Friday, January 30, 2009

Worried?

The economy is in a shambles. The country is at war. The powers that be are headed in the wrong direction. Money is tight. Jobs are disappearing. Many of us or our loved ones are sick or dying. Workload stress is increasing. The walls are closing in.

What is a believer to do? Our natural instinct is to worry. We become consumed with every problem, contemplating each worst-case scenario, wondering when things will get better, dreading the possibility that they won’t. Am I going to lose my job? Will she ever be healed? How are we going to pay the bills? Why can’t they just leave me alone? We look for the easiest and quickest way out. We become filled with anxiety. Just like the world.

But God has called us to be set apart from the world in every heart issue that confronts us, and anxiety certainly is a heart issue. How a believer deals with adversity should look very different from the way an unbeliever deals with adversity. The church of Christ should not plunge into worry and despair the way the world does.

Jesus tells us plainly in Matthew 6:25, “do not be anxious about your life.” I’m not going to read the entire passage from which this comes – you can read it here. But this is similar to the things we’ve looked at in Ephesians regarding sanctification. And although Jesus doesn’t use the same terminology, we can find in this passage something to put off, the reason for putting it off, and something to put on.

Obviously, Jesus intends for us to put off anxiety or worry. It may seem strange to think about, but we must come to terms with the fact that it is a sin to worry. Worrying is one of those “respectable sins” that many people joke about. We say things like, “I’m just a worrier,” as if it’s just like any other innocuous trait we have. But Christ commands us not to worry, as does Paul in Philippians 4:6. Therefore, if we do so, we are disobeying. We are sinning.

What is it that is so offensive to God about anxiety? Jesus tells us in Matthew 6. He gives two examples from nature that demonstrate the Father’s providential care. God feeds the birds and God clothes the flowers. He then says in v26, “Are you not of more value than they?” And in v30, “If God so clothes the grass of the field…will He not much more clothe you, o you of little faith?”

God is offended by our anxiety because it is a denial of or doubt about God’s love for us and His providential care for us. No matter what our concern, God knows all our needs (v32). He has withheld nothing from us, as is clear from the cross of Jesus Christ. He has already provided for the most profound need we will ever have, that is, our need for a Savior. Paul writes in Romans 8:32, He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? The God who provided the perfect sacrifice for our sins is surely able to provide for all our other needs.

Jesus gives another reason to put off worry: it doesn’t help. In v27 He says, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Worry accomplishes nothing. It only makes us focus on ourselves and it expresses our lack of faith in the God who saved us.

What then should we put on in its place? He tells us in v33: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. We replace worry with the work of the Kingdom and the desire for righteousness. What does that look like? If you are terminally ill or have a loved one who is, put off worrying about it and seek to find where in that situation there is kingdom work to be done. Ask the Lord, “How can I further your kingdom here?” Also, focus on how this crisis could be making you more like Christ that you might bear His righteousness.

If you’re financial situation is bleak, search for the opportunity to honor the Lord there. Ask the Lord to help you grow through that crisis so that when you come out on the other side, you will look more like Him.

Crises are opportunities. We get to choose what to make of them. We can either allow them to consume us, and fill us with anxiety and doubt about God’s provision, or we can see them as moments in which we can make much of Him and become a reflection of who He is.

This idea of crises as opportunities for the kingdom is reflected in Phil 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Not worrying doesn’t mean that we don’t pray about it. Rather, we make our requests known to Him, trusting Him to do what only He can do. But the key is that we do it with thanksgiving! What a dramatically different way to think about the troubles that face us. We are to thank the Lord for our trials, knowing that in them His kingdom can be served and our lives can be sanctified.

But what if God doesn’t answer the way we want? What if He delays in meeting our needs? What if things get worse before they get better? All the more reason to cling to Jesus words, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When His kingdom and your sanctification become the focus of your life, you may be surprised how much smaller all those trouble will seem.

If your sickness is not healed, a heart in you that is seeking the kingdom and His righteousness will be able proclaim with Paul, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil 1:21). If you have to live without some physical need, a heart in you that is seeking the kingdom and His righteousness will also be able to say, I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil 4:11-13).

Don’t worry. Christ is sufficient. Rest in Him. Seek His Kingdom and His righteousness. God is faithful. He will take care of His children.

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