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“What do you regret when you look back on your life?” That’s what hundreds of older people were asked in a survey. The conductor of the survey was unprepared for the answer he so often received: “I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life worrying.” *
Main Scripture focus: Matthew 6:25-34
John Piper: One of the greatest things about Jesus is that he does not want his people to be anxious. The main point of today’s text is that God does not secure his kingship by cultivating anxiety. On the contrary, the aim of God’s kingship is to free us from anxiety.
First Reason not to worry: Worry cannot clothe or feed us
- There’s more to life than food and clothing
- God feeds the birds – and you are of more value than birds: because you are created in the image of God; because God gave the human race dominion over all the earth; and because God loved human beings so much that he gave his Son to die for our sins.
- Worry cannot add a single hour to your life.
- God clothes the flowers – and you are of more value than flowers.
- Your heavenly Father knows what you need.
- If you seek His kingdom first, He will take care of the rest.
- Tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day has its own trouble.
Jesus is saying: if God gave us life – the greater gift – is he then going to deny himself and his own methods by failing to see to it that life is sustained and enabled to continue? I need never be concerned that suddenly there will not be sufficient to keep this life of mine going. That will never happen to me; it is impossible. But note this: he is not arguing as to how this will be done; he is just saying that it will be.
Thankfulness for the Gift of Life
Martyn Lloyd Jones says ‘There is nothing of which this modern generation needs to be reminded so much as just this. The main trouble with most of us is that we have forgotten first principles, and especially this vital one that the things we enjoy in this life are the gift of God.’
I have a friend – a lady of around 80 years old who was widowed after a few years of marriage when she was a mother of a small girl. She has lived her life well, raising her daughter while pursuing a career in order to support her, and all the while refusing to be sorry for herself. She once told me that as soon as she wakens in the morning, she thanks the Lord for the new day, as a discipline to get herself into the right frame of mind. I think that is a wonderful example to follow.
The Birds of the Air
Jesus now moves from the general to the specific – the question of food and drink. ‘Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.’ God is not their Father. God is the Maker and the Creator and the Sustainer of everything in the world – yet Jesus says ‘your heavenly Father feeds them’. If our Father takes such care of the birds, how much greater must be his care for us. It is inconceivable that a man should provide sustenance for mere creatures and neglect his own children. How much more so our heavenly Father! He is our Creator, our Sustainer, but He is much more than that. He is our heavenly Father.
But not only is God my heavenly Father. I am His child. ‘Are you not of more value than they?’ Birds are created beings and their Creator is committed to looking after them. But we are not only created beings; we are made in the image of God; we have become His children through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. He is committed to taking care of us.
Worry cannot add an hour to your life
’And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?’ We want to do all we can to extend our life. Money cannot extend it; medical knowledge cannot extend it; science cannot extend it; good food, exercise and all the things we do to maintain life are good – but in the end of the day they cannot extend life one second longer than God has planned. Our times are in His hands. Life is a gift from God. He starts it and He determines the end of it. If that greater thing is in His control, I can leave the lesser to Him too.
The lilies of the field
‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’
Solomon’s riches were proverbial amongst the Jews. He had marvellous clothing, palaces of cedar wood, furniture overlaid with gold and encrusted with precious stones. The Queen of Sheba went to see it all for herself and said ‘Half the greatness of your wisdom was not told me; you surpass the report that I heard.’ II Chron 9:5&6.
But all of that, says Jesus, fades into insignificance compared to the flowers of the field. Think of a graceful orchid; a bright yellow sunflower; a simple daisy; a red rose. Sometimes when I walk in my garden and enjoy the flowers, I wonder why God created such variety. It was for His pleasure – and for ours. ’But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’
Flowers are here today and gone tomorrow. If God clothes them with such beauty, even though they are so transient, will He not much more clothe us? We are immortal. God ‘has set eternity in our hearts’. We, who are made in the image of God, have eternal souls which will live beyond death and the grave. The God who made me for that is not going to neglect my body while I am here in this life and this world.
Paul Tripp calls this the Gospel of Creation: When you’re struggling with anxiety, Jesus tells you to look around at creation. Embedded in the physical world are constant theological reminders that God doesn’t abandon the work of his hands. The birds of the air, the flowers of the field, and countless other living organisms point to the loving care of God…..You have reason to rest because creation preaches to you a gospel of divine faithfulness.
‘O you of little faith’ – the crux of the problem
Some of us have saving faith but we tend to stop at that. The real trouble with ‘little faith’ is that it does not think (Martin Lloyd Jones). Life throws something at us and we are overwhelmed, incapable of thinking, helpless and defeated. We need to think – think about what God says, what it means, behold the birds, consider the flowers, think about what they mean. When we worry, when we go round and round in circles about something, we are not thinking. Our thought is being controlled by worry.
Second Reason not to worry: Worry cannot care for us
‘For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.’ The Jews were God’s chosen people. They had been given the oracles of God, the special revelation of God and from them had come the Messiah. The Gentiles had none of this. The pagan view of life was therefore either that things which happen are accidental; or that what will be, will be. Sometimes we unwittingly hold to one or other of these views. Have you ever said or thought ‘What will be, will be’? Or something like ‘That’s just the way things are’?
The biblical view is that our times are in God’s hands. He is in control. He is sovereign. All of our days were written in his book before we were even born.
Sometimes we live with a right view of the gospel but with a wrong view of the rest of life. We live in essence like the heathen, worried about food and drink, consumed by the cares of this world. It is as of the gospel gets us eternal salvation, a home in heaven, but it has no bearing on how we live here and now.
Why shouldn’t we live like this? ‘Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.’ Your Father knows. He knows. And if He knows, He will take care of it. That’s it.
Like the children of Israel when they were journeying through the desert and God provided manna for them (Exodus 16). Each morning when they got up, there was manna on the ground and they went out and gathered it and made their food from it. There was enough for each day. What a beautiful picture of God’s daily provision – and of our need to trust Him.
Refuse to take the concerns of tomorrow. Refuse to take them on board. Replace them with the promises of God.
Paul Tripp calls this the Gospel of Family: Unlike the pagan Gentiles, Christians have a heavenly Father who willingly, faithfully, and eternally takes on the burden of our provision. It makes sense that pagans worry, because they don’t have the assurance of divine provision, but Christians shouldn’t be anxious. We have a Father who knows exactly what we need and is in the process of delivering exactly what we need, exactly when we need it, and in the exact location where we need it.
Replacing anxieties with the promises of God.
I do some biblical counselling and by far the single biggest problem which women come to me for help with is anxiety. I believe that one of the biggest lessons which Christian women need to learn is that our lives do not have to be ruled by our feelings. We have been given our emotions by God and they are a natural part of who we are. They often indicate to us when something is not right and we do well to listen to them. They can help point us to the cause of our anxiety or our anger or our fear. But we do not have to be ruled by our emotions. We must not allow anxiety to take the driver’s seat. We have a very powerful tool with which to combat the evil one. What did Jesus use in the temptations in the wilderness? He used the Word of God. Three times, He said to Satan, ‘It is written….’
So, too, when we are anxious, we start by recognising the lie which we are believing – and then we replace the lie with the truth of God’s Word. I cannot emphasise enough the power that we have at our disposal in using God’s Word in this way.
When I went through my own depression and I was at my lowest ebb, there were mornings when I could hardly face getting out of bed. All I could do on those mornings was recite to myself the verse ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. That got me out of bed. I kept reciting it while I had my shower, got myself dressed, got my two little girls up and got the day underway. It didn’t change my feelings right there and then – but it didn’t allow my feelings to rule my day.
Third Reason not to worry: Worry cannot advance God’s Kingdom
Seek first the kingdom
‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’ This is what we are to worry about, what we are to focus on, what we are to spend energy on: our relationship with our heavenly Father. ‘Seek’ carries the meaning of seeking earnestly, seeking intensely, living for it. And seek it first. Cf the Lord’s Prayer – Thy kingdom come before Give us this day our daily bread. And of course this reminds us of the story of Mary and Martha – ‘Mary has chosen the better part’.
Dr David Hawkins says ‘our fears offer the opportunity to explore what we place our trust in and how much we really trust Jesus to guide us through the storms of life.’
What these verses seem to be saying, therefore, is that when we worry we are forgetting that God is the King, He is in control, and we can trust Him with everything. We are taking the reins of our own lives, we are taking control, we are replacing God, we are becoming mini-gods of our own lives, seeking our own ends, striving for what we desire instead of trusting God to know and to do what is best for us.
Paul Tripp calls this the Gospel of Kingdom: The call to seek God’s kingdom is itself a grace, because it’s only when I seek God’s kingdom that I’m free from seeking my own. I don’t know if you’ve recognized this or not, but there’s a direct correlation between the kingdom of self and anxiety. Most, if not all, of your anxiety results when you’re attempting to sit on the throne of your life.
Each day has its own problems
‘Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.’ Why does Jesus add this? He wants us to see the power of anxiety. When we try to help someone who is worried about one specific thing, how often do they say ‘But what if….?’ Worry has an active imagination. It has tremendous power.
If the present is bad enough, Jesus says, why worry about the future? We are powerless to do anything about it. Its threatened catastrophes are imaginary.
And the result of worrying about the future is that we are crippled in the present. Every day has its problems. We must live every day in and of itself. The God who helps us today will be the same God who helps us tomorrow.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow Heb 13:8.
*Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University, founder and director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging, and author of “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans” and “30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage,” asked this question as part of Cornell University’s Legacy Project.