A man was constantly worrying that somebody was under his bed. He went to a counselor who was willing to help him but at a high fee, over many months. A few weeks later the counselor met the man on the street and asked him why he had not returned. The man replied, “I met a friend who gave me some great advice for free. It worked perfectly.” The counselor asked what advice had been given him, and the man replied, ‘He asked me to cut the legs of the bed down to ground level.”
Sometimes, conquering our worries is not quite so simple. Jesus is aware of worry’s omnipresence and gives us wise counsel.
Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)- 25 “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 than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 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? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 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—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
In verse 25, we are told, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.“ In verse 31, we read “So do not worry.”
Verse 34 adds, “Therefore do not worry.” Here’s a tip for you: When Jesus repeats a command 3 times in 10 verses,
you can believe He’s serious about it. And Jesus is serious about it, because it’s a serious issue.
Anxiety is part of the human experience, and leaders are especially prone to its disastrous effects. We not only carry our own burdens, but we are entrusted with the burdens of others. Jesus doesn’t provide the hypothetical, “If you happen to deal with anxiety…” Instead, He straightforwardly says, “Do not be anxious.” He is working from the assumption that anxiety is and has been a routine part of life since the fall of man.
Anxiety can be really specific or really broad. Jesus touches on both here in verses 25 and 31. “What am I going to wear, what am I going to eat, what are we going to drink? Those are really specific concerns. But He also says, “Don’t be worried about your life,” in verse 25 and “Do not be worried about tomorrow,” in verse 34, which demonstrates the much more broad and general concerns we may have. Sometimes, we’re anxious about specific what ifs:
What if that family leaves?
What if that volunteer is offended?
What if this sickness I’m feeling is actually a bad disease?
What if we don’t meet the budget this month?
What if I don’t accomplish all of these important tasks this week?
What if my relationship doesn’t work out?
And other times, our worried thoughts are much broader:
What if my life and ministry just doesn’t turn out how I want?
What if I don’t have what it takes to lead at a high level?
What if the future gets worse?
What if church changes so quickly that I’m no longer relevant?
What if I never find happiness?
Here, Jesus is talking about future-focused anxiety. “What if something bad happens in the coming days?” But anxiety also stems from the past and the present. Toward the past, it takes the form of regret or shame. “Why did I do that?” “Why did I say that?” “Why did I preach that?” “Why did that happen to me?” “Was that the right decision?” You see it with Peter after he denies Jesus. We are told that, “He went out and wept bitterly.” Peter’s present emotional state was defined by past-focused anxiety, and worry about something that he literally had no power to change.
There is also anxiety toward the present. It’s just a constant, nagging sense that something’s wrong. When someone texts and asks if you have a second to chat, you automatically go to the worst-case scenario. “He’s going to fire me.” “That family’s going to leave.” “I’ve offended them somehow.” “Something bad happened to the kids.” You are perpetually on pins-and-needles, wondering what’s about to break.
When we think about past, present, and future worries, Solomon’s words ring true: An anxious heart weighs a man down (Proverbs 12:25). Sometimes, this isn’t just mental or emotional heaviness. We feel it in our physical bodies. Jesus in the garden facing His crucifixion literally sweat blood. Luke 22:44- “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood.” We sometimes refer to physical anxiety as stress. Stress is our bodies responding to feeling out of control. It can lead to tightness, pain or pressure in the chest. Stress leads to ulcers, hypertension, heart attack, headaches, and weight gain. Almost every medical condition is made worse by stress.
So, anxiety is part of the human experience and has devastating consequences. So, why do we do it? Why don’t we just stop being anxious? Why can’t I take Jesus’ word to “not be anxious” at face value, say “yes and amen,” and then go on my merry way? Anxiety isn’t easy to quit, because it’s a symptom of a much deeper problem. Anxiety is a misguided search for security. Jesus hits this throughout his sermon:
Matthew 6:19- “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal….”
Matthew 6:26- “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?”
Barns and laid-up treasures are not just about luxury, they’re about security. Humans long for security. We want to feel safe and stable. We want answers to the unknown questions of what might happen tomorrow. But, we also know we live in a broken world. So, we look to all kinds of things to be there for us and to give us a certain sense of security that will quiet our nagging anxious thoughts. In this passage, He specifically mentions looking to money and finances to provide us with this sense of security. “If I just have enough. If my barns are full. Then I’ll know that I’m okay and I can handle whatever comes my way.” But, He also points at the hole in this security plan. It’s not secure enough. He mentions thieves, moth, and rust. If Jesus was talking to us, maybe He would have mentioned pandemics, inflation, high cost of living, fast-rising real estate prices, and supply chains problems that threaten to crash global economies. However, money isn’t the only place we look for security. We look to people and relationships, systems and structures, platforms and gifting. The problem is that none of these things are secure enough. People leave. Systems get outdated. Platforms can be canceled. Giftings can go unappreciated.
Here’s a difficult reality to accept: Anxiety is telling us a partial truth. We aren’t nearly as in control as we’d like to think. As Jesus says, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Moments of pronounced anxiety are just revealing what was always true.
We were never in control. But we know the One who is. You know there are days you can’t figure out how to boil water. God is actively feeding billions of birds around the world.
There are days you can’t microwave leftovers without setting off the smoke detector. Meanwhile, God is setting a daily feast for sparrows. You can trust Him.
Jesus isn’t asking us to turn our brains off, to be hopelessly and boundlessly optimistic or to stop being honest about the reality that we live in a broken world. Jesus is calling us to fix our eyes on the fact that God is at work in all of it. Yes, life is broken, AND God is working to put it all back together. Yes, the circumstances of life are outside of your control, AND God is always in control.
The key is found in verse 33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The cure to your anxiety is probably not what you think it is. It’s not a better job, more money, a more easy-going spouse, your guy in the White House, a clean bill of health, a bigger building, a new staff member, or a healthier budget. Once you get those things, you’ll find something else to be anxious about. The cure to anxiety is changing the focus from your kingdom to His kingdom.