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How to win over worry

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 6:25-27

An Arabian sultan grew displeased with his chief servant and ordered him beheaded. On the execution block, the man turned to his king and said, “If you will spare my life one year, I will teach your white stallion to talk.” The king was shocked by such a ridiculous promise, but loved his stallion more than all his other possessions. “What happens if you do not keep your promise?” he asked. The servant answered, “Then you may boil me in oil.” The king gave his servant the year he requested.

A friend of the servant watched all this. As the man descended from the execution platform he told him, “You’ve lost your mind. Being beheaded is much better than being boiled in oil. What are you thinking?” The servant smiled and said, “Much can happen in a year, my friend. The king might grow ill and die. His enemies might kill him. I might become ill and die. The horse might die. And who knows? The horse may learn to talk.”

In other words, don’t worry. But it’s hard, isn’t it?

Billy Graham writes: “Physicians tell us that 70 percent of all illnesses are imaginary, the cause being mental distress or worry. In reading hundreds of letters from people with spiritual problems, I am convinced that high on the list is the plague of worry. It has been listed by heart specialists as the number one cause of heart trouble.

“Psychiatrists tell us that worry breeds nervous breakdowns and mental disorders. Worry is more adept than Father Time in etching deep lines into the face. It is disastrous to health, robs life of its zest, crowds out constructive, creative thinking, and cripples the soul” (Unto the Hills, 52).

What is your greatest worry at this moment? What does Jesus want you to do with it?

Do not worry (v. 25)

Verse 25 begins, “Therefore I tell you.”

“Therefore” connects to what has just come: none of us can serve two masters. We will hate one and love the other. We cannot serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24). You cannot have two gods.

“I tell you”—Jesus is now speaking with full rabbinic authority. This is the divine word of God himself. Not Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura or Time or Newsweek. This is the holy word of Almighty God.

What does he tell us? “Do not worry.”

The Greek word means “to divide the mind.” To serve both God and Money. To live for us and for God. To be spiritual and secular, carnal and godly. To focus our lives on our material needs and problems, and on our heavenly Father as well. To live as though we are responsible for our lives, while believing that God is.

Such a person is “a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:8). Unstable in thoughts, words, decisions, actions, life.

Jesus’ words are a command, an imperative. If you are worrying, you are breaking the word of God. They are best translated: “Stop worrying.” What are you worrying about this moment? Stop it, says Jesus Christ.

They are in the present tense, a continual action. Do this not some of the time, but all of the time. And this is a decision, something we can do. You can choose not to worry, or the Lord would not ask you to.

Jesus means these words to apply to every dimension of our lives, even what we will eat, drink, or wear, the things we must have to survive. Don’t worry about your next paycheck, your health, your safety. We all have problems, anxieties, burdens. But Jesus is clear: don’t be anxious about them. Don’t be burdened, stressed, weighted, discouraged. Every time you worry about anything at all, stop.

In light of the clear word of God, such worry is a sin against the word of God. As we will see in a moment, it is a sin against the providence of God, for he has led us where we are. It is a sin against the provision of God, for he will meet our needs. It is a sin against the temple of God, for it damages our bodies and lives. It is a sin against the witness of God, for it distorts his all-sufficient grace and love in our lives.

A priest met a beggar. “God give you a good day, my friend,” he said. The beggar answered, “I thank God I have never had a bad one.” The priest said, “God give you a happy life, my friend.” “I thank God,” said the beggar, “I am never unhappy.” The amazed priest asked, “What do you mean?” “Well,” said the beggar, “When it is good weather, I thank God; when it rains, I thank God; when I have food, I thank God; when I am hungry, I thank God. Since God’s will is my will, and whatever pleases him pleases me, I am happy always.” The priest looked at the beggar in astonishment. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am a king,” said the beggar. “Where is your kingdom?” The beggar answered quietly, “In my heart.”

Trust the provision of God (v. 26)

Stop worrying about any anxiety, any burden, any fear, any problem. Why? Because of the provision of God.

“Look at the bird of the air,” Jesus continues, probably pointing to birds flying around them on this hillside beside the Sea of Galilee. Look in your mind at the birds resting in the trees on our church campus right now.

Notice that they do not sow, reap, or store. Jesus is not saying that they don’t work, just that they don’t worry about their work. He prohibits not work but worry.

Why don’t they worry? Because “your heavenly Father feeds them.” Perhaps some were feeding just then. God Almighty cares about them.

“Are you not much more valuable than they?”

If your father would feed your pet bird at home, won’t he feed you? If God gave us life, can we trust him for all that life requires?

Jerry Clower, the Baptist comedian, told about a mother of 16 kids living near a construction project. One day half a dozen of them were playing near it, and one of them came screaming home: “Momma, come quick!” Momma ran over there to find that one of her kids had fallen into a barrel of roof tar. It wasn’t hot; there was no danger; but this boy was the most awful mess you ever saw in your life. Momma thought about it and said, “You know, it would be easier to have another one than to clean this one up.”

How many times has our Creator been in position to say that of us? But he doesn’t. In fact, he sent his only begotten Son to die for you, to pay for your every sin, to purchase your place in his paradise. Now, won’t he take care of you today?

I stood in line at a museum once to touch a moon rock. It felt just like any other rock. But my Father made it. And me. And you.

So trust the provision of God.

Here is the word of God for those who are hurting today: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:18-19); “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:2); “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9); “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat” (Isaiah 25:4); “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3): “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

Here is what he says to the tempted: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

To the tired: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6.9); “My dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

To us all: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Trust the provision of God for your life today. Here we encounter the difference between faith and trust. We have faith in God; do we trust him? Do we trust his will to be for our best? Do we trust that when we follow him he will lead us well? That he will meet our needs? That he will make our lives to be fulfilled and significant?

Dr. Baker James Cauthen resigned from the faculty of Southwestern Seminary and the pastorate of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Ft. Worth to take his family to China in 1939, in the midst of war. His explanation was simple: the safest place in all the world to be is the center of the will of God. Do you believe that?

Spend your life in the purpose of God (v. 27)

So refuse to worry, but trust the provision of God. Jesus continues: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (v. 27).

The question can be translated, “Who of you by worrying can add a single inch to his height?”

Anxiety achieves nothing. It cannot add even a little time to our life span or height. In fact, it may shorten them.

So don’t focus your life on your daily needs, but on God’s eternal purpose for your life. And your daily needs will be met as a result, along the way. We will always have the provision of God, so long as we fulfill the purpose of God. His will never leads us where his grace will not sustain.

Robert Louis Stevenson said: to be what we are and to become all that we are capable of becoming is the supreme end of life. To have his provision, trust his purpose today.

It has been said that not one person in a thousand learns the art of living today. It is also true: all of God there is, is in this moment. So go beyond faith to trust. Trust his will, his purpose, his direction for your life, so that you might experience all that God has for you.

Dr. Cauthen, before he left for China, said to his friend Bill Howse: “Bill, many people are making a lot out of what we are trying to do, but for us it’s simply the will of God. It’s such a good feeling that I can say that if our ship is bombed in Hong Kong harbor and we never set foot on Chinese soil, I will have a sense of completeness because I will have been doing the will of God for me.” Can you say that today?

Richard Baxter’s advice is still valuable: “Spend your time in nothing which you know must be repented of; in nothing on which you might not claim the blessings of God; in nothing which you could not review with a quiet conscience on your dying bed; in nothing which you might not be safely and properly doing if guests surprise you in the act” (John Haggai, How to Win Over Worry, 110).

To know the provision of God, fulfill the purpose of God. This is God’s cure for worry. It works every time.

Conclusion

Are you in that purpose this morning? Are you trusting this provision? When was the last time you trusted God sacrificially? What is the issue worrying you right now? What will you do with it today?

Dr. Bill Hinson was the longtime pastor of First United Methodist Church in Houston. I read this week his account of his father’s death. His father came to faith late in his life, primarily through Bill’s influence. The day he had his fatal heart attack, Bill was away taking his college finals. They called and he came, wrecking his car in his haste, but he didn’t make it. His father’s last words, repeated over and over and over, were, “Go get Bill, ask him to hold my hand and help the hurt.” Bill said he was overwhelmed with guilt over being late. He told God he would have given ten years of his life to be able to hold his father’s hand. Finally God began helping him to see that as long as he lives there will be hands to hold and hurt to help.

With this difference. It’s not that we hold our hurting father’s hand. It’s that our heavenly Father holds ours. Are you holding his?