DECEMBER 2nd, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
Dealing With Your Feelings PS 37:1-7/ Matthew 6:25-34
“WHAT? ME WORRY?”
Today we begin a four week series on “Dealing With Your Feelings”. Advent is a season of emotions, of anticipation and preparation, a time of wonder and reflection – or at least that's how it was once observed. Now it's more a season of stress, pressure and added worries. Just think of all the things we squeeze into our already busy schedules! I mean, who decided that during this month we ought to write a letter to far-flung friends and distant relations, or bake things we never bake any other time? I mean, fruitcake? What's with that? Just remember, you are what you eat!
Then there's the decorating, tree acquisition, putting up lights, shopping – possibly on black Friday, (talk about stress), as well as being exposed to an onslaught of commercialization... Then right in the middle of the madness, the kids are set loose from school for 2-4 weeks. So who came up with all these bright ideas anyway? No wonder we're overwhelmed and stressed out! What? Me Worry...?
Violet: What are you two standing here looking so worried about?
C.B.: We're afraid of the future.
Violet: Are you worried about anything in particular?
C.B.: Oh no, we're worried about everything!
Linus: Yes, our worrying is very broadminded.
Studies show that we are a people showing signs of stress and strain. Time, Newsweek and U.S. Report have all run articles on the growing tide of stress-related illnesses, including a disturbing trend for these “worrisome” symptoms increasing among our youth. Consider six-year-old Calvin...
Calvin: Sometimes at night I worry about things..., and then I can't fall asleep.
In the dark, it's easier to imagine awful possibilities that you'd never be prepared for. And it's hard to feel courageous in loose-fitting drowsy bear jammies.
Hobbes: That's why tigers sleep in the buff!
Hobbes always has such helpful input. Truth is, though, there's much to worry about. Job uncertainty is a major cause of worry in our area. Stats show that financial stress is at the heart of 70% of marital tension. Add to that our fear of terrorism, political polarization, global warming and the worldwide spread of epidemic diseases and most would agree, we have good cause to worry.
How then can we take seriously Jesus' words: “Don't worry about tomorrow”? (Matthew 6:34) Is that even possible – to not worry at all? What is Jesus trying to say?
Secular magazines today are filled with articles recommending all kinds of solutions, from breathing exercises, to aerobics, to punching a pillow, to sniffing a special blend of armpit. No kidding!
As appealing as these stress solutions may be, and I won't ask which of these options you find most appealing, they are temporary remedies at best. Like cough syrup, they treat the symptoms and not the cause. Jesus, on the other hand, with a deep love and concern for those who'd seek to follow his lead, offers a solution to treat the root cause of worry and stress. Unlike a detached doctor who treats a condition he or she has never suffered themselves, Jesus knows first hand the stress we face.
If anyone had cause to worry, Jesus did. He faced the pressures of day-to-day living with no regular source of income. He knew the pain of losing a dear friend, the lure of powerful temptations, the sting of personal rejection and the anguish of anticipating tremendous pain and anguish. He had good cause to worry when he told his friends, “Do not worry about these things...” (Matthew 6:31)
In his book, The Jesus Lifestyle, Nicky Gumbel cites a number of reasons why we should not worry. One, it is incompatible with faith. One cannot not worry and wholeheartedly trust in God at the same time. That's why in the midst of his teaching on worrying, Jesus asks, “Why do you have so little faith?” As one church sign puts it: 'Why pray when you can worry and take tranquilizers?'
Two, worrying lacks common sense. We know what worry does to us. It raises our heart rate and blood pressure, causes anxiety and triggers friction in relationships. Its even been proven to shorten life. Even presumptuous young Calvin understands this...
Calvin: I think people worry too much about little things. All they do is make themselves unhappy that way. Why get an ulcer over things that don't really matter?
Hobbes: Like the book report you're supposed to be writing right now on the book you haven't read.
Calvin: Exactly. Case in point.
Three, worry is a complete waste of time. As Winston Churchill said, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his death bed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.” (Winston Churchill)
Four, worry is illogical. Jesus' reference to the birds implies this truth. (cartoon: 'What's eatin' him?' 'I guess God doesn't take care of him like He does us.') Or as Mike Minion puts it: 'Don't worry about what I'm doing, worry about why you're worried about what I'm doing!'
Uh, yeah. Finally, Five, worry causes us to miss the point of life. Worrying about material things leads only to emptiness and pain. In the words of Elton John: “I had 40 years of pain and nothing to cling to. My career was a success but my life was pretty miserable.” (Elton John)
So during this season of stress and strain, how do we avoid the pitfalls of worrying? With so much on our minds and schedules, how do we apply Jesus' challenging words to our lives? What, then, is Jesus' worry-free solution? Three things Jesus would have you employ. First, embrace a more biblical perspective about what's important and what it is that God himself values.
“So I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your Heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:25-26)
Jesus was saying that we should be careful not to get so caught up in the externals of life that we lose sight of that which is eternal – your soul and its relationship to your soul provider – God!
After all, if anyone's on God's welfare plan its the birds. Think about it. A bird's life consists of flying around scavenging. They eat, they chirp, they drop little bombs on people's cars and yet even still, God takes care of them. And then Jesus points out, you, of course, are of far greater value to God.
Then he adds, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27) He's urging here a new perspective, a biblical worldview, in which we trust that God's got our back...
Jesus' first worry-free solution, then, is for you to gain a new perspective. Where, then, do you get your sense of worth? From your friends? From your parents? From your significant other? From your work? Or does your worth originate in God? You are of far more value to God than you realize!
Second, you can vastly reduce your stress level by praying more and worrying less. It's no coin-cidence that Jesus' teaching on living a worry-free life is sandwiched between his teachings on prayer. The apostle Paul picked up on in his letter to the church in Philippi: “Don't worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all that He's done.” (Philippians 4:6)
Many of us tend to approach prayer as life's panic button, praying as a last resort when all else fails, but we're encouraged in scripture to pray about everything. In the words of Rick Warren: “If a matter is not serious enough to pray about, then it is not serious enough to worry about; and if it is serious enough to pray about, and we have prayed about it, then there is no need to worry about it.” (Rick Warren)
Marianne Brown was a woman who had much to worry about. She had been born with congen-ital heart defect and was an easy target for assorted viruses and disorders. In addition to those concerns she was a mother of five. She was constantly stressed to the point of exhaustion.
One morning a neighbor dropped in, and over a cup of tea, Marianne poured out her troubles and worries. The friend admitted that she had no answers for Marianne but suggested that they pray together. So they did. There was nothing unusual nor dramatic about the prayer. Yet it seemed to relieve the tension, so they prayed again a few days later. Soon a small group formed....
Around that time their high school age daughter suffered a serious breakdown. Their small group gave them support thru the crisis and once again their prayers brought startling results. Their daughter's unexpectedly speedy recovery filled the Browns with gratitude to God and their friends.
One night, as they were closing with a circle of prayer, Marianne found herself slipping to her knees as deep feelings of gratitude to God for his nearness and goodness bubbled up and spilled into words that poured out of her in a torrent. In her own words, she later shared, “God's Spirit took over and seemed to immerse my whole being. I had been only half-living, because I had only been half-feeling. (I discovered in Jesus) every desire I had ever had was fulfilled.”
(from Catherine Marshall's Beyond Ourselves)
Nothing transforms life's worries more effectively than praise and prayer!
Jesus' third remedy to worry and stress is to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. That is, we need to change our priorities. Instead of offering God our leftovers we give him our all.
Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch woman whose family hid Jews in their home from the Nazi's, and spent the last couple of years of the war in a concentration camp, once said: “When I look at the world I get distracted. When I look at myself I get depressed but when I look at Jesus, I find rest.”
(Corrie Ten Boom)
I read a story of two missionaries, a husband and wife, who were serving a mission outpost in Laos in the 50's as tensions were rising that eventually led to the Viet Nam War. Ted and Ruth were forced to make a difficult decision. To assure their children's safety Ruth would take the children back to the states while Ted finished his work teaching the Bible and disciplining the new believers.
Ruth struggled with feelings of fear and resentment. She worried for her husband's safety and loathed the idea of her family being separated. She urged Ted to reconsider. Ted took Ruth's hands, smiled and replied, “You know, Ruth, the safest place in the world is in the will of God.” As it turned out, three months later God led Ted out just before soldiers raided their home and school.
We also live in a war zone, where the enemy is eager to invade our minds with thoughts of fear and worry, doubt and uncertainty. Jesus was not being unrealistic, or even idealistic, as he encouraged his followers not to worry but to trust in God as they sought out the kingdom of God first and before all else. Jesus offers us, in the midst of trying times to which he himself was no stranger, a new perspec-tive, a biblical view, in which our value is no longer based on what we do or what others think of us but purely based on what God thinks of us! And I pray you know what He thinks of you for He has invested all he's got, the blood of his only beloved son, in you and in your future!
So confidently bring your cares and concerns to Jesus in prayer, and leaving them there, may your heart and hands be free to pursue his person and his mission as your top priority, that with your focus firmly on him and his kingdom the worries of life may lose their hold and influence in your life.
“So don't worry about all these things..., (but rather) seek first the Kingdom of God above all else and to live righteously, and God will give you everything you need!” (Matthew 6:31, 33)
Because, after all, the safest place in the world is in the will of God!