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Questions Jesus Asks Us: “Will Worry Add a Single Hour to Your Life?”

March 11, 2012

 

Sermon:  Questions Jesus Asks Us: “Will Worry Add a Single Hour to Your Life?” 
Text:  Luke 12:22-31

 

Here on the third Sunday of Lent, we continue our series Questions Jesus Asks Us. Today the question “Will worry add a single hour to your life?” comes from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 12.  Turn there in the Scriptures, and we will read the passage together.

Hear now the Word of God.

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Do you ever worry?  I suspect that you do.  Problems you encounter cause you to get worried and anxious.  It is sort of the common lot of all humans.  I see people almost every day who are apprehensive and fretful.  Sometimes I see that person in the mirror. 

I grew up in the days of Mad magazine.  Alfred E. Newman, whose face usually appears on the cover, had the motto, “What?  Me Worry?”  It is sad to say that few people live their lives that way.  Most of us cannot brush off the uncertainties of life.  It is definitely not easy to discard the habit of worrying because we live in a world of anxiety.

Currently we are living in a world that is very tense.  The country is facing a national election.  The country is also involved in a global financial crisis, sometimes called the Great Recession.  This is the worst downturn in the economy since the Great Depression of 1929 and the 1930’s.   September 15, 2008 is the milestone, the day the Dow Jones Industrial average dropped more than 500 points.  Lehman Brothers collapsed.  Merrill-Lynch sold out, and American International Group (AIG), an insurance company, became severely downgraded.

After all of this upheaval broke, a friend of mine, a stock broker I have known since high school, asked me to have lunch with him.  I bought his lunch.  How about a preacher buying lunch for a stock broker?  There is a time for everything.  As I sat across the table from him, I could see the anxiety in his face.  He looked so tired, so weary, so gaunt, so drawn.

I asked my friend, “Are you able to sleep at night?”

With no hesitation he answered, “Oh, yea.  I sleep like a baby.  I sleep about an hour then wake up and cry about an hour.  I go back to sleep for about an hour then wake up and cry about an hour.”  He was worried.

I want you to squeeze both fists tightly, so tightly that you can feel your fingernails digging into your palms, so tightly that your knuckles turn white.  Now I want you to very gradually, very slowly, open your hands.  Do you want to live with your hands squeezed tightly, or do you want to live with your hands opened and relaxed?  The truth is that most of us live tied up in knots, with tension, with stress.

I would submit to you that Jesus intends for us to live differently.  While teaching his disciples during the Sermon on the Mount, he addresses food and clothing, ordinary items that do not cause most of us difficulty.  A bit later he asks, “Why do you worry about your life?”  Here in the Gospel of Luke, his question to them is worded a bit differently.  He poses the same question this way, “Which of you can add even one single hour to your life by worry?”

I have been to the area identified as the location where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.  The area, a hill looking out over the Sea of Galilee, is very peaceful.  Mountains surround the Sea of Galilee, and a banana grove is actually located there.  You think, Why in the world would Jesus raise the issue of worry in this setting?

One commentator gave me some insight by explaining Jesus’ view of the crowd on the hillside.  Whenever a great multitude gathered around a figure like Jesus, Roman soldiers were always present, at least on the margins or the fringes, ready to squelch a riot or any sort of insurrection.  This army of occupation would be dressed in full armor, complete with seals and swords.  We could consider the Roman soldiers to be the terrorists of Jesus’ day; they frightened and intimidated people.

We hear Jesus ask, “Why do you worry?” and think he proposes a preposterous question.  Of course we worry.  We cannot brush away the things that plague our lives and act as if they do not exist.

Gavin Becker surveyed Americans about their concerns.  He concluded that fifty-four percent of Americans worry about having an automobile accident.  Fifty-three percent worry about getting cancer.  Fifty percent worry about whether enough money will be left in Social Security at their retirement age.  Twenty-five percent worry about natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes.  By far the largest percentage worries about a terrorist attack.  We live in a world of fear.  We live in a world of terror.  Most of us respond with a kind of simple equation: the more vulnerable we feel and the greater our sense of losing control and power, the greater our worry and anxiety.

Dr. Hans Selye did the definitive work on stress, naming our endocrine system’s involvement as the Stress Reaction.  We secrete a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone – ACTH.  This hormone sounds like a concoction a stock-car driver might put in his engine.  The two work about the same way.  ACTH and worry stimulate us, causing our heart rate to increase, our breathing to become shallower, our blood vessels to constrict, and our muscles to tighten.  Dr. Selye points out that the reaction creates what is sometimes called the fight or flight syndrome.  This response was very useful to us at one time.  It enabled us to stand up and fight or to run away from the problem.  The truth is that in most of our life situations, neither fight nor flight is appropriate.

Think about the stress in your life.  You cannot just run away from it.  You cannot solve your problems with your fists by beating up someone.  We must find a way to extend this fuel, this ACTH, in our system.  Otherwise it results in all kinds of illnesses: muscular skeletal problems, migraine headaches, coronary vascular disease, respiratory ailments, even asthma.  Numerous medical problems result simply from the overload of stress we carry.  Eventually the stress results in burnout.

Worry is destructive.  Worry is deceptive.  Worry is distracting.  Worry is unfruitful, producing no good results.  Worry leads us to a false view of life and a false view of God.  Do you remember the song on the old Hee-Haw television program?  “Gloom, despair, and agony on me.  Deep, dark depression, excessive misery.  If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have not luck at all.  Gloom, despair, agony on me.”  Many people live their lives, using that song as a motto.

When I played Little League baseball, I had trouble fielding ground balls.  Trying to teach me, my coach explained, “Kirk, you can’t let the ball play you.  You have to play the ball.”  He meant that once a batter hits the ball, the player must charge it, scoop it up, and fire it to first base.  A player cannot sit back and wait on the ball.  The player must take initiative and do something that is active.

The same thing is true of worry and anxiety.  We cannot let worry play us.  We must play worry.  We must take a positive approach.  Otherwise, worry spins us into a cycle that produces nothing.  We get absolutely nowhere, becoming like a dog chasing its tail.  If you have ever watched water draining in a bathtub or a kitchen sink, you know that it swirls into a vortex until the drain swallows it.  Anxiety, by its very nature, is unfocused.  It is like being caught up in a swirl.  We feel as though we are going to be swallowed.  So Jesus asks, “Can you add a single hour to your life by worrying?”

A number of years ago the economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote about financial anxiety in the book The Age of Anxiety.  Galbraith identified our age perfectly as the age of anxiety.  Think about the millions of dollars spent on medications to help us deal with anxiety.  Alvin Toffler, in his book entitled Future Shock, he said the future is coming at us so fast that we cannot cope, adjust.

I would submit that we can cope.  I want to offer some suggestions of ways we can cope from Scripture and my own personal experiences:

1. Write down whatever worries you.  It is not uncommon for me to wake up in the middle of the night with something on my mind.  I find that if I jot it down on the legal pad by my bedside, I can soon fall back to sleep.  Worry tends to recycle thoughts through our mind.  We think of them again and again and again.  The same thoughts keep spinning through our head.  Writing down the worries gives us a way to literally look at them, analyze them, and make decisions about them.

2. Find joy in every day.  Find reason for praise.  The Bible tells us repeatedly, “This is the day that Lord has made.  Rejoice and let us find joy in it.”  Even the most difficult days contain some small, tender mercy from God, some little grace that God bestows upon us.  We must learn to look for those mercies.

Someone asked Erma Bombeck one time if she had the opportunity to live her life over, what would she do differently.  She said, “I would get the rose-scented candle out of the closet and light it.  I saved that candle for a special occasion by storing it in a closet where it melted and made a mess.  If I had just used it, I could have enjoyed it.”  Do not postpone the enjoyment of life.

3. Remember that action is more important than inaction.  If you think you have a health problem, do not try to brush it away and forget about it. Let your physician check you.  Then you will be able to deal with the problem.

I heard about a man who went to his doctor.  After looking at the man’s chest x-ray, the doctor told the patient, “You have a spot here on your lung that we need to investigate.”  The man said, “Doc, give me the x-ray.  I am a photographer.  I can touch it up in my lab and be just fine.”  The name for that response is denial.

4. Build positive relationships.  I have heard during my forty-six years of ministry that people get together and worry in pairs and in groups.  They swap worries with each other and tend to fall into criticism and whining, basically playing the game Ain’t It Awful.  Everything seems bad to them, and they often leave the meetings having more worries than they did when they arrived.

5. Avoid people with negative attitudes, people with a Pollyanna outlook.  Sure life is hard for everyone, but life is also pretty good.  Find people who will build you up, people who have a positive outlook.  Find people who will laugh with us, cry with us, and hug us.  Find people to pray and read the Bible with us.

6. Exercise.  Exercise is one of the best stress-relievers in the world.  The best way to burn the ACTH dumped into our system is by using the large muscles in our body.  Walking is an excellent form of exercise because it uses the muscles in our legs, back, and shoulders.  Exercise defuses much of the worry in life.

7. Go outside and get some sunshine.  Some people suffer from what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Many scientists think that the lack of enough sunlight causes the sufferers of SAD to have feelings of depression and unhappiness.  My grandmother used to make us go outside to play when we were children. Going outside helps our perspective and also provides a good dose of sunshine.  Walking outside is an excellent way to get sunshine and exercise at the same time.

8. Listen to music, a wonderful soothing agent for the soul.  When Clare’s mother was so sick with dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, she was in misery.  Clare learned that her grandmother used to play the piano for the children at night.  Clare and I bought a CD player with a repeat button and some CD’s of piano music.  We set up the player in Miss Lib’s room.  She settled down soon after the piano music began to play.

One of our deacons recently visited a member who had been hospitalized since Thanksgiving and played music for her on his guitar.  The husband of this dear lady revealed to me, “I had forgotten how important music is to her.  The music was so peaceful.  It helped her to settle down.”  In the Bible, we read of David playing music for King Saul.  Music will help with the worries of life.

9. Breathe deeply.  Taking long, slow, cleansing breaths and then exhaling all the way to the bottom of our lungs will ease stress.  Breathe in fresh oxygen and push out all of that carbon dioxide.  When God created us, He breathed into us the breath of life.  We do not dare take that breath for granted.  People who have suffered terribly with respiratory disorder do not take the gift of breath for granted.  The word for the Holy Spirit in the Bible is breath.  As we breathe deeply, we can ask in prayer that the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, will bring peace to our soul.

10. Laugh.  Reader’s Digest did not originally create the idea for the slogan “Laughter is good medicine.”  “A cheerful heart doeth good like a medicine” comes from the book of Proverbs.  Laughter is a natural tranquilizer with no harmful side effects.  Laughing just a little bit will decrease our worries and stress.

11. Look at the birds.  Jesus did not tell us to read our Bible and pray daily when we are stressed.  He told us to look at the birds and the flowers.  The offertory hymn, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” tells us that He will take care of us all.  Jesus said that paying attention to the natural world around us helps us see that God is sovereign, that He has a plan, that He is taking care of even the smallest parts of creation.

12. Realize that worry denies God.  I learned from Oswald Chambers that worry denies God’s power and presence in our lives.  When we worry we act as if God is not in control at all.  He is in control.  That is why Jesus said at the conclusion of the text for today, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else will fall into place.”

13. Read the Scriptures.  Allow the many verses in the Bible to bring comfort and peace to your soul.  David wrote in Psalm 94:19 that the word of God was soothing to him:  “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

14. Release your cares to God.  Simon Peter, a fisherman, wrote about this very topic, using an image from his life as a fisherman.  Imagine the many times Simon Peter cast a net into the Sea of Galilee.  Simon Peter said, “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).  Allow Jesus to speak peace into your soul.  Jesus spoke to his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Neither be afraid.  My peace I give unto you, not as the world gives do I give unto you.”  Can you imagine the disciples scared to death, worried, as their small boat is tossed about on a rough sea?  When Jesus says, “Peace.  Be still,” he is not just speaking to the wind and the waves.  He is also speaking to the troubled hearts of those disciples.  Jesus will do the same for you.  Pay attention.  Give him time.

15. Put your worries into prayer.  The Apostle Paul, a prisoner on death row in a Roman prison, wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God.  The peace of God, which is beyond understanding, will keep your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.”  Pray.  Pray.  This peace comes through the life of prayer.

The Prayer of Serenity is beautiful and full of wisdom:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, (Many things – things not worth worrying about – that need to be changed.)  the courage to change the things that I can, (We need to be proactive) and give me the wisdom to know the difference.”  Sometimes I conclude my own devotion time, especially when life is stressful, with the prayerful words of John Greenleaf Whittier:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
 
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Don’t you want to live with the beauty of God’s peace?  Isn’t this better than living clenched, knotted, and tense?  God wants you to have a peaceful life.  He said, “Be still and know that I am God.”  If we can learn to do that, we can learn to find peace that this world knows nothing about.  It is the single best way to cope with worry.

Do you know Christ Jesus as your Savior?  Have you acknowledged him as the Lord of your life?  If not, I invite you to make that decision.

Kirk H. Neely
© March 2012
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