Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:34a “Take therefore no thought for the morrow:”
Life’s necessities are given as we seek God’s kingdom first (6:33). “Therefore” we have no reason to be anxious today about tomorrow. But we worry about the future anyway. Anxiety is a powerful and effective weapon in Satan’s arsenal.
We needed these lessons on worry. While teaching them, I’ve tried to practice what I preach. I was doing well, worrying less, till last week, when I slipped back to old habits. Analyzing my relapse, I realized a big part of my problem is this Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season. Beware holidays. In them we are often so busy that private time is neglected or ignored. Holidays disrupt my routine; my private times often become forced or contrived. If intimate time with God lessens, His empowering lessens, and our old man gains strength. Christian living is a daily walk, a need for strengthening one day at a time. If we forget this, fear returns to hound our mind, and one of Satan’s tricks is to make us worry about tomorrow.
As worry loses on the battleground of today, it takes the war to a different time and place. If Satan fails to cause us to worry over the way things really are, he changes his tactics, intensifies his effort, and takes the next step, seeking to make us worry about the future. If worry can not live on facts, it conjures up fantasies to live on. Thus, no matter how good life becomes, some people can always say, “Yes, but. . .” As we give self to worry, it takes on a life of its own, and does not want to be relieved. It argues with us, contradicting our highest optimism.
Under the influence of worry, our imaginations become hyperactive predictors. They exaggerate and distort. In fact, they lie. They forebode gloomy gathering clouds which loom darker and darker, yet when tomorrow comes, there is no storm. Usually, the biggest troubles we have to face are the ones that never arrive.
Lloyd’s of London built itself into the world’s richest and most famous insurance company by betting that what people worry about most never happens. Harry James, a famed trumpeter, had his lips insured. His wife, Betty Grable, had her legs insured for a million dollars. Pastor Jerry Falwell’s church has a one million dollar life insurance policy on him. With all due respect, I can’t think of any part of my body, or anything about my life, worth insuring for a million dollars.
Methodist Pastor Charles Allen rightly says we worry about mountains we never have to climb, streams we never have to cross, and enemies we never have to face. The hardest burdens to bear are the ones which are coming. The nebulous possibility and the undefined unknown convey their own agonizing suspense.
Preparing this message, I reflected on the earlier years of my life. What did I worry about most? I feared I would fail in life, I feared there wouldn’t be enough money to pay the bills, I feared my children would not serve God when adults, I feared my daughter would lose eyesight. Hours and hours–no! years and years–of worry worry worry, all for naught. I owe God a huge apology. It truly is amazing that He loves me still. Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; Amazing grace how sweet the sound that keeps saved a wretch like me.
Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow. God promises us power to bear all our troubles, but not strength to bear our troubles plus our worry about them. He enables us to bear burdens life makes, but not those we make in our imagination.
Our precious Lord here commands us not to be our own tormentors, not to be haunted by the ghost of crisis-future. Mind today. Leave tomorrow to God.
This is not to say Jesus wants us oblivious to the future. There is no virtue in ignoring it. The Bible gives clear parameters within which we may properly contemplate the future. In thinking of tomorrow, we should avoid two extremes.
First, avoid over-confidence. Look forward humbly. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (PR 27:1 NAS). “Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (JM 4:13).
Second, avoid worry. Plan, but without anxiety. Reasonable foresight is encouraged. Especially make provision for your spouse and children’s tomorrows. “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (PR 13:22a NAS).
If our minds are addicted to racing ahead, keep them running in the lane bordered by over-confidence and worry. And if our thoughts are determined to irresistibly race forward, then keep pushing them till they think on heaven’s bliss.
I confess, since we see troubles befall those around us, it is a natural part of life to ponder what we would do under similar circumstances. This is not necessarily worry, but rather a natural wondering about ourselves and how we might handle such events. It is normal to ask, what would I do if that happened to me?
In these moments when we are pondering possible calamities, we must also envision ourselves as able to endure them. We do not have strength enough today to bear what lies ahead, but when it comes, we will be strengthened adequately.
It would not be good to know in advance exactly what is going to happen to us, but it is good to know that whatever befalls us, others have endured it, and God will let nothing happen to us which is more than we can bear. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 C 10:13 NAS).
Whatever we fear most, it is “common to man.” Other believers have gone through it, survived, and even thrived. Christians in our own church family have lost spouses, parents, children; they have lost jobs, gone broke, entered bankruptcy; their children have gone gay or gone to prison or gone away from their family.
Whatever comes, “God is faithful.” We shall assuredly be left standing. As Barclay notes, life teaches us that somehow we are enabled to bear the unbearable, do the undoable, and pass the breaking point without breaking. As we ponder possible catastrophes, also imagine God making us strong enough to endure them.