Do Not Be Anxious
Topic: Fear Passage: Matthew 6:25–6:34
We are in a series called Fear Not, and we’re looking at different forms of fear and how they affect our lives, our walk with God, and our usefulness in the kingdom. Next week Matt will be sharing the connection between fear and our mission. Before His disciples could go to the world, Jesus said they would receive boldness from the Holy Spirit and we still need that boldness today to carry on the mission Jesus gave us. The following week I want to unpack the fear of man, how it affects us and what scripture says to help us overcome the FOM. This morning, we’re gonna look at the form of fear known as anxiety or worry.
The contours of worry and anxiety
Worry is kind of like the pit bull of fear: it’s not the biggest dog in the fight, but once it gets a grip it’s hard to shake it loose. And worry can attach itself to just about anything in our lives. We worry about…
- Money – usually the lack of money and the abundance of bills.
- Economy – definitely the big issue for this upcoming election
- Confrontations we know we can’t avoid
- If we have kids, we worry about them
- Worry attaches itself to every age – no one is exempt.
- At our youth meeting we were discussing some of the fears that teens commonly face. If you are a teen you probably have dealt with (or will soon deal with): anxiety about getting a job, anxiety over who you will marry (will you get married? Will you ever find the right person?), anxiety over whether peers will accept you, and anxiety about what an unknown future holds for you.
- Often worry isn’t even attached to anything in particular – it just hovers over us as a vague cloud of anxiety and foreboding. Feeling that something bad is coming – we just don’t know what.
Ultimately worry and anxiety is a fear about tomorrow, about what “might happen”. Worry paints the worst possible scenario and then convinces us that’s what’s most likely to happen.
The big damage of small fears
As fears go, worry and anxiety can seem like no big deal. It’s fear, but its fear in small doses and we can think that it’s normal and we just need to learn to live with it.. But anxiety and worry can do big damage in small increments. Arthur Somers Roche made this observation: Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all others thoughts are drained.
That’s a great description of anxiety: it’s not a tidal wave of fear so much as a constant stream that over time cuts channels in the way we think – eventually worry can pull all our thoughts, how we think about everything, into its rut. There’s a famous sign on a road in Alaska that says, “choose your rut carefully, you’ll be in it for the next 200 miles.” Chronic worriers are people who have allowed the thin stream of anxiety to cut deep ruts into how they think about everything – and they drive their entire lives in the ruts of worry and anxiety.
Don’t underestimate the power of a thin stream of fear over time. A car can be swept off the road by 12 inches of moving water and, in the same way, a thin stream of fear can sweep our lives off the course God has for us, if left unchecked. Jesus said in the parable of the four soils that the “cares of the world” – the “anxieties of the world” – same word – choke the word of God from the thorny soil leaving it unfruitful. Anxiety can cause the word of God to be unfruitful in our lives, and our lives to be unfruitful for the kingdom. Worry and anxiety may be small fears but they can do big damage spiritually.
Do not be anxious
We’ve been reminded in this series that in the Bible God speaks to the fearful soul a lot and calls them not to fear. In Matthew 6 Jesus speaks to our anxiety and calls us not to be anxious.
Jesus doesn’t want anxiety to be a part of his disciple’s lives. That’s the big point of vv. 25-34. He begins by telling his disciples do not be anxious about your life and he ends by saying do not be anxious about tomorrow. And in between he mentions anxiety 3 times. But he doesn’t just tell us not to be anxious and leave it up to us to figure out how. He layers reason upon reason – 5 reasons in all - why we do not need to be anxious. Let’s consider these five reasons and as we do, if you’re one of those who have an ongoing struggle with worry and anxiety, maybe one of these will speak directly to your need. Let’s pray and then look at them one by one.
Reason #1 Not To Be Anxious: life is more than stuff (vs. 25)
Anxiety creeps in when we lose sight of what God created us for and we reduce life to stuff. Jesus mentions food and drink and clothing to symbolize the most basic of human needs. We need food, water, and clothing to live, but life is more than all those things.
Turn with me to Matthew 13:22. I mentioned this parable a minute ago, but I want us to look at it for a minute.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares (same word: anxieties) of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Stuff and the worry about stuff clutters our lives and we have the illusion that they are what life is all about: getting more stuff. Making more money, buying nicer clothes, owning a bigger home, driving a fancier car, purchasing a bigger flat screen TV. We think we’re “living large” when really it might just be “living cluttered”. And that clutter is choking what really matters, what really brings life to us.
Notice the tandem: cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches. They work together. We are deceived into thinking that having a lot of stuff is what life is about – the stuff gets our heart. And then we’re anxious because to lose that stuff would mean (in our minds) to lose life. The more we have the more we have to lose. Anxiety and riches go together.
It’s not wrong to be rich. It’s not wrong to have a lot. But somehow if we are blessed with a lot (and we all are), we need to keep in mind that that stuff isn’t what life is about. Life is more than stuff. So we don’t need to be anxious about stuff, either to gain it or that we might lose it.
Reason #2 Not To Be Anxious: Our heavenly Father loves us and will provide what we need (vv. 26, 28-30)
Jesus spends a lot of time assuring us that our heavenly Father cares about our needs. Our heavenly Father feeds the birds, He clothes the lilies. And we are much more precious to God than those things. So if He feeds the birds and clothes the lilies will He not much more take care of us? I probably don’t need to even say this but the issue isn’t whether we should work but whether we should worry. God feeds the birds, but they still need to do the everyday work of finding the food He has provided. We need to work – God has ordained that we work – but we don’t need to worry, and we must not see our work as ultimately the thing providing for our needs. We work and trust God for the provision we need.
In verse 30 Jesus identifies this as an issue of faith and he frames it as a question: if God so clothes the grass of the field…will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Jesus is arguing from lesser to greater: if God cares for birds and lilies, won’t He care for we who are His children?
ILL: for a couple of years we had a rabbit that we kept outside on the side of the house. Over time I seemed to the one with the burden to feed the thing, so in the cold and rain I’d trudge out there to make sure it had food and water. It was important to me to see that the silly thing was fed. But the gap between my concern that the rabbit was fed and that my children are fed is immeasurable. Because the gap between the love I feel for my children compared to the love I felt for the rabbit (I didn’t love it at all) was immeasurable. Jesus is saying that our Father who loves us is faithful to feed birds, faithful to clothe lilies, would never fail to meet our needs. And if we doubt that, the deficiency is in our faith, not our Father. Therefore do not be anxious, Jesus says. It’s settled, He will provide, therefore don’t be anxious.
The stronger our trust in our heavenly Father becomes, the more we will be freed from anxiety. Perfect love drives out fear and if we could really see how much our Father loves us and how secure we are in Him, we would never fear anything again.
Reason #3 Not To Be Anxious: worry doesn’t accomplish anything (vs. 27)
In verse 27 Jesus makes a really practical observation about worry - it doesn’t do any good. It can’t add a single hour to our lives or a single cubit to our height. Somehow being worried and anxious feels like it’s doing some good – tossing and turning all night thinking and rethinking that thing over and over must be doing some good, right? Wrong. Worry doesn’t accomplish anything good, it doesn’t add an hour to your life (might cut a few off), doesn’t change that situation at all, so why do it?
Reason #4 Not To Be Anxious: seeking the kingdom first will cut a different channel, and everything in life will be drawn into that channel (vv.31-33)
Worry reveals a heart that is pursuing the wrong things. Jesus connects the question of what we’re worried about to a much larger question: what are we living for? The mistake the Gentiles (those who don’t know God) are making isn’t that they eat or drink – it’s that those are the things they are seeking. Those are the things they are living for. Jesus says cut a different channel: instead of anxiety cutting a channel into which all other thoughts are drained, as we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness we cut a kingdom mindset that draws everything else in life into that channel. Jesus doesn’t ignore our need for food or clothing or a job or friendship or shelter. He just describes a life that is yielded to the Lordship of Christ, surrendered to His will, and seeking what Jesus desires rather than what we desire. And that life has all the other stuff added to it.
A matter of priorities
This is a matter of priorities: seek first. What we put first is our highest priority. We need food, we need drink – and yet things that we absolutely need to live aren’t to be the first priority. That’s counter-intuitive but when we stop and think about it we know its right. Food is necessary to live, but the person who lives for food is pitiful. It’s not that they aren’t important or that we don’t need them. Our heavenly Father knows that we need them. But we don’t need to, and we shouldn’t, make those things first priority of our lives. In verse 33 Jesus offers the counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, radical lifestyle that has the power to draw all other things into it’s channel: the lifestyle of someone who is seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness first.
When we put the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ first we cut a channel in our lives and thinking that leads us to God and that cuts a channel of thinking and living that leads to fruitfulness and joy and peace and love and self-control and all the other things we need to survive are drawn into that channel.
So if we find ourselves worrying a lot, it’s not enough to ask the question, what am I worried about? We also should ask, what am I living for? What does this worry reveal about what I’m seeking? What does worry reveal about my ambitions in life? Do I have the right ambitions or the wrong ambitions? Am I seeking Christ’s kingdom or am I seeking to establish my own? Am I living for Christ or am I living for myself? Am I yielded and surrendered to His Lordship or do I want to be in control of my life?
Reason #5 Not To Be Anxious: leave tomorrow’s concerns in tomorrow (vs. 34)
This doesn’t mean not to plan or pray about future. It means not to worry about what may be coming tomorrow. There will be troubles in life. Tomorrow may have some of the calamities you fear – probably not most of them, but maybe some of them. It actually may hold things far worse than you are thinking today (hope that encourages you!) but God will give the strength tomorrow to face what tomorrow holds, He won’t give it today.
We get overwhelmed when we worry down the road. Spurgeon put it this way: Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength. Worrying about tomorrow doesn’t make tomorrow better it just makes today worse. The thin stream of anxiety doesn’t carry tomorrow to a better place, it carries today to a worse place.
Trust God for the grace and strength you need to serve Him today and then trust that God will give the grace you need for tomorrow when tomorrow comes. John Piper writes: God has appointed to each day its portion of pleasure and trouble. And as your days so shall your strength be. So don’t misappropriate God’s allotted trouble for tomorrow. Don’t bring them forward into today in the form of anxiety. Believe that God will be God tomorrow.
If the main point here is don’t be anxious, the main antidote Jesus gives to anxiety is to seek first the kingdom of God. In a couple hours several people will be getting baptized – a declaration of faith and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. May we close by repenting of lukewarm, selfish, self-protecting, self-promoting lives and rededicate ourselves to love and live for Jesus. All in, all the time.
That might seem harsh and insensitive. You’re thinking, “I suffer from worry and anxiety and you’re saying I should repent? I’m the victim of fear and you’re saying it’s my fault?” Yes, and no. I don’t think Jesus’ tone here is angry, anymore than God’s tone throughout scripture is angry when He is speaking to fearful people. But he is addressing our lack of faith – O you of little faith – and at the core of fear is unbelief. We don’t believe God will be God in that situation – and unbelief is a serious sin that needs to be repented of.
So yes, let’s repent of unbelief. Let’s repent of selfish, me-centered lives. And let’s rededicate ourselves to seeking the kingdom of Christ first. Because the more we live for Jesus and his kingdom, the more we will experience the power of God carrying our lives and the freer we will be from the thin stream of anxiety carrying our lives.