David Jeremiah - Slaying the Giant of Worry
Mickey Rivers, an outfielder many years ago for the Texas Rangers, stated his philosophy about worry like this. He said, "Ain't no sense worryin' about things you got control over, 'cause if you got control over 'em, ain't no sense worryin'. And ain't no sense worryin' about things you've got no control over 'cause if you got no control over 'em, ain't no sense worryin'". And he just sort of put everything into that category and lived a very peaceful life.
The Bible tells us that worry is a part of our experience, and when you look up the word "worry" in Webster's Dictionary, you discover that it is a troubled or uneasy or distressed feeling, a feeling of being anxious or apprehensive. When we worry, we are apprehensive over what might happen. Corrie ten Boom had a little poem that she used to recite on occasion about worry. She said, "Worry is an old man with bended head, carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are lead". And she captured the concept of worry very, very beautifully in those little lines because worry is about something that isn't. It's about something that we fear will be.
Now, the New Testament word for worry is translated by the phrase to take thought or to be careful. And the word comes from a Greek word which means to have a divided mind. So to be a worrier is to have your mind divided between legitimate thoughts and thoughts which are not legitimate, thoughts which you shouldn't be thinking. In essence, worry itself is concern over the future. A person who worries dwells on the future, and the problem with that is twofold.
Number one, the future is not here and the future is not his. He can't do anything about it and there's not one thing that worrying does to improve the situation. The worrier cannot control the future. He does not know what it's going to look like. Only God sees the shape of it. And according to the Bible, worry is concern over the unknown and uncontrollable future. Now, Jesus says in his words to us that it is wrong to worry. In fact, in the 6th chapter of the book of Matthew, which is our text for today, in verses 25 through 34, three times Jesus uses this expression: "Don't worry". Jesus is saying that. Don't worry.
What better way could we prepare to face the giant of worry than to find out what Jesus is talking about when he tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are not to worry? Before we look at his instructions, there are two things I wanna tell you that we are not talking about today. When Jesus says, "Don't worry," he's not talking about two things. First of all, he's not saying, "Don't plan".
Sometimes I hear people talk about this passage and it sounds like they believe that since Jesus says, "Take no thought for the morrow," which is the King James translation, that what that means is that we should not even plan for tomorrow. But Jesus planned. Jesus planned for his ministry after his death, resurrection, and ascension. And in the New Testament, we are told that we are not to enter into a project without counting the cost and planning out into the future, so when we talk about not worrying here and when Jesus says, "Don't worry," he's not saying, "Don't plan". Secondly, he's not saying, "Don't ever be concerned about something".
For instance, I hear people say, when it says here, "Be anxious for nothing," Philippians chapter 4, that means, well, "Just walk through life in a carefree, cavalier spirit, don't ever worry about anything, just be loose and free". That's not what this means. The bottom line is that we are to be concerned about things. You see your child out in the front yard playing next to where the traffic is, you will be concerned and your concern will motivate you into action so that you can preserve that child from being hurt. There is a legitimate concern. We're not talking about that. There is a difference between worry and concern.
Let me tell you in a very simple way what that difference is. Worry usually has to do with the future over which we have no control, and concern usually has to do with the present and there are usually some things that we can do in the present to take care of the problem. So we're not talking about not planning, we're not talking about not having any concern. We are talking about letting the spirit of worry take over in your life. Now, as we examine the words of our Lord in Matthew chapter 6, beginning at verse 25, we're going to learn, first of all, our Lord's logical reasons for facing the giant of worry.
Here in this passage of Scripture, he is going to give us some very important instructions: instructions that will help us to understand how worry affects us and what we're to do about it. The passage is really divided into two sections: verses 25 through 32, and verses 33 and 34. Now, in the first section, facing the giant of worry, the Lord Jesus reminds us of several things that are true about worry. In the 25th verse, he says, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry 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"?
Here, the Lord Jesus is telling us that worry is inconsistent. It doesn't make any sense. For the whole concept of the 25th verse is that since Jesus has provided us with our life, with our body, does it not make sense that he would also care for the things that we need for that body? In essence, it is an argument from the greater to the lesser. If he provides the great need that we have, which is life in this organism that we know as our body, will he not also give us the lesser thing, the lesser need, which is food to put in our body, clothes to put on our body, and shelter to put over our body?
So Jesus is saying it is inconsistent for you to worry when you understand that already, you have an evidence of God's goodness to you in the very life that you live. Don't be inconsistent and take the life for granted, but then worry about the incidental things that adorn the life. Not only is worry inconsistent but, according to the Word of God in the next verse, worry is irrational. It says: "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they"?
Now, if you bought into the logic of the first statement Jesus made in the first verse, and you believe that since you have a life, he's gonna provide for you the needs of that life or that he's able to, the question that might come to your mind is, "I know God is able to do this, but will he"? And here in this second argument that Jesus presents when he teaches us that worry is irrational, we have exactly the opposite way of arguing. In this verse, Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater. In the first verse, he goes from life to clothes. In this verse, he goes from the birds of the air to the human being, and he is saying, "If God Almighty will provide for the birds, don't you think he will provide for you? Doesn't that make sense"?
In the book of Matthew and the 10th chapter, we are told that, "You can buy two sparrows for a copper coin. And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. Are you not of more value than many sparrows"? When you turn to the 12th chapter of the book of Luke, in the 6th verse, you discover that, "Five sparrows are sold for two copper coins". Now, watch carefully. You can buy two sparrows for one copper coin, but if you buy four of them, they throw a fifth one in for free. That's exactly what it says in Luke chapter 6.
Now, a copper coin is one-sixteenth of a denarius, and a denarius was one day's wages in Jesus's time. So what Jesus is saying is this. Watch this now. For one copper coin, you get two sparrows, for two copper coins, you get five. Not one of them falls to the ground that the Father doesn't know about it, not even the one that's thrown in for free. He sees it all. And if that's true, if he sees the sparrow when it falls, also in that passage, it talks about numbering the hairs on your head. If he's conscious of the incidental things, the lesser things, does it not make sense that he will care also for the greater things?
So Jesus argues here from the lesser to the greater. And of course, the answer is, of course. If he cares that intimately for the birds of the air, surely he is going to care for those who have much greater value to him, that's you and me. So don't worry. Thirdly, Jesus says not only is worry inconsistent and is irrational, but it's ineffective. In the 27th verse, he asks a very interesting question. He says, "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature"?
Now, we've got a lot of biblical measures in this passage. We've got copper coins and cubits, and what do they mean? I've told you that a copper coin is one-sixteenth of a denarius. Well, what is a cubit? A cubit is 18 inches. It's a foot and a half. There are two ideas as to what Jesus is really talking about here. Perhaps he is saying, "Which of you by worrying, which of you by sitting in your chair and worrying can add 18 inches to your stature"? I mean, if you could do that, a person who's 5 foot 6 would become a 7-footer, just like that, if he could add a cubit. But the bottom line is you can't do it. You could sit there and worry all of the days of your life and you're not gonna add one iota to your stature.
If you could do that, I probably would be 7 foot tall because I remember when I was growing up and playing basketball and watching all of the great giants play and looking at the fact that I was only 6 foot 1, I wanted to be 6'5" at least. But nothing I did changed that. I couldn't worry myself into 1 inch higher off the ground than I was. Nor can you. But perhaps Jesus means even more than that in this passage. Perhaps what he's really saying is this: "Which of you by worrying can add any length to your life"? That's one of the possible interpretations of the passage. Which of you by worrying can add one day to your life? Which of you can add one minute to your longevity? And, of course, the answer is nobody.
Now, if Jesus had asked, "Which of you can subtract a year from your life by worrying," there would be a good answer, wouldn't there? I have a sneaking suspicion that there are cemeteries filled with graves all over this land, graves of believers who cheated God out of 10 or 15 years of good life because they just worried themselves into an early grave. How many of you know that when you worry to that extent, it makes you sick, and I believe I have known people that have worried themselves out of this world early, had an early departure because they couldn't just leave things in the hands of God.
So worry is ineffective. One of the reasons why you don't wanna worry, according to Jesus, is it doesn't do any good. It doesn't make any difference. How many of you know that when you worry about the things that are gonna happen tomorrow, you ruin today and you ruin tomorrow too? Worry doesn't rob tomorrow of its sorrow. It robs today of its strength so that you lose both today and tomorrow when you worry and you don't accomplish anything at all by it. That's the reasoning of Jesus. The answer is to understand and to think through and to recognize that worry doesn't really accomplish anything at all. It is inconsistent, it is irrational, it is ineffective, and then in verses 28 to 30 we learn that it is illogical.
Read verses 28 and 30 with me as I read them. "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor do they spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith"?
Now, listen, Jesus is saying that it is not logical for you to look out at the world of beauty and see the lilies of the field which are so beautiful, Jesus said, "Far more beautiful than Solomon was in his royal robes". The richest man who ever lived, with all of the wealth at his disposal, could not dress himself up any more beautifully than the lilies of the field that Jesus dressed. And he said they didn't spin and they didn't toil, but look at their beauty. Have you ever seen the beautiful floral displays and you understand the beauty that God puts in to his creation?
Now, the argument that Jesus is using is this. Just look around at nature. Look around at what you can see with your own eyes and recognize that if God cares that much for the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is gone, you are eternal. He gave his Son for you, he paid the price for your eternal redemption. Does it make any sense that God would take such incredible care of the lilies of the field and then let you go without any concern? And the obvious answer is no, it is not logical to think that way. The God of heaven who beautifies this world with his creative touch also cares about his children and it's not logical to think any other way.
Now, the final reason Jesus gives when we face the giant of worry for not worrying is a little bit stiff, but just remember I'm reading this from the Word of God. Because the last thing Jesus wants us to know about worry is not only is it inconsistent and irrational and ineffective and illogical, but it's irreligious. Notice what he says in verse 31: "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things".
Now, what is Jesus saying? He's saying that when we worry, we forget who we are. He said, "When you worry, you act like the Gentiles". The word "Gentile" in the text is a word which is often translated by the word "pagan" or "heathen". When you worry, you act as if you are a heathen. Worrying is not Christian. Worrying is not religious. Worrying is acting like you don't have a Father in heaven and a family on this earth. Worrying is acting like God is not able to care for you. The people who are the pagans often worship idols that see not and hear not and handle not who can't hear any of the requests of the ones who worship them; and if they could hear, couldn't do anything about them. When we worry, we act as if God is like that. And Jesus said, "Don't worry because when you worry, you're not acting in a Christian way".
Does that mean that Christians don't have momentary worries? Oh my, let me tell you, I don't think so. I've raised four teenagers. I know what it's like to worry. But I visit worry and I don't stay there. Some people I know don't visit worry, they move in. They let worry be their lifestyle. They just worry themselves sick and then they worry when they don't have anything to worry about. Jesus is saying when you worry like that, you're acting as if you don't believe that, notice how tender he is in these words. He says: "For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things". And he's saying when you worry, when you let worry be your lifestyle, you're acting like you don't believe that your heavenly Father knows that you need the things that you need.
So Jesus says the way you face worry is you sit down for a moment and you think through what worrying really is. Worrying is dwelling on the future that you don't have any control over and spending all of your energies on thinking about what might happen tomorrow until you have no energy to deal with the issues of today. Now, in the last two verses, the Lord Jesus reminds us of how we're to deal with the giant of worry. He tells us in these last two verses that there are two things that we need if we're going to get over worry, if we're gonna face it and fight against it.
And I know that some of you here are prone to worry. Maybe you came to church this morning knowing I was gonna speak on this subject, hoping you could get some help. Or maybe you wandered in here and you didn't know this was the subject and, all of a sudden, you wonder if God has been orchestrating the affairs of your life this week so you would be here today. How do you deal with worry if it's an issue in your life? Let me give you two thoughts. First of all, to win over worry, you need a system of priorities in your life. Notice what Jesus says in verse 33: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all of these things shall be added unto you".
Much of the worry that destroys people is the worry of a divided heart. That's what the word means. A divided heart which cannot decide for what it is going to live. A divided heart that gets caught up in all of the things and the trinkets and the material issues of the day. It's interesting that the passage on worry is right in the center of a passage in the New Testament that has to do with personal possessions. And Jesus is saying, "What you need to do, first of all, to fight against worry, is to get your system of priorities in order. Set down what you really believe, what you're really committed to". And he says, "Here's how you go about it. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Put that at the very heart of who you are. Let that be the lens that you look through into every area of your life, and then just understand that when you do that, all of these other things are gonna be added unto you".
How many of you know that works? How many of you can say an "amen" to that? Isn't that true? When you put God at the center of your life, when you make him the focus of your pursuits, then you can enter into life with an exuberance, and you don't have to worry about the "what ifs" on either side because you know that since you've settled the big issue, God's gonna take care of the other issues that come along. But it's a sad thing to see so many of God's people put God off to the side in their life, and I rather suspect that sometimes their worry is more a worry that's born out of the realization that they have violated this priority, that they recognize they should be living in a different way, and that worries them. And they continue to worry, and it just becomes a cycle that they cannot break.
Let me tell you the first thing you need to do if you're prone to worry is to step back for a moment and say, "How have I ordered my life? What is the important thing to me"? Young people, if you're just starting out in a relationship, have you put God at the center of that relationship? You don't have to worry about a lot of things if you're both committed to Almighty God. It's simple, when you get one fixed priority in the center of your thought process, get a system of priorities that's based upon putting Almighty God first. And when you do that, you will discover that God puts you first in dealing with the worries of your life.
Now, the second thing you need to do is found in the last verse of this passage of Scripture. And of all the things that I've ever read about worry, this may be the most important and critical thing for you to do. You not only need a system of priorities but, number two, you need a strategic program. Now, here's the program. Watch carefully. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble".
Now, watch carefully. No man ever sank under the burden of today. But many people sink under the burden of today when they add the burden of tomorrow along with it. What the Bible is teaching us and what Jesus is telling us is that we need to learn how to live in day-tight compartments so that every day is what we face. Not that we don't plan for tomorrow or that we might not have concerns about this or that, but we don't live there. We live today.
Many years ago in the "Chicago Daily News," there was an article by a very famous physician by the name of Dr. Ostler. He made some wise observations about worry, having dealt with people who were struggling with the physiological ramifications of worry in their life. He said that ocean liners are built in such a way that the steel doors of the hold in the ship are able to be lowered by the press of a button so that even if the hull of the ship is pierced through a disaster of some sort, they can lower this steel door and close off the hull so that only a portion of the ship is flooded.
And then Dr. Ostler went on to make this important application. He said, "In the journey of life, it is critical to learn how to lower the door against the tomorrows that would come in to destroy your life. And then to push another button and lower the doors against the yesterdays of your life that can cause you the worry. And learn how to live in the compartment of today". Listen to what Jesus said: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself". There is a powerful verse of Scripture in the Old Testament, in the book of Deuteronomy, and that verse of Scripture says this: "As your days, so shall your strength be". Say that out loud. "As your days, so shall your strength be".
I've had people come to me and say, "Pastor Jeremiah, you have no idea what we're facing". And then they'll list the things that they're looking at down the road. I've walked through the awful experience of bankruptcy with some people in our congregation over the years, and I remember counseling with one of those couples on one occasion, and they said, "When we think about what's out in front of us, Pastor Jeremiah, we have no idea how we're ever gonna make it". And I remember saying to them what this verse says: you know what, don't worry about tomorrow and the tomorrow after that.
Let me just tell you what I've learned. Tomorrow, God will give you the grace that you need for tomorrow. Today, he'll give you the grace that you need for today. But don't ask God for today's grace to be used up with tomorrow's problems because you will have enough grace tomorrow for what you need. And we have to learn how to take one day at a time. That doesn't mean that you're able to dismiss the thoughts of everything else, but you don't dwell on 'em. You don't let those things eat at you. You just know that when tomorrow comes, you'll get out of bed and you'll get started, and what you're gonna need tomorrow God will give you for that day.
If you can learn how to live like that, you can make worry go away. So what do you need to do? You need to pull down that door, that steel door that shuts off your tomorrows. Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. Worry empties today of its strength. That's what happens when you worry. Mark Twain once said, "I'm an old man and I've known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened". So what Jesus is telling us is this: don't worry about tomorrow. Jesus is telling us to take each day as it comes, give our attention to what God is doing right now and not to brood about the future. And then the next thing we need to do is we need to close the door on yesterday.
You know, I've discovered a lot of people worry about yesterday. Yesterday is gone. How many of you know you can't make a done thing undone? Did you know that? I used to hear people pray on occasion, "O God, may it not have been". I mean, that's not a real logical prayer when you stop and think about it, is it? I mean, God is not gonna make it not be. But watch carefully now. How do we worry about yesterdays? I've noticed that people usually worry about three things in their yesterdays. First of all, they worry about their sins. Sometimes, people come to Christ out of a sordid background or maybe they've come to Christ and they've lived in a good home, but they violated the principles of that home and went on a long journey away from the Lord, and then they get things right.
And then sometimes, they'll come to me and they'll say, "Pastor Jeremiah, you know what? I just can't get out of my mind some of the things I did before I got right with the Lord. I cannot get them out of my mind". And I like to remind them that God has forgiven 'em, that he's taken their sins and put them as far as the east is from the west, that he's buried them in the deepest sea, and that they are forgiven. And often they will say to me, as a woman said one time, she said, "Well, Pastor, I know that God has forgiven me, but I cannot forgive myself".
And so she worries about the things she's done, her sins. And I like to say to people like that, "Oh, so you have a standard higher than God? God says he can forgive you, but you cannot forgive yourself"? No, listen, we have to put our sins where they belong: behind us, over. We've confessed them. God has forgiven them. And when you choose to revisit them, you enter into the arena of worry that can destroy your life. Then sometimes, when we don't give up the past, we live too long in our successes. Did you know it's possible to do that? Maybe in an earlier part of your life, you were at the very top of your career. You had hit your stride and, you know, I always wonder about professional athletes and feel sorry for them in many occasions. One of the reasons why oftentimes they have very difficult lives later on in life is because they reach the pinnacle of success so early.
Where do you go after that? What do you do? You have to learn how to put your successes behind you. Paul the apostle, one of the most successful men who ever lived, at the close of his life said this: "I do not count myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, I press forward to the high calling in Christ Jesus". That's what we have to do. We have to take that position. If we're going to live today, we can't be living in the successes of yesterday. And then thirdly, we not only have to give up our sins of yesterday and our successes of yesterday. Maybe this is the hardest one. We have to give up our sorrows.
You know, all of us along the way, before we're finished on this earth, we're gonna have sorrow to deal with. It goes with the territory. You know, my job is to help people with sorrow, and we do that a lot. Do you know what? Sorrow can't be forever. Sorrow needs to be left behind. The Old Testament says: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil". Notice, you don't walk into the valley to stay; you walk through the valley to the other side. I know sometimes people are critical when a spouse loses their spouse and then very quickly they remarry. I'm not critical of that. I tell you what, if you've not walked through that before, you don't know the anguish that happens, and if God provides somebody in a reasonable amount of time, you don't wanna be critical of that and you shouldn't be critical of it. Unless you've known something of the sorrow, but you can't live in the sorrow of yesterday or you will worry yourself into an early grave, amen?
So you have to close the door on your tomorrows and you have to close the door on your yesterdays and you have to do what the Lord said: you have to live for today. Make every day, this day, the most important day. God is the God of your today. God will help you deal with the problems of today. He will be there for you tomorrow, but tomorrow will be your today when you get there. I read a sign this week, I don't know why anybody hasn't thought of this, that's hanging in a gas station back East, and this is what it says. Think about this carefully. "Free gas tomorrow". Somebody in the back's just trying to figure that out. I can see him. "What's he talking about"? How many of you know that when you get to tomorrow, it will still be free gas tomorrow? God is the God of the ever-present now and that's the word of the Christian life, isn't it? Is today. Live for today. Let God be the one who meets your need today in this hour and you will be able to overcome worry.
J. Arthur Rank had a significant and unique way of dealing with worry. He found he couldn't push his worries out of his mind completely, they just kept coming back. And he was a good Christian. He wanted to do the right thing. So he finally made a pact with God, and his pact was this: that he would only worry on Wednesday. And he made himself a little Wednesday worry box and he put it in his desk. So any time he had a worry, he would write it out and he'd put it in the Wednesday worry box. And he said he made an astounding discovery that by the time Wednesday came around and he emptied the box out, only about a third of the things he put in them were still worth worrying about 'cause most of 'em had already been resolved. Most had been already gone past. They weren't the things he thought they would be. Well, I don't know if you need a Wednesday worry day. If you do have such a day, please remind me not to go to lunch with you on that day, but whatever you have to do to make worry a day-tight compartment, then do it. And God will help you.
Before we close our Bibles, I want to leave you with one last thought that I think will be an encouragement to you. Some stuff that you can stick in your notes and hopefully in your heart. I wanna give you in a few moments the seven most important words for people who worry. But let me build a foundation under it with three or four Scriptures that we're gonna just look at very quickly and you don't even have to look them up because we'll put them on the screen for you.
The first one is Psalm 50, verse 15, and it goes like this: "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify me".
The second one is Psalm 55:22: "Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he shall never permit the righteous to be moved".
The third one is 1 Peter 5:7, one of the first verses I ever learned as a little boy: "Casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you".
And the last and the pinnacle of the mountaintop of verses is Philippians chapter 4, verses 6 and 7: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus". "Don't worry about anything," says Paul, "but pray about everything". The seven most important words for would-be worriers are these: "Don't worry about anything; pray about everything". Say it out loud. "Don't worry about anything; pray about everything". And my friends, if you will do that, and if you will listen to our Lord's instruction about worry from the Word of God, you can face the giant of worry and you can win.