Good morning folks. If I haven't had a chance to meet you yet my name's Ken Matthews and I'm the Minister here. And as you are by now well aware – this morning we're thinking about the subject of worry. And I guess it's fairly safe to say that everybody worries about something, don't they? Worry seems to be a part of everyday life.
I wonder what you would say you worry about? Well that was the question I emailed around the church earlier this week and so now…. my inbox is crammed full of worries. I had enough worries of my own, but now I have everybody else's too! In total I was sent over 200 and they included some that made me chuckle like:
- "Arsene Wenger being replaced by Mikel Arteta"
- "Being out in public and finding my flies are undone"
- "My husband after years of denial will finally answer the question 'Does my bottom look big in this' with a 'Yes'"
But many went much deeper and were really similar – so having grouped them together, here are the top 10 worries folks sent me:
9. Getting Old
8. Past Failures / Mistakes
7. Handling Work / Exam Pressures
6. What Other People Think of Me
5. Parents' Health / Mortality
4. Relationships – with spouses, other family members or simply wanting to be in one
2. Personal Health
1. Children – Whether it's our own children or Grandchildren or our lack of children, this was by far and away the number one answer. We worry about how they're getting on, that they're happy, that they've got friends, that we're failing them as parents, that they'll get sick or be kidnapped or die in a horrific car accident.
Now you might have been invited along this morning by a friend who assured you that church would be an uplifting and encouraging experience… 'Come to church,' they said. 'It will be fun,' they said. 'There will be a BBQ afterwards,' they said. And now I've gone and totally put you off your burger with that little lot! But folks – we think we've come so far to make this world such a wonderful, comfortable place, don't we? Yet still we live anxious, stressed and worried lives.
- More days are lost at work through stress related illness than ever before.
- More people are receiving therapy than ever before.
- More tranquilizers and anti-depressants are being prescribed than ever before.
And even if we're not popping pills and seeing a therapist we all feel the stresses and strains of everyday life. So how we need to hear Jesus' words from that Bible reading we had earlier on from Luke 12:
"Do not be anxious about your life…"
But as Fiona read it for us… we might have been tempted to think: Really? Is that God's antidote to worry? "Do not be anxious!" I mean have you ever had someone say something like that to you when you've been stressed out? 'Don't worry, it might never happen!' And all it did was make you think they really didn't understand the pressures you were under.
Well, let me reassure you that these are not the words of some unsympathetic religious bloke who doesn't get what you're going through. Read the Bible's accounts of Jesus' life and you will see that the pressures he had to face up to put most of ours in the shade… And yet he is the most loving and compassionate person you will ever meet. So here in Luke 12 he dispenses two wonderful doses of medicine to help us live worry free. Firstly, he says:
1. Don't Worry - Remember Who Meets Your Needs (v.22-30)
Jesus says in verse 29:
"…do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them."
Now Jesus isn't saying, 'Let's all be happy-go-lucky and carefree and irresponsible.' It's right to be responsible in working and spending and saving to meet your needs and the needs of your family if you have one. To "seek" here means to make your needs your anxious, all-absorbing priority. And Jesus is telling us that there is no need to do that… because we have a Father in heaven who knows what we need and cares for and meets our needs.
Eleven years ago I became a dad. I now have three children and I love my little munchkins very much. And I'm trying my best to be a good dad. In fact, when they were very little, like all small children, they used to think that their dad was the best dad in the world… but sadly as they grow up they are discovering the truth! But even though I'm not the best dad in the world, not once have I forgotten to feed my kids. Not once have they walked outside our house without any clothes on. And it is my intention to never allow my kids to go without food or clothing or a roof over their head.
Now as I tell you that, none of you are sitting there marvelling at what a great father I am. None of you are thinking of nominating me for 'Dad of the Year' - because that's just what any decent father would do. They are my little team of mini-mes; of course I will look after them. But sadly I know not everyone's experience of a Father has been positive. Some have been downright negative and abusive and I'm really sorry about that. But God's heart breaks over that even more than mine. And the rest of what Jesus says here shows us why we can have complete confidence, complete trust in our Heavenly Father's care for us. As Jesus says not to worry, but instead (v.24):
"Consider the ravens…"
Now there's something you won't find in every self-help book on worry! 'Consider the ravens… Get your binoculars out and do a bit of bird watching,' He continues:
"…they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!"
Now of course the birds do have to work for their food – pecking away, pulling up grubs. But they're not stressed out, spending their time working every hour God sends to make sure they've got a pension plan, worrying that they've got enough saved up for a rainy day. Ironically the birds are the only ones who are not bothered about having a little nest egg. Isn't that strange? But if God cares for and provides for them… how much more will he care and provide for you if you turn to Him – Because you are way more valuable to Him than mere birds! And what about the lilies? Verse 27:
"Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
They are dressed like royalty! Fit for a Royal wedding no less! Lilies are beautiful, aren't they? But lilies don't watch 'What Not to Wear' or 'How to Look Good Naked.' They don't wear UGG boots or shop at Monsoon. No, lilies don't do any of that! And yet they still look great – because their beauty comes naturally from the way God makes them grow. Jesus goes on (v.28)…
"But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!"
If God skilfully weaves lilies together like a work of art, even though they are in the vase one day and the bin the next – how much more time and effort is God going to put into someone like you – who he made to last for eternity? Turn to him and He will do something inside you that will make you attractive long after you get old and grey!
Now all of this isn't a promise that for those who trust God life will be trouble-free. But it is a promise that, over-arching all of life's circumstances, God will provide. Your Father in heaven is always looking after you – even in times when that's not obvious.
And so Jesus is asking us: Is that how you see God? As your Heavenly Father? Who loves you? Who takes care of you? Or do you think he will neglect you, fail you… or even take advantage of you? You see our greatest problem – what is actually at the root of all our worries – is that we are suspicious of God. And so we shove him out of the picture and try to handle all life's difficulties by our self. But folks, what if…
- …God is unimaginably good – better than we could understand or imagine?
- What if… his heart breaks over our suffering and the way we push him out of our lives?
- What if… he is watching, waiting for us to come back to him… like a Dad waiting for a dear lost child?
- What if… he loves us so much that he would give us what is most precious to him – his only Son, Jesus – to die on a cross for us – so that he could have us home?
- What if God really is the loving Dad you always wished you had?
'Well he is,' says Jesus. So you don't need to worry, but (v.31-32):
"Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
This is Jesus' second spoonful of medicine for our anxiety:
2. Don't Worry – Remember Who's in Control (v.31-34)
And it's not the most complimentary of starts, is it? As Jesus says we are like a little flock of baby lambs. If any group ever had a reason to be worried it would be a little group of baby lambs. I mean, no-one is ever afraid of lambs. Run with me on this a minute…
- You hear stories of people being mauled by a lion or a bear, but you've never heard of anyone being savaged by a lamb have you?
- There's never been a horror film made with an out of control lamb on the loose.
- And if a lamb escapes from the zoo… People don't run home and lock the doors– instead they open the doors so it can come in and they can pet it.
Well when God looks at us he sees a group of weeny, weedy wee baby lambs. And he says: 'You guys may be the most vulnerable like that – but you still don't need to be afraid.' He's not saying: 'Don't worry – There's nothing to fear.' Neither is he saying: 'Don't worry – You're tough, you'll be fine!' No, what he is saying is: 'Don't worry – Because you have a Father who also happens to be the King of the whole world… and he is happy to put all of the resources of His kingdom at your disposal! So, you can rest assured that when trouble comes, if you turn to Him, you'll be fine.'
Folks, this gets right to the heart of God's antidote for worry. We get so caught up thinking about ourselves, putting ourselves first… that we think we can control the world around us by turning our circumstances over and over and over again in our minds. But we can't! Only God is in control and can transform the course of our lives. He's the King! Nothing is too big a problem for God to deal with. And so Jesus says: 'Stop gazing at your fears and obsessing about you – and look at your Father. Seek him, and put Him and his plans first. Because His plans are bigger than your fears.' You see, worry gets us so self-absorbed that we fail to see the bigger picture.
I saw a woman who reminded me of this the other day. I was driving along behind her and it became obvious that she'd just been to the hairdressers - looking at herself in the mirror and touching her hair at any opportunity. So much so that when we pulled up to a red light I was kind of relieved that she managed to stop. But the preening didn't. She went into peacock overload and this time… she didn't see the light change. It turned green and she just carried on flirting with the mirror. I of course being a conscientious road user, graciously encouraged her to use the opportunity to move her vehicle forward… by pressing firmly down on my horn. (Just trying to serve. Always happy to help.) Unfortunately, this didn't seem to help as she panicked, stalled the car and didn't manage to get it started before the lights turned red again – which, I'm ashamed to say was the colour of my mood by this point.
But folks: I wonder what opportunities we miss out on through our anxiety? So many of us are so self-absorbed that we're in danger of missing out on the bigger life God has for us. It's like our lives are just sat stalled at the traffic lights and our worries are preventing us from moving on. Well Jesus tells us that we can only move on by letting go of our anxiety – and we can only do that by passing it over to God. That's why, in another part of the Bible (Philippians 4.6-7) it says:
"do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
So the next time you're lying awake at night worrying about how you're going to fit everything in – focus on God not yourself. Switch the light on and read these verses and remember that God is the King. He is in control of everything – and that includes your time! Or next time you're worried about what others think of you – don't worry about how you might change to fit in with them. Turn to God and pray about how he might change them.
And if you ever find yourself worrying about how you're going to be able to afford that new patio or the summer trip you really want to do then… well… you won't believe what's the next thing Jesus says you should do! Jesus finishes by saying (v.33-34):
"Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
'What?! Your antidote to worry involves me giving away my money! You've got to be kidding me! If I were to do that it would make me more worried, not less.' But God isn't taking our stuff, he's taking our stress. Because He knows that there is great joy in being generous. Great joy! It re-orientates our minds and our hearts and our eyes away from ourselves. It liberates us from being so self-absorbed that worry cripples and chokes us. It allows us to love others. And it allows us to get to know our Father - because God himself is a giver by nature. He has given us everything we need – not least his son, Jesus Christ. And to give is to walk in his footsteps and discover the meaning of life.
So let me finish by saying, that if you're a Christian here this morning – how about:
- Spending less money on clothes and more on clothing the poor?
- Giving up a luxury to raise money for someone else's necessity?
- Or if you haven't got that much money or stuff to give, what about giving time… to help at the local Foodbank or with the CAP Debt Centre or to pray for those in need?
If we really believe that our Father is a generous King then we will give! And we'll do it with confidence that we're not going to lose out… because we know He has promised to meet our needs. And if you're not yet a Christian – I hope I haven't freaked you out with what Jesus has to say about money. But rest assured the church isn't after your money. All I'm hoping this morning is that you have seen and heard enough to be intrigued enough to want to find out more. So why not…
- Take away an account of Jesus' life like this one written by a guy called Mark.
- Or one of these little 'Why Jesus?' booklets that explains a bit more about the why and the how of having God as our Father.
But maybe this morning has whetted your appetite for more than that. So it might be that you're up for doing Christianity Explored – which is an opportunity to join a group, or meet over coffee with the friend who brought you, or someone else from the church – to look through Mark's gospel and fire away with any questions you've got.
If we have a loving heavenly Father who is also King of everything and promises to give all of the resources of his kingdom – Then surely it is worth trying out taking our eyes off ourselves and putting them on to him for a while. Who knows – we might find that as we do so, that a lot of our worries simply melt away.
'Don't worry' says Jesus, 'remember who meets your needs. Don't worry – remember who is in control.'