For decades well-intentioned Christians have promoted the myth that when a person becomes a Christian his troubles will immediately vanish. "Come to Jesus" they say, "and your life will be easy, rosy, happy, and problem free." "Come to Jesus" they say, "and all your financial woes will disappear." "Come to Jesus and your health problems will fade away." "Come to Jesus and your circumstances will immediately begin working in your favor." "Come to Jesus and all your negatives will become positives." "Come to Jesus and all your struggles, frustrations, and difficulties will be erased."
Christians aren't exempt from life's troubles.
We tend to forget what Jesus said in John 16:33 (NIV). "In this world you will have trouble." With these words I believe that Jesus was telling us to avoid a naïve kind of Christianity where we condition our faith purely on our circumstances. Life is tough. Life is full of hassles and inconveniences and problems and many griefs. As Christians, as believers, as followers of Christ, we aren't exempt from these troubles.
Sometimes even as we live in obedience to Christ, our circumstances may grow worse. Sometimes even though we make the right choices, things may still fall apart. Sometimes even though we love our families, those we love may betray us. Throughout life troubles will persist. Eventually all of us, despite our love for God and despite our faith, will grow weak, become ill, and die. Life is anything but a smooth ride. The terrain of life is rough. There are unexpected twists and turns, bumps and potholes, detours and treacherous disruptions.
Jesus is a realist. He calls life as it really is. "In this world you will have trouble." But notice Jesus' last words in John 16:33 (NIV). He makes a startling statement. "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Did you hear it? "But take heart! I have overcome the world." Jesus doesn't promise his followers a problem-free life. Instead he provides us with a means of victory through which we can triumph over our troubles. Your present crisis, whether it be a health crisis, marriage crisis, family crisis, financial crisis, or job crisis, isn't the definitive or final word. In essence, Jesus tells us, "Don't lose sleep. Don't worry. Put your trust in me. No mountain is too high, no sea is too deep, no trouble is so impossible." "But take heart! I have overcome the world!"
How do we rest in Christ's victory?
The issue for us this morning is how do we rest in Christ's victory? How do we let go of all the pent-up anxiety and worry we are experiencing? How do we let go and take heart and truly walk by faith, trusting in the one who has overcome our troubles?
Before we go further I want to talk a moment about worry. Worry is our most natural response to the troubles we encounter throughout life. Worry is something we do with our minds. It is a self-destructive thought process.
The Webster's Dictionary defines worry with a whole string of phrases. To worry is to choke or strangle. To worry is to harass by tearing or biting. To worry is to touch or disturb something repeatedly. To worry is to change the position of, or adjust by repeated pushing or hauling. To worry is to assail with a rough or aggressive attack or treatment, to torment! To worry is to subject a thing to persistent, nagging attention. To worry is to afflict with mental distress or agitation. In summary, worry is nothing less than mental self-torment!
Every so often our dogs will get hold of a pair of my socks. First they carry the socks off into a private place, out of our line of sight. Then they sink their teeth into them, trying to get the best hold possible. Then they get vocal and begin snarling at each other. They drool, rip, pull, growl, tug, and fight back and forth. And then inevitably, you hear it. RRRRiiiiiiiipppppp! They tear the sock into two parts. But the fun is just beginning. They persist to chew and gnaw on the sock until it either gets digested or until there is nothing left but yarn.
When we worry, we do to our minds what my dogs do to my socks. Worry disrupts our thinking, it consumes our thoughts, and it chokes out God's Spirit. Worry pesters the mind. It agitates, it disturbs, it wrestles, it needles, and it distorts reality. Worry keeps us from functioning as we should. It keeps us from trusting God. As one man said, "Wrestling with worry is like wrestling with an octopus." The entanglements of worry are hard to ignore and are extremely difficult to break free from.
This morning virtually everyone here came with his or her own set of worries. Your worries are consuming your thoughts even now as I speak. They are the same thoughts that were on your mind when you went to sleep last night. They are the same thoughts that were with you when you woke up this morning. And they are the same thoughts that will continue to nag you throughout the day.
Right now your mind is racing through all the possibilities and scenarios. The "what ifs." You're wondering how things are going to play themselves out. Will I be laid off? Will I have enough money at the end of the month? What will the medical tests show? What will my parents think when they find out? What grade did I get on the last test? When will I find time to finish that project?
As we turn to Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus takes on our worries and our troubles. He literally commands us to stop worrying about things. But he does more than that. He equips us to do so by offering us four perspectives. There are four perspectives that will silence our worries.
The perspective of life silences our worries.
In Matthew 6:25 (NIV) Jesus says, "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 important than food, and the body more important than clothes?"
A few years ago I attended the visitation of a fellow pastor and friend named Stan Rodda. Stan was just 41 years old when he returned to the church office from school one day. As he sat down at his desk, an enormous pain spread over his entire body. He grabbed the phone and called 911 and said, "I need an ambulance. I feel worse than I ever have in my whole life." Within moments his heart had completely failed because one of his heart valves had completely exploded. He slipped into a coma from which he never recovered. He left a wife and three kids behind.
If you were Stan or if you were Stan's wife, would your worries still be important? In his last moments I'm sure that Stan wasn't thinking about getting up a sermon for the weekend, or about what kind of grade he was getting in Hebrew. And Stan's wife, upon hearing of his death, didn't think, "How will I raise the kids?" Or, "How will I pay the bills?" Or, "When will the church make me move out of the parsonage? Or, "When will I finish that special project at work?" All these worries disappeared as she prayed for the very life of her husband.
You see, we have a tendency to focus on the less important instead of on the most important. Life is infinitely more important than anything else we have to do in this world. Life is more important than clothes, food, house payments, cars, and our keepsakes. Life is more important than our appearance, our weight, or the amount of hair on our heads. Life is more important than our hobbies, school work, recreation needs, and job title. Life is more important than our outstanding debt, retirement plans, and so on.
Reflecting on the gift of life has a way of silencing our worries. Jesus asks, "Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?"
Sometimes we just need to pull back and look at our worries in light of the perspective of life. Have we so exaggerated the importance of something that it has come to mean everything? Does this thing we worry so much about really mean that much in light of the value of our very life or the life of a loved one? In Matthew 6, Jesus offers another perspective in addition to the perspective of life.
The perspective of productivity silences our worries.
In Matthew 6:26-27 (NIV) Jesus says, "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? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"
Jesus' question is most relevant to our lives. Does worry add to our lives? A few years back the Harvard Business Review published a revealing statistic that said sixty to ninety percent of all medical office visits are stress-related! From a medical standpoint it has been proven that the stress of worry steals life.
Worry generates stress, which in turns weakens our bodies. Worry makes us more susceptible to illness and puts us at greater risk for disease. Worry is the primary cause of headaches, back aches, sleep disorders, breathing trouble, bladder problems, mental breakdowns, and psychological disorders. Worry is a source of memory loss. It makes us jumpy and easily startled. Worry can dramatically impact our moods, making us irritable and cranky.
Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I find myself worrying about things. When I worry my short term memory gets shorter and I find it hard to remember important details, like someone's name or a date. Recently as I was driving down to the hospital, my mind was racing through all sorts of things. I was worried about the health of the person I was about to visit. I was rehearsing my schedule. I was thinking about my to-do list. All of a sudden I noticed a car racing toward the intersection that I was about to cross. As I slammed on my brakes, I looked up and noticed that the light was red. It was a close call. In that case my worry almost caused a serious accident that could have cost someone their life. It was more than an important lesson for me.
Jesus asks a good question. "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" In terms of productivity, worry doesn't help us gain a thing. It doesn't improve our circumstances. It doesn't improve our health. Worry doesn't change our children's behavior. It doesn't pay the bills. Worry doesn't put food on the table. It doesn't put clothes on our backs. If anything, worry takes away from our life instead of adding to it.
Worry is one of the most unproductive things we can do in life, which is why we do it. It is easier to worry than to take action and solve a problem. It is easier to passively fret about an issue than to roll up our sleeves and resolve it. Worry has absolutely no practical value to us. It is an unproductive waste of time. From the perspective of life, life is more important than any worry we have. From the perspective of productivity, worry is a life-shortening waste of time.
The perspective of faith silences our worries.
In Matthew 6:28-32 (NIV) Jesus continues, "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 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, O you of little faith?" So do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them."
There is a story about a young lady who brought her fiancé home to meet her parents. As the young lady enthusiastically introduced her fiancé to her mother, the mother looked the fellow over and began worrying. How would they cover their financial needs? Who would be paying the bills? Could this bum hold a job and see to the couple's needs?
Needing an answer, the mother pulled the father into the kitchen and instructed him to find out more about their daughter's fiancé. And so the father invites the young man into the backyard, where he begins drilling the boy. "So what are your plans?", the father asks. "I am a Bible scholar," replies the fiancé.
"A Bible scholar. Hmmm," the father says, "Very admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter to live in? As she's been accustomed to?" "I will study," the young man replies, "and God will provide for us." "And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring such as she deserves?" asks the father. "I will concentrate on my studies," the young man replies, "and God will provide for us." "And children?" asks the father. "How will you support children?" "Don't worry, sir, that too God will provide," replies the fiancé.
The conversation proceeds like this and each time the father questions, the young idealist just insists that God will provide. Later on that night the curious mother asks, "How did it go, honey?" The father answers, "Well, he has no job and no plans. But the good news is, he thinks I'm God!"
In Matthew 6:28-32, Jesus raises the question of faith and he points out that our heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask him. If God is willing to take care of the lilies and the grass and the birds of the air, then how much more would he be willing to take care of all our needs? Back in Matthew 5:45 (NIV) Jesus says, "He (God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."
Throughout scripture God has promised to take care of all of our needs. Often our biggest difficulty is distinguishing between needs and wants.
Distinguishing between needs and wants.
A student in the seminary recently returned to his home in South Africa. During his seminary stay his home has been ravaged by civil war and political unrest. Before that, Danny and his family had lived in America four to five years. Along with their daughter, they'd grown accustomed to America's luxuries, things like electricity, running water, clean water, fast food, paved roads, insect control, carpeted homes, homes in general, transportation, and police and fire protection. When they arrived back in Africa, Danny's daughter had to use the restroom. Unfortunately, the toilet she had to use didn't have a lid and it could only be flushed once a day. It was extremely dirty and it had a horrific odor. His daughter immediately began crying, "No, no, I won't go."
An elderly woman native to his country sternly scolded the girl. "You get that American junk out of here. It ain't like that here."
When it comes to our needs, God asks that we simply trust him to provide. Are you worried about your house payment? Your house is a castle to most of the world! Don't have any money? You can pick up change off the street or collect cans and be richer than most people throughout the world. Worried about gas prices? Most people don't have transportation or roads! God has already met all of our needs. He has been faithful to his promise.
I was extremely challenged by the words of George Muller in a Christianity Today article. "The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety." God wants us to trust him with our worries. He wants us to let go and have faith.
The perspective of life, the perspective of productivity, and the perspective of faith changes everything when it comes to worry.
The perspective of God's kingdom silences our worries.
In Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV) Jesus says, "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
In light of God's eternal kingdom, is there anything we should worry about? Worry is something for the earth-centered mind, not the kingdom-centered mind. The earth-centered mind thinks that this world is all there is and desperately worries whenever things get out of balance. The earth-centered mind magnifies its problems one thousand times bigger than they really are. It confuses wants with needs and distorts reality. The earth-centered mind has settled down its roots and is banking everything on this life.
In contrast, the kingdom-centered mind realizes the truth of Jesus' words in John 16:33 (NIV), "In this world you will have trouble." The kingdom-centered mind realizes that what we see and experience in this life is only but a fraction of reality. There is so much more in store for us. The kingdom-centered mind looks forward to the day when according to Revelation 21:4 (NIV),"He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Worry focuses our hearts and minds toward earth. Faith focuses our hearts and minds toward heaven.
God's purpose for our lives is that we direct our faith toward God. We are to trust him always, in every circumstance, regardless of the troubles we face. The perspective of life reveals the things that we should no longer worry about. The perspective of productivity reveals those things that we should take action to resolve. The perspective of faith clarifies the difference between needs and wants and insists that God is actively working to meet all our needs. The perspective of God's kingdom reminds us that this world is not our home. God is preparing our hearts for eternity. Now is the time to trust in Christ.
Not long before his death Henri Nouwen wrote a book called Sabbatical Journeys. He wrote about some friends of his who were trapeze artists. They were known as the Flying Roudellas. They told Nouwen that there is a special relationship between the flyer and catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one that lets go; the catcher is the one that catches. As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go. He arcs out into the air. His job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air.
One of the Flying Roudellas told Nouwen, "The flyer must never try to catch the catcher. The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him, but he must wait." This morning it's time for all of us to let go of our worries. As we do, let us wait in absolute trust. God will catch us. He is trustworthy. Our worries are not too big for him. He is a great and powerful God who cares for us deeply.
Let us walk by faith, in full confidence. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."