Let’s be honest. We’re all worried, aren’t we? Some of us are worried about catching COVID-19 or spreading it. Some of us are worried about the impact of emergency laws upon civil liberties. Some of us are worried about the economy and the impact on our jobs, our homes, our education, and our families. Some of us are worried that other people are so worried. Worry stalks us and haunts us at various points of the day and night, and sometimes all day and all night.
Our thoughts go round the same things again and again, each time imagining worse and worse outcomes and results. Our minds become a “What-If Factory,” playing out innumerable scenarios. What if this . . . what if that . . . what if the next thing . . . and on and on.
That starts what is known as the “Worry > Anxiety > Stress” cycle. Worry starts in our thoughts, but these worrying thoughts then produce anxious feelings. We feel fearful, hopeless, doomed. But it doesn’t end there. Worried thoughts produce anxious feelings which then produce stressed bodies. We feel pains in our bodies, we’re short of breath, we have headaches, we can’t eat, we can’t sleep. This is pretty worrying, and so starts the Worry > Stress > Anxiety cycle again.
The good news is that God knew this day was coming and has provided counsel for us to stop worry at its source. And if we can stop worry at its source, we can then stop the resulting anxiety and stress and live more peaceful and joyful lives, even in the midst of worrying times and events.
But before we look at God’s counsel in Matthew 6:25–34, I want to make one important distinction so we don’t misunderstand this passage. There is a difference between the worry/anxiety/stress that is a spiritual problem and the worry/anxiety/stress which is a physical or biological problem. If it’s a spiritual problem, we need God’s counsel. If it’s a physical problem, we also may need medical counsel. With that distinction in hand, let’s discover God’s counsel to the worried. He starts our counseling session by inviting us outside.
Jesus Counsels with Creation
Worry looks at the wrong things. In Jesus’s day, worry focused on what to eat, drink, and wear. Today, worry focuses on the news, our bank balance, our house, our education, etc. No wonder we’re worried. But Jesus offers a different view. He takes us out into the creation and says, “Study the birds and the flowers.”
Study the Birds (Matt. 6:26)
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” The birds don’t plan, store up for the future, or make projections, yet always have sufficient food. If God looks after the birds of heaven, will he not look after the heirs of heaven? Here is bird therapy!
Study the Flowers (Matt. 6:28–29)
He then turns our gaze from the sky to the fields, and says, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
We don’t all need to buy binoculars and start bird-watching or buy a vase and start flower-arranging classes. These are just samples from creation. This passage encourages us to get out into God’s creation, to stop, study, and think about it. Soak in the sights, delight in the sounds, take in the smells, savor the taste, feel the touch. Use the physical world to minister to your spiritual world. There’s something about God’s creation that produces peace and induces worship (Ps. 8). Panic sees a godless world; peace sees a God-filled world.
You might be thinking, Views of creation are great, but I’ve got lots of questions. God answers our questions by asking us questions.
Jesus Counsels with Questions
When we worry, we ask ourselves, others, and even God lots of questions. Will I have a job? Are vaccines safe? What about my business? Such questions can only multiply our worry, especially because we don’t—and can’t know—the answers at this time. That’s why God comes to us with an alternative set of questions, questions that minister peace rather than worry. Let’s look at five of God’s questions and how we should answer them.
|Scripture||God’s Question||Our Answer|
|Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matt. 6:25)||How balanced are you?||I confess that sometimes I value the supports of life more than life itself. I may not be able to buy the latest clothes or renew my wardrobe, but at least I have life and a body to clothe.|
|Are you not of more value than the birds? (Matt. 6:26)||How valuable are you?||The birds obviously matter a lot to God. He moves me to feed them. He will move others to help me, because I am much more valuable to him than the birds.|
|And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matt. 6:27)||How powerful are you?||There are some things I can do, but many things I can’t do. And one of the things I can’t do is add an inch to my height, a day to my life, or a dollar to my bank account by worrying. I have no power to do that.|
|If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you? (Matt. 6:30)||How important are you?||If God clothes little pieces of grass, he will clothe me. I’m far more important to him than blades of grass. If he puts such beauty on grass, he will put ordinary clothes on me.|
|Are you anxiously asking, like the Gentiles: ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (Matt. 6:31–32)||How pagan are you?||How different am I to the heathen in this situation? I’m not only losing my peace, I’m losing my testimony.|
Sometimes the best answers to our questions are God’s questions. Panic asks God questions, peace listens to God’s questions.
Now you’re probably thinking, Thanks for the questions, but I also need some answers. That’s why God takes us to two truths that will answer a lot of our questions.
Jesus Counsels with Control
The politicians, the scientists, the doctors, and the media are all trying to capture our attention and communicate their control and grasp of the situation. But so is God, and he does so by bringing us two truths about himself.
“I am your Father”
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all (Matt. 6:32).
God is saying: I’m your heavenly father. I gave you life and I care for your life. I know your name, your circumstances, and your needs. You aren’t a vote or a statistic. You’re my child. I love you. I’m present with you. I will never abandon you. I will always listen to you, sympathize with you, and seek your good. Here’s a short answer to a ton of questions, isn’t it? I’m your Father.
“I am your King”
Seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).
God is saying: I’m in control. I’m in charge. I rule over COVID-19. I know where every single atom of this virus is. I own everything. I am moving this whole situation and unfolding it according to my perfect plan. Here’s another three-word answer to millions of questions: I’m your King.
We earlier saw how God directs our attention to natural images, images of nature such as birds and grass. Here he directs us to supernatural images, images of God as Father and King. These are rich metaphors which we can explore in our minds. We’re not short of such supernatural image therapy in the Bible: God is our Shepherd, our Fortress, our Rock, our Shield, our Tower, our Light, our Vine, and so on. Worship your way out of worry. Let worry lead you to worship God, and let worship lead you out of worry. Panic trusts human control, peace trusts God’s control.
These are helpful truths and pictures of truth. But what do I do now?
Jesus Counsels with Priorities
Panic sets the wrong priorities. In times of worry, we get focused on our little kingdoms. But God comes along and says, Here are your priorities now.
Prioritize God’s Kingdom
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
A great promise is attached to this: “All these things will be added to you.” These things” are the necessities of life. God is basically saying, If you take care of my interests, I’ll take care of yours. Kingdom concern is the remedy for money concern.
“Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Matt. 6:34).
Instead of thinking most about tomorrow, think most about today. There’s enough trouble in today without taking tomorrow’s possible troubles into it. The Devil’s to-do list starts with your kingdom and tomorrow, but God’s to-do list starts with his kingdom and today.
When you’re anxious about everything, look at God’s creation, listen to God’s questions, rest in God’s caring control, and follow God’s priorities for peace instead of worry.
This is a guest article by David Murray Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This? A Guide for Helping Teens through Anxiety and Depression by David Murray. This post originally appeared on crossway.org; used with permission.