“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:25-34 (Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount))
Perhaps these words are so familiar we lose their meaning or so hard they seem irrelevant to our lives. But I was raised as a good atheist and these words were part of the captivating lure that hooked me.
I used to be a great worrier and I took pride in my pessimism. If I had a test or a presentation within the next two weeks, I would stew about it and wish the day had passed. I also expected the worst, so I wouldn’t be disappointed. Or so I rationalized. I was afraid my hope would show. Not the best thing for a cynic.
So, as I stumbled over the Sermon on the Mount one day, Jesus’s words jumped out at me: “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” I had in fact been subtracting weeks from my life by wishing them away in worry. A double error, not only failing to add an hour but actually subtracting days from my limited span. Not that life is a bowl of Cheerios, since each day has trouble sufficient for the day, but worry about tomorrow not only doesn’t address tomorrow’s troubles, it distracts from today’s.
One author commenting on this text states that Jesus is telling us not to worry too much, especially about things we can’t control. I don’t hear “don’t worry too much” in this passage. Instead, I hear, “Don’t worry about your life, seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.” Is Jesus asking too much of us? Is it realistic not to worry?
In John 14:27, Jesus gives his disciples his peace. Is this peace as serenity that permits us to go through the world untouched by it? Jesus wept, he got angry, he became exasperated, not only with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, but also with his disciples, whom he would entrust with spreading the gospel. Despite his continuing and final rejection by friends and foes, Jesus doesn’t seem to have worried, rather he committed all to the Father. (E.g., Luke 23:46)
To the extent we worry, we lose the peace of Jesus. I try to remember Jesus’s words to his disciples in John’s Gospel before his priestly prayer: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33) You will have trouble, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.
Our peace and absence of worry lie not in our own efforts but in the sovereign power of a gracious and loving God. And his power relates not just to food, drink, and clothes, but all of life: your children, your infirm parents, your boss, your ambitious coworker, your illness, all of our daily trials. Everything is subject to God’s sovereign will and he loves us. If that is what we believe in our heart, worry will seem silly. We need to address and deal with today’s troubles as best we can, and at day’s end leave them to God in prayer and rest knowing that he will work them out, one way or another, in his own time, for our good. We are to cast all our anxiety on God, because he cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22)
As the Apostle Paul advises us: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
There is a simple way I try to remember this. For the Israelites, the day began at sunset, not morning. From this perspective, at day’s start we usually stop our struggles and sleep. God picks up the loose ends we have left and prayed about and works during the night to tie them up. We awake and the day is half over and in God’s hands. We pick up things already in process. We may have trouble and the answer we seek may not arrive that day but worrying is silly since our circumstances are in the hands of our loving God. This is indeed a day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of your Son who is our hope and peace. Empower us by your Spirit to drop our worries and grasp your gospel. Let us apply it in our daily lives encouraged by Jesus’s victory over the world and the troubles we face. In Jesus’s holy name, we pray. Amen.
(All scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)