A sermon preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton,
March 20, 2020
to view the author preaching this sermon follow this link
5 “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 than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 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? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent and it is also the Second Sunday in the Season of Corona Virus. Just as Lent began on a Wednesday in February, so the Season of Corona Virus began on a Wednesday in March. Matthew Lee Anderson in an article published by Christianity Today, writes this.
We can name the moment when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the center of the American consciousness: around 9:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, on Wednesday, March 11. In the span of a single hour, the president addressed the nation, the National Basketball Association suspended its season, and Tom Hanks announced that he had tested positive for the virus. Within 24 hours every major sports league followed suit and March Madness was cancelled.Christianity Today, March 20, 2020
Within a week almost every school in the country was closed, the stock market lost over 15% of its value, and we became a nation of people who worry 24/7.
So it’s interesting that in our scripture lesson Jesus says three times: “do not worry.”
- Verse 25, do not worry about your life
- Verse 31 do not worry [about food and clothing]
- Verse 35 do not worry about tomorrow
If he were writing this today, he might also add “do not worry about toilet paper.”
So this morning this morning I want to talk with you about worry. As we do so, I want to do three things.
- Give you a definition of worry
- Show you that worry is worthless.
- Teach you three practical steps to overcome worry.
A Definition of Worry
So let’s begin with a definition of worry. Worry is fear that has gone bad.
Fear and worry have a lot in common. Both of them are an emotional reaction to something that frightens us. However, they are very different in several ways as we shall soon see.
Let me give you an example of fear and worry. Suppose that at 2:00 a.m. a thunder clap wakes you up. Frightened, you jump out of bed, look out the window and see that a power transformer is sparking, probably from a lightning strike. So you call PSE&G and also the fire department to make sure that the lightning hasn’t started a fire. Then you go to the kitchen, pour yourself a glass of wine and take some deep breaths until the adrenalin rush has passed. Looking out the window, you see that both PSE&G and the fire department have responded and everything is under control. So after an hour you go back to bed and, within 20 minutes, you drift off to sleep. That’s an example of fear.
But worry is different. Suppose that after going back to bed, you start worrying that the fire department missed something. So you get up several times over the next couple of hours to check on things. Then you start to worry that the neighbor’s feral cats got hurt by the lightning strike. The next morning you start worrying that the transformers had PCP in them and that they might give you cancer. And so all night, all day and even for the next week you find yourself constantly worrying. You see, worry is the gift that keeps on giving. (Our should I say that it is the curse that keeps on cursing.)
So how are fear and worry different?
- Fear energizes but worry paralyzes. In our example, when we were frightened we jumped out of bed and quickly made some phone calls. When we started worrying, we went round and round with each worry leading to another and getting nowhere.
- Fear is a short term reaction that, if dealt with properly, quickly goes away. Worry is a chronic condition that can last for days, weeks and even years.In our example,it only took us an hour-and-a half to work through our fears. But it took us the better part of a week to deal with our worries, mostly because we kept adding to them. Worry always begets more worry.
- Fear is involuntary while worry is something that we choose to indulge.
Physiologists tell us that our body is hard wired to recognize danger. When we are threatened our autonomic system gives us a shot of adrenaline to prepare us for fight or flight. That is why fear is involuntary; it is a primary emotion that is out of our control.
Worry, however, is a secondary emotion that is always within our control. We always have a choice about whether we are going to worry. We can choose to take reasonable actions to deal with the problem and then let it go, or we can choose to stew in our fear. As someone has said, when we worry we choose to “awfulize our situation;” we imagine every worst case scenario. Lord knows, there’s a lot of awfulizing going on right now.
Here is a truth that you should hold onto: I can choose not worry. Write this down. I am not powerless in the face of my worries. God is greater than my worries and with his help I can choose not to worry.
Worry is worthless
Moving on to our next point. The second thing I want to show you is that worry is worthless, because it cannot change anything. Jesus makes this point in two different ways.
First, he tells us worry will never change your circumstances. In verse 27 Jesus asks an important question. I like the way the KJV puts it: “Can anyone of you by worrying add 18” inches to your height?” Of course not! What a ridiculous image.
Years ago there was a teenager in my church who was a great softball player, but who wasn’t very tall. His father’s nickname was “Shorty McNatt” and his nickname was “Pee Wee McNatt.”
Go figure! I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Can you picture Pee Wee going to bed one night, worrying about being short, and waking up the next morning 18” taller? It’s just not going to happen! Worrying will never change your circumstances.
Second, worry will never change your future. In verse 34 Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” John R.W. Stott has this to say about these verses.
“Each day has trouble enough of its own.” So why anticipate those troubles. If we do, we double them. For if our fear does not materialize, we have worried once for nothing; and if it does materialize, we have worried not once but twice—once yesterday and once today. In both cases it is foolish; worry doubles trouble.John R. W. Stott, Christian Counter Culture, p. xxx, IVP, 1972
I would add this. Worry not only doubles trouble, it also hides blessings. As long as I am worrying about tomorrow I will never recognize the blessings God is sending me today.
So how do we apply this to ourselves in a day when we are all worrying about the corona virus. I think that Jesus wants to ask us a very pointed question. “Can anyone of you by worrying shorten the corona pandemic by even one day?”
Worry won’t change the pandemic. However, hand washing and social distancing will.
As a church we haven’t cancelled our services because we are worried for our own health. We have cancelled services because we our worried for our neighbors’ health—particularly those who are most vulnerable to this disease.
Right now in Italy, anyone who is over 80, will not be admitted to ICU. They will receive IV therapy and drugs in a hospital bed, but they won’t be admitted to ICU because there are not enough breathing machines to go around. As a result, the doctors have been forced to make hard decisions. If it comes to choosing between a 60-year-old grandmother who has an 80% chance of recovery or an 81-year-old great-grandmother who only has a 20% chance of surviving, who should they choose? I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.
The truth is that hand washing and social distancing will not eradicate the corona virus; only the passing of time will do that. However, these things will slow the spread of the disease so that our hospitals don’t become overcrowded and our doctors won’t have to make the same awful choices that are being made in Italy.
As Jesus said, worrying will not change our circumstances or our future. However, practicing some good, old-fashioned common sense will help us to better love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Three practical steps to overcome worry
Moving on to our final point. I want to teach you three practical steps you can take to overcome worry.
First, you can steep your mind in scripture. Worry has a hard time taking root in your mind if it is already filled with the promises of God. Scripture can crowd out all your worries.
Here’s what I suggest that you do. Think about your favorite Bible verse that has do with worry. Write it down on a 3×5 note card. Carry that card in your pocket or purse. Every time you start to worry pull it out and read it aloud two or three times until the worry goes away.
If you don’t have a favorite Bible verse, then perhaps some of you who are watching this sermon can share your verse in the comments below. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 26:3-4. Jot it down and look it up.
Second, you can pray whenever you start to worry. John Montgomery Boice in his book The Sermon on the Mount, says
You need to get into the habit of turning to God whenever you feel worry approaching. Your reaction in trouble should be something like a conditioned reflex. We all know what a normal reflex is. If you are working in the kitchen and accidentally get your hand too close to the stove, your body will jerk the hand back. A conditioned reflex is exactly the same, except that it has to be learned. [For example, when you are driving and you see the brake lights suddenly flash on the care in front of you, you don’t stop to think, well I guess I’d better put on my brakes. Rather you have conditioned yourself to automatically stomp on the brakes.] In the same way, we need conditioned reflexes that will turn us to the Lord at the first sign of worry.James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, p. xxx, Baker Books, 19XX
If you develop a conditioned prayer reflex, I guarantee that three things will happen.
- You will spend a lot more time in prayer. Right now, we worry a lot. However, if you start to pray whenever you get worried you’ll end up praying 10 or 20 times a day instead of only once or twice.
- Your trust in God will grow. Someone once said “You can’t trust when you are worrying and you can’t worry when you are trusting.” Prayer is all about trusting. If you are praying frequently, it stands to reason that your trust will grow.
- The more you pray, and the more you trust, the fewer the worries will be. Your worries will lose their choke hold on your life.
So read scripture, pray and third, choose to care more about others. This time of crisis has brought out both the worst in us, and the best. On the one hand, we see people hoarding toilet paper and badly needed medical supplies that hospitals don’t have. On the other hand, we have seen many acts of kindness: Italians serenading their neighbors from their balconies; newly home-schooled children making hand drawn cards for nursing home residents; and neighbors running errands for elderly neighbors.
You see, when we start caring for other people our own worries grow less. That’s why Jesus tells us to, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” The kingdom of God begins to be seen when we stop worrying about ourselves and start caring for others.
God’s kingdom will not be stopped by the advent of corona virus. If anything the corona virus is giving us three significant opportunities. First, the opportunity to overcome our own fears by developing a deeper trust in God. Second, the opportunity to grow closer to God through scripture and prayer. And finally, the opportunity to demonstrate God’s love for our neighbors. May God help us to seize these opportunities and use them to his glory!