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When you fear the future

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 6:28-33

A little girl was attending a wedding for the first time. She whispered to her mother, “Why is the bride dressed in white?” Her mother answered, “Because white is the color of happiness, and today is the happiest day of her life.” The child thought about this for a moment and then said, “So why is the groom wearing black?”

Where is your soul wearing black today? There’s plenty to worry about in the news, with SARS, global terrorism, economic concerns. Nonprofits and churches have been especially affected financially. A recent Christianity Today article documented that private donations to colleges and universities dropped last year for the first time in 15 years; the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has experienced a $20 million giving decline and plans to lay off 20% of its staff; World Vision’s budget fell short by $2 million last year. Our own giving is some 10% under budget, causing us to reduce our ministries significantly.

What most worries you about today? What about tomorrow? It’s been said that “Worry is a stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”

Thomas Kelly, the monk and author: “Over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by. Strained by the very mad pace of our daily outer burdens, we are further strained by an inward uneasiness, because we have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power.”

What about tomorrow most worries you today? How do we find God’s “unhurried serenity and peace and power” in the midst of such fear about the future?

Claim the promises of God

Our text begins, “consider the lilies of the field.” “Consider” means to observe well, to learn thoroughly. The “lilies of the field” were flowers ground around Jesus and his followers on this beautiful hillside near the Sea of Galilee.

Note that “they do not labor or spin.” “Labor” means not work but the weariness which it can produce.

Despite the fact that they don’t worry about the future, “Not even Solomon in all his glory was dressed like one of these.” The scarlet anemone was more beautiful than Solomon’s royal robes; the pure white lilies more brilliant than his white garments. The flowers of the field have a beauty bestowed by God which the richest man in history cannot begin to match.

Even “the grass of the field” is similarly blessed, weeds which were grown to be mowed and used for fuel or to thatch roofs. Such grass had only a few days to live, yet God clothes even this part of his creation with a beauty we cannot reproduce. What he does for flowers and grass, he does for us. So remember his blessing, his grace, the provision of our loving Father.

He provides for everything that worries us about tomorrow: “the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (v. 32). God’s word promises, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Jesus taught us, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).

So trust the provision of God for tomorrow, today. He’s already there. He will care for you. He provides for all who walk in his purpose: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). This command means to make God your king. To become his subject. To yield your plans, dreams, ambitions, future, hopes, life to his will and word. To become fully his.

When you make this unconditional surrender to him, you are in position to receive all that he wants by grace to give. Then you can trust the provision of God for tomorrow, today.

God’s word to Jacob has encouraged my heart this week: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go … I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you” (Genesis 28:15). The Psalmist was assured: “…he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4); “You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great” (Psalm 18:35). The Lord assures his people: “…I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4).

God provides for tomorrow, whenever we walk in his purpose today. This is his clear and consistent promise. Claim it this morning.

Consider the provision of God

But why should you have such faith? Your fears are real, your worries substantial. Tomorrow is a very real problem. So consider all the ways God has provided for you already.

I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s, A Short History of Nearly Everything. Here he reflects current scientific thought to say, “Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result—eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly—in you” (pp. 3-4).

Your Maker has given you a heart which pumps enough blood through your body every 24 hours to fill a railway tanker. Every day it exerts as much effort as it would take to shovel 20 tons of gravel onto a platform as high as your waist.

He has made you of protons, the core of atoms. Look at the dot on an “i” in your Bible or sermon notes. It holds something in the region of 500,000,000,000 protons, more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years. Your Father made all of that, for you.

You live in a visible universe is now calculated as a million million million million miles across, 1 followed by 24 zeroes. Through a telescope you can see around 100,000 galaxies, each containing tens of billions of stars. And you’re watching all this on a planet which spins at the speed of 1,000 miles an hour at its equator. Your Father made all of that, for you.

Look at what he has done, and you can trust him for what he will do. You cannot see the future, but God can. And he is already providing for tomorrow, today.

A pastor from Birmingham, Alabama happened to be called to a fledgling little mission church in southwest Houston, when that area was the Frisco of the day. He came with an idea: a new thing called bus ministry. They happened to knock on my door one Saturday morning, and our family happened to be home. Had we not been, they would not have come back—they had too many doors to reach. My father happened to hear their invitation to ride their bus to church, and encouraged us to go; otherwise Mark and I would have refused the invitation.

I happened to be placed in the Sunday school class of Sharon Sewell, the pastor’s wife; three weeks later she led me to Christ. My friend Malinda Erwin happened to be in that class, and prayed with me as well. And the rest is history. How different my spiritual life would be if we had not answered that knock on that August Saturday morning.

Janet’s father worked for IBM, and says the initials stand for “I’ve Been Moved.” He happened to be transferred from Los Angeles to Houston. Janet decided to attend the University of Houston, but they happened to lose her transcript. She sent them again, and they happened to lose them again. She tried to enroll, but none of her classes happened to be open. So she came home, determined to save enough money to return to California for school.

The next day, her father happened to sit down in the IBM break room next to Charlie Canton, a recent graduate of Houston Baptist University. He happened to mention his daughter’s dilemma; Charlie encouraged him to consider HBU, and she did. She happened to meet Malinda Erwin, my friend, who invited her to my church. Her family had been Methodist, Presbyterian, and Christian Church to this point, and were already visiting a Christian Church near their home. But she came with her friend to my church, and the rest is history. How different my life would be if U of H had found Janet’s transcript.

I intended to enroll at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary after college, but my father died; I felt I should stay closer to my mother in Houston, and so enrolled at Southwestern. Janet happened to get a job on the support staff of First Baptist Church in Arlington, so we attended there. New Hope Baptist Church in Mansfield was without a pastor, and our pastor, Dr. Charles Wade, sent my resume. They happened to recognize his name, and pulled my resume from the stack of over 100 the church had received and called me as their pastor.

Southwestern happened to need a faculty member in Philosophy of Religion, and wanted someone with pastoral experience, so they invited me to their faculty. Then First Baptist Church in Midland needed an interim pastor, so Russell Dilday recommended me; against all our plans, I eventually became pastor there. Then to Atlanta, and then to Dallas, and the rest is history. How different my service would be if New Hope hadn’t recognized Dr. Wade’s name.

Conclusion

So walk in his purpose, and you have his provision. Trust him for tomorrow, today. The Supper before us proves that you can. If a man would send his son or daughter to die in your place, wouldn’t you believe that man cares for your needs today? If the omniscient, omnipotent God of the universe cares this much for you, can’t you trust him for tomorrow? Walk in his purpose today, and you will have his provision when tomorrow becomes today.

Many years ago, in the pioneer days of aviation, a pilot was in the air when he heard a noise which he recognized as the gnawing of a rat. For all he knew the rat could be gnawing through a vital cable or control of the plane. It was a very serious situation. At first the pilot did not know what to do. He was more than two hours from the next landing strip, and two hours gone from the field where he had taken off.

Then he remembered that a rat is a rodent. It was not made for the heights; it was made to live on the ground and under the ground. And so the pilot began to climb. He went up a thousand feet, then another and another until he was over 20,000 feet up. The gnawing ceased. The rat was dead. It could not survive the atmosphere of those heights. More than two hours later the pilot brought the plane safely to the landing field and found the dead rat.

Worry is a rodent. It cannot live in the secret place of the Most High God. It cannot breathe in the atmosphere of prayer and trust and Scripture and worship. Worry dies when we take it to the Lord.

This is the promise of God.