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.

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