There's an App for That: Worry

There’s an App for That
Part 3:  Worry

Matthew 6:25-34

I want to begin this morning with some riddles? Are you ready? Here we go!

Number 1: What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches?
Answer: A nervous wreck! 

Number 2: Why was the baby inkblot so worried?
Answer:  His father was in “the pen” and he didn’t know how long “the sentence” would be! 

Number 3:  What did the astronaut say when he saw the eight-legged alien? 
Answer: “Don’t worry, its armless!”

Those, of course, are children’s riddles! But the topic they refer to is certainly not childish, is it? That’s because “worry” is something that many of us spend an enormous amount of time doing every single day.

In fact, a couple of years ago Newsweek magazine reported that Americans spend more time worrying than they do eating! Take this morning for example. Many of us are worried about the effects Hurricane Irma is or will be having on Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Western North Carolina and Tennessee.

While others are worried about complex situations our country is facing not only here at home, but around the world!  Some of us are worried about circumstances we are dealing with at our work. While others are worried about our finances, our health, or some other circumstance we’re dealing with in our personal lives. 

Some of us are worried about our children or teenagers. While others are worried about our aging parents. Some of us are worried about things that happened in the past, while others are worried about what might happen in the future.  And some of us, well we’re worried because we don’t have anything to worry about at all. 

Worry is something many of us struggle with! That’s why we’re continuing our There’s an App for That worship series today with a message entitled “Worry: There’s an APP for That.” I hope that as we listen to what our faith says about worry and apply its wisdom, it will help us manage our worry, or at least worry less. 

So, what does our faith say about worry?  In this morning’s gospel lesson, which is taken from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, our Lord says three things about worry. First, he tells us we shouldn’t do it. Second, he tells us why we shouldn’t do it. And finally, he tells us how we can stop doing it so much!

First, Jesus says we should not worry.

Remember how he put it, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or what kind of clothes you will wear.” Now, let me stop right there and explain something. When Jesus says that we should not worry, he does not mean we should not be concerned about things! He does not mean that we should not have a care. He does not mean that we should do what Bobby McFerrin says in his famous song, “Don’t worry!  Be happy!” as though nothing matters. What Jesus does mean, however, is that we should not allow worry or concern or anxiety about something to completely consume us.

We should not allow worry or concern or anxiety to choke us off from life, to shut us down. In fact, the Greek word which we translate as “worry” in this passage is the word “merimnao,” which literally means, “to strangle, to choke, to divide.”  So, when Jesus says, “Don’t worry!” he doesn’t mean we can’t have cares or concerns. What Jesus means is, “Don’t let your anxiety escalate to the point that it strangles the life out of you. Don’t let worry keep you from being able to function in a way that is healthy. Don’t let worrying about something become toxic!” When Jesus says, “Don’t worry!” he means, “Don’t let worry consume you!”

This leads us to the second thing Jesus says about worry, namely he tells us why we shouldn’t worry.

Basically, Jesus gives us three reasons why we shouldn’t worry, three reasons why we shouldn’t allow our concern, our anxiety about something going on in our life to escalate to the point that starts to shut us down.

1) He says we shouldn’t worry because it’s not healthy.

“Who of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his or her life?” says Jesus. In other words, “Worry will not add one single hour to the length of your life.”  The truth is, worry will shorten our lives. It will literally wear our bodies out.

Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic echoed Jesus’ wisdom a number of years ago when he wrote these words, “Worry affects the circulation, the heart, and the glands. It affects the whole nervous system in detrimental ways. Science proves that those who do not learn to deal with worry will die young.” Worry is unhealthy.

2) Jesus says we shouldn’t worry because it’s not productive. 

“Who of you, by worrying, can add an inch to your height?” Jesus says. In other words, “When has worrying about something ever helped matters, ever changed a situation, or ever produced positive results in your life?” Someone said, “Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. You spend a lot of energy, but you don’t go anywhere.” Someone else put it like this, “Worry never climbed a hill. Worry never paid a bill. Worry never cooked a meal. Worry never fixed a broken wheel.” “We shouldn’t worry,” Jesus says, “because it’s unproductive.”

3) Jesus said we shouldn’t worry because it’s not natural. 

“Do not worry!” Jesus essentially says, “because it’s counter to the way God created you.” God did not create us to be worriers. One psychologist I read said this about the topic of worry, “For some people excessive worry is the result of a chemical imbalance. But, for many of us worry is a learned response. We may have learned it from our parents, our siblings or our peers. But, we picked it up somewhere. We may have a natural inclination toward worry, but very few people are born worriers. Worry is a trait we acquire. 

Her words remind me of a four-year-old girl whose dad took her to Disney World for the first time and when they arrived, she headed straight for the roller coaster, “Space Mountain.” As they were standing in line, the dad worried that the roller coaster would be too scary for her, but she insisted on riding. Well to her delight and his amazement, they rode it three times. The next year, they returned to Disney. Again, the little girl, who was now five, dragged the dad to “Space Mountain.” As they stood in line, however, the dad noticed his little girl studying a sign that said, “Space Mountain may not be suitable for pregnant women, people with heart conditions or those afraid of speed.” After a few minutes, the little girl looked up at her dad and said, “Daddy, I don't think I want to go on Space Mountain this year.” 

“You don’t want to go?” her dad replied, “Why in the world not? You rode it three times last time we were here! What’s changed between last year and this year that has you so worried?

The little girl pointed to the sign and said, “This year I can read!”

Worry is something we learn. So, again why does Jesus say we should not worry? Worry is unhealthy, unproductive and unnatural. This leads to the last thing Jesus says about worry. 

There are some things we can do to reduce our worrying.

1) To reduce the level of worry in our lives Jesus says we must engage in spiritual activities that help us experience God’s love and care

“You want to reduce the level of worry in your life?” Jesus says, “Seek God’s kingdom. Do things that will help you experience the love and care of the God of the universe.”

If you will do this, you will begin to discover that we have a God who loves the smallest of creatures, like birds of the air.   You will find that we have a God who cares for the smallest of things, like the wildflowers. You will begin to understand that God loves and cares for you, and knowing that will help you worry less.

So, what activities can help us experience God? We can read the scriptures, which is filled with stories about God’s love and care. We can meditate and pray which opens us up to God’s presence in our lives. We can worship with the community of faith each week, which can help us reaffirm the truth that God is in control.

As we engage in these practices which open us up to God’s presence, we’ll begin to experience God as a loving shepherd, who’s deeply concerned with meeting our needs. God is like a loving parent who will be there for us whatever happens in our lives.  And we will find that as our trust in God increases our worry decreases.

As most of you know, hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas two weeks ago and has shattered the lives of people who live in Houston and the surrounding the areas. Well, this week I came across an interview a reporter did with a woman who lost her home and all her possessions in the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey

During the interview the reporter said, “This is a horrible mess. I’m sure you must be totally devastated and worried about the future.” Through her tears the woman looked up at the reporter and said, “Am I devastated? Yes! I’ve lost everything I have. But, am I worried about the future? No! I’m a person of faith. And through the years as I have read my bible, prayed and worshipped with others I have come to know that God loves me more than I can imagine, that God will care for me in every situation, and that whatever happens in life God will provide. So, I’m grieving what I’ve lost. But, I’m not worried about the future!”

Did you hear her? The more we engage in activities that help come to know God and experience God’s loving care for us, the more we do things that nurture our awareness of God’s presence in our lives, the more we come to know that whatever happens to us God will be there for us, then that can help us worry less.

2) Jesus says we can reduce the level of worry in our lives by changing our environment. 

How did Jesus put it? He said, “Look at the birds of the air, the flower in the field.” Part of what he meant by that was get out in nature, enjoy the beauty of God’s world and it will reduce our tendency to worry so much.

In her book A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors, says “Every so often I am overcome by worry, by anxious feelings about something in my life.  To deal with my worry I have found it is important to change my environment. So, I go to a special place I have come to call it my ‘circle of quiet’. It’s a small brook in a green glade about a ten-minute walk from my house.  There, on a stone near the brook, I simply sit, dangling my legs, looking through the foliage at the sky.  If I sit there for a while I find that things come back into perspective. I regain a sense of proportion. And my anxiety and worry begin to subside.”

How do we reduce the level of worry in our lives? We can create a “circle of quite.” We can take a walk through the woods, go for a bike ride, take a drive through the country, or simply sit in our own backyard. The point is simply this.  Jesus says we can reduce our level of worry by paying attention to our environment.

3) Jesus says we can reduce our level of worry by examining the situation we’re worried about and taking a positive action. 

“Do not worry,” Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air… Consider the lilies of the field… Seek God’s kingdom… Do God’s righteousness…” Do you notice something?

Look. Consider. Seek. Do. Those are all action words. Sometimes there are things we can do that can help us reduce our worry. For example, a few years ago I had a friend who was struggling with breast cancer. One day we were talking and I sensed that as serious as her situation was she had a real sense of peace about her.

“Aren’t you worried?” I asked. 

“No,” she said, “not too much.” 

“How is that?” I continued. 

“Well,” she said, “I decided that I can either spend my time and energy worrying about my cancer which I can’t control.  Or, I can spend my time and energy doing positive things I can control, things that will promote healing. So, I eat right.  I exercise every day. I read positive books. I pray. I go for my chemo treatments. I joined a support group. I find that by doing all those positive things in the midst of a situation I can’t control, I worry less about what I can’t control.”

Here’s the point: Sometime the best way to reduce worry is to examine the situation we are worried about and see if there is anything positive we can do. If we’re worried about money, we can create a budget. If we’re worried about our job, we can update our resume and put it out there. We need to do what we can about what we can control and leave what we can’t control to God.

4) Jesus says we can reduce our level of worry by living each day one day at a time. 

Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.” Another translation says, “Give your entire attention to today, to what is going on right now. Don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with tomorrow when the time comes.” 

Jesus is saying we can reduce worry by living in the present, each day one at a time. And that’s so true! Why? Most of the things we tend to worry about will happen will never actually happen! The worried thoughts are unfounded and unnecessary. As the famous author and humorist Mark Twain put it, “I’ve spent most of my life worrying about things that never occurred!” Or as a recent study states, “40% of the things we worry about never happen. Another 35% are already in the past and we can’t do anything about them. 15% of the things we worry about concern other people and are really none of our business. And the other 10% is stuff over which we have little or no control. So, why do we spend so much time worrying?” Jesus says we can reduce the level of worry in our lives by learning to live each day in the present.

4) Jesus says we can we can reduce the level of worry in our lives by taking the focus entirely off ourselves. 

Don’t worry about what you will eat or drink or wear!” Jesus says, “Instead seek GOD’S kingdom and GOD’S righteousness.  If you will, then you’ll find that everything else falls into place.”

You see, sometimes the best way to reduce the level of worry in your life and my life is to take our attention off of our concerns and place our attention on God’s concerns. And what are God’s concerns? God is concerned with healing the hurting, loving the lonely, including the outcast, assisting the downtrodden. 

What Jesus is saying here is that one of the best ways for you and me to stop worrying so much about what’s going on in our lives, is to get the focus off of ourselves and use some of our time, energy and resources to help other people; people who are hurting, people who are less fortunate, people who are struggling in life.

I know this works in my life. When I get worried about things at the church or home one of the things I do is visit someone who is in the hospital or retirement home or having a difficult time in their lives. Or I get involved in a mission project at church or in the community. Or I spend time tutoring a kid whose struggling in school. What I find is that as I listen to them and try to care for them and try to be of help to them, the things that I am worried about seem to fade away. Sometimes the best way for us to reduce the level of worry we experience in life is to take our focus off our life and put our focus on someone else.

So, here’s the deal! Worry is a big issue for a lot of people. But, Jesus says it’s really unhealthy, unproductive and unnatural, and he wants to help us reduce it’s strangle hold on our lives. How do we do that? He says we do it by engaging in practices that help us get to know the God who loves and cares for us. 

We do it by paying attention to our environment.  We do it by examining our situation to see if there is some positive step we can take. We do it by learning to live each day one day at a time. And then we take the focus entirely off ourselves by spending some of our time and energy seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness through service to those around us who may be in need!