In Luke 12:22-34, Jesus speaks to people who live in a subsistence culture. Their daily provision of food and water was not certain, yet Jesus told them not to worry about what they would eat or drink. In fact, he piled up reason after reason not to get hung up on money and the things money buys, even when survival is at stake. He gave people something better to be preoccupied about. He offered better treasure, more lasting food and drink, something indestructibly secure – his kingdom. If Jesus’ words were true for the farmers. fisherman, and housewives of Palestine – then they are certainly true for us who live in relative plenty. But we still worry, don’t we?
This second installment of the sermon picks up with the discussion of how we have plenty of good reasons to worry, and then moves to the first of Jesus’ better reasons not to worry.
One of the things that makes money such a neat worry to think about is that it has an obsessive component. It’s always there. It says “Goodnight” to you. It wakes you up in the middle of the night to say “Hello.” It greets you in the morning with, “Hi, here I am. Think about me.” It butts in on your drive home: “Just reminding you I’m here.” Financial worries play with your mind. It provides a good example for all the other worries that operate in exactly the same way. What you see in common with all the things we worry about— every single thing —is that they are uncertain. They’re all iffy. Am I going to get that? Maybe, maybe not. If I have it, could I lose it? Maybe, maybe not. We worry about stuff that is inherently uncertain. You’ve got good reasons to worry, because you can never be sure. Money is a great starting point— but maybe there are other things that plague you.
What hijackers seize the controls of your mind? I’d like you to personalize this. What are the one, two, six, dozen things that tend to snag you? What do you tend to worry about?
Maybe it’s not financial, or in addition to financial, there are other worries.
•“Do I have any real friends?”
•“What if I don’t make the team? What if I forget my lines in the play? What if someone else gets picked for that committee? What if…?”
•“Will I ever find a husband or wife?”
•“If I do find one, will he or she be faithful to me?”
•“Am I worth marrying?”
•“Will I be able to have kids?”
•“If I have kids, how will they turn out?”
•“What about my health? Some of my friends are dying of cancer. It’s painful. Is that going to be for me? Will I be able to have the strength to go through that? What if I get Alzheimer’s? The thought of ending my life not even able to recognize the people I love: what about that?”
On and on and on, your health, your money, your relationships, your achievements. Any of those things can hijack the controls. You worry, fret, and stew. The fact is, these are all iffy. You have good reasons to worry about those things. None of them are sure. Your health could go to the dogs. The stock market could crash. There could be no jobs. The kids could turn out rotten. You could end up lonely. You could fail at something or get excluded. These are all unsure by nature. There is every reason in the world to worry about them. Let me ask you to personalize: What do you worry about?
But there’s a second personalizing question to ask yourself. When all is said and done, why do you worry? Why do you fret about these things in the first place? Why do you obsess? Why do you get your nose to the grindstone? Why do you get preoccupied and driven, or throw panic attacks or brood, or whatever form your anxiety takes?
The easy answer is to point your finger back towards what you are worrying about, and to think that explains it. “I’m worried because I don’t know if I’m going to get a job. I’m worried because I don’t have enough saved for retirement. I’m worried because I have a family history of cancer.” But Jesus doesn’t do that. He explains our worries not by pointing to how uncertain life is, but by pointing to something in us. Throughout this whole passage He says, “You worry because of something about you, not because of the things you worry about.” That’s what He threw on the table in the interchange just before the passage we’re focusing on: “Guard yourself from every form of greed.”
“I want my share of what’s fair” was one form of greed. Covetous greed will make you angry and manipulative. You’ll even break in to interrupt Jesus when He’s talking!
“I am set. I can kick back. I’ve got plenty!” That was a different form of greed. Satisfied greed throws you off when it comes to money or any other aspect of life. You could care less about what really matters because ease lulls you to sleep.
In the passage right in front of us, where Jesus is talking to His disciples, His friends, about not being anxious, He goes after a third form of greed. “What if I don’t have enough? What if what I need isn’t there?” That’s anxious greed. I want something I might not get, so I worry.
A little later on in the passage Jesus captures the same thing from a different angle: “Oh you of little faith!” What He means by that is not that you have no faith. Remember, He’s talking to His disciples. Think of this metaphor for what happens to us. It’s like a flashlight with drained batteries. It still makes light, but the light is yellowed and flickering and uncertain. The faith is dying out. There’s not much battery juice left. We lose sight of God because what we want (and worry about) is the only thing we see. One of the things Jesus does here is to help us spot things. “Where do I go off? Why do I worry? What makes me forget? Why do I fret? Why do I lose it?” When faith is dying out, greed and worry come to life. When anxious greed comes to life, it kills off faith.
The middle of the passage gives another take on why you worry. “Which of you by worrying can add a single cubit to his lifespan, a single hour? If you can’t even do a small thing, why are you worrying about the rest?” Worriers act as if they might be able to control the uncontrollable. That’s something central to the problem of worry. It’s the illusion that we can control things. “If only I could get my retirement right, I could control the future.” “If only my parents would give me three dollars more allowance, I wouldn’t get caught short on Saturday when my friends want to catch a movie, but I spent my money on candy bars earlier in the week.” “If only I could get my diet and medicine right, I wouldn’t get cancer.” “If only I could figure out the right childrearing technique, I could guarantee how my kids turn out.” Control. Worry assumes the possibility of control— over the uncontrollable. The illusion of control lurks inside your anxiety. You’ll see it in yourself, and in the people God gives you to help. Anxiety and control are two sides of one coin. We want to control something. Since we can’t control it, we worry about it.
Jesus’ final comment gives you one more handle on why you worry. A worrier is storing “treasure” in the wrong place. If what you most value can be taken away or destroyed, then you set yourself up for anxiety. Money? health? a particular friendship? the dream of marriage? success in sports or business? how your children turn out? Even when you feel good, when everything’s going your way, you’re building your house on sand. Your treasure is vulnerable. And whenever what is “precious” to you is threatened, you’ll be gripped with fear. Guaranteed. Where do you store your treasure? In iffy things or certainties?
Jesus takes apart why we worry. So why do you worry? What desires are you greedy for? What life objectives snuff out your awareness of God? What wants make you want to control your world? Grasp those things, and Jesus’ alternative will become very, very precious to you.
2. You’ve got plenty of better reasons not to worry!
Jesus has no interest in simply talking about what’s wrong with us. He’s always going somewhere good. He does make reference to the temptations you face during anxiety, and to some of the ways you go off the rails, and to how your faith dims when you fall into greed. But the passage is largely about giving you lots of solid reasons not to worry. Sure, you have good reasons to worry, because lots of things are uncertain. But you have many, much better reasons not to worry!
Some things are certain!
Again, I want you to make it personal. Which one of these do you find most inviting? Which one is most necessary and helpful, where you can say, “If I remember _________, I’ll be a different person this week”? Which one would make the most difference? “If I could just remember __________, I would not worry about money, health, friends,…whatever.” Which of these better reasons do you most need?
Jesus starts out by saying, Your life is so much more than food or clothing. There’s so much more to who you are than what you have or don’t have. Jesus refers back to the story of the rich man who was a fool: “for this reason” points back to what He’d just said. That rich man’s life was not made by the fact that he had lots of money. Money couldn’t give him identity or meaning or security or life. Therefore, Jesus adds, “If that’s so, then your life can’t be unmade by the fact that your finances are tight.” What you have or don’t have is not what’s playing in the theatre of the universe. Your life is more than food and clothes. For starters, what matters a lot more is “Who do you fear?” and “What do you do with Jesus?” Those are life and death.
You’ve probably known people, as I have, where it’s obvious that they are living for very empty, foolish things. Have you ever seen a twenty-three-year-old woman who was living to be beautiful? She’s living for her face. You say, “That is the stupidest thing in the world! If you live for your face, the best that can happen is you grow old and wrinkly. Come on! That’s a losing bet right from the start!”
What if you live for your health or for your athleticism or for adventures? Inevitably, you start to get knee injuries after age thirty-five. Your reflexes slow down. You get old. Systems start to break down. And, sooner or later, you surely die. “You fool! Isn’t there more to life than health and sports and vacations?”
It’s like that with everything we live for— and worry about. If you live for money, you are banking on a clunker. The car is a lemon, but you spent everything you have on it. It will always break down and give you reason to have worries on top of your worries. Your life is so much more. There are better things to give your energies to. I promise you this. I promise you that there is something much more important going on in your life than the stuff you worry about. Go through your worry list one by one. Jesus promises, “Your life is more than __________.” Something much bigger is playing in town. That’s promise Number 1. Jesus doesn’t give us much detail about what is more important (He’ll unpack it a little later), but He promises that life is more than your worries.
This article was originally published under the title “Don’t Worry” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2003 (Volume 21:2).