This is the seventh message in a series on fretting and worry. It will be Tuesday by the time you receive this. I’m sorry. It was done by Sunday night, but I still had some work to do. I hope this blesses you.
run in circles,
scream and shout! Children’s folk rhyme
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Adelaide A. Pollard, 1907
My friend, Ed, attended a service in one of the largest Protestant churches in Southern California. The preacher told the congregation that “A Christian should never be afraid,” no “ifs” or “buts” about it. Ed says, “I wanted to jump up and shout, “But we are afraid. Tell us how not to be afraid.”
Ed raises an excellent point that has stirred in me with everyone of these messages. It is hard not to be afraid, not to fret or worry about the uncertainties of the future, and not to be anxious about how things will turn out. Life is difficult, full of ambiguities and there is definitely pain involved in living. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.
In response to the harsh vagaries of our existence in a broken world, the three most frequent character traits taught by principle or example in the New Testament are love, humility, and trust in God, in that order. All three traits are highly relevant to our subject of what it takes to follow God’s instruction not to worry or fret.
God doesn’t define love. God is love (1 John 4:8). We would not know the meaning of the blessings of being chosen, welcomed, accepted, cherished, enjoyed, cared for, protected, taught, healed, forgiven, set free and a myriad of other graces that we know as love if God did not create those marvels and lavish them upon us. “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction of debt and justice) for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). There is a radical truth to that sacred Scripture. We don’t make God in our own image. We were created by God in his image (Gen. 1:27). And his first word to us is love by expressing our very existence in his image and pronouncing it, “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
Whatever we have done or has been done to us to mar that image, the luster of God’s glory is restored to us as an interior fact by the risen Christ coming to dwell within us as our very life and as an exterior fact by our looking to him with open minds and hearts until we are transformed. (Col. 1:27; 2 Cor. 3:18).
This transformation takes time and the Master’s touch, but what a touch it is! In molding and making us to restore us to his image, God-who-is-love exhibits all of the qualities described by Paul in his famous love letter in 1 Corinthians 13. God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God does not insist on his own way at the expense of our choices because that would not be love; God is not irritable or resentful; God does not rejoice in our wrongdoing with a “I gotcha now” kind of glee. God rejoices in the truth. And here’s the real deal, God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, because he is in this for the long haul–eternity. God never ends, therefore love never ends. (See 1 Cor. 13:4-7).
There is a brilliant executive at one of my clients. She is a sharp and precise “Type-A” achiever, and oh, so very hard on herself and at times those around her. Despite excellence in scholarship and performance as a child, good was never good enough to a father who would raise the bar and push harder. Even the hint of failure was swiftly condemned with no discussion or explanation allowed.
One day I criticized a corporate practice that was questionable under tax laws. She had tolerated it on the order of a superior, but there really was no excuse for it. A hard driver myself, I set out the problem and its consequences to her in harsh and stark terms. Our conversation ended abruptly late in the afternoon.
Jesus often speaks to me at night with gentle invitations to think and act differently about the matters that concern me and the people in my life. “She did her best, you know,” the Savior whispered in my heart. “You need to tell her that and help her back out of the hole your words put her in.”
I called the executive’s cell phone the next morning as we were both driving to work. “Can we talk?” I asked her.
“Not if you’re going to blast me,” she said.
I responded with my heart. “I’m not going to blast you. I know this wasn’t your decision and you did your best to change it before hitting the brick wall. There is a solution and I will help us get there.”
The stress began to drain out of our relationship that day and trust began to grow that transcended the “black and white” standards of the law and replaced the shaming deception of perfectionism with light and grace.
Why do I tell this story in a message on anxiety and fretting? Well, its pretty obvious. Fear turns us into angry terrorists or craven cowards. It uses our anxieties as the fuel to get us to those places. Jesus showed up again and again from Bethlehem to his ascension and the word that he most often delivered was “Do not be afraid.” He didn’t say this as some kind of macho elder brother. He said it as a shepherd who would walk to the roughest spots on earth to find the lamb or grizzled old sheep that had wandered off and couldn’t get back without a lift and carry and some TLC.
Jesus knows that we are anxious and afraid and that we need the basics of life (Matt 6:25-34). He also knows that we will try to compensate for our lack of control by thinking things over and over and over, trying harder, and clinging desperately to whatever and whoever we possess in the fear that there won’t be more. Knowing all of that, he chooses to love us and invites us to rest and allow his perfection to fill our empty spaces and heal our broken souls. His love, and his alone, is perfect and it is offered to us without the barb of punishment. “God is love,” said John, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:16a-19).
The boldness mentioned by John as a product of God’s love for us is complete confidence. That is the desire of Jesus’ heart, you know. The last night before his crucifixion he said this, “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:22-24).
Joy is the emotion that accompanies the abiding presence of Jesus Christ in our heart. He knows our every weakness and temptation and has faced them himself without “caving in.” For that very reason, we can “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16). That’s the very boldness that John said comes from knowing that we are loved by God. I will guarantee you that your time of need is when you are least feeling joy, but that’s the very moment that you have assurance of entry into the throne room of our gracious God to obtain the mercy and grace of Jesus’ help.
We so want things to work out that we try to manufacture by dint of will and effort what he wants to grow within us. We forget that success with him is his acceptance not our production, that his mercies are new every morning and that he desires to bless us. No one has loved you or will ever love you like Christ. Think of what concerns you most about the future. Paul cites 16 things at the end of Romans 8 that may confront or distract us- some of the best things and certainly the worst things that we can face or imagine like hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, violence, death, life with all its difficulties, angels, rulers, powers, things present right now, those scary things to come, powers that overwhelm and would control us, height, depth, and anything that is out there. He says on the authority of God himself that none of those things have the remotest ability to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39).
We tend to think one of two things about God in relation to our problems: our concerns are about things too big or too shameful to bring to Jesus, or, they are too trivial and even dumb to bother him about them. Stop right there and listen to me! Both of those are lies that we tell ourselves so we don’t have to surrender to Christ. We are keeping something for our control even if it is a problem that is crushing us with anxiety and the weariness of fretting. It is perversely arrogant to say that our issues are so bad that God can do nothing with them or so trivial that he wouldn’t be concerned with them. Who are we to tell God either of those things? Are we really going to let our pride stand in the way of peace of mind and heart?
That’s why the New Testament after love talks most about humility as a virtue for the believer. Pride led humanity away from God and to our fall into sin. It is the surrender of that pride that allows God to restore us to the relationship of loving confidence that he intended for us from before the time of Creation. Peter let pride turn him away from grace many humiliating times. Near the end of his life, he penned the lesson that he had learned: “‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:5a-7). Humility is acknowledging that God is in control and we are not and entrusting everything and everyone that we care about to him in prayer and praise.
We come then to the third virtue to lead us our of worry–trust. Trust may be the hardest thing of all for what it implies. It says that we have reached our limit and we really can’t do it all. It tells us that we have a need that we can’t fill ourselves. It says that our intellectual capacity is irrelevant. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Prov 3:5-6). Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Do not worry about anything. . . pray about everything. . . and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).
Paul described what makes this exchange of prayer for worry possible. “The Lord is near” he said at the start of the passage I just quoted. It is the presence of the Lord that makes the difference, not our capacity for understanding. For instance, if your particular anxiety is to know what is God’s will for your life. Without a doubt his will is to keep focused on him rather than the circumstances that threaten you. Isaiah spoke of the Lord:
- Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace–
- in peace because they trust in you.
- Trust in the Lord forever,
- for in the Lord God
- you have an everlasting rock
- (Isa 26:3-4).
Are you trapped in worry, exhausted by fretting, and unable to stop? Just reread the last two paragraphs and ask yourself why you doubt that the words “anything,” “everything,” “all,” “forever,” and “everlasting” apply to you? If they do include you, why are you living as if they don’t?
Many years ago, I sat in a wheelchair in a college dorm room. I was broken in body and grieved in spirit. “Why, Lord? If I just knew why?”
Thirty-six years later, I can’t tell you that I ever learned why. In the aching silence of that night, the Holy Spirit breathed into my heart that I would never have the certainty of answers or the warranty of success. I was to live on faith in a God who loved me. It was a beautiful thing to know and it brought me peace, but it took years, decades really, to sink in as my reality. That didn’t happen until I recognized that Jesus Christ was more than words on a page or a standard of conduct. Jesus Christ is the Son of God manifest in a real person to endure what I cannot so that I can live forever in his grace and strength.
The measure of peace that I have attained since that revelation, when I remember its Source, is that God does love me and won’t quit. All things are possible to the man, woman or child that comes to know, believe and rely on that love as the fundamental fact of his or her life.
One more thing, fretting is empty, exhausting work. Worry is a vain speculation that we are powerless to make a reality. Jesus left us with work to do for sure, something to turn our minds and hearts to do to lead us off the hamster wheel of anxiety into something meaningful. Here is what he said, when an anxious, hungry, oppressed people asked him, “‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he sent'”(John 5:28-29). Do you think that you might give that a try, casting all your cares and worries on him because, well, because he cares about you?
Love, humility and trust — you can walk out of the darkness of worry on those stepping stones. He loves you, you can turn over everything to him as many times as it takes, and you can trust him because if you can make the first two steps into love and humility then trust is where you are going to end up.
I was planning to write a tougher message this week about not trying to justify our worrying by labeling it “concern.” I was sidetracked by Jesus’ love. Really, this is all I have to say to you: Jesus loves you, he won’t quit on you. You can live forever on that truth with no need to worry. His will be done.
Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!
Power, all power, surely is Thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.
Next week we will talk more about what it means to know God’s will.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:6).
Under the mercy of Christ,