message of the
kingdom (Matthew 13:19, 22 NIV). Worries and the
deceitfulness of riches lead the Christian to being
unfruitful and of no use in God's kingdom.

I know that sounds harsh. Jesus is also not addressing
every possible worrisome situation in Matthew 6:25-34.
Perhaps you are reminded of your own circumstances. But
remember that Jesus is giving principles that teach the
Christian how he or she can avoid being afraid and worried.

Trust God instead of worrying. If there were no difficult
circumstances, no testing, nothing to make us worry, we
might for example say to ourselves "My power and the
strength of my hands have produced this wealth for
me,"whereas it is God "who gives you the ability to produce
wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17, 18). Now try substituting the
word "wealth" with "whatever makes me feel calm and
comfortable." Things that make us worry are an opportunity
to learn to trust God.

Five, the Christian needs to keep priorities and
perspectives in order. Situations that contribute to our
worry are sometimes like the Israelite wanderings in the
wilderness, when the Lord humbled His people and tested
them "so that in the end it might go well with them"
(Deuteronomy 8:16). The Israelites wandered for 40 years in
the wilderness. Satan tempted Jesus for 40 days while He
fasted. God tests His people that it might go well with
them in the end. After we learn from our wanderings, we
will have our priorities straight.

As the Israelites were to live in larger measure by every
word God spoke (rather than living by bread alone), so the
disciple of Jesus is to seek God's kingdom and His
righteousness as of first priority. We worry when we see
our pressing needs and worrisome situations as more
important than what God says is most important. The Lord's
prayer includes "give us this day our daily bread," but it
begins with "Our Father who art is heaven, may your name
(and character) be considered holy, may your kingdom come
and your will be done." If we seek first God's kingdom and
His righteousness, God will give all things needful in
consequence (Matthew 6:33).

What Jesus means by seeking God's kingdom and righteousness
as of first importance may be judged in part from Matthew
6:25-34 and in part from Jesus' other teaching in the
Gospel of Matthew, which I urge us worrying Christians to
read carefully. Here, suffice it to say we are to love God
and our neighbor, trust God that He has our best interest
in mind, and that God intends that we learn though our
trials to trust Him rather than worry.

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