Experts say that over-stress, living in a constant state of emergency, can damage us physically, like a rubber band that is constantly stretched to the limit. In Matthew 6, Jesus diagnoses one of the chief causes of stress and anxiety in the modern world: the obsession with how I’m doing. He then prescribes an antidote that goes against everything we’ve been taught.
What Jesus says flies in the face of our contemporary culture. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink” he says! Ironically, in the wealthy Western world, we are trained to obsess over how well we are doing, how well we are dressed, and how well we are eating. But in reality, this obsession only increases our anxiety because the more we have the more we fear losing it, and so the more we want, and so on and on. What is Jesus’ prescription?
First, Jesus calls us to recognize that God has provided for us in abundance:“If God feeds the birds, will not God also feed you? If God clothes the lilies of the field will not God also clothe you?” (Matt. 6. 26-32). The skeptic in us sneers, “God does not help birds survive in the wild! We all know they have to make it on their own, tooth and claw, and so do we! The reality is, I need to dress well and look good so that others will take me seriously, so that I will get ahead, or attract a successful mate.” Our problem, according to Jesus, is that we do not recognize what God has done. God has not only provided the world with tremendous natural resources but with minds that have developed ways of utilizing these resources for our own benefit and the benefit of others. Many of us live by the scarcity fallacy, that there is not enough to go around on this planet, and that I have to fight for my share before it’s all used up. This way of living makes us self-centered, and void of compassion (6. 24).
If the first part of Jesus’ solution to a worry-filled life is to recognize what God has done, the second part is to get involved in what God is doing! “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6: 33-34), says Jesus. Tim Maurer, a Forbes magazine writer and financial advisor, writes about a time when he handed a bowl of vitamin-charged oatmeal to a boy living in a Nicaraguan squatter town. He remembered in that moment that he regularly pays $5 for a cup of premium Central American coffee, an expenditure that could buy a week’s worth of mush, keeping children of that dump alive. “How could I not consume less, and share more?” he concludes (Forbes, “The Scarcity Fallacy,” 5-13-14). Addressing poverty is complex to be sure, but when I hear stories like this, it challenges me to think about how I can be an ambassador for Christ to someone in need in our church, to the homeless in our city, or those seeking refuge and asylum from other nations.
Jesus always stopped his disciples when they began obsessing over who was “the greatest.” Instead of pursuing greatness, he said, pursue service! “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:35-45). The antidote to anxiety is to recognize all the ways God is indeed providing for my needs -- and then to strive to let God meet the physical and spiritual needs of others through me…right here at St. John’s, in our city, and around the world.
“If I had only forgotten future greatness; and looked at the green things and the buildings; and reached out to those around me; and smelled the air; and ignored the forms and the self-styled obligations; and heard the rain on my roof; and put my arms around my wife... perhaps it’s not too late.” – Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself.