Luke 12:21-31 “Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.
For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
You will see how carefully Luke prepares us for Christ’s great exhortation not to worry. The Lord Jesus has been preaching throughout the twenty verses of this chapter, but Luke pauses here drawing our attention to Christ’s next words by telling us, “Then Jesus said to his disciples,” whereas we know that all he’s said so far he’s been saying to his disciples. So we’re to infer that this is a new section and that the words that follow will be weighty words. Then our Lord himself starts to speak, and he also commences by saying similar words, “Therefore I tell you . . .” but all he has said so far he has been telling them, and so what follows must be truths of some importance.
Finally, when Jesus speaks, the words seem initially to be a bit of an anti-climax; “Do not worry.” Ummm . . . yes . . . . I can see that that’s quite important . . . not worrying. I do hear it a lot; “Now don’t worry . . . it may never happen . . . good-bye, and don’t worry . . . I’ll look after things . . . don’t be a worry-wart.” And here is Jesus, and we are being built up by Luke to expect some big theme, yet it’s these two words he says that are so commonplace, on the phone, on Twitter, in an Email, in a text, or as we overhear people saying good-bye, “Don’t worry.”
What elevates the words of Jesus above the trite and commonplace cliché is the seriousness with which he addresses this subject, and the reasons he produces for not worrying, and the comprehensive nature of his commandment that his disciples are most certainly not to worry about anything, and the resources that he makes available to them to resist worrying. Our Lord is dealing with an anxious spirit. His disciples are not to be characterized by neurotic anxiety. They are not to collapse under an obsessive preoccupation with some of the basic needs of life. Christians are not to be paralyzed by worry. Jesus is talking about a fretful emotional state which bears no relation whatsoever to what is happening, or with our ability to control things, or with the reality of the problem.
There is a fascinating vivid description of such a roller-coaster in Palm 107, “They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end” (vv.26 & 27). You see it with a man who is delayed for an appointment; he has taken a wrong turning, maybe his satellite navigation system has let him down, or there has been a hold-up on the motorway and everyone is waiting for his appearance; he is still miles away and he is at his wits’ end. He is desperately concerned and there is nothing he can do to get there any sooner.
Here is contemporary man with his marvelous technology. He is able to communicate instantly from wherever he happens to be with any point in the world, and yet that person can go from frustration to blind panic in 10 seconds. Jesus has been talking about not being like the rich fool, but rather having a sensible attitude to possessions, trusting in Christ as our prophet, priest and king, preparing for the moment of our death through Jesus’ blood and righteousness, and yet this Christian person is losing sleep over things that don’t deserve it, losing sleep over things he can’t control, and losing sleep over things that God has promised he will take care of. Jesus has been warning us in this sermon about being bought by riches, and we have learned that lesson, but now he is saying, “But there is something else I want to talk to you about, and that is a distracted mind.” Christ is preaching about a mind torn between things that matter and things that really don’t matter at all, virtual trivialities. We are being emotionally deranged without cause.
It is very common in the stressful world all around us. It is almost a hallmark of the 21st century. Doctors are plagued by men and women who want a little pill that will remove the effects of worrying. Our generation is obsessed with things that are seen and heard. People are desperately anxious about what might happen. Jesus is saying, “Let those of us who know that life doesn’t consist in the amount of things we possess, and whose aim in life is not building bigger barns to hold all our profits, let them also be very different in other ways from the world.” Then our Lord specifies four areas about which no Christians should worry.
WE SHOULDN’T WORRY ABOUT TRIVIA.
How does our Lord begin? “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (vv.22-24).
i] Don’t worry about food – “what you will eat.” Millions do. They are absolutely obsessed with food, about counting calories, or maybe definitely not. The value of diets is debated, salt-free, butter-free, sugar-free. Mothers are concerned about whether they’re cooking things right. Parents worry about years of recession and whether soon they’ll have money to buy food for the family – maybe even next year.
ii] Don’t worry about clothes – “what you will wear.” This is an obsession, with what is in fashion, the right make of trainers and sports shoes, the right T-shirts, this year’s colours, the designer labels that are ‘in.’ Teeagers crippled with anxiety: “I can’t wear these things . . .” They are out of fashion. Their parents are more concerned that a day will come when they won’t have enough money to buy clothing and shoes for the family.
These are anxieties which in our Lord’s judgment are directed towards trivia. Our Lord is saying, “Is that all you have to worry about?” Maybe you can understand “the pagan world running after all such things” (v.30), but not you. These things should be trivia as far as you are concerned for you have a Father who cares deeply about you. Will a father see his children hungry and crying for food, cold and crying for clothes when he has plenty of money to supply all their needs? A loving father with money in the bank would never hesitate about giving his children what they must have. Multiply by infinity. “How much more will God clothe you!” (v.28). “Your Father knows that you need them” (v.30). Your worry is a denial of your claim to have a personal relationship with God. It is a denial of the Spirit of adoption in your heart that causes you to look to God and cry to him, “Abba, Father.” It is a denial of the promise that he has made to you, “My God shall supply all your need.” You know it is wrong to gloat over your wealth don’t you? Then I am saying that it is also wrong to worry about being unable to buy essentials. That worry should make you see the hazard lights flashing. It indicates an absence of trust in your heavenly Father. “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (vv.27-31). Flowers are just pretty, while you live a beautiful life by God’s grace and do beautiful God-glorifying things.
WE SHOULDN’T WORRY ABOUT THINGS WE CANNOT CONTROL AT ALL.
Our Lord shows them how fruitless worry is by asking them this question, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (v.25). Can you think of a man who is fretting away eaten up by the foolish thought that he might die before he gets his pension? He is obsessed with the length of his life, but all his worry doesn’t help him to live a day longer. Jesus also talks of a man who is below average height and he worries all the time about that. By worrying will he add an inch to his stature? He is exactly the same height as he would have been if he’d never worried. That is the precise hallmark of neurotic anxiety; it is an obsession with things we can’t control, over which it’s impossible for us to have any control whatsoever. Here is a pregnant mother and she is obsessed with her unborn child, “What if it isn’t developing as it should?” There is absolutely nothing the mother can do. Here is a teenager who has just written his last GCSE examination. They have all been submitted to the examining authorities. They are all in the hands of external markers, and now the boy begins to worry about the grades he’s going to get. Day after day he frets over possible failures. What folly! His worry cannot affect his grades at all.
The Lord Jesus is challenging us; “Why are you preoccupied with things you know you cannot control?” Look at all the psychological and emotional energy you are wasting! What about the spiritual energy expended, and all to no effect at all! People worry about their children’s I.Q., or about whether lightning will strike the house on a stormy day; pastors worry about the job cuts closing down the biggest employer in the vicinity and so half his membership moving away after other jobs. He can do nothing about it. Jesus says, “Before you start worrying then say to yourself, ‘If I worry, will things change?’” We have to learn to say that this is beyond our control; “There is nothing I can do.” Then why get obsessed?
WE SHOULDN’T WORRY ABOUT PROBLEMS THAT HAVEN’T YET MATERIALIZED.
I am going outside Luke’s version of the Sermon of the Mount to Matthew’s account and the last verse in chapter six; “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own” (Matt. 6:34). All of us think about tomorrow, and everything that may happen, all the possibilities. ‘My daughter’s husband may leave her . . . my husband may be made redundant . . . I may lose my child . . . I might not get married . . . there may be a Third World War . . . an asteroid may hit our town . . . I may make appaling discoveries about my health, and about members of our congregation.’ I can dwell so much on what might happen tomorrow and become neurotic and depressed. Half our miseries are caused by things that we imagine are coming upon us. Worry is the interest we pay on troubles that may never happen. Worry over tomorrow pulls down the shadows over today’s sunshine. You can’t change the past, but you can ruin a perfectly good present by worrying about things that may never happen in the future.
So the Lord Christ says, “Each day has enough troubles of its own” (Matt. 6:34). You are making matters worse by adding imaginary worries about tomorrow to the weight of real concern to live by faith in a holy and wise way today. I assure you that you are going to receive today that blend of blessings and trials that God has allocated for you. That is the providence of God and no one can take it from you. Tomorrow you are going to have another blend of blessings and trials from the Lord, and so on for all your tomorrows. No day without trials; no day without blessings. Each day will have just enough trials that your faith will not fail. There will be time enough to handle them when they arise; time enough to take measures, time enough to act as a Christian should, time enough to present those concerns to the Lord and ask advice from others. But sometimes we are guilty of worrying about wild possibilities! There are thousands of poor men and women whose present is mortgaged, whose today is a strain, because they are overwhelmed with neurotic anxiety about a possible tomorrow. Let’s say there are three kinds of worry, all the worries you’ve ever had, all the worries you have today, and all the worries you expect to have in the future. That is way too much worry. That is a vast burden for the strongest Christian. It is enough for little people like you and me just to deal with today’s concerns. We have to say to ourselves, “Each day has enough troubles of its own.” We have to speak to ourselves severely at times. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “The essence of worry is the absence of thought; it is a failure to think.” Now think about tomorrow; the troubles you are imagining will probably never appear.
WE SHOULDN’T WORRY ABOUT THINGS WHICH GOD SAYS HE’LL TAKE CARE OF.
It is a sin to worry. Do not steal, says one of the ten commandments. Do not bear false witness and do not covet, say others of those commandments, and “Do not worry,” says our Lord in Luke chapter 12 and verse 22. Worrying is as much a sin as not loving your neighbour and not loving God. God has made a great commitment to you. He has spelled out very simply and clearly what he will certainly and surely do for you to your entire satisfaction, hasn’t he? If we are worrying it is not that we have more ‘sensitivity’ than other people, or more ‘vision’, or that we are more ‘tender-hearted’ than others. It is basically this, we’ve got less faith – “O you of little faith!” (v.28).
“Your Father knows that you need them” (v.30) says Jesus; he knows you need food and clothes and life, but you are behaving as if you’re thinking God doesn’t know, he doesn’t care, he won’t provide. You recognize what Jesus says is true, that it is God who has his ways of feeding the ravens pecking away at the road-kill. It is God who clothes a muddy field making it green and verdant. Hasn’t he done a good job on the hills around us? It is God who makes all the flowers glow with such beauty, even though the grass lasts a few months and dies; the flower blooms for a few weeks and it dies, but you are worth far more than grass and flowers to God; you are his child and you will live as long as God will live. You will be his child for ever and ever. Then won’t your Father provide all your needs? “No, not for me,” you say. That is the voice of little faith. That is not what the wise and loving Son of God says to you today. He says, “how much more valuable you are than birds?” (v.24). “How much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!” (v.28). How often are we guilty of worrying about things which God says he will take care of!
Everyone’s favourite story from Jay Adams is of the man who was a terrible worrier. He couldn’t walk erect so bowed down was he with all kinds of anxieties. Then one day a friend saw him walking through a shopping mall with a smile on his face, shoulders back, looking around confidently. “You look well today,” he said to him. “I am fine,” he replied. “Didn’t you used to be plagued by worrying?” he asked him. “I certainly was,” he said, “But I’ve given it up.” “Given it up? How did you manage that?” “It wasn’t too difficult,” he said, “I’ve hired this man and he does all my worrying for me.” “Remarkable!” his friend cried. “How much would that cost?” He replied, “$500 a day.” “$500! Every day! Where would you get money like that?” he queried. “Oh, that’s his worry,” he said.
We are told often in the Bible to cast all our cares on our heavenly Father who cares for us. We are also told that the Friend of the sinners who trust in him is right at the heart of God’s sovereignty and he works all things after the counsel of his own will. We are told that the Holy Spirit within you prays for you day by day. You share with the Triune God your concerns, and ask him to help you to leave them every one of them with him. God has heard your request. He knows what a burden you are bearing. Now there are some men who should be wiser than to dump all their worries on their wives, and let them toss and turn all night while their men-folk turn over and sleep for 8 hours. Our wives are frail and are jealous for our good names and our peace of mind. Don’t behave like that. The hymn doesn’t say, “Are you weak and heavy laden? Take it to your wives in prayer.” It says take it to the Lord in prayer. God has very broad shoulders and he can handle every anxiety of every person in the world without bowing and breaking under the strain. You ask him to show you how to deal with this.
It is all a matter of trust; that is what the Lord Jesus is saying. You do what God tells you to do, and then give the anxiety to your great High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us. He’ll take it from you and he promises that he will deal with it. Is there a promise in the Bible of God helping and providing? There are no promises that I’m not going to have a day’s illness in my life, nor that family will live in an illness-free zone. No such promise exists. Nor does God promise me that I shall become very rich. But God does promise that he will work all things together for my good, and he does promise that his grace will always abound to me. He does promise that he will supply my needs, and so my worries about such matters should be settled when I read his great, kind, reassuring words about that. There is nothing which gives me the right to fretful anxiety. There is nothing that can justify the Christian responding to a providence of God by worrying.
Let us declare our lives ‘worry-free zones.’ Let’s declare our homes, ‘worry-free zones.’ Let’s declare our churches ‘worry-free zones.’ Henceforth we won’t be anxious about trivia. We will not be anxious about things we cannot control. We will not be anxious about problems that have not yet materialized. We will not be anxious about matters that God says he will take care of.
HOW WE ARE TO BE SAVED FROM AN ANXIOUS SPIRIT?
Let me read you these familiar words of the apostle Paul in Philippians chapter four; “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phils 4:6&7). How does Paul instruct them? What are they to do? He tells them not to be anxious about anything, but rather to do to what I have just been telling you to do, to cast your cares on God, but Paul says it like this: “Present your requests to God.”
i] Present your requests to God. Wrap it up. Make a present of your anxiety and give it as a present to your Father, and tell him why you are giving it to him, in other words, by prayer and petition it is presented to him. “Father I have a petition here. It is signed by all the members of our family,” or the petition may be signed by all the members of the church. There is an anxiety and you bring it not to the Manse or to the elders but you take it to God. You do it quite consciously. You put it down in his presence; you examine it in the light of his power and his love; you are coming to the Wonderful Counselor who is so sympathetic and understanding and omnipotent and he looks at it, every part of it. He really psychoanalyzes it, and so often as you talk about this petition in his presence it starts to shrink. It is absolutely crucial, before you launch forth and speak about it that you take it to God! You make your request known to God first of all.
ii] Thank God for all his blessings to you. Never omit gratitude. Has it been one problem after another? Has that been your experience of the Christian life? Has it been a really hard slog from sun-up to sun-down 24/7? Or have there been rare hours each year when the sun shone for a moment and there was a blessing? Hasn’t it been like that at all? Hasn’t it been blessing by the ladleful and trials by the spoonful? Haven’t your blessings far exceeded your trials? Then you start to thank God because there is light, that there is always light, that there is light now, that there are no circumstances when there is exclusively deep darkness. Never . . . ever. There is always light because there is always the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. his mercies are new each morning.
iii] Remember to leave the petition with the Ancient of Days. You present your request to God and so now it is God’s to deal with. Leave it with him. He has received it from you. It is no longer yours. There is one great principal in the Bible and it is this, that prayer and worry are mutually exclusive. Those two attitudes cannot live together. Either the worry is going to kill the prayer or the prayer is going to kill the worry. You have cast your burden on the Lord, that huge burden as big as an elephant, and you don’t go off on a big game expedition with your elephant gun looking for it to kill it. God is handling it.
You think of the whole problem of our past sins. You look at the now from the advanced state of knowledge of blessing and holiness that you have gained by progressive sanctification so that now they seem more horrible than ever before. You can keep dragging them up and looking at them and groaning over them. Week by week you can do it causing yourself bitter regrets. But God has cast them into the sea of his forgetfulness. You don’t go fishing after them. It is the devil that wants you to do that, but you know that they are all forgiven sins because He has buried them in the deepest part of the ocean in unfathomable, unattainable depths. They will never see the light of day again. Thank him for that wonder. On the Day of Judgment they will not make an appearance. They are gone for ever.
So it is with the concerns that you have brought to him. He has taken them up and he is pouring over them with loving interest, and there you are leaning over his shoulder trying to take them out of his hand and talk to him about them. Let God deal with them at his time and in his way! Further worry will not influence them. He will arrange things wonderfully.
iv] God’s peace will replace your worry. Everyone knows the phrase, “the peace of God that passeth all understanding.” It is part of the English language. You can know the words, but be a stranger to their reality. The Bible is real. Jesus’ resurrection on the third day was real. A congregation is real. A fellow believer is real. God’s peace is just as real. His peace becomes ours by divine conception, divine continuance and divine consummation. Certainly, it is his own peace. God is the God of peace. He has no turmoil, no conflict exists between the members of the Godhead, no trauma, no discord exists in heaven, no more rebel angels. You go into him and there is peace, and in and in and in and all you find is the infinite and immeasurable peace of God. He has no neuroses, no obsessive fears, no distracting anxieties, and no gnawing tensions. Peace, right down into the profoundest depths of his being. Often in Scripture he is referred to as the Blessed One. He is completely integrated and completely fulfilled. He is totally without any frustrations at all. He is utterly self-integrated and unified. He is absolutely at peace with himself, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This peace of God, this peace that is God’s alone, he gives to all his reconciled people. He distributes it generously to every single Christian, to the youngest and newest and weakest lamb in his flock. Of his fulness of peace we receive and grace for grace. So that is the extraordinary exchange that characterizes the Christian life. In justification we take to him our sin and he gives to us his righteousness. In sanctification we take to him our anxieties and he gives to us his peace. That is the dynamic of saving grace to all and upon all who believe. Here are our mounds of worries, so unmanageable, so unproductive, so uncontrollable and so destructive. He takes them from us and he replaces them with his peace. It seems so incredible, so much so that some of you think this is ‘words, only words,’ but if the Bible is true, and Luke and Paul were servants of Christ given the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth (and these are my only presuppositions in speaking to you from Scripture week by week) then this word of God say that the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Do you see a heavily guarded centre of strategic importance, the CCTV cameras, the razor wire, the dogs, and the heavily armed guards, some at the sentry box and others walking around in the shadows looking here and there, expecting trouble to come? Can you see that image? That is the way God’s peace acts, just like those sentries, guarding you moment by moment. I saw film footage of a truck driven by a suicide bomber packed with high explosive racing to the gates of a base, crashing through barriers and driving on and on to the gates. I saw two young soldiers on duty seeing that truck coming towards them and do you know what they did? They ran to meet it with their rifles raised. They did not run away. Those brave boys laid down their lives doing what they had chosen to do, guard that base and their fellow soldiers, and they were killed immediately in the terrifying explosion.
Multiply by infinity. God’s peace guards God’s people. When things get tough that peace of God doesn’t rush back to heaven and hide. It is there protecting and keeping us when troubles prevail and dangers afright, when friends will all fail and foes all unite, then it is beside us and around us and in us and beneath us and above us and every preposition in relation to us – his peace guarding us. That is one of the consequences of being joined to Jesus Christ. You go to him who says, “I will give you rest,” and you discover increasingly the reality of that. He takes our problems to himself, and he gives us in exchange his own immeasurable peace. He doesn’t twist his hands in horror as he hears of our pain. The Great Physician listens and soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds and drives away our fears. This is the wonderful life of the mere believer, for worry there is peace; for anxiety there is rest. Salvation is making people whole.
7th November 2010 GEOFF THOMAS