One needs only listen to a day’s news and you’d be reminded of many of the things we humans have to worry about: global warming, suicide bombers, Russia, cyberterrorism, North Korea, tornadoes, fires and floods, identity theft, ZIKA, and the list goes on.
And then, of course, there are the usual worries we all have at some point regarding our health, our finances, our relationships.
But yet, Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, tells his disciples and us, “Do not worry.”
Now, we may think this is a bit unrealistic, for worry is pretty natural and frankly, hard to avoid. Some worry is essential, in fact, to our existence.
But a word-study explains that Jesus means extreme angst, anxiety which results in our being consumed with ourselves ... irrational, confined with fear.
The Greek word used is merimnao, meaning “dividing the mind,” being pulled apart, coming to pieces.
The worry Jesus is talking about is unhealthy worry. It is debilitating, paralyzing and fatiguing. It is associated with high blood pressure, heart trouble, migraines, depression, nervousness, irritable bowel disease, ulcers, etc.
It ages us. Someone once said, “If no one knows the trouble you’ve seen, you’ve had a face lift.”
It also attacks our relationship with God. It pins down our spirits and takes our minds captive. It snatches our faith.
Have you ever thought of that? Extreme worry is opposite of trust in the care of our loving God?
This kind of worry keeps us from seeking God, and it makes us have only horizontal thoughts. It is our mortal foe because what we worry about becomes more significant to us than God (Swindoll).
In the 1940s, Clarence Jordon founded Koinonia Farm in Americus, Ga., a community of poor white and black families who cooperated in earning a living.
The integrated status of the community bothered many local citizens. They tried to destroy the effort. They boycotted farm products and slashed workers’ tires.
In 1954, the KKK burned every building on the farm except Dr. Jordon’s home. Most families left. The next day a newspaper reporter came to see what remained. The rubble was still smoldering, but Clarence Jordan was busy planting and hoeing.
With a haughty attitude, the reporter said, “Well, you got two PhDs and you’ve put 14 years into this farm, and there’s nothing left to show for it. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?”
Clarence stopped hoeing and said quietly but firmly, “Sir, I don’t think you understand us Christians. What we are about is not success; what we are about is faithfulness.” (Harbour).
Yes, worry and faith don’t mix. Because of this, Jesus tells us to look at the lilies of the field, the bright desert poppies that flourish and dazzle for just one day before they die. They have one spectacular shot at living, and in that shot, they provide beauty and meaning and joy. Each is unique and irreplaceable, but also part of something much bigger.
Jesus wants us to remember that we are small, dependent and finite creatures. And yet, we are preciously particular and part of a big world over which our living, loving Creator God is bigger.
God is bigger than all our fears about abandonment, death and meaninglessness, and God is eager to carry our worries for us. God came in Jesus, living and dying, to prove this. We can flourish, for whatever time we have, living beautiful, dazzling lives.
Doctors give us good advice on handling our worries ... practicing deep breathing, regularly exercising, and prayer, and very simply turning off the TV if it is causing us stress.
But the best advice, friends, is to do something outside ourselves and for someone else.
I recall being pregnant with our first child and concurrently working as a clinical pharmacist in Pediatrics. I spent a lot of time in the Neonatal ICU and as my pregnancy went on, and as I cared for my premature or very sick patients, I began to worry about the health of our unborn baby.
The attending physician, a wise man, spotted my pain and gave me some good advice.
He said, “Spend some time in the regular nursery. And then just get in the shoes of the PARENTS of these babies.”
I knew he was saying that I needed to get some perspective, and instead of worrying, use my energies to help someone else! I needed to tell these parents THAT which I also needed to believe ... that all lives are precious gifts from God and not one, no matter their condition or the length of their days on earth, is outside of the hand of God.
Have faith, friends. Don’t worry. “Do not say, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? ... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 5:31,34).
This is the good news of the Christian faith. May it be so.
The Rev. NAOMI INGRIM is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Copperas Cove.