How to Overcome Worry

            You all probably know that Howard Hughes was one of the richest men who ever lived.  Over the course of his lifetime, he accumulated billions of dollars.  And you would think that someone with that kind of money would live a life of tranquility — you picture him sitting by the pool, sipping drinks with little umbrellas sticking out of them, without a care in the world.

            But that’s not at all what Howard Hughes’ life was like.  The truth is, he was a man who was consumed with worry, anxiety and fear.  He had many fears, but his greatest fear was a fear of germs.  He would sometimes spend hours cleaning his telephone.  He had detailed instructions, three pages long, on how to open a can of fruit without getting germs in his food.  

            Toward the end of his life, he would lay naked in bed in a dark room in what he considered to be a germ-free zone.  He wore tissue boxes over his feet to protect them. And he burned his clothing if anyone near him became ill.

            On the rare occasion that Howard Hughes would venture out of his hotel, he gave specific instructions to his driver: only smooth roads were to be taken, and the driver was never to exceed 35 miles per hour.  If they absolutely had to cross railroad tracks or some uneven part of the road, the driver was to slow down to 2 miles per hour.  Mr. Hughes was that worried about getting in a wreck!

            For a man who seemingly had it all, worry, anxiety and fear dominated his life!  And the paradox was that the more successful Howard Hughes got — the more money he accumulated — the more he became filled with worry and anxiety.

            Now, I doubt if anyone here is that bad, but my guess is that there’s something in your life that you worry about.  Maybe some of you are worried about school.  Or maybe you worry about financial matters (Is the stock market going to crash again?  What if I reach retirement age and I don’t have enough money saved up?)

Maybe you worry about your job (What if I get laid off?  What if I don’t get the promotion I’m counting on?  What if I get transferred somewhere else?). 

Maybe you worry about health issues.  Maybe you worry about computer viruses or the possibility of being audited by the IRS.  Maybe you worry about how your kids are gonna turn out.

I think it’s safe to say that worry is one of those problems that we all struggle with from time to time, whether we want to admit it or not.

Now, of course, we’re not the first people to experience stress and anxiety.  Anxiety has been around for a long time. And in Jesus’ day, people worried just as much we do today.  The Jews who heard Jesus teach were no different than you or me.  They also had to deal with the problems of paying their bills, feeding their families, pleasing their employers, raising their children, paying their taxes and saving for the future just like we do.

So, it’s not surprising that Jesus dealt with the problem of worry in the Sermon on the Mount.  He talked about why we shouldn’t worry and, perhaps more important, what we can do to stop worrying.

But, first, we need to talk about exactly what worry is.  In Matthew 6:25, Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about your life…”  Or as the NIV translates it, “do not worry about your life…”

The Greek word that Jesus used here comes from a root word meaning “to divide” or “to separate”.  Which is appropriate because a person who worries is someone who suffers from a divided mind.  They’re torn in two different directions.

            And, if you keep that in mind, then what Jesus said in verse 25 makes a whole lot more sense when you compare it with what he said in verse 24.  In that verse, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

            What Jesus was saying is that we can’t have divided loyalties.  You can’t put God first in your life and, at the same thing, focus on the material things in life.  And then, in the very next verse, Jesus said, “Don’t worry, don’t be anxious, don’t have a divided mind.”  Worry is when you put your faith in God, but you’re still not quite sure that everything’s going to turn out all right.

            In Luke chapter 10, Jesus used this word to describe a good friend of his.  When Martha asked Jesus to rebuke her sister for not helping with the dinner dishes, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.   Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Jesus said that Martha was “anxious” or “worried”.  It’s that same word that’s used here in Matthew 6.  Jesus said, “Martha, you’re trying to focus on too many things at once.”  The solution to worry is to focus on “one thing”.  Now, we’ll come back to that a little later on in the lesson, but, for now, I want you to see that worry is having a divided mind.

            But first, I want you to notice with me some of the reasons that Jesus said we shouldn’t worry.  I see five things that he mentioned here in Matthew 6.

1.         God has done so much for us already

In verse 25, Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious 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?” (Matthew 6:25)

Jesus says that if God has given us the greater gift of life, then it only makes sense that he will also give us whatever we need to sustain that life.  If God has given us the greater gift of our bodies, then we ought to be able to assume that he will also give us whatever we need to take care of these bodies.

Suppose you’re at the gas station filling up your car when someone pulls up behind you in a Lamborghini.  I doubt if your first thought is, “I wonder if this guy can afford to put gas in that car.  It’s up to $2.55 a gallon.”  No, we would assume that if a man can afford the huge expense of buying a car like that, then he can surely afford the cost of a tank of gas.

Jesus wants us to use that same kind of reasoning.  If God has done so much for us already, if he has given us life and he has given us these bodies, then surely God is capable of giving us whatever we need to sustain this life.

2.         God takes care of even plants and animals

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

Birds don’t sow nor reap, but they do work. They wake up early in the morning looking for food. They build nests in which they raise their young.  They may travel thousands of miles in search of food and a better climate.

But one thing birds don’t do is worry.  Have you ever seen a bird that worried?  “What if I don’t find any worms today — what am I going to do?”  The very thought is ridiculous.  God provides for the birds as well as all of the other animals. 

And Jesus’ point is this:  If God feeds the birds who are worth so much less than those of us who are created in the image and likeness of God, then surely he’ll provide for us as well.  It just makes sense.

In verse 28, Jesus says, “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)

Jesus said, “Look at the flowers.”  If God takes care of flowers, then surely I don’t need to worry about whether he’s going to take care of me.  The point of all this is that we shouldn’t worry because we have a heavenly Father who willprovide for us just as he does all the rest of his creation.

3.         Worry doesn’t do any good

            “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27).  Some translations say, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Matthew 6:27). 

            Whether you’re talking about your height or the length of your life, there are some things in life that you can’t do anything about.  There are some things that are outside of our control.  And let’s be honest – those are the things that we tend to worry about the most.  Worry, by its very definition, takes place when we assume responsibility for things that are outside our control. 

            Now, there’s a difference between being concerned about the future and being worried.  I like the way someone has defined the difference:  Being concerned is when you have the ability to do something about a problem and you do it.  Worry is when you can’t do something about the problem, but you allow your mind to be filled with anxiety about it anyway.

            There are some things that are within our control.  For example, if you go away on a trip, you might be concerned about the safety of your house while you’re gone, so you lock the doors of your house, activate the security system (if you have one), maybe ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your place.  There are precautions you can take, and you take them.  That’s not worry – it’s just being careful.

            But if you spend your vacation having anxiety the whole time you’re gone, afraid that maybe your house might burn down or be broken into even though you took precautions, that’s worry.  That’s something you have absolutely no control over.

            Or, to use another example, if I’m “concerned” about my financial situation when I retire, there are some things I can do about that.  I can put some money away in an IRA to be ready when I retire.  That’s not worry – it’s just planning ahead.  But worry is involved when there’s nothing I can do.  I can’t do anything about the stock market.  And so if I have trouble going to sleep every night because I’m afraid the stock market’s going to crash and my retirement fund is going to be worthless in 10 years, that’s worry. 

And Jesus said that it’s foolish to worry because worry will never change a thing.  If my house is going to burn down while I’m on vacation, it’s going to burn down whether I worry or not.  If the stock market is going to crash, then it’s going to crash whether I worry or not.  The only difference is that I have caused myself a whole lot of stress along the way.

All worry is useless. It is powerless to accomplish anything of value.  As the great philosopher Charlie Brown put it, “Worry won’t stop the bad stuff from happening.  It just stops you from enjoying the good.”

And that’s so true.  If we’re afraid of what might happen or we’re worried about something that has already happened — neither of which we can control or change — we lose peace of mind.  And the truth is that most of the things we worry about will never happen. 

            In fact, if we were to keep a record of all of the things we’ve worried about throughout our lifetime, chances are good that 90 percent (or more) of those things we dreaded never came to pass.  Worry simply doesn’t do any good.

            But, now we get down to what I think is the most important reason of all to get rid of worry:

4.         Worry shows a lack of faith

“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30)

Notice the phrase that Jesus uses here to describe people who worry – “O you of little faith.”  It’s important for us to understand that worry and faith are complete opposites.  If you have faith, then it’s impossible to worry.  If you worry, then you don’t have sufficient faith.

You may try to convince yourself, “I believe that God is able to handle this problem in my life”.  But, then, something inside you whispers, “But what if?  What if it doesn’t work out?”  Those doubts come back in the middle of the night and fill your imagination with all sorts of extreme possibilities, leaving you filled with anxiety

            The bottom line is this, “Do you trust God enough to believe that he will take care of you?”  In Philippians 4, Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything (or, don’t worry about anything), but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)

            Later in that same chapter, Paul said with confidence, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19).  Do we truly believe that?  Because, if we do, then we’re not going to worry — we can’t worry.

5.         Worry is the way the world acts

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matthew 6:31-32)

The fifth reason Jesus gives for not worrying is that worry is a characteristic of pagans, not Christians.  It’s absolutely normal for somebody who’s not a Christian to sit around wringing his hands, worried about what might or might not happen.  You would expect that from someone who’s not a Christian because they don’t have faith in a God who will take care of them.

So Jesus said, “Don’t be like the heathens. You’re not heathens, you’re children of God, and you have someone that you can trust to take care of you.  Don’t act like you don’t.” 

I would like to think that my children have never worried about whether or not they would have a bed to sleep in from week to week.  They never worried about whether or not there would be enough food for them to eat for supper.  They never worried about whether or not they would have clothes to wear.  And the reason they didn’t they worry about those things is because they had two parents who loved them and provided for them.

And if my kids got up one morning and said, “Dad, I tossed and turned all night long because I was afraid there wouldn’t be anything to eat today,” it would bother me.  In fact, it might even anger me a little bit.  “Suddenly, you think I’m not going to take care of you anymore?  What’s that all about?”

And I can’t help but wonder if God feels the same way when we worry about stuff.  I wonder if maybe he gets a little bit angry and says, “Suddenly, you think I’m not going to take care of you anymore?”  Isaiah said to God, “You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3). 

            Maybe your response to all this is to say, “Alan, I agree with everything you’ve said, but I just have a problem with worrying too much and there’s nothing I can do about that.”  But, there is something you can do about it.  In fact, Jesus said there are two specific things that we can do to overcome worry in our lives.

A.        Put first things first

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Remember I said earlier that worry means having a divided mind?  The way to get rid of worry is to do what Jesus told Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.  But one thing is necessary…” (Luke 10:41-42a)

If you really want to live a worry-free life, if you’re serious about wanting to get rid of all that anxiety, then Matthew 6:33 is the key.

Every morning, as you get up to face the day, tell the Lord, “Today my desire is to seek your will, to seek your righteousness.  Whatever happens, whatever I may encounter, may I be sensitive to your presence and depend on your strength.  May your kingdom be my highest priority, the most significant thought in my mind.  This day belongs to you, Lord.”

And I guarantee that as you begin to care more and more about giving God first place in your life, you will find yourself caring less and less about the things that once caused you to be filled with worry and anxiety.

Folks, we’ve got to realize that there is more to life than things.  Jesus talked about people being anxious over food and clothing.  And he reminds us that life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.  Life is more than just things.  It is more than the material.  It is more than the physical.  It has an eternal dimension that is beyond what we can see.  Don’t let material things control your thoughts.

If we will seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, God will give us those things that we need.  And that’s the cure for worry.  I will always be worried if my focus is on me and my needs and my wants. But when I trust, when I genuinely trust in the Lord, that anxiety level drops rapidly.

B.        Live One Day at a Time

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

            So many of us worry about “what’s gonna happen”.  What if this happens, or what that happens?  God understands that we have a habit of worrying about tomorrow and next year and 20 years from now, so Jesus tells us here to concentrate on the problems of today.

I’m reminded of when the Israelites were given manna every morning.  They were told by God to collect only enough food for one day.  But I’m sure that there were some of them who were tempted to worry about tomorrow.  What if there’s no manna when we wake up tomorrow?  We could starve to death.  So just to be on the safe side, they set aside some manna to get them through the next day.  But when they got up the next morning, that manna was filled with maggots. 

Because what God wanted them to teach them was this — you don’t worry about tomorrow.  I will be here for you tomorrow just as surely as I am here with you today.  And if we really believe that, then we won’t need to worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow.

John Newton, the writer of “Amazing Grace” once said, “Sometimes I compare the troubles which we have to undergo in the course of a year to a great bundle of sticks – far too large to lift. But God does not require us to carry the whole bundle at once. He mercifully unties the bundle and gives us one stick that we are to carry today and then another that we are to carry tomorrow, and so on. We might easily manage it, if we would take only the burden appointed for us each new day. But we choose to increase our troubles by carrying yesterday’s stick over again today and by adding tomorrow’s burden to our load before we are required to bear it.”

   And that’s so true, isn’t it?  We like to pile on all the baggage from yesterday and the potential burdens of tomorrow.  No wonder we’re often overwhelmed and discouraged!  If you’re worried about the future, determine to live for today.  Trust that God will be around tomorrow to help with whatever may come up between now and then.


            In the end, it all comes down to faith.  If we’re going to get rid of worry, we’re going to have to strengthen our faith in God, our trust that God will always be here for us just as he promised he would be.  Because if you have faith, you won’t worry.  And if you worry, you don’t have faith.

            In November 1999, there was an article in Outside magazine about “extreme skiing”, which is where skiers will ski down these long, steep slopes in mountainous terrain, in and out of the trees.  Because of how dangerous it is, some skiers have ended up being seriously injured or killed trying to ski through the trees.

            But the writer of that article (Tim Etchells) said, “What you focus your eyes on becomes critical in the woods. Look at the spaces between the trees — the exits where you hope to be traveling.”  

            In other words, the end result is all about where you put your focus.  A skier who focuses on the trees is more likely to hit the trees.  But the skier who is looking at the spaces between the trees is more likely to miss the obstacles.

            And I think that’s what Jesus is saying here in this passage.  We have so many things in life that threaten to take away our peace of mind.  What if this happens?  What if that happens?  How many of you play a movie in your mind of all the bad things that could possibly happen in the future? There is always something to worry about: losing your job, aging parents, wayward children, illness, terrorism.  It’s easy to focus on the trees, it’s easy to focus on all the things that could happen.  But if we do that, we’re more likely to crash.

            But if we focus instead on the open spaces, focus on God, focus on what God has done for us in the past and what we are confident he will do for us in the future, we can safely navigate the obstacles.

            It comes down to this – Do we believe that God can be trusted?  Until you settle that issue in your mind, worry will always be a problem.  And a big part of the problem is that we like to be in control.  And so, we’re afraid to give up control and let God take care of us.  So we decide to handle our own problems and then we wonder why we get so frustrated and filled with anxiety

            It comes down to a choice.  You can choose to worry, or you can choose to trust God, but you can’t do both. 



Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Verified by ExactMetrics