Don't Worry, Be Happy
Remember that song? Or how about the one from Disney's The Lion King? "It means no worries for the rest of your days; it's our problem-free philosophy, hakuna matata!" Even though both of those songs were at one time very popular, we still live in what is being called the "Age of Anxiety." Apparently, the problem of worry is not unique to our generation or Jesus never would have devoted a large section to this issue in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:25-34). And in the Parable of the Sower, He identified "the worries of the world" (Mark 4:19) as thorns which choke out the life of the word of God.
That's where we get our word worry. It comes from an Old English term that means "to strangle." The Greek word paints a picture of a mind torn in two directions, one that is divided and distracted. It seems logical that Jesus would address His concerns for worry after saying that "no man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24). If you're occupied with worrying, how can you be working for the Master?
Before we are too quick to sympathize with Jesus' audience, notice that the things we worry about are completely different than what they were worrying about. Jesus told them, "do not worry, then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?'" This kind of worry about food is not having to decide between Mexican or Italian. Nor does the concern for clothing have to do with being uncertain whether to wear brown shoes or black shoes with your outfit. These people were worried about having any food to put on the table or even a stitch of clothes to put on their backs. In other words, what they worried about make our concerns pale into insignificance. And if Jesus had to get on them for worrying about the necessities of life, what do you think He would say to us about the things that occupy, distract, and divide our minds?
I offer these suggestions as to why worry is, in fact, not worth the worry.
Worry sets our minds on the world, not on the kingdom. That's why so much attention is given to the subject in Scripture. Jesus introduces this topic in a section on materialism, serving God vs. serving mammon. That makes an easy transition to talk about worry, because the devil doesn't care whether your heart is carried away by riches or by anxiety, just so long as it is carried away from God. When Martha was upset about Mary listening to Jesus instead of helping her serve, Jesus told her, "you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary" (Luke 10:38-42). Worry distracts us from the one thing that is most important, the one thing we ought to be doing. In all the options that seem to be available in life, there are actually only two. Which will you choose?
"Do not be anxious...but seek first the kingdom of God" (Matt. 6:25,34). If you want assurance of provision, you don't seek things, you seek God. And upon securing your relationship with Him, making spiritual sustenance your priority, He will provide the daily bread. Upon making the decision to improve that area of your life, to make the righteousness of God your own, improvement in every area of life is the inevitable result. Don't get that backwards.
Worry demonstrates a lack of faith in God. Worrying about food, drink, and clothing are things that the "Gentiles eagerly seek" (Matt. 6:32). Jesus calls them "men of little faith," because they were acting like the Lord didn't know or didn't care that they were hungry, thirsty, and in need of clothes. They were in covenant relationship with God but were demonstrating less faith than those who didn't know Him at all.
Consider the sparrows, five of which are sold for two cents. "And yet not one of them is forgotten before God" (Luke 12:6). If the smallest and humblest of God's creatures are given such rich provision, what then, for the pinnacle of His creation, for those who have been made in His image and have become His children through the blood of His Son? And what about the lilies of the field, generally used for kindling? If the God of heaven has tended to the flowers whose life is but a breath and a sigh, will He not clothe with righteousness those whose destiny is eternal life? Surely a God who has given Jesus to satisfy our spiritual needs has sought out ways to provide for our physical ones as well. If He can solve our most basic problem, salvation for sin, we ought to trust Him with any other difficulty that comes our way.
Worry is worthless. Having worried and worried and worried about something, what good does it accomplish? What does it change? It is a useless endeavor. "Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life" (Matt. 6:27)? In fact, worry doesn't lengthen life, it tends to shorten it. Not just in the sense of "worrying yourself sick." But all too often, life is what happens while we're worrying that something else will happen. Our time here is short enough as it is, a "vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). How much more is that vapor abbreviated when what little time we do have is wasted away with fretful, anxious care?
These passages on worry do not promote idleness, a spirit that says we can just sit back in the recliner and let God take care of everything for us. Other scriptures tell us that we must "labor, performing with our hands that which is good" (Eph. 4:28) and that we ought to provide for our own and our household (1 Tim. 5:8). We need to do what we can. But we do so with the understanding that "God will take care of what we cannot" (Paul Earnhart).
By Bubba Garner
From Expository Files 11.11; November 2004