I’ve been creeping my way through the gospel of Luke for the last few years, and I’ve come to the section where Jesus talks about worry. This is a perennial topic in my life, but lately it’s been a perennial in bloom. I have quite a bit to worry about. There have been times when I’ve been in a panic [a quiet, under the surface panic, but a panic nevertheless].
So when Jesus tackled the problem head on in Luke 12:22-34, I read the section with more than a casual interest. His answer to worry though is very, very simple. “Don’t worry, Don’t be afraid,” He said. The trouble is when my life is full of things to worry about, this command sounds like ‘don’t think about the pink elephant.’ What else am I supposed to do?
Thankfully Jesus does talk about how to avoid thinking about the pink elephant. But first he suggests I look at what my worry can do for me–which turns out to be just about nothing. Worrying doesn’t give me more time. Worrying doesn’t put food in my refrigerator, or clothes in my closet. Worrying doesn’t give me a job. Worrying doesn’t give me a paycheck or a bigger paycheck. Worrying doesn’t give me health insurance or vacation days or a retirement fund. All things considered, as a life strategy, it’s highly ineffective.
But worrying does have an effect on me. A few chapters back, Jesus was talking about seed sown on different soils: The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. [Luke 8:14]
That’s what worrying does. It chokes the life out of me. It takes my focus off of who God is and what He does. It stunts my growth by preventing God’s nourishing food and living water from getting into me. Another way to look at it: worrying is like drinking poison. Fortunately, Jesus gives two antidotes– things I can do to help me not think about the pink elephant.
The first is to look at the right here and the right now. He says to consider the ravens and the lilies. The ravens don’t worry. They don’t even work the fields or have a barn to store food. But God feeds them. And the lilies don’t make fabric or sew. But God clothes them beautifully. So that gives me an idea of how God is going to deal with me. It’s not like God is ignorant of what I need.
Twice in the last few months, Jack bought lilies for me and I became utterly entranced with them. I spent hours [no exaggeration] photographing them in all their splendor. In fact I was stunned and a little embarrassed to discover that by the time the first bouquet completely withered up, I had taken more than a thousand pictures [yes, one thousand thanks to digital photography, though I didn’t keep them all.] Contemplating the lilies gave me a vivid reminder of God’s care and beauty and extravagant provision for something that doesn’t last for more than a week.*
The second antidote is to keep my final destination in mind and to head for it. Jesus gives a few tips for how to seek my Father’s kingdom. This includes selling what I don’t need and giving to the poor [which sounds so radical especially when I’m worrying if I’m going to have enough.] It means going after God’s righteousness. It means putting my treasure in heavenly currency and remembering where I am going to end up. Doing that actually helps free me to live in the moment because it gives me a longer range perspective.
The thing is that God knows my situation and He knows what I need. After all, He created me. He loves me and I’m valuable to him. It makes Him happy to give me what I need–not just physical things which won’t last, but treasure that can’t rust or be stolen or swallowed up by the world financial crisis.
That’s why I don’t have to worry about tomorrow. It will either be another ‘now’ day [antidote #1] or I’ll be with Jesus in His kingdom [antidote #2].
In Phillipians, Paul gives a third antidote:
Instead of worrying, pray.
Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.
It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. [4:6-7]
Although these antidotes sound great, when I’m gripped by worry, I have to work at them. Worry weeds can easily spring up overnight and I have to keep pulling them out if I don’t want them to choke the life out of me. Doing this, Jesus reminds us, takes more than a little faith. And one way I can get more faith is with a day-by-day attentiveness to the beauty of the lilies and who God is and where I am headed. I’m going to keep at this because I’ve had some moments where I’ve been able to let go of my worry and it feels so good. It feels light. It feels peaceful to rest and trust my loving Father, “careless in the care of God“, like a child at play, and that’s what I want most of all.
A few more lilies