Monday, July 24, 2017

The Golden Rule

‘Treat others the way you would have them treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

There is one word that is almost entirely absent from the Sermon on the Mount and that word is “love.” There are only two references to love in the Sermon on the Mount—one is in Matthew 5: 43 when He tells us to love our enemies, and the other is in 6: 24 when we are told we can’t serve two masters.  The other Gospels, especially John’s gospel, the word is used over and over again—love each other, love your neighbors, love God with all your heart. Yet love is hardly mentioned in Jesus’ most important sermon.

Love is all through this sermon, but it is just not called love. Love can be thought of as an emotion. Jesus wants us to know that it is not only an emotion. Love is something we do.

Feel love for others, but that is not enough. We must actually act on love. It isn’t theoretical or emotional. We can feel towards a person or thing, but if we aren’t actively involved in serving him, her, or it, then it really isn’t love. Consider these examples.

--A man loves his mother, but never visits her.  Does he really love her?

--A woman loves a church, but never attends even though she could. Does she love the church?

--A passerby is moved by the sight of a homeless person, but is too busy to help. Is this love?

--A patriot says he loves his country, but won’t fight for it. Is he really a patriot?

We can’t claim to love and not help. The so-called, “Golden rule” is all about what we do, not how we feel. 

One mistake people make about the Golden Rule is that everyone believes it. You may have heard that all religions teach the Golden rule.  However, this is not true. The “Golden Rule” is pretty much unique to Jesus. Other faiths have versions of it, as do people with no faith. But there are very few who actually say what Jesus says. 

There are at least four versions of the so-called “Golden rule.”   

One is “Treat others the way others treat you.” This is basically “an eye for an eye.” Even the church of Satan has this in their statement of faith
Many who profess to follow Christ go no further than this. They say, “I don’t hate anyone who doesn’t hate me.” But that’s not the Golden rule.

There’s also a negative version of the Golden rule. “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.” This is common to all religions.

One story about this comes from ancient Jewish writings. A rabbi was challenged to recite the entire Law while standing on one foot. He stood on one foot and said, “Do not do to others what they would not do to you.” Another version of the same goes like this “Live and let live.”

But this isn’t what Jesus says. He says, “Do to other what you want them to do to you.” It means that we should go out of our way to do things for people, not just hang back until someone does for us. 

A third version is, “Do to others, so that they will do for you.”  Be nice and you will get nice in return. This isn’t what Jesus says either! This isn’t love—it’s commerce. Every successful politician and salesman practices this, but it isn’t the Golden Rule. The motivations are wrong.

But Jesus says, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  Do it, without expectation of reward or without judgment as to whether or not he or she deserves it. Don’t do it just in your head, but with your whole heart. Do it, and keep doing it to all people.

Jesus’ Golden rule implies three things.

1.  Don’t wait for someone to love us before we love them.
2.  Don’t wait for someone to come to us for help, but go seek them.
3. Don’t just help the deserving, but the undeserving. 

Whether they are good people has nothing to do with the Golden Rule. It doesn’t say ‘Do to others unless they have done badly to someone.” Do good anyway, whether they’re bad or not.

We call this verse “The Golden Rule,” but we really shouldn’t call it a rule. God has freed us from legalism, yet we Christians always seem to be trying to rebuild the law by turning every statement in the Sermon on the Mount into a law.

God isn’t saying you have to do this. He is saying that when you’re seeking to live and act like Jesus, this is what will be natural for you. The Sermon on the Mount, isn’t a new law, but it is describing the behavior we will exhibit when our hearts are transformed by Jesus.  We will normally behave this way when he or she is living in a love relationship with God. We don’t have to force it, because it will just naturally happen. If we find ourselves struggling to love, we are making it into a law. If we seek first the Kingdom, and live in His presence, then the Golden Rule will be a naturally occurring character trait among us. 

John 3:16 says God loved us so much that He gave His only son. We naturally want to give back, but we can’t give directly to God. So we express our love for Him by giving to others. We keep the Golden rule not because we must, but because we want to.   

So how do we keep the Golden rule? It is something between us and God, of course, so I must never presume to have the mind of God about how you individually should keep the Golden Rule, but here are three practical suggestions to keep in mind that may help you keep it better.

1. Respect people’s boundaries. Don’t force your help on people, either by giving advice, correcting their errors, or organizing their lives. No one likes a meddler or a busybody. How much do you like it when someone else is in your face, telling you what you ought to be doing, or how you should do it?  Keeping the Golden Rule means that we respect other people’s ability to run their own lives.  Do not cross the boundary in to someone else’s affairs unless they give you permission. 

People resent it when you do for them what they can do for themselves. If you see something that someone else is doing, and you think you can do it better, so you jump in and do it yourself, you may have rendered some short-term assistance, but in doing so you have created a long-term problem. You have broken that boundary wall. They will either resent you for it, or grow lazy and expect you to solve the next problem that comes along. Either way, it is bad for you and them. 
Do not do for others what they could or should do for themselves. Be careful about giving advice to those who don’t ask, assistance to those who need the exercise, food to those who refuse it, support to those who won’t work, or emotional support to those who need to work though their own problems. Helping others can hurt them when we do not respect boundaries.

 2. Start at home. There’s an ancient principle in the church that I’ve only recently discovered. It’s called subsidiarity. A rather simplistic way of saying it is “charity begins at.”  A better way of saying it is that we all must first manage the places that God has given us to live. When our personal life is a mess, and the relationships that God put us in are not in order, one way we escape is going out to save the world. We think that people will overlook our personality flaw if we just be good people on the outside. Subsidiarity that real love and obedience starts on a very small scale and grows out from there like rings on a tree. If you don’t love yourself, then it’s hard to love your family. If you don’t love your family, then don’t try to love your neighbor. If you don’t love your neighbor, then you won’t really love the stranger.  First, start by loving yourself, with the same grace God gives you. Then, treat your wife and children well. Then look to your neighbors first, and the people you worship with at church.They are the ones who know you best.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible, a pastor with three daughters decides to take them all to Africa as missionaries. While he is preaching the Gospel, his relationship with his wife and the people around him are so dismissive and belittling that he eventually destroys his family and the converts he has made. I wish this only happens in novels, but there is so much truth in it. If we are doing the Lord’s work and neglect our family, then we will accomplish nothing.
3.  Make the most of your spare time. We can love ourselves, our family, our neighbors and strangers. We just have to learn how to use our spare time wisely. Our families can be demanding, our friends too, but none of us are as rushed as we think.  We all have twenty-four hours in the day. We are not so pressed for time that we can’t make a phone call or pray a prayer. We just need to learn to use our time wisely.

Instead of sitting on the couch each night, can’t we find something to do for others?  It isn’t that we don’t have time, it’s that we don’t pay attention. Look at others and find little ways to help them—a word of encouragement, a hug, a little gift. Make a habit of leaving something good behind every place you go.

Parents: raise your children in the golden rule!  Do this by practicing the golden rule with them and in front of them. Let them see you spending your time unselfishly, and take them with you as you do acts of charity. Volunteer with them to help others. That could be the greatest gift you can give your children.  

God has been speaking to me about my own treatment of others. I don’t hate them, I am just easily distracted by my own thoughts. My mind is elsewhere, instead of on my wife, my family, my neighbor and my church. As a result, I am seeking to do three things

First, to pray for others. Whenever I hear a prayer need, I will pray for it right then. I Pray for others daily in my private devotion—not to pray against people, but for them. I don’t seek to judge or change them.

 Second, to listen to others. I talk too much. I am praying for God to grant me the gift of being a good listener, not just a good talker. 

Third, to pray for greater compassion. Love isn’t just what we do, but it’s also what we feel. If we feel empathy, it is so much easier to love. Empathy doesn’t come easy for many or us—especially for those who are unlike ourselves in background and temperament. Some people can’t seem to feel it at all.  It’s not intentional, so they should not be blamed for it. But we should all be praying that God will give us a greater empathy for other people.

Doing for others is not something we can work at doing. It’s something that comes out of a heart filled with the love of God.  Instead of praying, “God make me a better person,” we should be praying, “God help me to see you better.” Seeing God’s love for what it really is will give us the desire to be better ourselves.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ask, Seek, Knock

Matthew 7:7-11

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

What’s the difference between God and magic? Wikipedia defines magic as, The use of rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language with the aim of utilizing supernatural forces.  These “supernatural forces” can be some inner natural “force” like in Star Wars, or it can be the manipulation of unseen spirits like angels and demons, or it can be rituals to manipulate God. But if we are trying to manipulate unseen powers, we are practicing magic.

Religion is not magic—in fact, it is the opposite of magic. That is why a person cannot be a “real” magician and a Christian at the same time. Christianity is not about the manipulation of unseen forces, but yielding to the power of God and letting Him manipulate us.  

Even so, many Christians without knowing it, are practicing magic. They don’t want to be manipulated by God. They want to manipulate Him. Whenever we think of prayers as a sure-fire way of getting what we want, we have turned our faith into magic.

In this passage, Jesus said, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Some people have taken this passage among others to be a kind of a Christian magical formula. But this is a misuse of Scripture. It contradicts what Jesus already taught about prayer in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will (not ours) be done.” If we ask from now until the end of time, God will still not give us what He doesn’t want us to have. Jesus is not a magic genie, we cannot command Him do what He doesn’t want to do.

Nevertheless, we must understand that Jesus is supernatural. He does have the power to manipulate time, space, energy and matter to do whatever He wills. He can and will do what we cannot. 

This passage connects directly to the passage that came just before it. “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, or cast your pearls before swine.” Jesus is saying  that we do not have the power to manipulate the souls of other people. We cannot change the basic nature of a person by preaching at them or manipulating them. God alone has the power to change a person. 

So, how do we help our loved ones who are by the very nature lost and insensitive to the truth? We can’t, but God can. So, we need to ask, seek, and knock at the door of God, asking him humbly to do what we cannot do. We must go to the one power in the universe capable of affecting the change we desire. We must pray. 

Unfortunately, there is much less belief in prayer than there ought to be—even among Christians. Many professing Christians are really closet deists. They believe in God, but don’t think He is listening. So Jesus assures us that He really is.

Before we can understand this passage we must throw off any magical ideas we have about prayer. It isn’t us manipulating others or God. It’s not up to us, it’s up to Him. 

There are a couple of magical misconceptions in the world. 

The first misconception is the “vending machine” concept of prayer. This is the idea that prayer works like a vending machine without prices written on it. If we just keep feeding it quarters, eventually the lever will work and we will get what we want. In this view, prayers are the equivalent of quarters in God’s vending machine. God will give you whatever you desire if you only feed Him enough prayers. “Ask and keep on asking” is interpreted as saying that if we hit the desired amount of prayers for something, then we will always receive it exactly the way we expect. By asking we bend God to our will, not us to His.

Another misconception is the “merit badge” prayer. In this view, we have to earn the answer to our prayers. Get enough merit badges from God, and God will give us what we want. The reason we don’t get what we want is because we are not “good enough” for God to give it. We seek to placate God by offering to “be good.” If we can only change our bad habits or give up our pet sins, then God will hear us.

Preachers often suggest this when they suggest that our prayers are hindered, because we are not good or holy enough. They misinterpret Psalm 66:18, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” To say if we have sinful or lustful desires doesn’t hear our prayers. If this were so, God shouldn’t hear anyone’s prayers! To cherish iniquity in our heart is not to have been tempted and failed, but to seek iniquity by abandoning God. The moment we seek God, God listens. To suggest there’s a test of righteousness before God answers our prayers is to invite magical thinking. 

It’s another form of manipulation—be good so God will hear.  But God is sovereign and does whatever He wants and no amount of pleading or manipulation will make a difference.

But are we saying that God doesn’t care what we ask for? Not at all! He clearly indicates otherwise in verses 9 through 11.

“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or, if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Jesus tells us something that should brighten our mood considerably. You can trust God. He really wants us to be happy. The takeaway from this passage is not “Jesus will give me what I want.” But “I can trust what Jesus gives me.” He won’t see us starve or let us get poisoned. He really, really loves us!

We don’t always know what we want. We want all kinds of contradictory things. One of my friends described her natural state as “Queen Baby.” As a queen, she wanted what she wanted when she wanted it. She did not think that anyone had the right to deny her anything. Like a baby, she wanted everyone—including God—to wait on her, and excuse her when she acted childishly. Everyone should take care of her, and bend to her will.

It never occurs to us that there is any contradiction in this. We want good health without exercise or dieting, we money to satisfy our slightest whims, but do not want to work for it. We think everyone should treat us as special and wonderful, but leave us alone whenever we desire it. 

As parents, we wouldn’t put up with this—not if we loved our children. A loving parent wants children to be happy, and will give anything for them, but a truly loving parent would not allow a child to act like “king baby.”
We don’t know when to be loving and firm—not even with ourselves. That’s why God has to be in charge. He is loving, caring and sustaining, and He knows our needs better than we do.

So, why does Jesus tell us to ask, seek, and knock? First, ask the question, what are we asking, seeking and knocking for?  What are we pursuing?  It’s not God’s blessings—it’s God Himself. If we receive the blessings of God without God, we will be forever missing out on the real purpose of life. 

Let’s use a parable to explain: imagine a Spanish galleon loaded with gold and silver sailing through pirate infested waters. The lookout spots a fast-moving ship-- exactly the kind of ship pirates often use. Since the galleon doesn’t have weapons to defend itself, and the ship is too slow to run, the captain decide on a brash action. He fills a lifeboat with gold and silver and sends it adrift behind the boat. If it’s pirates, they will stop to get the gold, giving him time to escape.

God is like that galleon. We pursue Him, but then God releases all kinds of blessings on our lives.  He gives us good times, full bellies, friends and families, and meaningful jobs. Maybe that is enough for us. Maybe we stop and enjoy these blessings. Meanwhile, God sails on, farther and farther away, as we feast on what He has left behind. But God is testing us. He is not testing us with tragedy, but with abundance. Will we stop and say we have had enough, or will we go on and seek Him instead of His blessing? 

Take in His blessings, but don’t stop. There’s a lot more ahead for those who will pursue. Most people stop for the blessings, and miss God. Only a few keep going. The blessings that God leaves behind are only a fraction of the blessings He has.  Don’t be thrown off by the blessings. Keep seeking, keep knocking, and you will find. 

We all know the story of Aladdin and his bottled genie. In Muslim folklore a genie is a demon.  If you trap him in a bottle you can bend him to your will. You don’t love the genie—you hate him, but you force him to give you wishes.

God doesn’t want to be your genie in the bottle. He wants to be your friend. Will you accept him as your friend? Then don’t stop seeking, because you are blessed, or if you are not blessed. Seek Him with all your heart.

There are only two ways to face God—with clenched fists ready to fight, or with open arms lifted in surrender. Which way will you face Hem today?

This is what Jesus is saying. Keep pursuing God, and you will receive—not His blessing, but His own true eternal presence. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Of Pigs and People

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”   Matthew 7:6

Here’s “the story of the pampered pigs”--

Once upon a time there was a pig farmer who loved his pigs. He thought pigs were beautiful, intelligent creatures and he only ate them when they were old and sick. Otherwise, he treated them very well. He wished that he could do more for them.

One day, he was down at the feed store and heard the other pig farmers talking about something they saw on the internet. It seemed that some pig farmers in a far-off country suddenly noticed that some of their pigs had started walking on their hind legs. Then, they started talking to each other. Finally, they started wearing clothes, growing hair on the tops of their heads, and were actually starting to become people. “It’s true,” one said.  “They’ve even got a video of it on YouTube! How can that be wrong?”

The farmer thought he would like that. He said to himself, “Wouldn’t it be great if some of my pigs could become my children?”  So, he decided if it was possible for pigs to become people, then he would set out to make it happen.

The first thing he did was to make all the pigs clothes. He had to wrestle his pigs to get coats on them, and he got some bad cuts and bites, but he finally got them on. Unfortunately, the pigs didn’t appreciate his efforts. They just rolled in the mud and got them all torn and dirty. Then he tried to teach them to appreciate art. He put reproductions of the Mona Lisa all around their sty. They just splashed mud on them. Finally, he decided to teach the sows some self-esteem by putting expensive pearl necklaces around the necks of the sows, but they scratched and bit until the pearls fell off and got lost in the mud. When he went to retrieve them, they trampled him.

Now, there is no reason to blame the pigs for any of this. Pigs just aren’t people, that’s all. God can make a pig into a person if He wanted to, but until He does, a pig is just a pig.

In the language of Jesus’ day, “pig” and “dog” were pejorative terms by Gentiles about non-Jews.    Jesus does not attack this prejudice, but instead He uses it to make a point. If you think that someone is a pig or a dog, then why are you trying to convert them by making them act like yourself? Why spend so much time trying to turn Gentiles into good Jews, when their essential nature is something else?

To understand what Jesus is saying, we need to see it in the context of what He said just before-- “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Judgmentalism is our tendency to want to meddle in the affairs of others. We see others as worse than us, not just different, but worse, and to believe that we must make them act, think and behave like ourselves. So, we take all the things we enjoy and believe and make them into rules others must follow.  Instead of offering a better way of life, we try to force them to conform without changing their essential nature.  But it didn’t work in Jesus’ time, and it doesn’t work now. We can’t change people’s nature. God can, but we can’t. 

Does that mean that people can’t change?  Absolutely not!  People can change, but only by the power of God. But when change occurs, it must first come as a change of faith, not behavior. People change when their ultimate concern in life becomes pleasing God, not fulfilling their basest desires. It comes when they meet Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and they learn what it means to live in His likeness. Then people want to change. But the idea of insisting on behavioral change when there is no inner change is an exercise in frustration. 

Some Gentiles did become Jews. Sinners can become saints. Unbelievers can become believers. Drunks can get sober, misers can become generous, and lechers can become chaste. All the changes we have read in the Bible or heard from others by the power of the Holy Spirit can happen. Paul writes in Corinthians 5: 17, “If anyone be in Christ, he is a new person. The old has passed away. The new has come.”  

But we Christians need to be careful. We get impatient for change, and try to force it on others, instead of waiting for God to change them. The harder we push, it seems that the less Christian they become. Conversion is a spiritual act, not by human will.

When I was younger, I was much more concerned about witnessing. The Bible college I attended was always telling me to witness—and I did. Sometimes, though it was for the wrong reasons. 
One of the favorite verses they used to motivate us was Ezekiel 33: 7-8  

“I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”

What a scary verse! If someone is acting like a pig, then I must rebuke them or God will hold me responsible! Their sin becomes my fault. This guilt motivation drove me to push my faith on others—not because of love, but because of fear.
This motivation made me pushy. I couldn’t be blamed if I told them, even if they didn’t understand.  Then if they went to Hell, I could say “I told you so—you just weren’t listening!”

This rarely worked. I missed the point of evangelism. It isn’t to condemn others, but to help them. God didn’t come to irritate, but to transform out essential human nature into something divine and wonderful. Only through an act of God can an unbeliever become a believer, a Gentile a Jew, or a pig become a person.

Does it mean that we shouldn’t witness? Definitely not. We just need to remember what we are witnessing to. We bear witness, not to a system of moral behavior, but to a living, transforming God who can heal the sick, set the prisoner free, and even resurrect the dead. This doesn’t just happen by going to church or having someone pay your light bill, but by having an encounter with the living God. 

I believe there are three things we can do to help the process of conversion in others.

First, we must make sure that we ourselves are converted. Many who think they are converted are not. You can’t truthfully witness to a God you do not know. I am not talking about belief but conversion.  We must have been changed by Him.

Faith and belief are two different things. I can believe in something that has no impact on my life.  I believe that Pluto’s still a planet, but it doesn’t matter in my life. I don’t believe in Bigfoot, but if I’m wrong, it would make no difference. Many people believe that Jesus is God, but it doesn’t affect them at all. All they have is an intellectual understanding of a God, but they live their lives distant from Him.

Recent research into Christianity in America has describes it as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Deism is the belief God created the world, but has nothing to do with it. To a Deist, believing in God is like believing in George Washington. He existed once, and is the father of our country, but now he’s dead and in no way directly involved in our lives.

Moralistic means He left us with some rules in the Bible on how to run our families and our businesses and get along with our neighbors. 

Therapeutic means these rules were left to make us happy. Bible principles will make us happy, even if we don’t know God! God isn’t needed, just his rules. The Bible is like the instruction book for an appliance. We don’t need to know the person who wrote it, we just need to learn how it works. Then, we can forget about the manufacturer. Faith is a relationship with a living God. We can’t neglect Him, and expect to teach others to know Him. We are witnessing to a Person, not moral principles.

Second, we call upon Him to change others.  We pray. By prayer, I don’t mean just general prayers but to genuinely seek God on the behalf to do something that we cannot do ourselves.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism thinks of prayer as some kind of personal moral motivation not as calling out to a God who can actually work. It belittles prayer, saying things like, “God helps those who help themselves,” or “Faith without work is dead.” 

Do not deny the necessity of speaking and working, but to seek the conversion of another without the power of God just leads to frustration and self-deception. You can’t make a pig into a person.  You can’t change a person’s belief by pushing harder.

There’s two ways of pushing our faith on others. Neither works. One way is by criticizing their behavior, in the hopes that something we say will “guilt” them into change. The other way is to say nothing about offensive behavior, to become so tolerant that they walk all over us. If we can’t guilt someone into change, neither can we tolerate them into change. We have a right and responsibility to insist on rules in our own home. But we must also not treat those rules as conversion. That comes from within. Your prayers will accomplish far more than your direct efforts. Believe that God can make a difference, and He will. 

Third, we need to love them as they are, even if they don’t change. Understand the limitations of the unbeliever and love them anyway.

My best friend is named Natasha. She is not a believer, yet we have never once given her a Bible or shared the Gospel with her. That’s because she’s a dog, and wouldn’t understand it. I don’t treat her as a person, but make it my goal to treat her as well as a dog can be treated. I give her treats, take her on walks, and pet her whenever possible. That’s how you express affection to a dog. This love and affection won’t turn her into a person, but it definitely moves her into a warm relationship with the human world.

Speaking of dogs, it still amazes me to think that dogs descended from wolves. How did a wolf turn into a dog?  It happened with someone showing affection to a wolf. Some wolves responded, and that’s where we got poodles and chihuahuas.  Genuine love and patience over time resulted in the dogs we love today. Showing love to animals makes them more like us.

Without God, our meddling in the lives of others is useless. The only thing that can turn pigs into people is the power of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. He alone can make the difference. All He needs from us, is for us to love them, pray for them and to live sincerely as His followers.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Cure for Anxiety - Matthew 6: 25-33

I have a list of things people say that make no difference at all. One is “be careful.”  Who’s careful just because we tell them to be? Another is “Don’t take it personally.”  If it’s about me, I’m going to take it personally! Another is “don’t be angry.” Oh, if I could just will myself not to be angry! 

The biggest is this one--“Don’t be anxious.”  Telling people not to be anxious doesn’t make them less anxious. It usually makes them more anxious, since among all our other troubles we now have to worry about being judged for being worried!

Even so, Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious.” In John 14, He says “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Paul says it too, in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication make your requests be made known to God.”  If it were only so simple! How do we make ourselves not worry!

Please understand, this is not an absolute command. Jesus is not condemning us for feeling anxiety. In fact, both Jesus and Paul testify about feeling anxious. On the night Jesus was arrested, he said, “Now is my soul exceedingly troubled.” He sweated drops of blood—a phenomenon called anxious sweat—in the Garden of Gethsemane. Paul also admits in Philippians 2:28 that he is anxious for the church. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says that married men are necessarily anxious about their wives and children, and that married women are necessarily anxious about worldly things. So if Jesus and Paul got anxious, and they recognize anxiety as natural for others, how can they legalistically command us not to be anxious?

Anxiety is a feeling. We cannot always control our feelings. They don’t go away because we wish them gone. The more we deny our feelings, the stronger they become.

When the New Testament tells us not to be anxious, it also gives a good reason for not being anxious. God doesn’t condemn the problem without giving us the cure. If we want to get rid of anxiety, first we must understand what its true source is.  What are we really anxious about?

Anxiety is about the threat of loss of something we love. In order to be anxious about losing something, I have to love it. 
I hate beets. If I might never be able to eat beets the rest of my life, I wouldn’t feel anxious. But if I might have to give up coffee, ice cream or pizza, then I would feel anxiety. We are only anxious about losing what we love—our treasures in life.

In verses 19-24, Jesus spoke of our treasures. Treasures are things we seek with all our heart and soul. Our treasure is the focus of our eye, and our true master.

Last week, we discussed two kinds of treasures--primary and secondary. Primary treasures are the things we really want; secondary treasures are the things we collect to get what we want. Primary treasures are spiritual. They include things like love, security, happiness, trust, and peace of mind. Secondary treasures include money, fame, houses, family, and success. We spend our lives collecting secondary treasures when what we really want are primary treasures.

 What do most people want out of life? They would say it is to get married, have kids, own a home, have a job, to retire and sit in their own back yard. Everything I mentioned are secondary, not primary treasures. We want a home so that we can have financial security, privacy to be ourselves, or self-esteem. We start a family so that we can be loved. We want success so that we can feel good about ourselves. We want to own enough so that we will always be safe and secure. 

But suppose there was a way of having our primary treasures without collecting secondary treasures. What if you could have security without a healthy retirement account? What if you could have love without being married? What if instead of collecting things to make you happy, you could just be happy? What if we could have the life we always wanted without having to fight for success, money, or attention? Then we could be free of most our   anxiety. 

Jesus says there is no reason to be anxious, because your real security, peace and happiness does not come from acquiring secondary treasures.  It comes from a relationship with God.

Suppose you have a rich uncle. Any time you can’t make the bills, you could just call him on the phone and he would cheerfully provide what you needed. You’d never have to worry about money again.

Of course not all of us would like this. Pride gets in our way. But Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive.” Don’t let your anxiety over your self-esteem stop you from privately speaking to your generous heavenly Father about your needs.  Whenever we need, we just ask.

But we may not trust God. How do we know he would always be there for us? The Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” God isn’t going to run out of blessings, nor will he leave us or forsake us. 

Jesus’ cure for anxiety is simple. If we lack anything, just ask for it from God. Decide what we are anxious about, and go to God in prayer and supplication.

Does God always give us what we want? No, at least not among our secondary concerns. But He will always meet our primary concerns. He may not give you all the money you need to secure your retirement, but He does give you assurance that you will be taken care of. He may not give you a spouse when you want it, but He promises that He will meet your loneliness.  He gives you what you really need, not what you imagine you need. 

You can have your primary treasures without having to seek secondary treasures. Neither Jesus nor Paul had homes or families, but they were never lonely. They never had a place to call their own, but were rich in love, peace, and happiness. They were happy without any of the things we assume to be essential for happiness. Both Jesus and Paul testify that their happiness came directly from God. It was like a spring of living water inside of them. They had no need for the things other suppose are essential for happiness. When they lacked necessities, God provided. They didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, but they always knew Who would provide it. God was their Father, and He sent them whatever they needed.

Jesus uses two illustrations from nature--the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. They don’t worry about food, because meals come by all the time. They don’t worry about clothes to make them beautiful, because in God’s eyes they are beautiful already. God provides everything. If God does it for tulips and sparrows, He will do it for us.   

To overcome anxiety, we need to stop worrying about where things will come from, and start realizing Who they come from. We may not know where, but we know Who. All we need will come from God.

Our true faith isn’t always easy for us to recognize. Our true faith is whatever provides us with the basics for our existence, brings us true joy, provides us with self-esteem, is our deepest relationships, and is the place we look first in times of trouble. By this definition most Christian’s faith isn’t in God—it’s in something or someone else. To them, God is at best the second or third place they call upon in trouble. When they get sick, they go to the doctor. If the doctor can’t cure them, that’s when they think to pray. If they feel lonely, they go to their friends. If their friends aren’t around, only then do they pray. If they need money, then they go to the bank. If they bank denies their loan, only then do they pray. 

After they have exhausted, their own cleverness or strength, and their social network has let them down—if all else fails, then they pray.

But the person who has overcome anxiety learns to pray first. They recognize God to be the resource they believe will provide for the future. A relationship to Him is more important than houses, family, success, or even food.

In Matthew 19:26, Jesus says, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. In Matthew 6:33 He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  We have come to believe—truly believe— that God is our source for everything.

To really overcome anxiety, we can’t just pretend to believe this—we actually have to believe it! At some point in our lives, we have to experience the supply and provisions of God in anxious situations. The only way we learn to actually trust God is by putting Him to the test.

You never learn to trust God by playing it safe. If you are not trying more than you think you can do, or stretching your resources, you will never learn what it means to trust Him. Try God, and see if He can’t give you more than you think.
One good way of doing that are through the spiritual exercises, particularly tithing, Sabbath keeping, and fasting. When we tithe a tenth to God’s work, even when we don’t think we can afford it, we are learning that God can provide for our finances. When we keep the Sabbath even when we don’t think we have enough time to keep it, we learn that God can make a better use of our time. When we fast instead of eating three meals a day every day, we begin to learn what Jesus meant when He said. “I have food that you do not know.”   

Another way is through the exercise of speaking boldly and praying boldly. When we pray for things or act for things bigger than we dream, we learn that God really can do more than we ask or think. It stretches us out in our prayers and we learn what God can do.

I have God’s provision in my own life, many times over. There have been times when we have not had the money to pay bills and God would send a person to anonymously slip an envelope under our door with the money we needed. He has provided for us food and clothing when we have needed it. 

We shouldn’t pretend we don’t feel anxiety. Anxiety is an emotional warning light, like those on the dashboard on our car, signaling to us that it’s time for us to pray. The only cure for anxiety is to learn why we don’t have to be anxious. If you are anxious, don’t let it paralyze you. Make Him our ultimate concern there is no need to be anxious any more. He will pay for our every expense and provide us with all we need.