The Uncertainty of Worry

Luke 12:4-7, 22-31

3rd in the series “Embracing the Uncertain”

Harvey Penick was perhaps the finest American golf coach ever.  He said that most golfers do not think on the golf course; they just worry.  “Worrying,” he wrote, “is a misuse of your mind on the golf course.  Whatever your obstacle, worry will only make it more difficult. Worry causes your muscles to tense up, and it is impossible to make a good golf swing when your muscles are too tense.”  He continued, “Rather than worrying, be mindful of the shot at hand and go ahead and play it as if you were going to hit the best shot of your life. You might really do it.”[1]

It strikes me that this is great advice for life, not just for golf.  Mr. Penick’s advice reminds me of Jesus’ words about worry.

Most of us worry too much.  I want to distinguish between a healthy kind of concern that leads to action and worry, which is chronic fear that produces nothing positive.  Worry is like driving your car with the emergency brake on – it creates a drag against forward motion in life.

We worry about many different things.  As we hear about robberies, burglaries and assaults, we worry about crime, but rather than become part of a community watch group, we become afraid.  In this age of terrorism and mass violence, we watch those around us with suspicion, wondering when the next incident might befall us.

We worry about personal circumstances.  For instance, a mom worries that her child will be injured playing their favorite sport, so that she cannot enjoy the games.  An insecure husband fears that his wife will be unfaithful to him as her work brings her into contact with many men, leading marriage to end.  A man compares his daily pains with online medical information sites, imagining himself to have every symptom; years of worry about imagined illness lead to a real one.

An exasperated husband asked his worrisome wife, “Why are you always worrying when it doesn’t do any good?”

She retorted, “Oh yes, it does! Ninety percent of what I worry about never happens.”

An English executive named J. Arthur Rank decided to do all his worrying on Wednesday every week.  When anything happened that caused him anxiety and annoyed his ulcer, he wrote it down, put it in his worry box and forgot about it until the following Wednesday.  The interesting thing is that when he opened his worry box each Wednesday, he found that most of the things that had troubled him in the previous week were already settled and resolved.  It would have been useless to worry about them.

Jesus urged his thousands of listeners in Luke 12 and us not to worry and fear.  He taught that worry means that we think that God is unfaithful and forgetful.

We worry about food, clothing, home, and other material things.  But Jesus said that our life is more than any of this.  Then he called the people to consider the ravens that I imagine may have been flying overhead.  “They neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them” (Luke 12:24).  Noticing flowers nearby, Jesus called the people to ponder the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work, yet flowers display God’s glory more beautifully than any item made by humans.

Yet, Jesus said, you and I are more valuable than the birds of the air.  Look at how God cares for flowers that bloom one day and fade the next; how much more will God care for us?  In other words, God is faithful to us.

As winter changes to spring, there are already birds appearing and flowers poking their heads through the ground with buds ready to explode in blossom.  As we see crocuses, snow whites and daffodils bloom and birds return to the trees and feeders around our homes, we have the opportunity to stop and notice them.  Even more, we have the opportunity to reflect on them and discover how they point us to the reality of God and God’s faithfulness to creation and to us.  We learn that God is indeed trustworthy and faithful.

God does not forget us.  Jesus used sparrows, which were regarded as virtually worthless birds, as an illustration. “Not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight,” he said.  “Even the hairs of your head are counted, so don’t be afraid, for you are more valuable than many sparrows.”  Sometimes when we endure hardship in life, we wonder if God has forgotten us or if God even cares.  But Jesus said that God does notice and care.

While doing ministry work in Elmira, New York, Dr. Walter Martin and his wife Civilla befriended a Christian couple named Doolittle.  Mr. Doolittle had been wheelchair bound for many years, while his wife had been bedridden for more than 20 years.  Yet, Mrs. Martin, noted that they lived happy Christian lives, despite their afflictions, inspiring and comforting those who knew them.  One day, Mrs. Martin asked Mrs. Doolittle why they were so hopeful and bright.  She answered simply, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.”  That line inspired Mrs. Martin to write the song we sang earlier in the service, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”[2]

The lyrics of that song remind us that, rather than longing for “heaven and home,” for a better time and place beyond the sufferings of this life, focusing on God’s presence in the midst of our struggles leads to contentment.  Trusting God doesn’t mean we’re taken out of life’s challenges, but that we are given new ways of seeing God’s presence in the midst of life.

Perhaps we could all benefit from the spiritual discipline of silence, which invites us to slow down our bodies and our minds and take the time to listen for and notice what God is doing in, around and even through us.  Spending time in silence opens us to discover what how God is present in our midst.  Silence doesn’t have to take a lot of time; even turning off the TV, radio, computer and cell phone for just a few minutes can create enough margin for us to be able to see and hear God and to realize that God is truly faithful and present always.

Further, Jesus offers an alternative to worry and fear.  He said that God’s followers are to be different from the world that is weighed down by worry and chases after means to insure against fear.  “Instead,” Jesus said, “strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:31).

Imagine the difference God would make in our lives and in our community and world if we focused on God’s business first and more than on our own worrisome agenda.  How many more families could be made whole, lonely people made to feel loved, children educated, hungry people fed, injustices redressed? How many more people would come into relationship with God through Jesus Christ if we laid aside our worry and fear and trusted God?

Methodist founder John Wesley was walking one day with a man who expressed his doubt about God’s goodness.  “I don’t know what to do with all this worry and trouble,” the man said.

Wesley noticed a cow looking over a stone fence, and asked the man, “Do you know why that cow is looking over the fence?”

“No,” answered the worried man.

Wesley said, “The cow is looking over the fence because she cannot see through it.  That is what you must do with your wall of trouble – look over it and avoid it.”

The uncertainties of life can lead us to worry and fear.  But faith enables us to see past our circumstances, to focus on Christ, and join him in pursuing God’s kingdom here and now.[3]

[1] Penick, Harvey, with Bud Shrake, The Wisdom of Harvey Penick, (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1997), p.298.

[2] Robert J. Morgan, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” in Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), p. 261.

[3] Adapted from Walter B. Knight, Knight’s Master Book of New Illustrations.

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