Friday, November 25, 2011


C.S. Lewis famously declared something like this:

• I believe in Christianity in the same way that I believe in the sun. It’s not simply because I see it, but also by its light I can see everything else.

Christianity enables us to make sense of the entirety of our lives. It’s a roadmap that details the major roads and shows their relationships, thereby allowing us to successfully navigate the byways of life. In order to illustrate this claim, let’s look at Jesus’ teaching on “worry.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, He begins by warning that we can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). We can’t serve both worry and God. They will necessarily be in competition for our allegiance. I can’t be responsive to God’s agenda and the needs of others if I’m worried about getting a promotion or making an appointment. I’d probably just pass by the motorist in need!

Jesus then launches into the problem of worry:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25)

If life is merely a matter of food and body – the things of this material world – worry is inevitable. Each grey hair and pulled tooth becomes an assault on our personhood and identity. Life is a train on an inevitable crash-course with the grave. However, according to Jesus, “life” is far more than these passing things.

The Book of Hebrews informs us about how Jesus was able to endure the Cross. He endured by fixing His attention on “the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2-3). This means that if we lack the joyful expectation of being with our Lover for all eternity, we will have no other place to anchor our worried thoughts but on our deteriorating circumstances.

In contrast, the secular approach is unable to lift us out of the rut of our moribund physical existence. Edward Hallowell, instructor at the Harvard Medical School, and director of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, advises:

• Get the facts. Base worry on reality, rather than on a terrifying fantasy your imagination has concocted…The problems that reality provides are serious enough without adding to them in your imagination. (Worry, 296).

This is certainly sound advice. But what do we do when “reality” threatens our very faculties, friends, family, finances, and even our own existence? Hallowell advises exercise, reading, crying and having “a network of people on whom you can depend to give you reassurance” (296).

Indeed, this can be comforting, but the threatening problems still remain. Jesus understood that we need reassurances not only about the next life, but for this one also:

• Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
(Matthew 6:26-29)

Although the reassurances of our friends can be comforting, friends often lack the power – and sometimes even the willingness – to do anything about our situation. However, God is both willing and able. We can see this in how He provides for His creation. We observe its incredible beauty, artistry, functionality and sustainability.

Many will protest that this world instead is filled with pain and death. Although this is true, these observations need to be put into context. For the most part, our Creator does provide incredibly for His creation. They thirst for water, and He provides it. They hunger for food, and He supplies the appropriate nourishment. They need rest, and He provides sleep. They need companionship, and He provides family. I think that we have a tendency to focus on the unmet needs rather than the divine provisions.

Jesus also would have us question the utility of worry. What does it give us? As Jesus points out, worry can’t add “a single hour” to our lives. Others will protest that worry is important. It keeps us focused on a problem that requires a solution. Hallowell therefore writes:

• Separate out toxic worry from good worry. Remember that good worry amounts to planning. You need to plan…Toxic worry is unnecessary, repetitive, unproductive, paralyzing, frightening, and in general life-defeating. (295-96)

Hallowell seems to assume that anxious worry is unavoidable if our problems are to be addressed. If I’m hungry, I take a trip to the supermarket and get the job done. There’s no worry involved. This is because I’m confident that I can make the purchase. Worry comes when we lack confidence. However, life throws many things at us for which we shouldn’t rationally have any confidence, like being terminally ill.

However, this isn’t the end of the world. Jesus taught that we can do nothing without Him (John 15:4-5). Rather than a put-down, this was an invitation to draw closer to Him, casting all of our cares and worries upon Him.

Even if Hallowell is right that we can parcel out good from bad worry, exercising this form of mind-control is impossible for those of us who suffer from chronic worry. I chronically worried about my jalopy until I found a mechanic whom I could trust. Of course, I had to pay him his fee.

However, there are many problems that my mechanic couldn’t possibly address – not even my doctor. I need help from above, and I need to know that God really wants to help me even though I am unable to pay Him any wage. However, in so many ways, Jesus assured His followers that God is more than willing:

• “If that is how God [gloriously] clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
(Matthew 6:30-32)

Even if we are “of little faith,” Jesus assures us that this will not impede the Father’s cares for us. Jesus encourages us that we are His crowning achievement. Therefore, if He takes care of the animal and plant kingdoms, He will certainly care of us!

This is a view that is increasingly attacked in today’s universities, where it is common to hear, “Man created god in his own image. Therefore, man projects his own belief upon god that we are his crowning achievement. Instead, one life-form is no more valuable than the next.”

In contrast to this, Scripture uniformly informs us that we are special – the objects of God’s greatest concern. Besides, if these materialists tried to bring law into conformity with their philosophy, we would be foolishly brought up on murder charges for swatting a mosquito!

There is no greater protection against worry than the assurance of God’s love and protection. Clearly, Hallowell recognizes that we require a confidence beyond ourselves. He therefore advises,

• Make friends with angels. Even if you do not believe in angels, make up fictional angels in your imagination and allow yourself to become friends with them. This is not psychotic; it is helpful management of worry. (304)

Our ability to cope with worry and life’s problems is severely limited. Hence angels! Although Hallowell assures us that “this is not psychotic,” such a “friendship” will not bear fruit unless the worrier actually believes in it. However, in embracing this fantasy we sacrifice reality – the very thing that Hallowell had been preaching. However, he also advises,

• Have faith. In what, of course is up to you…Let go of your impossible need for control. (305)

Indeed, worry is concerned with maintaining control. We have to relinquish our demand for control in order to mitigate worry. But to whom? For Hallowell, imagination and fantasy trumps truth. While faith in a loving deity is powerful stuff, if the faith isn’t based upon truth, it will eventually fail us. Our faith needs to be nurtured by tangible evidences that He truly cares for us. This faith also has to be able to accurately explain our lives – our feelings, observations and experiences. It has to serve as an accurate roadmap or GPS.

Elsewhere, Jesus states,

• Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:29-30)

He loves the sparrows, but He loves us far more. Because of this love, He also has a yoke for us:

• But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
(Matthew 6:33)

Our welfare is best served by serving God. If we put Him first, He’ll put us first. If we honor Him, He’ll honor us. However, this yoke of service is relatively light (Matthew 11:28-30). In fact, it’s a joy, providing our lives with wonder and meaning. Most of us would cherish the opportunity to polish the shoes of George Washington. How much more of my Savior Jesus!

Once again, His provisions are the very provisions we need to climb out from beneath the weight of our worries. I still fall prey to my worries. I come from a long line of worriers, and I have remained faithful to this family tradition. However, I have learned at whose feet to unload my baggage.

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