Thursday, August 8, 2013

Divided by Worry

Remember Bobby McFerrin’s famous old song about worry? He’d sing in his Jamaican style, “Don’t worry, be happy now.” If you grew up in that era like me, you can probably hardly hear the expression “Don’t worry” without adding your own mental Jamaican accent. And the song will be stuck in your head for hours. You can thank me later.

In the song – and in life for many who espouse a “don’t worry” lifestyle – they don’t offer an alternative. Just don’t do it; stop it. Don’t care, don’t be responsible, don’t pursue – just let it all go and don’t worry – be happy. The problem is we can’t all live on a beach in Jamaica sipping exotic drinks with little umbrellas on them.

Surprisingly, God is in favor of the “Don’t worry” lifestyle. He had Paul write in the Bible, “Don’t be anxious for anything, but…” He then provided a follow-up option different than nonchalant irresponsibility. Before I tell you what it is, though, why is worry – or anxiousness – such a bad thing?

The Greek word for anxious comes from another word which means to be divided or distracted. Worry divides our attention and distracts us from the truth of the situation. Three familiar stories from the Bible help us understand the division.

Matthew 6:25-34

Jesus taught us not to worry by using the example of birds and lilies. God provides food for the birds and clothes the lilies in splendor. God provides so extravagantly for the birds and flowers; He’ll provide so much more for us! He’s teaching truth – trust God to meet your needs. Our sinful response to His truth, however, is to let worry step in and take over. Worry divides the truth. The division leaves an empty platitude to “trust God” on one part and no provider of our needs on the other part. So we step in and think we have to do it all on our own.

Matthew 10:17-20

Us Christians worry a lot about sharing our faith. In this passage, God promises to give us the words to say, especially in times of persecution. Trust God to speak. Again, though, worry steps in and divides that truth. The division again leaves the empty platitude “trust God” alone on the top and we are left to try and speak in our own power.

Luke 10:38-42

Jesus visited His close friends, Mary and Martha. These two sisters had different responses to His visit. Mary chose to sit with Jesus and listen to Him teach; Martha worried about getting the work done for His visit. Verse forty even says that the work “distracted” Martha. When Martha complained, Jesus gently shared with her it is better to spend time with Him than worry about all the work. His truth is “Spend time with Me.” Worry divided Martha from that opportunity; the division left how she spent her time with no focus, separated from Christ.

God’s Solution

Earlier I hinted that God provides a solution for how to not worry. The answer is in the rest of the verse. “Don’t be anxious for anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Prayer takes the focus off of our own attempts and restores our focus on God. Prayer recognizes He is the Provider of our needs, the Speaker of our truth, and the Friend for which we long. Prayer closes the circle back up again; it removes the division. Prayer recognizes we can’t do anything on our own but rely solely on Him. With that balance restored, we then bring our requests before Him. As we make our petitions, we’re already thankful for the promised provision, the unchanging word, and the loving relationship.

1 comment:

  1. In Mt. 6:11 Jesus tells his disciples to pray for daily bread. When he goes on to tell them not to worry about what they will eat, drink, or wear (in 6:25f.), he first speaks of the major division of masters: one cannot serve God and mammon (wealth) (6:24). Thus the anxiety is especially about pursuing wealth, anxiously working hard (unlike the birds or flowers) to get the "best" and most food, drink, and clothing. Indeed, Jesus says all the peoples are busily seeking these things (6:32). Only disciples who are content to pray for daily bread will not be distracted by all those things.