This world is crazy, isn’t it? It is changing rapidly and it’s a little scary. Yesterday the government shut down. Our “normal” seems to hang in the balance, tossed about in the hands of a socialist leader. Meanwhile, we hear of other bad news, constantly bombarded with stories of violence and diseases and accidents, affecting strangers, as well as those we love dearly. We are constantly confronted with this fact: I control nothing in my life. This can cause some of us to worry. I heard this sermon yesterday and it seemed especially appropriate in light of the current climate of our country. I found it very helpful and I hope you will, too. It is based on Luke 12:22-34 and is by R.W. Glenn, pastor of Redeemer Bible Church. It’s fairly long, but please read through to the end, as he asks four questions that really get to the heart of why we worry.
The world is a dangerous place. Lots of things can happen. The present economy being what it is, you could lose your job. You could be mugged or raped. Your spouse could commit adultery. Or he or she could suddenly abandon you. Your teenage son could repudiate the faith. Your parents could die in a car accident. You could suffer a debilitating injury. You could contract a fatal illness. Your house could burn down. You could lose your life’s savings in bad investments.
And even less significant things could happen. Your car could fail to start. You could fail an exam. You could sprain your ankle. Your colleagues could misunderstand you. Your friend could break your favorite toy. Life is full of risks.
Along with the potential dangers, there are simply lots of things that need to get done. There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, and households to manage. There are quotas to meet and sales to close. There are meetings to give, budgets to meet, and moves to make. There are church, family, work, and personal responsibilities. There are vacations and weddings and socials and all manner of events to plan. There are sermons to prepare and Sunday school lessons to arrange. There is so much to do, and it seems, so little time in which to accomplish it.
And according to the ADAA, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, an estimated 19 million adult Americans suffer from what they call anxiety disorders, including…
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social phobia
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Sexual aversion disorder
- Sleep terror disorder
- Avoidant personality
- Persecutory delusions
- Panic disorder
- Paranoid schizophrenia
- Other specific phobias
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Nightmare disorder
- Paranoid personality
- Separation anxiety disorder2
And in the background of these clinical diagnoses are quietly running (or not so quietly) all kinds of fears…
- Fears for your safety and the safety of those you love.
- Fears about how you will die: a progressively debilitating disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, being alone, being penniless.
- Fears about what happens after death: being forgotten, being maligned, being judged, being extinct.
- Fears about living a meaningless life.
- Fears about being unloved or alone.
- Fears about being in love and the high probability of being hurt.
- Fears about what you might lose: your figure, boyfriend, girlfriend, hair, youth, mind, money, job, spouse, health, hobbies, purpose, faith.3
The point here is that anxiety is commonplace; Jesus assumes it and tells us that there are lots of reasons to worry. But then he heaps up six better reasons NOT to.
REASON #1: Your life is bigger than your worries – v. 23.
For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
This is what happens when you’re anxious: you blow up your worry out of proportion to its size. And it becomes so big that it crowds out and takes over your life. It becomes the thing you think about all the time:
- Your relational worries
- Your work performance worries
- Your personal appearance worries
- Your financial worries
What you worry about becomes the center of your life, but here Jesus reminds us of a truth we can take to the bank: YOU WERE MADE TO LIVE YOUR LIFE FOR SOMETHING BIGGER AND BETTER THAN WHAT YOU WORRY ABOUT.
“BUT,” you say, “I thought you just said that Jesus’ original audience wasn’t worrying about TRIVIA; their worries were a matter of life and death. So how is “your life is bigger than your worries” supposed to comfort me when I’m worrying about a life-and-death issue?”
- Jesus is talking about anything and everything you might worry about. By addressing life-and-death issues he’s including all the lesser worries leading up to it.
- When Jesus says that your life is bigger than your life-and-death worries, he’s saying something more than “In the grand scheme of things, your worry is not that big a deal.” INSTEAD, he’s saying a Christian’s life doesn’t end with this life. The timeline of your life extends BEYOND death to RESURRECTION life – the time when everything sad becomes untrue.
SO, “your life is bigger than your worries” is meant to remind you that your life is WAY BIGGER than even your life-and-death worries. After this life, you’ve got eternity to go!
So, reason #1 not to worry: Your life is bigger than your worries.
REASON #2: The Lord takes care of CROWS – v 24.
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
Crows are scavengers, the garbage men of the bird world, UNCLEAN birds according to the OT law – and yet God takes care of them. How much more are YOU.
REASON #3: Worrying accomplishes NOTHING – vv 25-26.
25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?
This is just a simple, logical reason. Do you ever really help your situation by worrying about it? No, of course not.
REASON #4: God puts clothes on the WEEDS – vv 27-28.
27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
This is similar logic to the logic of the crows: if he feeds crows, he’ll certainly take care of you. Only Jesus does one better. And you’re going to LOVE how David Powlison explains it…
This promise is far more than “God will take care of you.” This is “God will clothe you in nothing less than His radiant glory!” I promise you. “So why do you worry about the clothes you wear? I’ll dress you in My own glory! Why do you worry about your health? I’ll raise you from the dead to eternal life. Why do you worry about a few dollars? I’ll give you the whole earth as your inheritance. Why do you worry when someone doesn’t like you? I’ll make you live in the kingdom of My love!”4
So reason #4 – God clothes the WEEDS, and is going to clothe you with GLORY. So why worry.
REASON #5: Your loving father KNOWS what you need – v 30.
For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
And when your dad happens to be the ALMIGHTY, ALL-POWERFUL, SOVEREIGN GOD – you’re in good hands, aren’t you! And to say that he knows what you need means that he cares.
REASON #6: This is the most significant reason of ALL because “Jesus makes it as personal, intimate, and generous as possible.”5 YOUR LOVING FATHER IS HAPPY TO GIVE YOU THE KINGDOM – v 32.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Let’s break that down:
“Fear not” – It’s a comfort command. It’s a command, so worry is a sin; but more than that, Jesus is saying you don’t have to worry.
“Little flock” – The shepherd of a little flock knows every sheep by name – EVERY DETAIL. He knows your situation. How you feel. What you’re facing.
“Your Father’s” – This is your dad we’re talking about. If yours was terrible, invert his terribleness and multiply it by infinity! If yours was great, skip the inversion, and STILL multiply it by infinity!
“good pleasure” – You don’t have to twist your father’s arm AT ALL. He’s full ofgenerosity toward you. It’s the same word that Luke uses earlier in Ch 3 (the only other time in the Gospel of Luke this used) to describe the Father’s pleasure with Jesus.
“to give you” – This gift-giving language. The language of GRACE. He doesn’t pay you the kingdom. He gives it to you as a GIFT.
“the kingdom” – The kingdom is both a present and future reality. In the future, the kingdom is God’s RULE when everything sad becomes untrue. When everything is set right in the world. When you can finally EXHALE and REST. Nothing left to fear. ALL the monsters have been destroyed.
In the present, receiving the kingdom means experiencing something of that rest in the here and now. Your dad is the most powerful person in the universe and he has nothing but love for you. So he’s going to give you his peace and joy and rest TODAY. How do we know that? He’s given you the King – King Jesus! How will he not with King Jesus freely give you EVERYTHING – that peace, that rest?
So then, six reasons – better than your reasons to worry – six reasons NOT to worry:
- Your life is bigger than your worries.
- God feeds CROWS.
- Worrying accomplishes nothing!
- Your loving father knows what you need.
- God puts clothes on WEEDS.
- Your loving father is happy to give you the kingdom.
Those are some good reasons!
STILL, as encouraged as you may be right now, you may be wondering how it is that Jesus’ teaching on anxiety is better than what you can find outside the church (the case we’re making in this series).
Well, to address that, I want to walk you through four questions – questions to ask yourself and especially others – that I hope will help you see how RELEVANT Jesus’ teaching really is.
QUESTION #1: What specifically do you worry about?
This can be extremely helpful because when you are really anxious it seems like there are a million things going on inside you. “Anxieties feel endless and infinite – but they are [actually] finite and specific.”6
So what is it for you? Talk it over with a friend to help you identify it. The act of naming what it is will be massively helpful to you.
QUESTION #2: How specifically do you express your anxiety?
- Is it feelings of panic?
- Is it tightness in your throat?
- Is it through your dreams?
- Is it repetitive/obsessive thoughts?
- Is it anger (that’s a big one)?
- Is it depression (another big one)?
- Is it binging on Ben & Jerry’s?
- Is it taking the edge off with a few martinis?
- Is it cleaning your house?
- Is it headaches?
- Is it planning/strategizing?
- Is it through superstitions?
This is a helpful question because it will ALERT you to the fact that anxiety is driving you at that moment.
So, question #2: How do you specifically express your anxiety? What does it look like when you’re worried? How do you behave?
QUESTION #3: This is the KEY QUESTION because it not only allows you to move beyond the anxiety to what motivates it, but it is the key question also because it shows why Jesus is the TRUE ANSWER to our struggles with worry (a better prescription than anything or anyone out there.) Question #3 is: WHY are you anxious?
Here in our passage Jesus gives three underlying reasons – all of which I’m sure will resonate with your own experience.
1. Anxiety is a TREASURE issue – v 34.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Worry is what happens when what you value is threatened. Do you know what it is you value? You value what you worry about and you worry about what you value. I’ll say that again: you value what you worry about and you worry when what you value is threatened.
So if you want to find out what you really value, what makes you tick, what you’re ten fingers and ten toes are committed to, look to what makes you anxious. Fear is an inverted desire. If I’m afraid of being seen as an idiot, then I value being seen as intelligent. If I’m afraid of my job’s insecurity, then I value job security. And on and on. The point is that if you want to find out what you really value, identify what you worry about. You value what you worry about.
But you also worry when what you value is threatened. If I value my children’s welfare, then I worry when they are in danger. If I value my livelihood, then I worry when there are company layoffs. If I value my reputation, then I worry when people think ill of me. Again, we could go on and on. The point here is that you worry when what you value is threatened.
Now because Jesus is the only thing TRULY and ULTIMATELY worth valuing, and because he is completely unassailable, if you value Jesus Christ, can anyone take Jesus Christ from you? No. That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says look, money is a good way of seeing what you value – v 33.
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
It’s unassailable. Your anxiety is a treasure issue – it’s about what you VALUE. And because deep down you know that any treasure other than Jesus Christ is weak, powerless, failing and futile, OF COURSE you’re worried.
Anxiety isn’t just a treasure issue.
2. Anxiety is a KINGDOM issue – v 31.
Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
There are two kingdoms at war in every human being’s life – the kingdom of SELF and the kingdom of God. They are kingdoms in conflict.
If you could live perfectly for the right kingdom – the one ruled by King Jesus – you wouldn’t worry at all, ever because you know he’s got your life in his hands and promises ONLY to do good to you.
The worry comes because you are afraid that your will won’t be done, that you won’t get what you think you deserve. You’re afraid that somehow my project of building my own kingdom about me is threatened. So you worry…
- “Do I have any real friends?”
- “What if I don’t make the team? What if I forget my lines in the play? What if someone else gets picked for that committee?”
- “Will I ever find a husband or wife?”
- “If I do find one, will he or she be faithful to me?”
- “Will I be able to have kids?”
- “If I have kids, how will they turn out?”
- “What about my health? Some of my friends are dying of cancer. It’s painful. Is that going to be for me? Will I be able to have the strength to go through that? What if I get Alzheimer’s? The thought of ending my life not even able to recognize the people I love: what about that?”
On and on and on, your health, your money, your relationships, your achievements.7
But in the END, it’s all about ME – my wants, my needs, my desires. Worry is focused INWARD. It is self-protective and self-reliant. It chooses kingdom of self over the kingdom of God. This is why Jesus is the only answer to worry – you need a new king. Only Jesus is a king sufficient to take away your worries.
SO anxiety is a KINGDOM issue.
3. Jesus says anxiety is a FAITH issue – v 28.
But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
As Calvin has said, “Unbelief is the mother of every anxiety.” People who worry do not trust the true and living God. And in the absence of trusting God, we trust false gods. And, of course, this SHOULD make us anxious. Our false gods are powerless to help us when things go rough…because they’re not real. They are the figment of our imagination.
Oh, most of us don’t make dashboard idols that we give fruit and meats to – but we are idolaters nonetheless. The prophet Ezekiel talks about idols of the heart – the things we live for and long for – the things we seek above God – power, fame, sex, money, approval, intelligence, comfort, security – whatever.
Now whatever we live for other than God will only do two things: lower the boom or raise the bar (I owe this language to my friend Dick Kaufmann). If you fail to live up to the standard of your idol of choice, they lower the boom – make you feel terribly guilty so you’re always trying to live up to the standard your idol sets for you from fear of it lowering the boom. So you’re anxious!
On the other hand, if you DO live up to the standard of your idol, if you get what you crave, it only raises the bar. It says, “Not good enough. You need more.” And so you’re anxious, too, only this time, you’re not afraid as much you’re insecure. “Did I do enough?” When is enough, enough?”
But, of course, your idol of choice is simply yourself. We love to trust ourselves. And whenever you trust yourself, you cannot trust God at the same time. The moment your faith shifts from God to self, your faith in God lessens. It’s just the way it works. So when you worry, you are transferring your faith from God to self, and essentially telling God that you can run the universe better than he can, so you’ll take it from here!
No wonder you’re worried! Running the universe, with all its contingencies, is a BIG JOB.
But if you remember what Christ has done for you, if you trust that your Father’s good pleasure is to give you the kingdom, if you believe that you are valuable to God, then your worries begin to evaporate.
Anxiety is a FAITH issue. Trusting yourself is loaded with uncertainty and insecurity. Trusting God you can take to the BANK because he’s proved himself at the cross. He must love you and must be interested in what you’re going through, otherwise he wouldn’t have sent Jesus for you.
This is why the question “Why are you anxious?” is so important. Beneath your fears and worries are misplaced treasures, kingdoms in conflict, and unbelief in the gospel. No other strategy can get to the bottom of your anxiety.
NOT: (1) thoughtless optimism, a kind of carelessness. “Don’t worry. Be happy.” “Everything’s gonna be alright”; (2) logic and the statistical improbability of such-and-such a thing happening to you; (3) distraction – “You’ve gotta do something to get your mind off it.” (4) plan and scheme with the person to show them that they have things well enough under control; (5) tell them you’ll always be there for them (you won’t).
None of these things are real encouragements because none of them direct us to the gospel. Only Jesus is true treasure. Only Jesus is the true King. Only Jesus is trustworthy.
So then, question #3: Why specifically do you worry? What’s driving the bus for you?
QUESTION #4: What better reason has Jesus given you specifically not to worry?
Is it that your life is bigger than your worries? That you father feed CROWS or puts clothes on WEEDS? That your father knows (and cares about) what you need? Or is it that your loving Father is happy to give you the kingdom?
Some days it will be one of those. Some days it will be a combination. Some days it will be a couple of those. But what specifically are you bringing to bear?
What we need to do for each other is to make the connection of something specific in the gospel to something specific in others’ lives. We miss all the time! We are SO VAGUE. We just throw a verse out at a person! No wonder why people outside the church say that we don’t understand the nature of the human condition. We’re just throwing out a band-aid. You and I live our lives in DETAIL, in HD, so you and I need a gospel sensitive to the details – specific enough to make a difference.
So ask yourself and one another:
- What specifically are you worried about?
- How are the specific ways?
- How specifically is your anxiety expressing itself?
- Why specifically are you anxious?
- What better reason does Jesus give you specifically not to worry?
And as you do that, remember, above all, this GOOD WORD of JESUS: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Amen.