What’s worrying you today?

Is it your health? Your finances? Your family? Jesus knows our frailties, says Elizabeth Rundle, and he outlined a complete antidote to worry for us

“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?

“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? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour 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. 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” (Matthew 6:25-34).

It sounds as though the disciples had been fussing! These 12 men had taken a momentous step to become disciples of Jesus, relinquishing their jobs and walking away from their homes. Is it any wonder that the enormity of what they had done was causing them anxiety? After all, which of us, after taking a life-changing decision, has not wrestled with those niggling doubts when the first burst of enthusiasm has subsided?

Maybe it had dawned on Peter, James, Matthew and the others that life as an itinerant disciple was not quite as rosy as they had expected and, at times, seemed full of uncertainties and insecurity.

Sometimes they were a long way from the nearest village and food supply (“This is a remote place . . .” Matthew 14:15). What on earth were they going to eat? They were moving around the countryside – their clothes wouldn’t last forever – they would need ‘better’ garments for going up to Jerusalem, and leather boots for winter . . . All these valid concerns were evidently sprinkled through their conversations.
Jesus heard their worries and knew that his men, just like us, could win medals in the art of worrying. So, when he went up on the mountainside and sat down to deliver the famous teaching that we call the Sermon on the Mount, he incorporated a special word for the worriers.

Over the past two decades, I’ve visited the Holy Land in several different seasons, and it has been marvellous to sample the variety of weather and scenery with which our Lord would have been familiar. Until very recently, however, I’d never been in Galilee in February.

Wild flowers dotted the landscape in multicoloured clumps of yellow mustard, scarlet anemones, white daisies, violet Maltese Cross flowers and wild irises mingled with many other indigenous plants. It made me think that perhaps it was early spring when Jesus gave this teaching. Seated on the hill in warm sunshine overlooking the Sea of Galilee and surrounded by a glorious natural carpet, he used “the lilies of the field” as the perfect visual aid (Matthew 28-29).

I’m no botanical expert, but I know enough to recognise the exquisite beauty of petals and scent, the precision of flowering and reproduction, and the potential for each seed to burst into new life. I’m no ‘twitcher’, but I love to watch the swallows constructing their nest with only a beak and two little feet. Their instinctive ingenuity and skill leave me spellbound.
Jesus used those simple sights, which are common the world over, to open his disciples’ eyes of faith. If God has created the birds and flowers with such loving care, how much more will he provide and care for us?!

In the context of life and death, peace and war, hunger and thirst, clothes would come under the heading of ‘trivia’. The disciples did not need to be overly concerned about such matters.

Sadly, most of us know people about whom it can be said, “If they haven’t got anything to worry about, they have to find something.” Worry grabs us all at some point in our lives; we worry over health, children, parents, finances, work, weather conditions . . . - the list has no end. We cannot help being concerned for those we love, but when worry takes a stranglehold on our lives it destroys our capacity to live in the present moment. Worry can become literally disabling and, when it takes such a hold, then God is pushed away.

The disciples had food and they were clothed, but they were projecting their worries into the future. Too much focus on the future, and what might go wrong in it, can taint our gratitude of the present.

Jesus not only asked, “Why do you worry . . .?” He offered a framework of seven ways to counteract worry. Remember the importance in Scripture of the number seven, standing for completeness. Jesus outlined the complete antidote to worry, although I suspect that the disciples were as frail as we are when it came to letting go of their concerns. Jesus probably repeated this teaching on many occasions, and Matthew memorised his Lord’s words. Our grateful thanks go to him for enabling us, two millennia later, to read the words of Jesus addressing our worries today.

How to tackle worries

1 Sort out your priorities (v 25). What is really important to you? When people are recovering from serious illness, they often comment that the experience has given them a new perspective on life. It is all too easy to lose such perspective in the bustle of the everyday world.
2 Look at God’s creation (v 26). Think of yourself as God’s beloved creation also, part of his great design. Consider how you were formed in the womb, and remember the people who have been part of your life. How miraculous it is that God loves us so much that even the hairs on our head are numbered! (Matthew 10:30).
3 Remember that worrying does not alter our situation (v 27). It has no effect on external events, but has a calamitous effect upon our inner reserves of patience, strength and ability to cope. Jesus spared no punches: worrying was, and is, a useless preoccupation. Life is too short to waste time on it.
4 Think of King Solomon (vv 28-30). With all his vast wealth, he could clothe himself like no-one else, but he had nothing to compare with God’s colours and designs. How arrogant to think that we can better God, who created us, who loves us with an everlasting love, who will never abandon us!
5 Believe that all of life is in our heavenly Father’s hands (vv. 21-32). When I read these verses, I feel that Jesus is saying to me, “Yes, everybody in the world worries but, if you believe in me, you should know better.” When we enter into a relationship with the living Son of God, life’s problems don’t suddenly disappear but, as someone once said, we realise that “faith is putting your hand out in the darkness and finding it held”.
6 Put first things first (v 33). The prophet Micah wrote, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8). Jesus gave the prophet’s words his own emphasis: “Seek first his kingdom . . .” Instead of worrying in our own strength, we need to concentrate on living by the principles of the kingdom of heaven – justice, mercy, peace. Giving these values prime position in our life, in our attitude and dealings with others, will take a supreme effort if our worries are to take a back seat.
7 Take one day at a time (v.34). There is no virtue in overload and no advantage in trying to second-guess tomorrow. After all, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday! There is an old hymn by Edward Joy that I remember from my childhood: “All your anxiety, all your care, bring to the mercy-seat, leave it there.”

“Why do you worry?” Let these words penetrate your heart and mind. Imagine that Jesus is asking you, “Why do you worry?” Why do you? Give him your reasons. Then take Jesus at his word, and meditate on this promise from Psalm 55:22: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.” Leave those cares and worries with him; don’t pick them up again and trudge on heavily through the day.

Lord, I bring to you all the cares and concerns that weigh me down. Fill me, I pray, with your peace, the peace that no-one else can give.

* This article is reproduced with permission from Twenty Questions Jesus Asked, by Elizabeth Rundle. BRF ISBN 978 184 101 5682 £6.99