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Don’t Worry Be Happy
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, and follow along as I read verses 25-34. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
26 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?
27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith?
31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'
32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don't worry, be happy.
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy.
Those are the opening lines of Bobby McFerrin’s song. They remind me of a story I heard. A woman said to another woman, “I have a mountain of credit card debt. I have lost my job. My car is being repossessed and our house is in foreclosure, but I am not worried about it.”
“Wow,” exclaimed her friend, “why not!”
“Because I’ve hired a professional worrier. He does all my worrying for me, and that way I don’t have to think about it.”
“That’s fantastic!” said the other woman, “How much does your professional worrier charge for his services?”
“$50,000 a year”, she replied.
“$50,000 a year? Where are you going to get that kind of money?”
“I don’t know”, she replied. “That’s his worry.”
We all wish that we could hire a professional worrier. We all want to take Bobby McFerrin’s advice: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” But the reality is that most people spend a lot of time worrying about things in their lives, and worry can be the destroyer. Worry itself can do us more harm than whatever we are worried about.
According to an old fable, a man met the grim reaper, death, walking through the city one morning, and the man asked death, “What are you going to do today?”
Death replied, “I’m going to take one hundred people today."
"That is terrible," said the man.
"That’s what I do," said death
The man hurried to warn the city about death’s plan. He went down every street, he knocked on every door. He yelled out the news of the coming disaster from the steps of the town hall.
A thousand people died in the city that day.
As the sun set, the man met Death again. “You lied to me,” accused the man. “You told me you were only going to take a hundred people.”
"I did not lie," Death responded. "I only took a hundred. Worry took the others."
The point of this fable is that worry is a killer. According to some estimates, 43% of American adults have health problems due to worry and stress. Of all the visits to primary care physicians, 75% - 90% are stress-related complaints or disorders. Worry has been linked to all the leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, and suicide. An estimated one million workers are absent on an average workday because of stress related complaints. Stress is said to be responsible for more than half of the 550 million workdays lost annually because of absenteeism. Almost half of all employee turnover is related to job stress. And when we add to that all the mental fatigue of nights without sleep and days without peace, we get a glimpse of the havoc worry works upon our lives.
It is no surprise then that Jesus tells us to stop it. Mathew 6:25. “"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”
Let me enter three disclaimers here. First, "don’t worry" does not mean “don’t plan.” Jesus planned his own ministry carefully. He even told a parable about not starting to build a tower until we have first counted the cost. That means then that it is not a sin to have life insurance or plan for retirement. Secondly, "don’t worry" does not mean “don’t be concerned.” If we are not concerned about our child’s education or health, we are terrible parents. We need to be concerned about some things. Jesus calls us to be carefree not careless. The third disclaimer is this: some folks think that not worrying means not taking action. Not at all. To say that I will not worry about my food my house or my job does not mean I should just sit down and be naked and shelterless and hungry. That is not what Jesus is says. He says, stop fretting over your life.
God Loves Us
The Greek word translated as “worry” is merimnaw which literally means “to be drawn in different directions.” Worry pulls us apart. It tears us to pieces spiritually, psychologically and physically. So we all agree with Jesus, we should not worry, but the question is how do we stop worrying. Jesus has an answer for us. V26: “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?” Jesus makes a couple of points here. God is the creative source of all things and is found in all nature. God loves everything in his creation. And as we see this loving God in nature, we should realize that God loves us. That is why we should not worry—because God loves us.
In Luke 12:6-7, we read, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” A penny was worth 1/16th of denarius. A denarius was a day’s wage for a working man. If we translate that into our dollars and cents, then a sparrow was worth about a dollar—very little. Jesus says that God cares even for that sparrow, and his point is that if God cares for the sparrow, God certainly cares for us. He expands on that saying, “Even the hairs of your head are all counted.” God loves you so much that he knows about every hair on your head. So why should you worry?
In Matthew 6:30, Jesus says, ”But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith?” and again in v32, he says, “For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” God loves you; God knows what you need. Don’t worry about it. God will take care of you.
To look at it from another direction, Jesus says it is inconsistent to worry and to say that we believe in a loving God. If God is the God whom Jesus says he is, then we are always in God’s loving embrace; God is always taking care of us, and we have nothing to worry about.
Worry Changes Nothing
Then Jesus moves on to another point. Worry is useless. It is a futile exercise, a total waste of time, effort, and energy. V27: “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” I think not.
I remember a vacation some years ago. We were driving on I40 out west, and we heard that a certain bridge was out, and the rumor we heard was that there was a huge detour that took lots of time. We began to mull that over and worry about it. “We are going to be delayed. We are going to lose lots of time. Oh no, this is bad, this is very bad.” Then we got there, and sure enough the bridge was out, but the detour took only about ten minutes. All that worry over ten minutes. And think about this: Whether the detour took ten minutes or ten hours was not effected by all our worrying.
So what you are worrying about today? You may be worrying about a young person living a destructive lifestyle. Worrying will not change the outcome. You may be worrying about a sick family member. Worrying will not change the outcome. You may be worrying about your job being downsized. Worrying will not change the outcome.
It is said that if you put a mouse on a wheel in a cage, and if that mouse walks that wheel for its entire lifetime, then it will travel 9000 miles—but the mouse is still in the cage. Worry is like that. We can worry 24/7 and we are still in the cage, our situation is not changed one iota.
This leads us back then to what we said earlier. We ought to do what Jesus said, and stop worrying. And in v23, Jesus emphasizes the answer to all worry: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The reason we have so many worries is because we seek everything but God. We are too concerned about what our bank account says; we are too concerned about what our doctor says; we are too concerned about what our boss says. We need to be concerned about what God says and then, and only then, can we have the right perspective on our lives. This means spending time in prayer and reading the Bible. It means attending the house of God faithfully. It means putting God first in all things in everything from pay the tithe to praying the first thing in the morning.
No Tomorrow Worry
Then there is a word of advice in v34: “therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”. We do not know what tomorrow may bring, so there is no point in worrying about it. Today is allthat we can handle. Note that Jesus does not say for us to worry about today either, but he says why look ahead and worry about things that have not yet happened and may not ever happen. Mark Twain once said, "I’m an old man and I’ve known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
A Matter of Focus
Kim Reichhelm, former world extreme skiing Triple Crown champion and founder/director of Women’s Ski Adventures is a pioneer in women’s extreme skiing. Reichhelm is the only skier—man or woman—to have won the U.S., South American and World Extreme Skiing championships all in the same year—the extreme skiing ‘Triple Crown’. [See: http://www.travellady.com/ARTICLES/article-skiambassador.html]
The November 1999 issue of Outside magazine, in an article entitled “The Trees: Lovely, Dark, and Deep,” says that one of the favorite extremes of skiers is skiing through a stand of aspen or spruce. This is extremely dangerous. Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy both died after crashing into trees while skiing. Tim Etchells, the writer of the Outside magazine article says, “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.” Kim Reichhelm says, “The secret is not to stare at what you don’t want to hit.”
What she is talking about is focus. The extreme skier who focuses on the trees is more likely to hit the trees. The one who is looking for the spaces, or the exits, between the trees is more likely to miss the obstacles.
Jesus is talking about focus in our scripture today. If we are focused on our fears, we are more likely to crash into them. In the article, Tim Etchells says, “With practice and a little luck, you’ll soon be ripping through the tightest of trees without getting a mouthful of bark.” So we want to learn how to rip through the woods of worry without getting a mouth full of bark. Jesus says you do that by focusing on God.
There is always something to worry about: losing your job, aging parents, wayward children, illness. It is easy to focus on the trees of worry. Since September 11, 2001, we have been bombarded by a host of new worry words, words like weapons of mass destruction, anthrax, bio-terrorism, suitcase-sized atomic weapons.
But we have a method for dealing with any kind of worry. We know that God loves us, and that God is almighty. We have the confidence that nothing will happen to us that God cannot handle. We worry about something, anything, because we do not think that we can handle that particular situation. We need to change our focus—from ourselves and our abilities to our loving heavenly father.
Focus on the fact that God is in control, not on our inability to control. Understand that God has a plan for the world and a plan for our individual life, and that God is lovingly working out that plan.
Remember this, things do not happen by accident, they happen by purpose. Nothing catches God off-guard. Nothing surprises God. God weaves all the events of life together into his eternal plan. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (KJV). Even when I do not see how what I am facing could possibly be a part of God’s plan, I believe that it is. I hold onto that by faith. God knows what he is doing, even though I may not know what he is doing. My responsibility is to walk in faith, not in fear.
Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the great missionary to India, has a beautiful passage in his book Transformed by Thorns. He writes: “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath — these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely — these are my native air.”
It is a medical fact that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers. That is because, as Dr. E. Stanley Jones says, we are not designed to live in fear and worry. To live by worry is against our own nature. That is why worry is so destructive.
A dense fog that covers a seven-city-block area one hundred feet deep is composed of less than one glass of water. It is, however, divided into sixty billion drops. So little water creates so much gloom, and it can cripple an entire city. Worry and anxiety are like that. Just a small amount can settle on you like a great cloud of gloom and cripple your life—because we are not supposed to live that way.
We live in God and for God. In a sense, we do have a professional worrier, like the woman in the joke I mentioned earlier. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on God, because he cares for you.” God wants us to give him every worry and concern because God is able to give us everything we need for every situation. I can turn all my cares and concerns over to God. I can release the regrets of yesterday, refuse the fears of tomorrow and receive instead, the peace of today. As the bumper sticker says, I can let go and let God.
Then I can sing along with Bobby McFerrin:
smile on your face. Don't bring everybody down.
Don't worry. It will soon pass, whatever it is.
Don't worry, be happy.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 11/29/04