As the Coronavirus infection spreads exponentially, unemployment skyrockets, markets plummet, and the pandemic-driven quarantine drags on, many people are understandably anxious. So Jesus’ words about worry in The Sermon on the Mount are as relevant today as the day they were first spoken.
Jesus reminds us, though anxious thoughts and emotions may arise – even several times a day – we are not hapless or helpless victims. We don’t have to give in to either worry itself or fear mongering. We can fight back and find inner peace. We’ll unpack this path to victory with four questions.
1. What are you worried about?
Jesus’ practical wisdom highlights the fact that our anxiety comes from two primary sources: 1) the tenuous nature of material things, and 2) the uncertainty of the future.
It’s unnerving when we discover the fragility of the things we’ve built our peace and happiness on – to see them slipping through our fingers like grains of sand. It’s troubling when our false sense of security is exposed and we realize just how little we know – let alone control – the future.
Right now, we’re recognizing en masse that our jobs/careers are tenuous, our financial stability is tenuous, our schedules/plans are tenuous, our health is tenuous, our freedoms are tenuous, even our physical lives are tenuous. All these things are flimsy, unreliable, brittle. And the mere threat of them failing us causes anxiety.
2. Why does that bother you?
Why can’t we just be like, “Okay, so life is tenuous, which means I don’t really control a lot of the things I think I control, and I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m okay with that”?
I mean, we believe in God, right? We even believe he’s sovereign! We believe he’s in control. We believe he’s got a plan. So why are we so anxious about tomorrow?
The answer is because we don’t trust God to get it right.
We have our own plans about how things ought to go, and we’re afraid God isn’t going to stick to our script. How are we ever going to have the life we planned if God takes away our money, our job, or our health? What if God doesn’t see things our way? What if he messes stuff up?
3. What’s wrong with worry?
Theologically, we’ve just teased out the biggest problem: Worry is the failure to let God be God. Worry is actually a proud response because it assumes we know better than God how things ought to go. And it’s an unbelieving response because it refuses to trust and rest in God with the details of our lives.
But beyond this massive problem, Jesus shares four practical problems with worry – i.e., why worry just makes no sense in the grand scheme of things.
First, worry usually fails to account for the most important parts of your life.
Jesus says it like this, v. 25 – “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Your life – that is, your true self – includes your body and your biology, but it’s much more than just the physical/material world. There is also a metaphysical/spiritual part of you that matters deeply to God, no matter what happens to your physical things. We usually forget that when we worry.
Second, worry doesn’t change anything.
Jesus asks in v. 27 – “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
His point isn’t that you shouldn’t plan or prepare for the future. It’s that worry, in and of itself, is utterly unproductive – even counterproductive. It doesn’t alter the circumstance you’re worried about, except to make it worse.
Third, worry is a characteristic of pagans and orphans.
Jesus explains, v. 31-32 – “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
When you worry, you’re acting like someone who doesn’t believe in God or who doesn’t have a Father to take care of them. You’re dismissing the privileges of salvation and adoption, functionally behaving as if your only option is to fend for yourself.
Fourth, worry borrows trouble from tomorrow.
Jesus says, v. 34, “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Worry doubles your trouble because it takes a whole bunch of possible/potential pain from tomorrow and imports it as real pain today. There is no end of worry for the person who chooses to think this way.
4. What’s the solution?
The key lies in the two positive imperatives Jesus shares: “look/consider” and “seek.”
First, meditate on the gracious provision of God.
V. 26, 28-30 are an invitation to contemplate the way God provides for other, lesser parts of creation, like birds and flowers. If God knows how to provide for them, how much more will he care for those who are fashioned in his image?
By the way, the greatest and most gracious provision of God has already been made. He gave you His Son, Jesus. Why? To forgive your sins, to heal all your brokenness, and to reconcile you to himself forever! As Romans 8:32 reminds us, if God has already given the most costly, most necessary, most extravagant gift, for our salvation, how much more can we trust him with our safety and satisfaction?
Finally, focus on and pursue the way of Jesus.
So much of our anxiety is due to the fact that we’re seeking our own kingdom . . . and it’s slipping away. A microscopic virus has brought the entire world to its knees. Our lack of sovereignty and control has been exposed.
But what if all along you’ve been focused on building God’s kingdom? What if your prayer was something like, “Lord, I want to experience your reign and your righteousness in sickness and in health. In poverty and in plenty. In employment and unemployment. In success and in failure. In good times and in bad. In life and in death. Come what may, Jesus, I seek you; I treasure you.”
If your life was really all about worshiping and enjoying Christ, about seeing his reign and his righteousness exalted in the earth, then nothing could shake you. Every anxiety you could possibly bring to Jesus would be answered by his all-sufficiency. For example:
- Finances: You stand to inherit the riches of Christ.
- Job: Your identity is who you are, not what you do.
- No control: I’m in control.
- Uncertainty over future: I’ve already been there and I win.
- Health: My strength is made perfect in your weakness.
- Death: I AM the Resurrection and the Life.
So the solution to anxiety isn’t to deny that your fears are real. It is to shift from building your identity, your hopes and dreams, your sense of peace and happiness, on things that are passing away to building on Christ, your rock and salvation.
In the end, he’ll not only get it right, he’ll give you everything you would’ve asked for if you knew everything he knows.