Don’t worry. No, really, don’t worry

28/01/2017

Three tits in a row! - 3 different birds

Three tits in a row! – 3 different birds (Photo credit: Tatters:))

‘Don’t worry, about a thing.  ‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right’ is not what Jesus was saying in Matthew 6:25-34.  He starts, well actually, he carries on as he’s been throwing out cheerful thoughts about adultery, murder and treasures in heaven and this is the latest bit of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount (which probably takes place on a few different occasions), by saying ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear’.  How encouraging!  What great news!  Unfortunately, Jesus isn’t saying that everything will be absolutely fine, you’ll have enough money to buy whatever you need.  He’s saying that our focus should be on more important things such as ‘life’, the being that the food is going into and how we use our bodies, what’s underneath our clothes.

I do wonder whether Jesus was having a slightly off day in his metaphors.  He exhorts us to draw inspiration from the birds of the air which, although they don’t grow their own food or store it are fed by God.  As we are much more valuable in God’s eyes than birds, which is nice to know, we should therefore not worry.  I’m not particularly reassured by this, but apparently Jesus is using a standard Jewish ‘how much more’ argument.  I have to say that there have been times when God has provided for my family very practically at exactly the right time through the generosity of others or through administrative errors being corrected!  Much holier people than me testify to cheques arriving on their doorsteps containing just the right amount for a bill.  But on a day to day basis, we really need to get on with earning money and shopping for food.  Even the birds have to look for their food. We’re just not to worry about it, to keep it in perspective.

Jesus’ second metaphor, if I may be so bold, is, I feel, equally weak.  Lilies of the valley being clothed beautifully shortly before they are thrown into the fire is doesn’t fill me with confidence that all will be fine and dandy for me.  It’s hardly to the lilies’ credit that they are beautiful in spite of their lack of industry in the clothing department.

But Jesus is really making the point that worrying itself is absolutely fruitless and achieves nothing.  This is true for all people, whether Christian or not.  Worrying is an impotent approach.  I’m sure the NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) practitioners would have lots to say about the problems of focussing on potential negative outcomes rather than on the positive input we can have in a situation.

For Christians, the crux of the teaching comes next.  Jesus complains about ‘o you of little faith’ and follows that up with a ‘So, do not worry’.  He isn’t telling us not to worry because everything will be alright, but rather not to waste our time, money and effort trying to hedge our lives in every direction in case something goes wrong.  Jesus links worrying with lack of faith in God.  In the one encouragement of the passage, Jesus concedes that ‘your heavenly Father knows that you need’ clothes and food.  We do need them.  We just aren’t to make the guaranteed acquisition of them our goal in life.  For example, we shouldn’t make sure our savings are well stocked up before we give to others.  Perhaps this would mean reducing pension payments in order to support others or thinking carefully about which insurances to take out.  We’ve recently reduced our pension payments and decided against some insurance but mainly because we need to pay the credit card bill, much of which has gone on clothes and food so I am not pointing the finger at anyone else but rather at myself.

As Christians we know that God knows what we need.  But our focus should be, verse 33, to ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’  How can this work in practice?  I think a common worry is how we’re going to find time to do everything we need to.   Will I find time to carry on wittering in my blogs, taking up your valuable time in reading them?  Or how will I find time to be Chair of the school fundraising committee on top of the other things I’m doing?   This verse says that I should actually use my head space and effort to think about how to focus on God’s kingdom and his righteousness in this situation.  Can I communicate in a way which makes people feel valued?  Can I serve the school in the way that Jesus would have served if he had been trying to persuade busy people to give up some time to help at a bingo evening?  What would it look like if God’s righteousness, his love for justice and fairness and good relationships, were to be in place in the school fundraising events?  It’s a small canvas, a minor part in the great drama of life in the world, but if God cares about lilies, he is going to be concerned about my daily activities and how I serve others and whether I am living in the confidence of his love and care.  And once my head is full of living the life that reflects God’s love in every situation, I know that God is going to be with me all the way, helping me.  His concern isn’t for my material comfort, but he knows that food and clothes are important.  His concern is for right relationships and people living life in a way that God knows they are designed to live.

The whole passage links back to the famous saying which occurs in Matthew 6: 24, ‘No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.’  ‘Money’ here translates the word ‘mammon’ which is an Aramaic word for possessions or money.  Money is often at the root of worry.  Will we have enough to pay the mortgage?  Can we afford to get the dishwasher fixed?  (The fixing man is coming for the 3rd time next week.)  At the time Jesus was alive, people didn’t have much beyond the basic necessities – food, clothing and shelter.  This passage applies equally to people fleeing bombings in Syria or war in Mali.  Somehow, God is saying that they are to trust in him and seek his kingdom and righteousness first.   I do suspect he would have much more sympathy with their worries than with my concern over the dishwasher (although when it’s working I have more time to spend on my relationships and building God’s kingdom – that’s the line I take in my prayers on the matter).

Jesus is not known for his crowd-pleasing sermons and this one concludes with the initially encouraging, ‘Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, followed disappointingly by ‘for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own’ or, in Greek, even more ominously, ‘sufficient to the day the evil of it’.  Not the best argument for not worrying, that there’s no point worrying about tomorrow because it’s guaranteed to be full of trouble.  Worry implies an uncertainty about how things will turn out so not to worry, it’ll be awful.

But, seriously, I’ve totally unpicked this passage because I feel it’s used by Christians sometimes as a trite, ‘don’t worry, God’s in control’ text when it isn’t anything of the sort.  Jesus himself knew that there would be trouble ahead, and he didn’t take much comfort from the thought of moonlight and music and love and romance in his willingness to face the music.  I think it may be fair to say that in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was facing his imminent torture and agonising death, he was worried.  He wanted there to be an alternative.  But he turned to God and put God’s will first.  Which led to his agonising torture and death.  Again, it’s hardly the ‘don’t worry because everything will be fine’ reassurance I’d rather like to be given.  But what was achieved through Jesus’ death, the renewal of a wonderful relationship between God and man, actually made his death worth it.

So, what is Jesus saying about worry here?  He’s saying that we shouldn’t focus our attention too much on externals.  Of course food and clothing are important.  I think that the enjoyment of food and comfortable clothing with flattering waistlines which hide the odd bulge are great gifts to be appreciated.  But as Jesus says, I really mustn’t focus on the pursuit of these things.  I am very valuable in God’s eyes.  He cares for me.  And the focus of my life should be to live a life which delights in God’s love for me and which enables God to love others through what I do and say.  Dear knows that working out how to do that takes a lot of brainpower and prayer.  I don’t really have time after that to worry about food.  God knows that I need it.  Whether I get it or not, worrying isn’t going to help.

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One Response to “Don’t worry. No, really, don’t worry”

  1. Deborah Says:

    I wandered across your blog by accident and after clicking the link for this post all I can say is wow! I really needed to read this. Thank you 😀

    Like


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