Don’t be anxious

Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They don’t labor or spin. Yet I tell you that 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, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For unbelievers chase after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

– Matthew 6:19-34

Jesus starts out today with a basic piece of advice. He says, “Do not store your treasures on earth! Moths and rust and thieves and inflation or anything else can take it away from you. Stop and take a look at where your treasure really is. Take a long, hard look at what things you really value. Because wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart is going be also. . .”

Isn’t that the truth? The things we really care about, are the things we put our time and attention and our money into. My actions and my possessions speak much more honestly than my words about what really matters to me.

I have gained money and lost money over the years. Sometimes I regret that I don’t have more. But I have never regretted a gift that I’ve given. I’ve never regretted the help that I’ve given – to our children, to our friends, even to strangers.

It’s better to have friends than to be rich. It’s better to give to the poor than to pile up money in the bank. These days, the bank hardly pays you any interest anyway!

God knows the things we need to live a decent and happy life. God knows we need a roof over our heads, clothes to wear, food to eat. God knows we need all those things.

It’s OK to save for your old age. It’s fine to provide for your children’s education. It’s good to leave a little something behind. But that’s not all we’re supposed to do. Some people act as if money is the only thing in the world!

But Jesus says, “You can’t serve two masters. You’ll love the one and hate the other. You’ll be devoted to one, and despise the other. Love of God and love of money – which one is really driving the bus in our lives?”

I meet a lot of different people. And some of them are generous in their spirit. They share what they have. They invite strangers to come and eat at their table. They’re always the first to offer to help – with their time, with their effort, with their talents.

We’ve all met people like that, and some of them are rich, and some of them are poor. It’s their spirit that makes them the way they are. It’s their attitude towards life. Whether they’ve got a lot or a little doesn’t matter in a way. They’re generous in their spirit. They feel the love of God like a fountain, like a spring that comes from deep down. They’re not afraid of running out. Everyone is their neighbor.

Have you all met people like that? They’re wonderful! We all want to be around them, and we all want to be like them. They’re an inspiration.

And we all know people who are the opposite. It’s not just that they’re stingy. They’re fearful. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor, deep inside they feel fearful. Whatever they have, it’s never enough.

It’s OK to be prudent. It’s OK to save and plan ahead. It’s OK to want to enjoy the good things in life. But there’s a kind of spirit that’s afraid, a spirit that doesn’t trust God. We’ve all met people like that, too. And sometimes we fall into that category ourselves.

Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” In the Message translation it says, “Your eyes are like windows. . .If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!”

Jesus isn’t talking about physical eyes here. He’s talking about the way we see the world. He’s talking about insight and outlook, he’s talking about attitude.

If your outlook is healthy and generous, Jesus says, your life will be filled with light. If your outlook is unhealthy, and grudging, and controlled by desire, then your life is going to be pretty dark.

In today’s reading, I want you to notice how many times Jesus says, “Don’t worry”. Open up your Bibles to the passage we’re reading, and look at verses 25 through 34. Take a minute and read through and tell me how many times Jesus tells us, “Don’t worry”.

Five times. Over and over again.

  1. Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink or wear.
  2. Don’t worry about your life – you can’t make it last any longer by worrying about it.
  3. Don’t worry about clothes – look at how beautiful the flowers are! They don’t weave or spin. They’re even more beautiful than the richest robes of the greatest king.
  4. Don’t worry about the things everyone else worries about – God knows you need them. Think first about God’s kingdom, and God’s righteousness, and everything else will be given to you.
  5. Last, don’t worry about tomorrow – today’s troubles are enough for today.
    That’s something we all need to remember. Don’t worry. Don’t be anxious.

People have always been worried. But sometimes I think that anxiety is a special problem for people today. The history books are going to look back and call this “the Age of Anxiety”.

We’ve got plenty to worry about. But worry has become a way of life for people today.

And it’s not healthy. Worry will eat you up. It will destroy you physically. It will eat away at you spiritually. It will hurt you mentally and emotionally. Worry affects you heart, your blood pressure, your immune system and every major part of your body.

A lot of people – myself included! – often try to eat their way out of anxiety. We get anxious, and we eat more. Have you ever noticed that “stressed” is simply “desserts” spelled backwards?

It’s true. A lot of our unhealthy eating habits come from being anxious. Some people starve themselves, some people eat too much. But either way, it’s not a healthy way to live.

Anxiety is notorious for affecting our sleep. We may try to make it through the day, but sleep has a way of taking the lid off. We get nightmares and anxiety dreams and interrupted sleep, night after night. It’s no way to live.

That’s why Jesus says, over and over, “Don’t be anxious. God knows what you need. God hears you when you pray. God loves you. God cares for you. God provides for you, in ways you never imagined.”

It’s OK to ask. It’s OK to pray. But once we ask God to help, we need to let go of the anxiety. Don’t let it keep eating at you.

There’s a word for that. It’s called trust. It’s called faith. It’s called believing that God wants you to be blessed. God wants you to have joy in your life.

There will always things to grieve over and be sorry for. But grief and sorrow and worry shouldn’t control your life. If they do, that’s not right. That’s not healthy. That’s not life-giving.

Jesus knows that we need to work. He grew up in a working family. He probably worked full-time in his father’s carpentry shop from when he was a boy till he was in his 30’s. He lived in a poor community for much of his life. Jesus knew about the cares and problems that everybody faces. He was one of us.

But he also knew that there’s more to life than food, and drink, and clothing. And there’s much more to life than worrying about these necessary things. One of the first steps on the road to following Jesus is worrying less, and trusting more.

You see, praying doesn’t mean being more anxious. A lot of people act that way. Things are bad, we’ve tried everything we know, we’re anxious and without hope, and as a last resort, we pray.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be! That’s turned around and backwards.

Prayer is supposed to be where we begin. And we don’t start by praying immediately for what we think we want. We start by praying for the things that God wants, all the time.

God wants truth. God wants peace. God wants reconciliation. God wants people to be welcomed. God wants love, always. God wants forgiveness, and mercy. God wants little children to be brought in. God wants the poor to be fed. God wants people who are outcast and forgotten to be invited back.

God also wants us to let go of the wrongs we’ve done and the wrongs that have been done to us. God wants people to sit down at the table together and feel God’s presence among us.

God wants our hearts to be clean, and not just our faces. God wants people to turn back from violence, and lay down the weapons we raise against each other.

We need to seek those things first in our lives. Those things need to be on the front burner for us, all the time. And we need to trust that this is, indeed, the way of God, and that we’re supposed to walk in it.

That’s what “seeking the kingdom” means. It means sharing God’s love, wherever we can. It means bringing peace into every house we enter. It means praying for the good of people we may not agree with. It means blessing, not cursing. It means doing good, not returning evil for evil.

In other places, Jesus tells us to pray all the time, and never give up. Prayer isn’t improved by anxiety. Prayer doesn’t get better or more effective because we get more anxious about it.

Prayer means that we bring the things that we’re anxious about to God, and then let them go. Prayer means saying, “Lord, I don’t know how to handle this. How about you help me deal with it?”

Prayer means healing our anxiety, not just coping with it. It means healing our anxiety, by facing it together with God. Prayer means the transformation of anxiety — into love and trust. I like that idea. Prayer is the transformation of anxiety into love and trust.

I think that’s a pretty good note for us to end on. When we pray, we are letting God change us. We are letting God make a little miracle in our hearts. We’re letting God heal us of some of the worries that can almost destroy us during the week. And we’re letting God give us the kingdom instead.

Prayer replaces anxiety with joy. It replaces worry with peace. It replaces all the things we think we want, with the things that we really need. When we let Jesus stand next to us in our fears, he not only heals us — he gives us the kingdom.

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