The Futility of Anxiety
In this morning’s text, our Lord condemns as sin something that most of us, if not all of us, struggle against daily. It is the sin of anxiety.
Anxiety is so common to the human condition that one might easily think that it is no sin at all, but our Lord says otherwise; He says, “do not be anxious for your life . . . do not be anxious for tomorrow”(Mt.6:25,34). The apostle Paul repeats this command in his letter to the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing”(Phil.4:6).
I once heard a preacher assert that human beings will always do what makes sense to them at the time. And, the reason many people sin in a particular regard is because, to them, the particular action they are contemplating makes sense. What I hope you will see in the words of Jesus, however, is that being anxious makes absolutely no sense and is dishonouring to our Heavenly Father. What I hope you will see in the words of Jesus is an alternative to anxiety that makes perfect sense.
Now, I realize that there is a measure of subjectivity to this discussion. Anxiety does not manifest itself in a single colour, but in shades. Different people have different levels of anxiety, and it is often difficult to discern when necessary concern has crossed the line to become inappropriate worry.
Thankfully, Jesus provides a context for his command in verse 24, “No one can serve two masters . . . You cannot serve both God and money. (And), for this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on”(Mt.6:24,25).
The litmus test for whether you are inappropriately anxious is to ask, ‘What is my chief concern?’ Jesus lays the subject of anxiety in the context of priority setting. What is implied is that anxiety is a function of skewed priorities. If God’s honour is not our chief concern, we will inevitably descend to self-serving concerns, which will, in turn, create a space for every kind of anxiety.
Friends, anxiety is no little sin. It is no little sin because, at its core, anxiety is linked to unbelief; anxiety reveals our lack of faith in the promise that God is causing everything in our life to work together for our good and His glory (Rom.8:28).
If you require some rationale for turning from the sin of anxiety, Jesus supplies 3 compelling reasons for us to abandon all worry. The first reason why we should never worry is because worry is useless. In verse 27, we read, "Which of you, by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?" In other words, Jesus is asking, "Which of you can solve your problem of worrying?" By asking this rhetorical question, Jesus wants us to understand that worrying doesn't do us an ounce, a "cubit", of good—not even a little bit! So the first reason why we should never worry is because worrying never profits us; it is useless.
The second reason why we should never worry is because it is needless. In verse 30, we read, "If God so arrays the grass of the field . . . will He not much more do so for you?" In other words, "If God looks after birds and lilies, is it not foolish to think that He would neglect us?"
Sure, things don't always go as smoothly as we would like, but you must take quite a leap to reach the conclusion that God does not care for us. Jesus reminds us elsewhere, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father . . . Therefore do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows”(Mt.10:29,31). The point Jesus is trying to make is that, if God, the ultimate Power of the universe, cares for us, and promises to provide for us, it doesn't make much sense to worry; it is needless.
The third reason not to be anxious is because it is heathenish (term taken from C.H. Spurgeon). In verse 32 Jesus reminds us, "all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek". When we worry about "these things" we are doubting God's care. And when we doubt God's care we resemble unbelieving Gentiles—we resemble people who do not depend on the provisions of our loving Heavenly Father.
Friends, the reason so many people are anxious is because so many are living apart from Christ. Be we, who have trusted in Christ, must not live as the heathen do.
It makes no sense for us to be anxious. It is useless. It is needless. It is heathenish.
Now, I recognize that there are at least two ways to misapply this exhortation. One way to misapply Jesus’ words is to conclude that nothing is required of us.
Perhaps you have heard of the pious man who entered a monastery in order that he might spend all his time in devotion; so, when the time came for the brethren to go into the fields to work, he did not leave his cell; he was too spiritual to handle a hoe or a spade, so he continued in prayer. He was very much surprised, however, when the time came for the brotherhood to assemble for dinner, that he was not called; and after waiting till the demands of hunger overcame the claims of his spiritual being, he went and asked why he had not been called to the meal, and he was informed that, as he was so spiritual that he could not work, it was thought that he was probably so spiritual that he could not eat.
To say that anxiety is futile is not the same as saying activity is futile. At no point does Jesus tell us to abandon worldly pursuits. The call here is to abandon the prioritization of worldly pursuits. There is, in fact, a Christian way to engage in activity. We engage in activity trusting, not in ourselves, but God, for the outcome. The God who calls us to “plant” and “water”, tells us that He is the One who causes “growth” (1Cor.3:7).
The second way we misapply Jesus’ words is if we attempt to overcome our anxiety by increasing our participation in worldly affairs. Many have tried to free themselves from worry by laying up and hoarding as many possessions as is possible.
Frankly, this is a trap that many congregations fall into. Congregations attempt to stave off anxiety by creating savings accounts that have an exorbitant amount of money—savings accounts that have far more money than what is prudently required for a ‘rainy day’. Saving money is a prudent exercise, but when saving money is fuelled by anxiety it dishonours our Heavenly Father because it is a denial of His great faithfulness, and denies the truth that His mercies are new every morning.
Looking at the financial statements of the average church would make a person wonder if the congregation has taken seriously the words of Jesus, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”(Mt.6:19-21).
I agree that it is good to care about things. It is wise to give our earthly responsibilities due attention. But, at the same time, excessive concern reveals our lack of faith in the providence of God. Excessive concern reveals our desire to be master of our life rather than servant of our Lord.
If we, through our excessive concern, insist on being master of our life, we fail to bring glory to God. Because the plain truth of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is that God is glorified by our dependence on Him. Our excessive concern reveals that we have yet to comprehend that not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of our Heavenly Father (Mt. 10:29). Our excessive concern reveals that we have not yet grasped that God has everything under control.
So how do we fix this? How do we escape our tendency to worry about things? Thankfully, Jesus offers us an alternative to anxiety that makes perfect sense. Jesus calls us to make the honour of God our chief aim, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”(Mt.6:33).
And how do we seek the kingdom of God? We pray. The apostle Peter instructs us in this manner when he writes, "Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you"(1Peter 5:7). The apostle Paul says much the same, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”(Phil.4:6).
Notice also that Paul insists that we offer our prayer "with thanksgiving". Surely what Paul has in mind here is a recalling of God's goodness and faithfulness in the past that will, in turn, protect us from anxiety in the future. When we remind ourselves that God's grace has brought us safe thus far, we gain confidence in the promise that grace will carry us home.
There are many things that should make Christians stand out from non-Christians; there are many things that should make a church stand out from a typical business, but clearly, our anxiety levels should be one of them. Fretting over what we cannot control makes absolutely no sense. Seeking the kingdom of God through prayer, on the other hand, makes perfect sense.
Individual Christians and churches should be free from anxiety because we are trusting in a sovereign and loving God who promises to cause even the trials in our life to ultimately work for our good and His glory.
What a comforting thought—the King of the universe, our Heavenly Master, desires that we be free from worry. It is within our grasp. Surpassing peace and lasting joy can be yours if you will only call upon the Lord. Do not delay. Do what makes perfect sense. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Amen.