Week 8 - Learning to live without worry
Read: Matthew 6:19-24
So far we have explored the awful reality of the opposite to the Good and Beautiful life as described by Paul in Romans 1:18-32. We’ve looked closely at the good news that Jesus proclaimed and noted the centrality of the kingdom of God in the Gospel message, and we've thought about the grand invitation that Christ issues to enter this way of life in the here and now.
In this session we’re thinking about the fifth of a number of very practical ways in which we can live the good and beautiful life as we think about learning to live without worry.
What do you worry about? What are the things that keep you awake? What scenarios or situations do you fear? How secure are you in various aspects of your life?
If we’re human, the chances are we know all about what it is to worry. After-all there are so many things to worry about!
What will happen to my pension scheme?
Is my job safe?
Are my children / grandchildren safe?
What about my ongoing health?
The list of worries is endless….
Reflect: At the start of this session take some time, in private, to make note of any pressing worries – things or situations that you fear or that cause you concern. It might be worth writing these down and keeping hold of the piece of paper for later.
Worry in our society
Worry is usually linked to fear and fear is one of the primary narratives of contemporary western culture.
A brief glance through the daily headlines confirms it:
“Drinking water could be harzardous to health”
“ Eating bean sprouts increases chances of catching e-coli virus”
“Knife crime on the up in London”
“1 in 3 will have cancer”
And so on, and on, and on…headlines that promote fear and worry. It’s not just the newspapers, it’s on TV, it’s everywhere as fear and worry become entrenched. Only last week in our local Tesco I heard a parent say to their toddler “don’t touch that, it might be dangerous” the ‘that’ in question was a packet of tomatoes…
Here’s an interesting statistic from the USA: Between 1990 and 1998 the national murder rate in the US decreased by 20%, however in the same period the number of murder stories in the media increased by 600%.
Reflect: In what ways are you conscious of the culture of fear in the media? Can you identify it clearly or has it become so much a part of daily life that it’s difficult to identify? What effect does this have on you personally?
Why we worry…
There are many reasons why we worry – note the reason for worrying is not the same as the thing that we’re worrying about – generally it seems we worry because we think that by worrying we can somehow divert disaster or ensure that things don’t go wrong. We assume a narrative that says by worrying, we exert some level of control over the event or situation in question. In some cases we might even subconsciously find ourselves believing that our worrying has actually stopped an event or situation from arising.
When written down in black and white it seems a little silly doesn’t it. But the reality is that this is often exactly what we do.
“Do not worry” – Jesus of Nazareth
Before we go on to reflect on Jesus invitation to live a life without worry it’s worth differentiating between worry and caution. It’s fine to be cautious or careful and it’s ok for different people to exercise different levels of both of these. Worry however is not so good. Worry is a disproportionate level of concern based on an inappropriate measure of fear. Worry leads to anxiety and anxiety saps us of life.
Reflect: In Matthew chapter 6, verses 19-24 Jesus addresses the issue of worry, why not read this passage again and reflect on it as a group. What do you think Jesus is trying to say to his hearers?
In our reading Jesus says to his hearers, don’t worry about food and drink or clothes. He picks three of life’s essentials. Presumably he could have chosen any other number of essentials which would have made his point equally clearly.
So what does he mean exactly? In this teaching Jesus is taking another saying or proverb from his culture and drawing out a great reality of life from it. In Jesus day it was common to contrast the life of the birds of the air with the life of humans. The birds were seen as being carefree, without the problems of life and the burdens carried by human beings.
The birds of the air through hard work and diligence find provision, they find food, they exist – and as the old saying indicated, they manage to do it without worry. They don’t sow or reap but they are provided for. The provision doesn’t come as a result of them worrying.
In one sense the birds have more cause to worry because they neither sow now reap and so exercise no control over their source of food – but they don’t and they are still provided for.
The point – worry doesn’t ensure we’re provided for. Worry doesn’t add anything of value. So don’t worry.
Now Jesus is not saying, don’t worry because food will drop into your mouth from heaven and clothes will appear on your back. That would be stupid. He’s not saying don’t bother working for food, don’t bother sowing or reaping because God will provide – that’s not the case. But he’s is saying, to people who do sow and reap, and who do exercise some control over their environment and livelihood, be diligent, but don’t worry because worrying won’t make the food appear.
It’s really as simple as that.
Jesus is not saying ‘don’t worry because everything you need will fall into your lap.’
Jesus is saying ‘sow and reap and work hard for your provision, but don’t worry whilst you do because that doesn’t help.’
So that’s the first step in learning to live without worry – accepting that it doesn’t actually contribute anything positive to life and so is best done without. But it’s not as simple as this is it?
Even if we accept Jesus words, if we work hard, sow and reap etc, there are still things that are outside of our control and these may cause us to worry…
Earlier in the sermon on the mount Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God for their daily provision. They were to work for their bread, and at the same time acknowledge that all provision ultimately comes from God. Sometimes this seems like a paradox – but in reality it’s not. God is the source of all provision, it’s just that he’s chosen to provide it through the natural order which he has created. (just as an aside, this is no less spiritual than manna from heaven)
So, whilst working hard for provision, accepting that sometimes things are beyond our control, we are to turn our eyes to heaven and acknowledge the basic reality that all things come from God, and if we trust him then we have no cause to worry.
Living the kingdom…
It is at this point that we come face to face with the reality of the kingdom of God made known in life. In the context of worry, living the kingdom life means learning to face troubles (famine for some) and trials, not with anxiety but with trust.
A little later on in Matthews account of Jesus life and teaching we hear Jesus saying “Seek first the kingdom of God…”
When we worry – we are to seek first God’s kingdom.
What does this mean? Well on the most basic level it means making the reality and the principles of Gods kingdom our primary concern.
When we worry, if we seek God’s kingdom, we realize we live in a ‘safe place’ a place of provision, and a place where God is…and so worry becomes futile.
Reflect: How might making the reality and principles of Gods kingdom our primary concern help us to move away from a life of fear and worry? Looking back at the things written down in private earlier in the session, how might the reality and principles of the kingdom help us to lay down our worry over these things?
The kingdom is safe place and so life in the kingdom is safe…
Here’s the wonderful reality – our world is perfectly safe. We could lose a job, we might become ill, we might die…but these things do not harm those who live in the kingdom. If we die we step into glory. If we lose a job, we grow in trust in God, if we become ill we encounter Gods presence in a new way. These things are all difficult, testing, sometimes traumatic, but fundamentally they cannot harm us. Why? Because those who live in the kingdom live in close fellowship with God, and those who live close to God can be secure in the knowledge that nothing will separate us from his love. (Rom8:38-39)
Some words from the Apostle Paul…
As we round off this session let’s close with some words from Paul in his letter to the church in Phillipi
“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 passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil4:6-7)