Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Worry

Matthew 6:25-34

At least one sage has observed: “Worrying is a lot like rocking in a rocking chair – it will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere!” This crazy world is laden with situations and circumstances which lead many of us to a life an anxiety, anguish, and anticipation of the awful – worry!

Years ago a popular song asked the question, “Worry, why do I let myself worry?” Yes, why do I let myself worry? Why do you let yourself worry?

In a certain sense, the Christian – the born-again believer in a benevolent Lord – is under more pressure than the lost person. This is because of the spiritual stand to which the Christian is called. A pig is under virtually no pressure in the mud puddle. He merely settles in and becomes comfortable. On the other hand, a lamb feels sheer discomfort there! Why? It is against his nature.

Many Christians squander their time worrying about the past and the future, not to mention the present. They are guilty of presuming on yesterday and procrastinating on tomorrow. Because of this unChristian anxiety which often petrifies us, worry can lead to innumerable disorders – ulcers, colitis, rashes, facial tics, emotional disorders, “nervous breakdowns,” strokes, heart attacks, and even death.

One unnamed philosopher expressed it:

To worry about what we can’t help is useless. To worry about what we can help is stupid!

An unknown poet aptly put it:

Worry is an old man with bended head,

Carrying a load of feathers

Which he thinks are lead.

And one Chinese proverb summed it up:

The legs of the stork are long, and the legs of the duck are short. You cannot shorten the legs of the stork, nor can you lengthen the legs of the duck. Why worry?

We will never wrestle with worry and overcome it until we understand this overriding truth: Worry is not only frowned upon by God but is forbidden by Him! Many of us assume that God merely looks upon worry with a frown, but the fact is: He strictly forbids it in His Word.

Most every person, Christian and non-Christian, worries about worry, asking, “How can I wrestle with it and win?” How can I cope? How can I keep from falling apart?”

Our Lord and Savior addressed this exact issue in the Sermon on the Mount found in chapters 5-7 of Matthew. Our understanding Lord presents guidelines for grappling with and winning over worry.  First of all, we have to:

Acknowledge the Source of Worry

Matthew 6:25-33

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink: nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on? Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

When Jesus declares “Take no thought,” He does not mean to adopt a flippant, devil-may-care attitude which sidesteps and sneers at the serious issues of life. “Take no thought” in the original language meant “not to have a divided mind, a mind torn between two main objects.” That is the condition of the backslidden Christian who, in the words of Billy Graham, tries to live “with one foot in the church and the other foot in the world.”

James 1:8 refers to that kind of person: “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Dear reader, worry is doublemindedness.  It is faithless, foolish, frustrating, and futile to worry. When you make a habit of worry, you manifest your lack of faith and trust in the Lord who asks you to cast all of your care upon Him, because He cares for you (see 2 Pet. 5:7).

It is foolish to worry. Jesus teaches us to look at the birds of the air. They don’t plant a crop, so they don’t gather a harvest – and they don’t have to maintain barns or storehouses. The Heavenly Father feeds them. And our Master asks all of us, “Aren’t you better than they?” We are human beings gifted by God with intelligence – the ability to reason for ourselves and to make choices. In Christ, we are safe and secure. He has promised to care for us. “Just remember in His Word how He feeds the little bird; Take your burden to the Lord, and leave it there.”

In this passage Jesus indicates that worry is sheer folly. It is significant that Jesus does not ask us to behold the mighty eagle as it soars “on the mountain high.” Instead He uses the littlest of birds, a field sparrow, as an illustration. He takes note when that tiny bird is injured and falls to the ground. One of those teeny-weeny feathered creatures cannot hurt without the God of the universe stopping to express His heartfelt concern. The birds cannot store up food for the winter; they are pitiful and inferior alongside us. Yet, God provides for the little field sparrow’s needs. Our Provident Lord cares infinitely more for us!

Birds are amazing creatures. I am always intrigued with them while visiting my in-laws at Pflugerville, Texas. Right outside my in-law’s dining room window hangs a hummingbird feeder. Those wee hummingbirds, two-and-a-half-inches long at the most, hover at the feeder, their wings beating ninety times a second.  Once a year they leave that ranch and fly south over the Gulf of Mexico to Panama – and every year they return to that same ranch! How do they do that? God helps them do it! He created them with that precise homing instinct. Imagine it. And he cares far more for us.

Jesus reminds us that the Heavenly Father takes care of those birds. He has promised to watch over us without fail. “His eye is on the sparrow,” dear Ethel Waters used to sing. “And I know He watches me.” Our provisions, like the birds’, come from the plentiful, protective hand of Almighty God.

Said the robin to the sparrow

“I should really like to know

Why those anxious human beings

Rush around and worry so.”

Said the sparrow to the robin

“Friend, I think that it must be

That they have no Heavenly Father

Such as cares for you and me.”

Worry. We worry over possessions, over provisions, even over God’s promises. Worry indicates that God is not enthroned completely within us. When anxious, fretful worry pervades our lives, it tends to place a question mark over our profession of faith. It is foolish to worry.

And it is futile to worry. Jesus posed a piercing question, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?” The Greek word used here for stature can also mean duration of life.  Worrying is not going to help increase your actual physical size, your standing in the community, or your prestige. Jesus also indicated that worrying can add no length to your life. Think of it. Our times are in the hands of God. The Psalmist wrote that our days were already numbered before we ever lived a single one of them. Why worry then?

One reason we are consumed with worry is because of impatience. It’s easy to preach and teach patience – waiting on the Lord to move in His own time – but it’s exceedingly difficult to practice waiting. That’s one of my pressing problems. I want answers now, action, results. I’m always in a hurry, but the Eternal God is not. He sees all of eternity with one bat of His eyes. We become fretful and impatient if there are not almost immediate answers and concrete results.

Jesus nowhere taught us to hurry and scurry, along with our worry. With His help, we must learn to wait on the Lord, and we must also recognize that it is foolish and futile, to no avail, to worry.

This reminds me of a parable about the clock. Sometimes clocks, especially grandfather clocks, have continued to run for a century or more – simply by ticking twice a second. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

But suppose the old clock were given a human’s brain and disposition. Instead of faithfully and loyally ticking without all kinds of doubt and questioning, the clock would begin to fret and worry. It would think to itself: This’ a drudge. It’s not fair. All I do is tick and tock. I’m working myself to death. And the monotony of it all is devastating. It would work itself into a frazzle.

The clock would begin to compute, putting a horrible strain on its works. Two strokes a second. Tick. Tock. One hundred and twenty strokes a minute. In an hour – 7,200 ticks. In a day – 172,800 ticks. Whew! The little clock tries an analyst, therapy, and pills.

Mercy, in a week – 1,209,600 ticks. And in a year – 62,899,200 ticks. And then the distraught clock starts to multiply by decades. The stress and strain are wearing away at the inward workings of the old clock as it counts the ticks, fretting with 628,992,000 ticks a decade. Finally, the old clock flies into a thousand pieces. Booiinnggg!

“It stopped short, never to go again . . .” Why? Because it worried itself into destruction. And the same is happening to real people all around us. They’re coming apart at the seams because they are filled with fretfulness instead of faithfulness.

You remember the amazing account of John 11. Jesus received word from Mary and Martha of Bethany that their brother, Lazarus, was seriously ill (John 11:1-3). Yet, the Lord Jesus deliberately waited before going to Bethany. In fact, He tarried until Lazarus had died. (v. 11). When Jesus finally arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead and in the tomb for four days (v. 17).

Martha, all upset, hastened to meet Jesus, explaining, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21, NASB). Later, when He came near Mary and Martha’s home, Mary spoke those same words, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

What did Martha and Mary’s words reveal? They had put their heads together and, in their frantic anxiety, had expressed puzzlement as to why Jesus had waited. When you meet two different people in two different places at two different times, and they speak the same words, you can readily recognize they have been together talking. They had worried themselves sick. They had asked each other, “How can Jesus do this? How can He procrastinate when we’ve called for Him? He must not care. We’re among His best friends. Why, He’s stayed with us. We’ve fed Him and his disciples so many times. We and Lazarus always welcomed Him with outstretched arms.”

But Jesus had far better for Mary and Martha. Because of their shortsighted worry, they could not believe in miracles. When Jesus promised Martha, “Your brother shall rise again,” she could not understand. She replied, “Lord, I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” Little did Martha realize the divine serendipity which lay ahead. Earlier, upon receiving news of Lazarus’s sickness, the Master had explained to His disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (v.4, NASB). Jesus had known Lazarus’s sickness would not lead to a final death.

Verses 34-44 record Jesus’ weeping over Lazarus, His going to the tomb, and His calling Lazarus from the dead. “Lazarus, come forth,” He shouted. And Lazarus did precisely that! Jesus always has the best in mind for us. Why do we fail to trust Him implicitly? Why are we impatient and fidgety about waiting on the Lord?

Throughout the Psalms we are admonished to “wait on the Lord.” Psalm 130 is especially significant.

I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.(vv. 5-6).

What does that mean? The Psalmist waited on the Lord and His promises far more than those who waited for the sun to rise. Perhaps the Psalmist had in mind those who worshiped the sun or those who were astrologers endeavoring to track the sun in its course. “Tomorrow” is without a doubt the most popular song from the musical Annie. It went, “The sun will come up tomorrow.” Two facts are certain. Number one – we are going to have to wait for the sun. We cannot hurry it up. It doesn’t rise by our watches. We must wait for it. Number two – it always rises. You never wait for Old Sol in vain. If you wait on the Lord, you exceed those who wait on the sun.

God is always right on time, and He always comes through; no matter how desperate we may be, we never wait for Jesus in vain. That’s why it’s foolish and futile to worry.

Worry never solves a single problem. In fact, it compounds your problems. It is the most useless activity in life. It is futile. What good does worry do? It does not empty tomorrow of its trails, but it does empty today of its triumphs! Many live in the past, lamenting, “If only . . .” They spend life crying over the proverbial spilled milk. “If only I had married so and so . . .” “If only I hadn’t married so and so . . .” “If only I had gone to college . . .” “If only I had changed jobs when I had the chance . . .” Those who live in the past are crippled in the present and paralyzed in the future.

Innumerable people worry and wring their hands over tomorrow. “What will happen?” “Will my spouse leave me?” “Will I lose my job?” “Will the Russians control outer space?” “What will happen to the prime lending rate?” “Will I have cancer?” These folks are so obsessed with the future that the present marches on by. I repeat: It is OK to plan for the future within reason. But it is not OK with God for you to worry over the past, the present, or the future!

It is not only foolish and futile to worry, but also downright frustrating. Jesus asked, “And why take ye thought for raiment?” In other words, why worry about the cut of your clothes? In eternity it will not matter whether your suit cost $79 or $579 or whether your dress was $109 or $1009. Why do you worry?

Our wise Lord then suggested we think about the lilies of the field. They don’t toil. They don’t spin. They don’t punch a clock. They don’t work in an office or factory, but let’s gaze at their grandeur. “And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Jesus further wanted us to consider how they grow. The mystery of growth is one of the unsolved riddles of life. How does a tiny seed ultimately become a flower? How does a finite speck of protoplasm become a human being with all his intricacies of circulation, respiration, elimination – all the bodily processes and functions? In the winter the flower lies as if it were dead in the earth, covered with frost and snow. Yet, in the spring it sprouts up – stalks, leaves, blossoms, and all. And the same God of glory who oversees the lily, watches over you and me! Consider the lilies, how they grow. God does it! “They toil not, neither do they spin.” They do not have to strain in order to produce growth and beauty. They are carefree.

Jesus observed that “even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” We cannot begin to visualize the opulent, lavish kingdom of Solomon – his resplendent crown, robe, and vestments; his palace with cedar furniture overlaid in gold; and his magnificent Temple, which had been the all-consuming dream of his father, David. All of that wealth, according to Jesus, pales into obscurity when compared to the radiance of a flower. All of Solomon’s glory was from without. It was artificial, trumped-up, ostentatious. The lily’s glory is within, a natural outworking of God’s delicate touch.

Lilies, grass, and other vegetation do not last long. The moment we cut a flower, it begins to die. It is here today in all its gorgeous hues – it is gone tomorrow. Isaiah wrote: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it . . . The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (40:7-8). The flowers blossom and too soon die. But you are immortal. God cares infinitely for you. Worry, worry, worry – about the past, about the present, about the future. Hear me: It is foolish, futile, and frustrating to worry . . . and

It is faithless to worry. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds His listeners that “if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 6:30). He chides us for not depending on Him, asking us to quit worrying about what we are going to eat and drink and wear.

And Jesus calls to memory the truth that the Heavenly Father knows we have these needs (see Matt. 6:31-32). “O ye of little faith,” Jesus rebukes us. Worry, He teaches, reveals a lack of faith and trust in God’s promise of protection and provision.

Genuine Christian living is nothing more than my “reacting.” “We love him,” wrote John, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Why do we love Him? Simple. Because He first loved us. He commands us: “Be ye holy.” Why? “Because I am holy.” The real test of spiritual maturity is not our actions – but our reactions. My main problem is not acting right but reacting right. This is the message of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus deals almost exclusively with our reacting. Listen to His teaching in Matthew 5:38-46:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow from thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

During Roman oppression a Roman official or military man could command a Jew to carry his baggage or luggage a mile. That was the legal standard, yet Jesus speaks of volunteering two miles instead of the mile limit. Amazing! He teaches us to turn the other cheek, and let’s quit trying to skip around that teaching. He means exactly that. Do not retaliate. It is better to allow your oppressor another blow than to strike back. If a person sues you for one garment, grant him another one also. Now, all of this sounds crazy to an unspiritual world, but it works. The acid test of our spiritual maturity is not how we act, but how we react.

Now what does this have to do with worry? Worry is a reaction, a reaction to situations. Faith is a reaction to the Word of God. If your life is governed by the Word of God, if you feed upon it – and abide in Him as His words abide in you – then faith will become your automatic reaction to crisis or impending adversity. But if you are controlled by circumstances and situations, then worry will become your reaction to crisis. Worry is not an action on your part – it is a reaction. It is only “natural” for a backslidden Christian to worry.

We cannot nourish worry and faith at the same time. How often we have prayed, “Lord, remove my burden. It’s too heavy for me to carry,” and then gone ahead and carried that heavy weight by ourselves. Why? Because we react from the standpoint of worry instead of from the stance of waiting upon the Lord.

When we worry, we are admitting, “God, I really don’t believe you’re big enough to handle my situation.” What an insult to God! Maybe you protest, “But I don’t know why God does things the way He does!” Frankly, I don’t either. In fact, if I could understand it with my two-by-four mind, there wouldn’t be much to His providence.

Jesus indicated that when we worry, we are acting like the Gentiles. Now most of us are Gentiles; I am not a physical Jew. Here Jesus was actually speaking about those without God, the unbelievers, the heathen. The pagans then and now live as though God does not exist. When you as a Christian worry, you are living like the lost. It is faithless to worry.

So, what distinguishes between the believer and the unbeliever ought to be reaction. Rather than worry, the believer is called on to wait upon the Lord. The committed believer trusts God in spite of what seems to be. One Christian minister who had suffered an unjust persecution was asked, “How is the outlook?” To the question he answered, “The outlook is dark, but the uplook is wonderful.” That’s faith for you! The uplook is wonderful!

But you say, “I know all of these things, but I still can’t get a handle on winning over my worries.” Remember that it’s not enough merely to acknowledge that the source of our worry is our doublemindedness, our divided minds. We must now

Apply the Solution to Worry

Matthew 6:33-34

Browsing the book stores is enjoyable, but at times it can become distressing. The stores are packed with volumes on anxiety, fear, stress, and worry. Most of these books claim to have answers. The sad awareness is: Most of them deal with the treatment of the symptoms and not the disease itself.

If you have a disease and only the symptoms are treated, you may improve for a while, but chances are the symptoms will manifest themselves once again.

First, we must grapple with the cause of worry before we can begin to effect the cure. Jesus certainly would not teach us not to worry without showing us how to keep from it.

A valuable priority is the first step in overcoming worry. What is this priority, this matter that ought to have first place in our affections?

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (6:33).

For most people the overpowering concern is, “I must first live . . . I must first make money . . . I must first clothe and feed and house my family.” Jesus reverses this order and urges us to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” Then, with the proper order and perspective established, “all these things shall be added unto you.” All around us people struggle to provide for themselves and their families, but most of them have perverted priorities. Until, with the help of Christ, we rearrange our priorities, we will never “get it all together.” Why? I repeat: because we are not seeking His kingdom first.

Henry Drummond, powerful preacher and author of The Greatest Thing in the World, penned these lines: “Above all things, do not touch Christianity, unless you are willing to seek the kingdom of heaven first.” How many are dabbling with a form of Christianity without seeking the kingdom!

Seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness means a total surrender, a complete commitment. It involves acknowledging God’s reign and rule over our lives. The kingdom must have a King. When we enthrone Jesus as King, a magnificent promise is ours: “All these things shall be added unto you.” What does Jesus’ promise imply? All our needs and all our tomorrows.

When we seek God first, we always find Him because, long before we ever thought about seeking Him, “The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). This is the valuable priority in overcoming our fears and worry. This is why the Psalmist could exult, “I sought the Lord . . . and he heard me . . . and he delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4). We will never, never overcome worry until this valuable priority has precedence in our lives.

A vital principle is also involved. Jesus closes out this section with reference to tomorrow:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (6:34).

Take no thought? Does this really mean we are not to think about it at all? Does this indicate that it is wrong to save money, have investments, or own insurance policies? No, that’s not the point here. Jesus means not to worry about them. I love that old abbreviated expression, “Not to worry.” That’s all – not to worry. There is nothing wrong with seeking a sturdy shelter in the storm. Jesus is not forbidding that, but once you are safe and sound in the shelter, you should not continue to worry.

“Take no thought.” Here again is reference to the thinking processes. The thrust of Jesus’ teachings is: “Redirect your attention to the Lord.” God places tremendous emphasis on our thought life. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Isaiah 26:3 consoles us: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.”

There are three days in every week over which we ought not to worry – today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Those who fret about yesterday are guilty of pity. Those who fret about tomorrow are guilty of procrastination. Those who agonize over today may be distrusting of the Lord’s goodness.

Some of us are promising God our tomorrows. Did it ever occur to you that God has never promised us tomorrow? And how could you promise God that which you may not have? This is exactly why Jesus admonished us, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. “Tomorrow I’m going on a diet.” “Tomorrow I’m going to quit smoking.” “Tomorrow I’m going to begin tithing.” “Tomorrow I’m going to make my stand for Christ.” “Tomorrow I’m going to stop worrying.” We put matters off until tomorrow because we hope they will go away and we won’t have to face them – and tomorrow never comes!

When you are anxious about the future, you cripple yourself in the present. Oh, it is foolish, futile, frustrating, and faithless to worry. Here Jesus is teaching us to live one day at a time. Jesus was and is the world’s greatest psychiatrist. This is the vital principle by which we can put the handle on worry. One day at a time. Julia Harris May wrote:

Live day by day.

Why art thou bending toward the backward way?

One summit and another thou shalt mount.

Why stop at every round the space to count

The past mistakes if thou must still remember?

Watch not the ashes of the dying ember.

Kindle thy hope. Out all thy fears away –

Live day by day.

One step, one day – day by day with Jesus.

In this passage (Matthew 6:25-33) the Great Physician has plainly described for us the symptoms of this God-dishonoring and soul-paralyzing disease of worry. First, we are to acknowledge its source – it emanates from a divided mind. Once we realize this, we can apply the Physician’s prescription to our worry. Believe it. It is possible for you to live above worry. How? Through a valuable priority of seeking first the kingdom of God, and through a vital principle of living one day at a time. The bottom line is: We must deal with worry like we would any other sin – Confess it and forsake it!

Stop presuming on yesterday and procrastinating on tomorrow and “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness . . . all these things shall be added unto you.” Yield your frayed, tattered, worry-enshrouded existence to the Lord Jesus Christ. Climb out of that rocking chair. It doesn’t get you anywhere anyway.

You will win over worry, and Jesus will stay right beside you. And as your worries are treated by the Great Physician, you will be tracing the rainbow through the rain!

Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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