This is the one-hundred-ninety-first lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
A lot of us deal with worry. When someone says, “You shouldn’t worry so much,” our first thought is: “Easy to say, but look around. There is plenty to worry about!”
For some people, worry is real anxiety, an always-near sense of tension, agitation, and fear. The Bible never says worry and anxiety are sins, or even that they show a lack of faith. Yet Jesus made a statement in the Sermon on the Mount, so familiar to us: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matt. 6:25).
What, exactly, did he mean?
Jesus was addressing some of the universal pressing questions we all ask: Who is going to take care of me? Will I be able to endure this period of my life? Could next year be better than the last?
“Your heavenly Father knows you need them,” (i.e. food, drink, and clothing) so don’t get caught in the rat race or, we might say, the pagan chase (“the pagans run after all these things”) (Matt. 6:32). We can do better than living a life of desperate grabbing. Our security does not come from how much money we have in the bank or from the brand names of our clothing. Having enough food in the house is a good thing. But no matter how much any of us have to eat or drink or wear or drive or store, we’ll never know security until we trust in the love of God. God knows what we have and what we need. God also knows, more than we do, what we need. What we really need.
Sparrows do fall to the ground. But not one of them falls to the ground apart from the care of God the Father (Matt. 10:29). A lot of us are like birds with broken wings right now. We don’t travel or get out as much as we used to. This year might be a time when we see loved ones ill or even pass away. But this is not new in human history. Life is an ongoing pattern of both gain and loss.
The reality of pain and loss does not nullify providence. Goodness is always greater than evil as surely as light is greater than darkness. The only reasonable explanation for why our lives work at all is that the Creator of all things keeps everything going day by day.
There are many things that could go wrong with my body right now, but at the moment it seems to be working just fine. My meals are being converted from fuel to energy and my lungs are taking in air and putting life-giving oxygen into my blood. My brain is firing away, directing every function in my body, and my heart is beating without pause, pushing lifeblood to every part of my body. I’ve been ill before, and I know I’ll be ill again. Actually, I’m astonished that my body works as well as it does. The function of my body is the ongoing, providential work of God.
Our lungs and hearts don’t always work right, and sooner or later they all stop. The world has continual international conflicts and wars. Every moment of the day, someone somewhere is perpetrating a serious crime against someone else. Horrible things go on behind closed doors.
But all wicked acts and personal injuries are set against the backdrop of so many healthy days, good relationships, and proper exchanges. Kindness, forgiveness, forbearance, generosity, patience: these are signs that God keeps gifting us. The irrepressible good things that happen in life come about because the God who gave us life is a good God.
Rain keeps falling, living things keep growing, and the human race keeps reaching out for hope and life. In some ways, the creation keeps asserting itself. It is alive, even though drought and disease and death are inevitable. The Creator keeps giving good things. God keeps saying, I’ve made what I’ve made. I will keep it going and growing and re-create as the need arises.
So, when Jesus says, “do not worry about your life,” he is not telling us to play a game in which we ignore loss or pain—he himself experienced distress and sorrow and tension. Instead, Jesus is reforming our security. He is saying that anxiety about food and clothing, or about pursuing status in the eyes of the world, will not actually deliver security and comfort. There is a better way.
[See previous – Turning the Calendar]
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.