In my life, I fight a constant tendency toward anxiety. I worry about things both rational and irrational, and sometimes those worries twist in me and produce nasty depressions. I have been searching my books for biblical examples of anxiety, and I found an interesting sermon outline in “Sermon Outlines on the Sermon on the Mount” (Wood, C. R. (1985) Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.) I have used the outline as an outline for this post.
The text to look at is Matthew 6:25-34:
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 than food, and the body more 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? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour 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—you of little faith? 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, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
We can see that our anxiety is of real concern to Jesus – he repeats three times, in v25, 31 and 34 the words “do not worry.” That makes sense to me, because worry is a problem which affects all of us in different ways. It is rare to see someone who is completely easy-going and laid back, who never worries about the future, about material or spiritual things. For those of us with mental health problems, worry is a serious problem, which can very badly affect our mental health. The NHS Choices website has a list of the effects of such stress upon us which are that we may feel irritable, anxious, low in self-esteem and/or low in mood. We may have racing thoughts, constant worry, we may imagine the worst and go over and over whatever we are worrying about and make it many times worse in so doing. Our behaviour may be affected, we may lose our temper much more easily than normally, we may turn to alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate the problem away, likewise we may chain-smoke for the same purpose. Some of our efforts to cope with anxiety may make us talk more or faster, rush around from pillar to post trying to do things to make it better, we may change our eating habits, isolate ourselves from our friends, become forgetful or clumsy (the mind is so fixated on other things, all else suffers) and we may find it hard to concentrate. There are physical affects, too, including muscle tension and pain, stomach problems, sweating, dizziness, bowel trouble, breathlessness, dry mouth and sexual difficulties. Worry is a serious problem – not one to be taken lightly at all. I am heartened that Jesus chose to address worry here (and elsewhere) even if I find his advice hard to take.
My book tells me that the proper translation of “do not worry” is “take no thought for.” When I am anxious, my thoughts are consumed with whatever I am anxious about, and I find it hard to break the cycle of those thoughts. Jesus here is not saying we should take no notice of the future, exercise no foresight at all about what will happen, he is saying that we should not worry about it, not be anxious and have it consuming our thoughts.
Of course it is easy to say “do not worry” – but hard to practise. Jesus gives us reasons why he tells us not to worry. He tells us that we are the children of a mighty and powerful God, who can provide everything we need and who has a care for us (25b-30), he tells us that we belong to a Kingdom where even the grass is provided for, so we need have no fear (31-33). He tells us that we should not worry because it gives us nothing (34). We know that worrying about something cannot change things, if we are worrying about having enough food then the act of worrying will do nothing to change our situation.
We learn from Christ the futility of worry, and we learn the sufficiency of our God. It is not that we should stop thinking of the future altogether, or make like a lily and do nothing for ourselves, but he does teach us that we need not take excessive care of the things of this life, we need not be anxious, afraid, and stressed about things beyond our control. When I read this passage I see a reminder that I cannot by worrying change the world, I cannot change my situation, and I need to trust in the God who made me that “all things shall be well.” For people with mental illnesses, trusting in God, that he has plans to prosper us, and not to harm, can be hard. Even reminding myself that God’s time is different to mine, that I want things now but now might not be the best time to get them, is hard. When I worry, I try to, in a futile gesture, change the world, change my situation. When I fret (and that is a great word for it) about something like my performance in a job (“do they think I’m incompetent, am I incompetent, what are people thinking about me?”) I show a lack of trust. I am not writing that to condemn anyone, but what I am trying to say is that I, personally, need to let go of worry, let go of anxiety, and hand it over to God. We are told to “cast our cares upon him”(1 Peter 5:7) and that means letting go of anxiety, and placing it on God. I say this, having signally failed to put this into practise – but it is something I try to do, and, with God’s help, will get better at doing.
I have some thoughts, that I try to put into place of those anxiety driven ones. They are:
- I am loved by our Father
- I am a member of his Kingdom
- He provides for me, now and forever.
This passage talks about material things, and it is material things we often fixate on, hiding other problems. The things of this life are not that important, and Jesus teaches us that we are prioritising things incorrectly. First comes God and his Kingdom, while the things of this life lag behind. I need to leave it up to God to handle my life, and trust him. When I am anxious, I need to say “worry is pointless, everything is in the hands of the Father who loves me” and, one day, I will quiet forever the roiling anxiety that seems to make its home in my stomach. One day, with God.
- What are you anxious about? (youthstruggles.wordpress.com)
- 15 Days in the Word with John Piper – LET JESUS ARGUE WITH YOUR SOUL ABOUT BEING ANXIOUS (christlikeministriesnwa.wordpress.com)
- Look at the Birds and Realize How Much You Mean! (simplyjuliana.wordpress.com)
- I’m done thinking about anxiety.. (crescenttherapyandassessment.wordpress.com)
- 10 things Jesus wants you to know about worry and anxiety… (followingthetruth.com)
- How to Stop Coping With Anxiety & Start Living (psychcentral.com)