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Matthew 6:25-34

Do Not Worry

     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? 26 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? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to their life?

     28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.30 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—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I read a few years ago that in a survey, 18.2% of Americans said they live in a chronic state of fear and anxiety. And that was before the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. And the war in Ukraine. So even back then, when things were the ‘normal’ we all long for, one in five of us was pretty much worried and afraid all the time. In fact, the anxiety level among us was higher than among people who lived in some African nations where there was chronic hunger and civil war.

That’s staggering, don’t you think? That in a country as materially blessed as ours, with a democratic system of government and constitutionally-protected rights, such a large number of us have traditionally been are consumed with worry?

I think from time to time about a talk I once heard by Diana Butler-Bass, a leading scholar and writer on the church of our time. That talk seems to shed some light on this issue. Butler-Bass was talking about some new research on religious attitudes among contemporary Americans. And there was one particular item in that research that I never forgot. Interviewers asked people how often they had an experience of deep and profound “thankfulness.”

You might think that white mainline Protestants would be deeply thankful for our many blessings. (Since we’re so richly blessed materially.) But sadly, the research showed that we are close to the bottom of the Christian spectrum when it comes to thankfulness.

I’d like to suggest that the reason so many Christians experience so little thankfulness is that they feel that they deserve to be so richly blessed. Many people have a strong sense of entitlement. (And for that matter, lots of people feel entitled to even more blessings than they get, which leads to resentment instead of thankfulness.) It’s just a reality of human nature that you’re not thankful for something you feel entitled to. Nobody sends a thank-you note to the boss when they get their paycheck. Nobody calls to say thanks to the Social Security Administration when their benefits check arrives in the mail. We’re not thankful for those things, because we understand that they’re owed to us. We are entitled to them.

But when you think about it, entitlement sets us up for a life of worry. That’s because thinking in terms of what we’re entitled to makes us rely on ourselves, and lots of us secretly suspect we’re not really as competent, as reliable, as we’d like to pretend.

But if we switch our mindset away from that sense of entitlement, then we can start realizing that we really are abundantly blessed. And facing that fact allows us to experience genuine thankfulness to the God who blesses us.

Over the last few years, several medical research studies have shown that thankfulness is actually good for us. Some cardiologists now advise their patients to keep a “thankfulness journal,” because the studies suggest that regularly reflecting on all you have to be thankful for is actually good for your heart.

And research in the field of neuroscience has reinforced that message. Functional MRI’s – those brain scans that show activity in various parts of the brain – have revealed that reflecting on our blessings – thinking about all we have to be thankful for – actually shuts down the pathway between the anxiety-producing parts of the brain and our neocortex. In other words, these scans show that there is a direct connection between thankfulness and worry reduction.

Those of us who are followers of Jesus should be the most thankful people on earth. And that’s especially true of those of us from the Reformed and Presbyterian part of the church. Because we are taught that our new life in Jesus is a gift out of God’s grace, not something we achieve by virtuous living or good deeds. So we don’t have to worry about whether we’re being “good enough to get to heaven.” We’re not. But we have new life in Jesus as a gift, not an achievement.

That should set us free from worry of all kinds. Because once we face the fact that we’ve been saved by the grace of a loving God who has promised to care for us, we can embrace the fact that this is a God we can depend on. This is a God who has always provided for us, so we can trust that he will continue to provide for us in the future. And trusting in that lets us stop worrying.

And what’s more, trusting in God to care for us sets us free to be more generous in sharing his blessings with others.

We serve a God whose willingness to bless his people abundantly has been demonstrated for at least four thousand years. So worry should probably be considered a spiritual failing. We probably owe it to our God to be intentional about reflecting more on our many blessings, so we can stop worrying and start living with greater joy and demonstrating greater generosity.

Let’s pray. Lord, we ask that you would touch our hearts and make us more thankful for the rich blessings we enjoy. And help us also to trust you to provide for us, so that we can share richly, and become conduits through whom your blessings flow into the lives of others. Amen.    

Grace and Peace,

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 47 and 68; Leviticus 9:26-37; and II Thessalonians 1:1-12. Our readings come from the NIV Bible as posted on Biblica.org, the website of the International Bible Society.)