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? 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? Can any one of you by worrying add a single day to your life?
In this study we begin a new section on the Sermon which, in my bible, has the heading “Do not worry.” There are many aspects of life dealt with in this section. Despite the title given in the NIV, I feel that it is less about worrying and more about learning to trust the Lord our Father.
The first thing we notice is that this passage begins with the word ‘therefore.’ Of course, is a direct reference to the verses that preceded our reading. It is our big clue for learning the meaning in context. So, if you wish, you may like to check back to the previous study about serving two masters. And especially about the results of falling into the trap of constantly feeling the need to create more and more wealth. This is directly relevant to the passage we are now studying reading.
Jesus talks here about two of the things I touched on yesterday, the need for food and clothing. I would return to what I said before: have we forgotten to be grateful for the things that we have? And do we acknowledge that it is God who supplies our food, our drink and our clothing? I honestly don’t think it should make any difference whether you have a humble bowl of porridge or a gourmet lobster meal, both are meals to be thankful to God for.
You have plain clothes instead of a dinner jacket or cocktail dress? Be thankful that you are clothed! Humble things are just as much to be thankful for as are the trappings of wealth.
We have all seen the sad pictures of those who are so badly impoverished that they only have clothes that other people threw away, and who must search through the local rubbish tip for any scraps of food. Or maybe they can gather together enough recyclable material, probably many kilograms in weight. And then maybe they can walk with this the several miles to the recycling plant and there receive a few pennies for their efforts. Maybe those few pennies will help prevent starvation, and to provide enough strength to do the same again another day.
If they do not catch a disease from the infected water. If they do not catch a disease from the tainted food. If they do not catch a disease from the bites of the many insects that they will meet doing these tasks for survival…
But how much better to begin each day with thanksgiving. Thank you Lord for this new day! Thank you Lord for my health this morning. Thank you for this bed I slept on. Thank you for the water I will wash myself with. Thank you for the clothes you provided that will keep me warm today. Thank you for the food in the larder and refrigerator with which you feed me today. Thank you for my family. Thank you for my friends. Thank you for my job. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
But there is a growing problem in the world. Many people are now diagnosed with depression and taking medication to help them cope with the pressures of everyday life. But increasingly it is becoming known that the depression is only a symptom of the real disease that exists within many people. This disease is anxiety. Worry.
There is a lot of pressure these days to find ways to earn money not only for the things that are necessary, but that are ‘high quality’, fashionable, or that help to keep up with trends in technology. There is pressure because of the basic ‘cost of living.’ For this we need to find more than the cost of basic food and clothes. We need to pay the rent of our accommodation, or else the local taxation. We need to pay for the electricity, gas, water, and insurance bills. And in these modern times, it is seen as ‘necessary’ (it really isn’t) to also pay out for telephone, internet, mobile phone, television subscriptions to either cable or satellite. And I am sure you can easily find other things that are ‘necessary.’
Now realise that the poorer people, even in the most developed countries like USA, UK, Australia and elsewhere – even in countries such as these there are working people, or pensioners, who do not receive enough to pay for all those things. If they are lucky enough to be in a country where there is government help to cover such costs, there is a degree of reluctance to claim this. To do so, in many places, now carries the stigma of being a ‘scrounger.’ And certainly the process of claiming makes you feel like you are only a number in the computer, having been robbed of your humanity and dignity.
In my life I knew a period of 6 months when I was without work. I literally applied for hundreds of jobs every week (I am not exaggerating at all). I wanted to work and I was able to work, and I have qualifications and experience. I had professional help for all of these job applications, and people told me that I was doing it in a better way than most. Yet in that 6 month period I received only 3 replies to the hundreds of applications. Two were to tell me that I had not been successful on this occasion. The third was to say that I was unsuccessful with regards to the post I had applied for, but they requested to keep my details because they would be interested to employ me in future. I thought this sounded good, but nearly 5 years on from this they have not contacted me again.
And I kept records of all of these applications, because it was necessary for me to obtain benefits from the government during this time of job-seeking. I applied for all the relevant and necessary benefits, despite the fact that I knew some people would think of me as a useless ‘scrounger’ who ought to get a job… (ironic, yes? I would have taken almost any work after a few weeks of this). And as if all this was not creating enough stress, I received nothing despite applying for the social benefits. And this went on for 6 months. Tell me please, how was I supposed to survive? And if I told anyone about it, they would look at me with disdain and tell me to get a job. As if I was not already trying to do just that…
This is what our modern society has become like. It is very stressful. And of course anxiety builds up very quickly. It affects our persona and we become depressed. We don’t sleep well either, so we visit the doctor. They prescribe pills that help us to cope with life, but also have side effects that are not so good for the long-term health of anyone.
It is significant that Jesus tells us that worry will not add a day to life. In fact, we all have probably read the research that shows that worry can, over time, seriously affect not only our mental health, but our physical health also. Worry can reduce our lifespan.
This is where gratitude and praise is really important. This is when we need to recognise that God is at work in our lives and that He is in control. We are children of the Father, if we have accepted for ourselves the wonderful sacrifice of Jesus on the cross of Calvary. When we identify with Him on the cross, then we walk covered in His holiness and righteousness in our lives. When the Father sees this, He recognises His children and has promised to care for them.
Brothers and sisters, our Father is a caring father and He will provide for our needs. It is important to recognise that He will provide for our needs, not our wants. Like any father, our Lord will not encourage greed or selfishness or wastefulness. And like any Father, he feels good when we simply say thank you.
The attitude of Jesus about the things we think we ‘need’ runs totally contrary to the way people thought in His time, and it is possible that it is even more contrary to the way we think in modern times. For instance, when Jesus spoke with the rich people, even those who impressed him over their faith and goodness, what was the ‘one thing they lacked’? And what did people do in the early church? We read of people selling their possessions, removing from their lives the symbols of status and wealth. They kept the basics and, from the proceeds, gave into the general fund of the church. And we read that no-one among them was in need.
How many of the wealthy in your church or mine would be willing to sell their home, move into a more modest home or a community home, and to give the proceeds to help the poorer in the church or the local community? Such a thing would be thought crazy by most people today. Even most who would call themselves Christian.
And yet, in your local church, I would wager that God has provided enough so that all could have a roof over their heads, food and drink, and clothing to wear. And I would wager that there is also work to do in the church for those who are not in employment, so that they may give their useful contribution to the church and community.
Talk like this and you would be labelled a ‘red’ or a ‘dirty liberal socialist’ or worse. How has so-called ‘Christian’ society moved so far from the ways recommended by Jesus? If his teachings were put into practise, then there would be no need for the stress and anxiety and depression that plagues the modern world. Then health and moods for all of us would be much better.