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anxiety

January 5, 2012
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Reflections on Matthew 6:25–33.

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, 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. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? ’For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

I have never met anyone who was anxious and liked it. Makes sense; anxiety is awful. It destroys. It’s uncomfortable. It’s consuming. It’s unbiased. And the worst part is that no matter how much you hate anxiety or try to ignore it, it’s so hard to shake. Like an unwanted guest, it just won’t leave. For all of us, whether it’s in a clinical or non-clinical sense, anxiety is a part of our life.

I am thankful that Jesus talked about anxiety. He said that we shouldn’t be anxious about our life. Easier said than done. It seems impossible not to be anxious in our world, with all our responsibilities and challenges. Regardless of the difficulty, Jesus said not to be anxious. In love, he doesn’t leave it to us to figure out how to overcome but provides insight to this seemingly impossible task of not worrying.

Before I dive into some of the specifics, a caveat. For folks who struggle with clinical anxiety, I am not suggesting that seeking help through therapy or medicine is unfaithful or a cop-out or even wrong. It’s not. Medicine and therapy are gifts from God that are sometimes necessary.

God is present and not indifferent to our circumstances. Anxiety is often a result of believing we are alone. By alone, I don’t simply mean having no relationships, but rather a sense that even with our relationships, we are the only ones thinking about our tasks and needs; we are the only ones who are not indifferent to the quality and details of our life.

Jesus tells us not to be anxious because God is present and aware of our circumstances. He knows that we, like the birds of the air and lilies of the field, need food and clothing. He is not indifferent to our life but is in fact present and concerned. We are not alone.

Anxiety is unfruitful. Anxiety is an addictive coping mechanism because it gives us a sense of control. But what is thought to be control is nothing other than an illusion. Jesus asked, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Of course, we all know the answer. Anxiety accomplishes nothing other than becoming fixated and consumed with our circumstances and being fixated and consumed is not control. Jesus is being practical here. Don’t be anxious because it accomplishes nothing.

Life is found in God. Jesus tells us not to be anxious, even about the essentials, but first seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and then everything will be added to us. To understand this, consider our need for food. Some of us are anxious about our ability to provide food for ourselves and those for whom we are responsible. We may be anxious for good reason. Maybe we are unemployed and our savings is quickly being depleted. And yet, Jesus tells not to worry about providing the food but first seek the Kingdom of God and then everything will be added to us. Is Jesus just playing a game? Is he actually suggesting that we simply need to first seek his kingdom and then he will provide food? I know of a number of stories about people, even those of great faith in Jesus, who die of hunger or exposure to the elements. Is it because these folks didn’t seek God’s kingdom first or have enough faith? I don’t think so.

Then what does Jesus mean? We desire life and not just any life, but a flourishing life. In a way, when we are anxious, what we are really seeking is this flourishing life. However, throughout the Bible, particularly the Gospels, we are told repeatedly that the life for which we long finds its meaning and fulfillment in God through Jesus. When Jesus tells us to first seek God’s kingdom and all these things will be added to us, I think he is simply saying to seek God, and the thing we really want, life, will be found. The implications of this are massive. Life does not consist in the essentials (food, shelter, etc.), or possessions, or success, or anything else. It is found in God and God alone. Because of this, we don’t need to be anxious because the thing we want and need most, life, is found only in God through Jesus.

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