Careless in the Care of God

Anxiety — living inside a cloud, every thought is consumed by worry and what-ifs, every thought, every action is second-guessed, and anything that could possibly go wrong will probably go wrong.

Anxiety — when your stomach flips over and drops like a roller coaster — chilling, rushing waves of fear overwhelming your mind and body.

Anxiety — when all you don’t want to think about is all you can think about. When you are too exhausted to think about anything but what exhausts you.

Trapped in a mental cage with the elephant in the room and it’s trampling you — this is anxiety.

Like all problems we face in life, anxiety finds its solution in God. We can be set free from anxiety. Hear these words of hope from Jesus:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. 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 which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to their span of life?
And why are you anxious 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 arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothese the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

I think it’s important to give a quick disclaimer before we get any farther: These issues are experienced differently by many different people. Anxiety is experienced on a spectrum. Some people have simple moments of anxiety that can be pushed away by a feather of a thought. Others of us live their lives surrounded by it. Jesus’s words are for everyone here, but different people may have to use different avenues to apply them. If you don’t worry often, these words are for you — you can conquer your worry. If you have an anxiety disorder, these words are for you just as much as they are for anybody else, but it may be much harder to put these words into practice. Those of us with overactive anxiety may need to see a counselor, potentially take some medication for a little while, and try different methods to figure out exactly what it means for you to put Jesus’ words into practice here — to not be anxious.

We’re studying the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5–7 and as Mike Fox has put it so eloquently, “The heart of the matter is that it’s the heart that matters.” Giving is about our heart when we give, not giving to look good to other people, but giving out of love. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to pray, It’s about our heart when we pray, not the words that we say. Fasting is about rejecting idolatry and being filled with God’s presence. Last week we learned that what we treasure will ultimately filter how we see the world.

Now this week Jesus tells us to not be anxious.

I may be either ridiculously unqualified to be giving this sermon today, or very qualified, because I am a supreme worry-er.

I worry a lot about lots of things. I worry about doing my job well, my health, when my car will break down, paying off student loans, the massive earthquake that’s supposed to come in the next 50 years, if I’m being faithful in my walk with God, and the list continues, seemingly endlessly.

I’m sure you have your worries as well. My hope is that after we’ve finished studying today’s passage together, you’ll have stronger trust in God and some tools from Jesus to combat your anxiety.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life: what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.

Jesus gives an imperative — this is not a guideline or a loose ideal concept, this is a command from God Himself. Jesus is telling us not to worry because He knows it’s what’s best for us, not to make us feel guilty for worrying. Worry is part of life. Jesus tells us that it doesn’t have to be and that He wants to help us be free of it. Charles Surgeon points out that “Worry has a fascinating etymology which can be traced back to the Old High German “wurgen” which means “to strangle” which is what worry does to our joy!”

Jesus gives us three specific things to stop being anxious about: what we will eat, what we will drink, or what clothing we will put on.You may respond, “Yeah Jesus, food and clothing are important but I also have bills to pay, aging parents, rebellious kids, friends who don’t listen, a job I hate, and it’s tax season.” To reinterpret these worries for the mind of a teenager, “I have hard teachers, drama with my friends, homework I haven’t done, I have to decide where to go for college, everyone’s asking me what I want to do with my life, constant choir/band/basketball practices, and I have snapchat streaks to keep up!”

Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Have you ever walked up to a bowl of delicious fruit only to find that it’s fake? When you go to bite into the apple, all you find is harsh reality biting back at you and Styrofoam. What gives life it’s value isn’t what we put into it or how we dress it, but its meaning — what it was created for. When we are anxious and worry about the external things like food and clothing, we lose focus on what our lives are created for. We turn ourselves into fake fruit.

Jesus tells us to stop focusing so much on our internal anxiety and to look out, look up.

Look at the birds of the air

Jesus draws our attention away from ourselves to find an answer for our worry in the way He’s designed nature.

Our lives are filled to the brim with real, significant problems — loss of people who are dear to us, life-threatening illnesses, distressing financial situations, the impending, terrifying future — anxiety feels only natural. But Jesus tells us that we don’t have to live like this, in fact, worry is not natural.

Introspection is a good thing, but often when we’re worried, it can get us more stuck. Jesus says, look out, look up, over there. See the birds! Birds are wild, precious, and free — they’re graceful and calming, a perfect example of the carefree life.

They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

God takes care of them always, providing the best grains, seeds, and even the occasional worm — they’re not making money and going to the store to get their food, God is guiding them to it and providing it for them.

Are you not of more value then they?

When God created animals, he called them good, God cares for animals and wants good things for them. But when God made us, He called us very good. He made us in His image, after His likeness to reflect His glory and partner with Him in His mission of reconciliation.

We matter to God. And if He takes this kind of care of birds, won’t He take great care of us?

Eugene Peterson in The Message interpret Jesus’s words like this: “Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.”

John Piper puts it another way, “God is so completely in control of the natural universe that he may be said to feed the birds of the air. Every berry eaten or insect snatched form the air or worm pulled from the ground is provided by God. He does that for birds. He cares more about you than the birds He does this for.”

Think on this for a second. If God provides so magnificently for birds with colorful, flavorful berries, seeds, and insects, wouldn’t He provide even better for those He cares more about?

Birds live carelessly in the care of God. If God’s care for us is greater, shouldn’t we have even less care then the birds?

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to their span of life?

We think that by worrying we can somehow control the outcome of our situations. Tiffany and I just got a new puppy a few weeks ago. He thinks that he knows what’s best for himself. He’s really curious about the world around him. but hes also very small, young and limited in his understanding. As I was working on this, he was wiggling around in my arms trying to jump down from my lap. All he could think about was “I want to get down, I want to get down, I want to get down.” He wasn’t aware of how badly it would hurt when he hit the ground. He jumped out of my arms and right before he hit the ground I was able to catch him. Crisis averted.

I think this is actually a pretty good example of what it’s like when we worry. We want to do what we think is best: control our circumstances. But we have such a limited understanding; we have not seen the entire canvas of life, just our simple section. God is sovereign and actually painted the whole piece of art. When we try to control our situations by worrying, we can be putting ourselves in some serious danger.

Grandmas worldwide have always told us, “Stop worrying or you’ll make yourself sick” and it turns out they’re actually right. Dr. Robert Ader researched and wrote for many years about the biological effects of stress. Stress triggers our fight or flight response. Prolonged existence in that state can actually do a lot of damage to our health. It can elevate our blood pressure, depress our immune system, mess with our digestion, raise our risk of diabetes, lead to depression, lower fertility, cause balding, and effect our ability to create new memories.

Not only can worry damage us physically, it can also say some pretty serious things about the state of our relationship with God. “Worry is an indication that we think God cannot look after us.” Oswald Chambers writes. J. R. Rice says, “Worry is putting question marks where God has put periods.” If God says “I’ll take care of you, period.” There’s no room to add a question mark and say, “But will You really?” We can trust that He’s always been faithful, why would He stop now, with you?

And why are you anxious about clothing?

In our society, clothing isn’t usually a source of anxiety. Most of the time, clothing is more of an accessory to American culture. We have more than we need, and usually it’s because somewhere along the line some worker is being exploited.

This word “anxious” can also mean concerned, which I think seems a bit closer to where we find ourselves in America. Why are we so concerned about clothing? Maybe we’re the lucky people who can actually have more than a few articles of clothing, but that actually may make us unlucky. We can get overly concerned about trends and fads and forget all about what’s really important in life. Don’t worry about these things, Jesus tells us, look back at nature.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they neither toil nor spin

Think about the beautiful flowers and the way they grow all on their own, they don’t make their own clothing (or for us, they don’t spend all their money at the mall on clothing they don’t need).

Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these

Even the most elegant king in all of Israel’s history wasn’t clothed as nicely as a lilly.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, o you of little faith?

What’s the purpose of a Lilly? To look at? To be fuel for an oven? How long do lilies last? If God goes to such great lengths to clothe a Lilly, won’t He provide clothing for you whom He made for His glory?

Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”

For the Gentiles seek after these things

This is not a slant against people who are non-Jewish, Jesus doesn’t condone any sort of bias against people one may label as different. Jesus is saying that the people who don’t know God are worried and care too much about what to eat, drink, and wear. We, the people who do know God, should live differently than the people around us who don’t know God.

If you take Jesus’ words seriously here, this may mean taking a time away from the mall, asking for donations to charity for your birthday, and giving your extra things to people who need them (not just Goodwill who makes money off of your stuff). We are called to look differently than the people around us. Let’s take a careful analysis of the things we need and the things we want and ask God for the ability to know the difference. In this ability to know the difference, we’ll find many of our worries are not as important as we think they are and they’ll disappear like vapor.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all,

This is the key to not seeking after the things that make us anxious: trust that your heavenly Father knows your needs.

And then change what you’re looking for in life.

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.

You won’t get everything you want, but you will get everything God knows you need. You may miss a meal here and there, but the only reason you’ll miss them is because God knows you needed to fast. You may not always have the most trendy clothes, but 5 years from now you’ll thank God for that.

When I’ve been overwhelmed by anxiety in the past, something that helped the most was having a promise of God’s to ground myself in. Here’s one for you. Write it down, underline it, tattoo it on your wrist, whatever it takes to remember it: God knows my needs better than I do and He provides for them better than I can.

And when you do get anxious, here’s another promise of Scripture for you to ground yourself in. Philippians 4:6–7 “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Your heart and mind will be guarded with peace when you give your anxieties to God in prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving.

Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.

The final reason Jesus tells us know to be anxious is that tomorrow will be anxious about itself.

The minute that the future arrives, it becomes the present. The future isn’t real. At midnight tomorrow, tomorrow becomes today. For all eternity, we only have today. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for the non-existing future, but it means that if we waste our time worrying about it now, we’ll lose the today God has blessed us with.

Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Each day has enough trouble, doesn’t it? Why add to it? Eugene Peterson, again, interprets this text saying, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

God’s mercies are new each morning. Don’t jump over them and start worrying about what’ll happen tomorrow. Walk into tomorrow through God’s mercies, knowing they’ll be there tomorrow morning waiting for you. Lamentations 3:22–23 Today has enough worries and God has tomorrow figured out.

Don’t worry about your life, what you’ll drink, eat, and wear, what tomorrow might bring. God knows what you need more than you do and He will provide for your needs better than you can. “Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 We have so many cares, so many burdens weighing us down, Peter invites us to share these with God. What is his reason? Why can we cast our cares on Him? Because He cares for us. Because of the care that God has for us, we can give Him the things that we care about. We truly can live carelessly in the care of God because God knows what you need more than you do and can provide for your needs better than you can; so don’t be anxious.