The fourth part of this series on worry opens with Jesus' seventh and final reason not to live a fretful life. It closes with six steps of application that help you to get a game plan for addressing your struggles with worry.
Part 4 Finally, after saying all this, Jesus gives a seventh reason not to live a fretful life. It's both a reason and an alternative. Having given you so much, your Father calls you to the radical freedom of giving your life away. Everything before was get. We become anxious because we want to get. We don't want to lose what we got. We covet the inheritance because we want to get. We become presumptuous, and kick back into a life of leisure, and think we are fat cats because we have gotten. Everything is get, got, gotten, want to get, maybe I won't get. But here, when you come to the end of Jesus' message to you, it's all give. Because you have been given, because you are being given, because you will be given a sure thing, a certain and wonderful thing, no iffy, no maybe/maybe not, because there's nothing to really worry about, then give. It's His pleasure to give to you, so you can give, too. Focus there.
What happens as that sinks in, O you of simple faith, is a marvelous transformation of your life. You have good reasons to let worries go. We—who tend to be just like all the people in the newspaper, so absorbed with what's in it for me, I'm so anxious about this, I have to jockey for my little piece of the pie, what if…? —become able to open our hands.
Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, give alms.” He doesn't mean you have to live exactly like Francis of Assisi did— but you get Francis of Assisi's attitude. That's to die for and to live for. It's the only true freedom and the only real happiness. It's an attitude of trusting your Father and being able to live a life that's worth something. “I can give myself away, and I can use my gifts. My life can be about give.” There's a world to reach out to, and people to love, and jobs to be done. We have a purpose, and we can give ourselves to that purpose. Your Father knows what you need. He'll add that in, as needed. You, get first things first. Live for the kingdom. What Jesus says here is terrific: it works directly against the iffyness and uncertainty of the things we worry about.
Notice how Jesus describes it: “money belts that do not wear out.” You can own something that will never get old. It will never wear out. It will never get tattered. It will never get holes in it. It will never run out. An unfailing treasure. You can live for and give away something that is inexhaustible. Yes, that crash in the retirement income curve means your assets might get exhausted. But here's a treasure that's inexhaustible. The spring is always flowing. There's always more. No thief can ever take it away from you. No moth can ever destroy it. This “purse” can never get stolen or moth-eaten or flimsy or useless or lost.
Jesus says, “I promise you, the best thing you could ever want you will never lose.” That is amazing! All the stuff we worry about is what we want, but could lose. That's why we worry. The best thing you could ever want you will never lose, and you can always give it away. “If you die for me, you will live”— that's a promise. It's the fundamental way that redemption works. If you die for Christ, you'll live. Your Father will provide, so you can give generously.
3. How do you get a grip when the barbarians are rioting in the streets of your mind?
I want you to personalize this. Do you want to hear a good description of what happens with anxiety? “A man who has no control over his spirit is like a city broken into and without walls.” That's Proverbs 25:28. How do you get a grip when barbarians are rioting in the streets of your mind? Terrorist attackers, a gang of criminals, suicide bombers, cities invaded, fires everywhere, a lion in the street, chaos. Your mind loses its grip. Fear and anxiety have taken over. Nothing's safe or certain.
Anxiety is a universal human experience, and you need to approach it with a plan. Notice this is not a formula. When Andy Reid coaches the Philadelphia Eagles, he doesn't know a single thing that's going to happen after the opening whistle. He doesn't even know who's going to kick off until they flip a coin. But he's not unprepared. He goes in with a game plan, a basic orientation to the game ahead. I want to give you six things as a game plan for when you start to worry and obsess.
First, name the pressures. You always worry about something. What things tend to hook you? What do you tend to worry about? What “good reasons” do you have for anxiety? The very act of naming it is often very helpful. In the experience of anxiety, it seems like a million things. You're juggling plates, round and round and round and round. But really, you're juggling only six plates— or maybe obsessing on just one. It helps you to name the one thing or the six that keep recycling. Anxieties feel endless and infinite— but they're finite and specific.
Third, ask yourself,
Why am I anxious? Worry always has its inner logic. Anxious people are “you of little faith.” If I've forgotten God, who or what has edged Him out of my mind and started to rule in His place? Identify the hijacker. Anxious people have fallen into one of the subsets of “every form of greed.” What do I want, need, crave, expect, demand, lust after? Or, since we fear losing the things we crave getting, what do I fear either losing or never getting? Identify the specific lust of the flesh. Anxious people “eagerly seek” the gifts more than the Giver. They bank treasure in the wrong place. What is preoccupying me, so that I pursue it with all my heart? Identify the object of your affections.
Fourth, what better reason does Jesus give you not to worry? What were those promises we just talked about? Go back and pick one to take to heart. I listed seven promises for you, seven things Jesus guarantees about how God runs His universe. We highlighted the sixth, “Your father is God,” because it was the best of those better reasons. But they're all good reasons. That's why Jesus mentions every one. We're pretty uncomplicated people. It's tough to remember seven things at once, so pick one. For me, over the last month, the most helpful one has been, “If God feeds the crows, won't He provide for you?” It makes me laugh even to think about it, and anxiety can't coexist with hearty laughter! Those Crow Boys intercepted a lot of temptations to anxiety; they did me good. Grab one promise and work with it.
Fifth, go to your Father. Talk to Him. It's not as though your Father doesn't care about the things you worry about: your friends, your health, your money, your children, and so forth. Your Father knows what you need. You can go to Him with the things that concern you. Cast your cares on Him, because He cares for you. You'll have to leave your worries with Him. They are always outside of your control! How will your kids turn out? Will you get Alzheimer's? What will happen with the economy? Will you ever get married? Will there be an anthrax attack? Will your dad come to know the Lord? Will you have money for next month's bills? You have good reasons to be concerned about such things, but you have better reasons to take them to Someone who loves you. Like that toddler whose mom trailed her, even the deep end of life is safe.
Finally, give. Do and say something constructive. Care for someone else. Give to meet human need. In the darkest hole, when the world is most confused, when there are barbarians in the streets, when life's the toughest, there's always the right thing to do. There's always some way to give yourself away. The problem might seem overwhelming. You could worry, worry, worry, worry. But what you're called to do is small, just a little itty-bitty thing. There's always something to give yourself to, and some way to give. Jesus said more about this in Matthew 6, the parallel passage to ours: “Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day thereof.” Give yourself to today's trouble. Be about the business of today. Leave tomorrow's uncertainties to your Father.
My brothers and sisters, it is your Father's pleasure to give you the kingdom. Your father is God. Don't worry.
Pray with me. Our Father, we stand before You because of mercy. You are full of mercy. We are the recipients of a most spectacular mercy. We thank You that You forgive us, You rewire us, You work with us from exactly wherever each one of us starts. You are the great awakener of our lives, the One who gives purpose and who makes life shine brightly. Make these things true in our lives this very week, that not one of us would fall prey to the kinds of things that would rob us from seeing the good things You have spoken to us, Jesus. It is in Jesus' name, our Father, that we pray. Amen.
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This article was originally published under the title "Don't Worry" in the Journal of Biblical Counseling 21:2 (Winter 2003).