Overcoming Anxiety

Matthew 6:25-34

May 3, 2009 | Brian Bill

We have a lot to worry about, don’t we?  I’ve been worried this week about our niece and my mom who have cancer because both of them were hospitalized.  This sermon today is for me.  If it spills over and helps you, that’s great.  Some of you are anxious about adversity that has hit you.  Actually, on any given week, many come to our corporate worship services worried.  Here are some excerpts from notes people sent me this week.

  • Anxiety seems to be an everyday experience for me lately in one form or another.  The degree varies according to the time of day.
  • Even though I tell myself over and over that there is nothing to worry about…I always find something!
  • I’ve been anxious about the future lately…with graduation, this summer and college…there are a lot of changes coming.
  • I’ve been struggling with anxiety for awhile.  I often wake up in the middle of the night covered in worry and fear.
  • Panic was my master, fear was my guide, and they always made the final decision.
  • Been a Christian for 39 years now and anxiety still comes.
  • Anxiety runs in our family.  I used to be very worried about everything.
  • I worry constantly.  Those who know me can confirm this.  If I don’t have something personal to worry about, I will seek out someone or something to worry about.

I want to propose that there’s a global anxiety epidemic going on right now and it’s not just related to the flu.  I do want to say at the beginning that going to see a doctor or a counselor is a good idea in some cases, particularly for those who suffer from severe anxiety attacks.

As we continue in our study of the Sermon on the Mount, we’re going to build on what we learned the last two weeks – if we’re serious about following Christ, then we must deal with conflict and if we want to learn how to pray, we’ll follow the model prayer given by Jesus.  Today our topic is “Overcoming Anxiety” from Matthew 6:25-34.  Like the previous two weeks I should warn you ahead of time that there are some pretty strong words in this passage.  The words themselves are actually very easy to understand but difficult to implement and apply because for many of us, anxiety has ruled our lives for a long time.

Before jumping in, allow me to make two observations.

  • The word “worry” is used six times in this passage.  The word itself comes from an Old English word that means “to strangle, to choke, or to seize by the throat.”  The Greek definition refers to being drawn in different directions so as to be distracted.  Worry will pull us apart and can lead to mental and emotional strangulation.  It was used to refer to the practice of wolves killing sheep by biting them around the neck, strangling their prey to death.  
  • When Jesus tells us to “not worry,” He does so three times (verses 25, 31, and 34).  These are commands from Christ Himself, not nice-sounding suggestions.  This provides a helpful corrective to what might be the number one sin of Christians today – anxious worry.   Someone has said that there are more people addicted to anxiety than to all the other addictions combined.  

Worry Will Wipe You Out

when we fret with anxiety, we’re to focus on the Almighty

We’re going to see today that when we fret with anxiety, we’re to focus on the Almighty.   I see four ways that worry will wipe us out in verses 25-32.

1. Worry is a waste (25-26). 

Listen to verse 25: “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?”  Who we are is more important than what we wear or what we eat or what we drink.

In order to get our eyes off ourselves, Jesus tells us to look at how God’s creation works: “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?”  Said the robin to the sparrow, “I would really like to know why these anxious human beings rush about and hurry so.”  Said the sparrow to the robin, “I think that it must be, that they have no Heavenly Father, such as cares for you and me.”  Very few birds go into farming but God still feeds them.  If God does that for the birds, He’ll certainly take care of us, right?  But here’s the problem for many of us.  Deep inside we seriously question whether we’re worth anything to God.

2. Worry doesn’t work (27). 

Not only is worry a waste of time; it also doesn’t work.  Check out verse 27: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  Worry can actually give us a lot of things, like an ulcer or a migraine but it can’t give us a longer life.  I don’t know how your body responds to worry but for me, I get headaches.  We can literally worry ourselves to death but we can’t worry ourselves to a longer life.  Proverbs 12:25: “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.”  One person wryly wrote these words: “Don’t tell me that worrying doesn’t help; the things I worry about never happen!”

Charlie Brown once said to Linus: “I worry about school a lot.”  He thought a little longer and then said, “I worry about worrying so much about school.”  He reflected some more and then concluded, “Even my anxieties have anxieties!”  Friends, worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.  It’s like the weary Christian who was awake all night trying to hold the world together by his worrying.  Then he heard the Lord gently say to him, “You go to sleep now, Jim; I’ll sit up.”  

Some years ago a professor at a leading American university studied the things people worry about.  His research discovered that:

  • 40% never happens
  • 30% concerns the past
  • 12% are needless worries about health
  • 10% are about petty issues
  • 8% are legitimate concerns

That means that 92% of our “worry time” is wasted energy as we exert mental and emotional energy on things outside our control.  Actually, we’re not to worry even about the 8%.  Why is that?  Because when we worry we’re really saying that God can’t take care of us; that our problems are bigger than His promises.  

3. Worry causes us to waver (28-31). 

We’re to not worry about what we’re going to eat or drink and also about what we’re going to wear: “And why do you worry about clothes?”  Jesus wants us to look at the world He created once again: “See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.”  This word “see” refers to studying carefully or learning thoroughly by looking and learning.  Have you ever seen a worried lily or a stressed-out marigold?  Lilies referred to any wild flower. 

He then takes His listeners back to the splendor of Solomon, who was known for his beautiful garments: “Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all His splendor was dressed like one of these.”  Then, arguing from the lesser to the greater, Jesus asks a question: “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, O you of little faith?”  The New Living Translation renders this last phrase like this: “You have so little faith!”

Jesus hits us hard here.  Our fears have to do with our lack of faith.  The word “more” means very, very much, exceedingly.  God will do even more for us than he does for the birds, the flowers and the grass.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be saturated with stress.  In Luke 21:34, He warns, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life…” Worry weighs us down and can cause us to sink spiritually.  I love Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.”   The way to deal with anxiety is by battling unbelief.  John Piper argues that the most basic battle of our life is the battle to believe the living God because the root of anxiety is unbelief.  Hebrews 3:12: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”  When we fret with anxiety, we’re to focus on the Almighty.

4. Worry wipes out our witness (31-32). 

We hear the command again to not have anxiety: “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.”  One feature of pagans is that they live for the present and everything revolves around their pleasures.  This phrase is rendered more literally: “For all these the Gentiles continually seek.”  Notice that they “run” after things that they think will satisfy.  This means that they crave and diligently seek satisfaction in things that will leave them empty.

Jesus spends 10 verses analyzing the addiction of anxiety and urges us to not act like the pagans who do not believe in God.  Worry is the ultimate act of rebellion against God because when we worry we’re really saying that God is dead; and if He’s alive, then He’s not able to do anything about our situations.  When we worry we are assuming responsibility for things God never intended us to have.  We could say it like this: Anxiety is atheism in action.

The key is to put our faith in our heavenly father.  The Greek construction is emphatic: “For He knows—He that is your Father, the Heavenly One, that you need all these things.”  Take comfort in the fact that God already knows everything you need.  He knows all about your marriage problems.  He knows about those bills piled up on your desk.  He knows all about your fears.

If you’re sinking with stress today, follow the clear teaching of 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  Many of us feel like we don’t have a choice of how to respond to the stressors of life.  But we do because we have a Father who cares for us.

Winning against Worry

This passage gives us two ways to win against worry.  When we fret with anxiety, we’re to focus on the Almighty.

1. Put God first (33). 

Verse 33 begins with the word “But” to show the contrast between how most people live and how the Christ-follower must live: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.”  To seek means to have an intense, single-minded focus, to go after; to strive; to pursue.  It’s in the present imperative which means that the antidote to anxiety is to make a daily choice to prioritize God’s kingdom.  We need to stop making material things central and instead make the kingdom our priority.  The word “first” means one’s first and ever dominant concern.  One person put it this way: “He who offers God second place offers Him no place.”

Most of us are as close to God as we want to be and some of us are stressed out because we want to be worried

Let me make a rather bold statement.  Most of us are as close to God as we want to be and some of us are stressed out because we want to be worried.  The reason many of us have so many worries is because we’re seeking everything but God first.  The promise Jesus makes is conditional – if we seek Him first, then all things will be added.  If you want to win against worry, then go after God.  Don’t just think of Him as prominent; He must be preeminent. 

2. Place your future in God’s hands (34). 

I imagine Jesus saying verse 34 with a smile on His face: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Someone has said that we’re only cooking up trouble when we stew about tomorrow.  We’re not to reach into tomorrow and bring its troubles into today.

Don’t borrow trouble.  Too many of us are frozen with fear over what might happen next week or next month or next year.  Today has enough trouble to keep you busy.  There will be plenty of pleasure and pain tomorrow.  And what we do know from Lamentations 3:23 is that God’s mercies “are new every morning.”  Let’s not get so caught up in what might not even happen in the future that we don’t deal with what is happening in the present.  When we fret with anxiety, let’s focus on the Almighty.

Antidotes to Anxiety 

1. Confess worry as sin. 

Don’t make excuses.  Worry is a sin because it displaces God in your life and when you and I worry we’re living as though God does not exist.  Worry also distracts us from full-fledged devotion to Christ and we end up being strangled.  It’s time to call it what it is and confess it as sin.

Our lives are to be saturated with prayer.  One pastor put it this way: “Pray so much that worry has to take a number and stand in line.”   Someone else has said, “If your knees are knocking, kneel on them.”

3. Ponder Scripture. 

Like I’ve done with the two other sermons in this series, I sent out a note to the Facebook group and asked people to respond to these questions: “What do you worry about the most?  In what ways have you seen God help you when you’re anxious?” 25 people responded!  I was really moved by how many pointed to a favorite passage of Scripture that they have memorized.  I want to pass along just a portion of these and urge you to apply some of these ideas if you’re struggling with stress today.

  • Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  One PBC member applies this passage this way: While I recite this passage I meditate and pray for strength.  I imagine my Father holding me above His shoulders as if I was flying like an eagle over mountains.  For when I have the strength to fly over the mountain, then I can conquer that which is in front of me.  Another member said this: It is amazing the peace one can feel when speaking God’s Word back to Him and trusting that He hears you.  Another member pointed to this passage: Been a Christian for 39 years now and anxiety still comes…seems the only thing that helps is to study His Word…I have to remind myself and others of what Philippians 4:6-7 says.  Because there really is peace when you give your troubles to Jesus.
  • Matthew 6:25-34Anxiety has created worry and doubt in my mind.  I have even questioned my faith…I have recited the Lord’s Prayer several times since Sunday.  Then, this morning I find this email and I immediately read this Scripture from Matthew…and I felt comfort.
  • Romans 5:1-5When I was dealing with the aftermath of a breakup my thoughts spun around in my head and I couldn’t get them to stop…that is when peace and joy from Romans 5 ping pongs in my head…it’s the refocusing that keeps my marbles together.
  • Psalm 55. “One thing that I do when I am anxious is pray Scripture back to God.  Psalm 55 becomes very personal to me when I am anxious.  In this Psalm, David speaks to God in such a close and personal way.  This helps to remind me that God is my Father, and my Father loves me.  ‘Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me.  MY THOUGHTS TROUBLE ME.’”
  • Zephaniah 3:16-17Like many people, I’ve been struggling with anxiety for awhile.  I often wake up in the middle of the night covered in worry and fear. Lying in bed mulling over the “what ifs” of life just makes things worse and increases the anxiety. I’ve spent many early mornings sitting on the couch in my living room trying to find comfort.  I’m embarrassed to say that some of the things I have turned to have been watching mindless TV to try to shut my mind off…Food has been another place to turn, unsuccessfully of course.  

4. Change your perspective. 

We need a profound spiritual awakening.  Our perspective needs to change as we look at life in relation to God as our Father and Jesus as our Savior and the Holy Spirit as our Comforter.  There’s no greater joy than to be used by God in ministry. 

Communion: One of the best ways to help us focus on the Almighty when we’re fretting with anxiety is to remember all that Christ has done for us when He died on the Cross.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?