Lessons in Anxiety

Once, when Jesus was preaching to the crowds, he told them a story of a rich man who had a terrific crop one year. Rather than be happy with the blessings he had received, the man began to worry about where he was going to store all the grain he had just reaped. After much thought he decided to tear down his old barns and build new ones.

"I'll store all my goods and all my grain there," he said. "And with plenty of good things laid up for many years, I'll take life easy! I'll eat, drink and make merry."

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

Jesus wrapped up the story in his inimitable style: "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

He then went on to make a few points.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:22-26)

Obviously, there is not one among us who can add a single hour to our lives by worrying, yet we worry. When we don't have a job we worry about getting one. When we secure employment, we worry that the work might be too hard for us to do. When we have learned how to do it, we worry that we aren't getting paid enough. And it just goes on and on. We worry about yesterday. We worry about today. We worry about tomorrow. We spend our lives swamped with worry and succeed in doing absolutely nothing other than be miserable. Why?

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! (Luke 12:27-28)

In that last line lies the reason why we worry: a lack of faith. Though we might profess to have strong faith, a true barometer of our faith is the extent to which we become anxious about things. A man who worries a lot generally does so because he does not truly believe that God is in control of his life. He believes that he himself is, and consequently believes that it is up to him to clothe himself, feed himself, house himself, and equip himself with the half a million other accoutrements that he feels are necessary to live a proper life.

A man who does have faith, however, is perfectly at peace with himself and the world because he has truly surrendered his life and everything in it to God. He believes—and rightly so—that God is his father who will look after him and all his needs as long as he does the one thing that God asks for in return, which is seek God's kingdom and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)

Seeking God's kingdom involves patterning your life in conformity to God's will. Even if you are only just about to commence this exercise, if you are sincere, you can rest assured that your heavenly father is already ensuring your needs are met. All you need to do is pray a little as Paul suggests in his letter to the Philippians.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Once in a while my 8 year old daughter Lianne will return from school and tell me that she needs a little money for some class activity. Of course, I tell her she can have it, and though I might not give her the money right away, she hugs me and thanks me, knowing that on—or before—the day that she needs to hand it in, the money she needs will be given to her.

It is very similar with our requests to God, whose children we are. In full time ministry, I no longer have a steady income, but so great is my trust in God, my finances (or lack of them) are never a source for worry. As an example, I have four checks that I write out to my landlord each year towards rental payments. A couple of weeks before the checks are due to be presented I go to my Father in prayer and tell him that my rent is due; could he please let me have the money I require. I don't do this because he needs reminding, but because he likes me to go to him whenever I need something. And then, request made, I thank him knowing that my prayers will be answered even if I happen to have nothing in my bank account at that moment in time. I have never had a check bounce on me.

Such faith comes by learning to let go and trust God, something that is admittedly not very easy to do. A friend of mine is very fond of telling this story which perfectly illustrates how difficult it is to surrender control of our lives.

A man was walking up a hill one day when he went too close to the edge and slipped. Fortunately for him, a branch that grew on the side of the hill broke his fall, and as he clung on to it desperately, he began hollering for help.
      "Is anybody out there?" he screamed.
      After a little while he heard a sonorous voice from above. "This is God!"
      "Whew!" the man exclaimed in relief. "You came in time. Please save me."
      "Let go the branch," said God.
      The man blinked in disbelief. He looked down at the jagged rocks winking at him thirty feet below, then up again. "Are you kidding?"
      "No, I'm not kidding," said God. "I will save you. Just let go."
      The man looked down again, shook his head despairingly and then cried out. "Is anybody else out there?"

We often face situations like this in our lives, where everything seems hopeless and our downfall certain. Most of us frantically seek out ways or means in which to "save" ourselves, none of them involving God. A man with true faith, however, will simply surrender the situation to God, and if he does try to do something himself, it will only be in obedience to God's instructions.

Such a level of faith does not come overnight. It is built up over time, by a gradual process of realizing God's own faithfulness [see The School of Faith], and by surrendering the things we cling to. This begins by understanding the basic fact that we have absolutely no control over anything, and by surrendering ourselves into God's hands we enable his will to be done in our lives without danger of us going contrary to it. The more we are able to surrender, the greater our growth will be. And the greater our freedom as well, because surrendering also relieves us of a lot of the unnecessary weight that we carry on our shoulders. On the Christian journey, like any other difficult journey, the more unencumbered we are, the faster our progress. So if you want to travel fast, travel light. Give it all to Jesus.

May the Spirit be with you.