Do you worry? Do you have so many different things that can go wrong, both in your life and in the lives of others depending upon you—the responsibility for which would fall squarely on your shoulders—that you are increasingly experiencing feelings approaching genuine fear as you contemplate the possibilities? Even worse, is your current situation so seemingly hopeless that you do not even know how to go on?
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles [those who don’t belong to God] seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first  the kingdom of God and  His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:31-34)
I never in the past understood why people worry, but I wasn’t yet responsible for much. Surely, I had a family and people who were depending on me, but while my mother and father were still alive, there was always someone older, wiser, and more financially secure I could come to for help. Even if they really couldn’t help anymore—as in my mother’s case toward the end—there was still the illusion that they could, because, well, they were my parents, and parents can fix anything (or so we like to believe!). Now that they are gone and this security blanket has been removed, I have come to more personally understand the threat that worry can be to our walk with God.
It is certainly true that there can be a physiological component to anxiety and the use of medication should not necessarily be ruled out (there is even a name for it—GAD, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder), yet a big, if not primary, cause of anxiety is spiritual. We all go through issues, many of them financial, some relating to illness and death or other reasons, but the root of all our worry, I am convinced, is a failure to see our life within the context of the eternal.
Worry is typically described as caused by a lack of trust in God—the absence of a genuine, heart-felt conviction that God cares about my particular situation, and that He is powerful enough to do something about it. And while such a lack of trust may cause worry, more is involved.
In today’s passage, Christ clearly promises that if we are seeking two things in our lives—(1) the furtherance of God’s kingdom (an outward focus, in other words, evangelism), and (2) the furtherance of God’s righteousness in us (an inward focus, in other words, our increasing holiness through the power Christ provides)—He WILL provide everything else we genuinely need. God does not want us to be preoccupied with the things the lives of those who don’t know Him are preoccupied with; He wants us to be preoccupied with what really matters, and He promises to give us what we need to keep doing His work.
Yet there may be times when, upon reflection, you believe that you are genuinely focused on both His kingdom and His righteousness, and yet, things don’t seem to be going all that well for you. A corollary verse, Romans 8:28, says, “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” The promise here is that if we truly love God, we can be assured everything is, indeed, being worked together for good. Yet again, simply looking at our particular situations, there are certainly times when we might be tempted to believe this isn’t so.
Last Monday three people lost their lives at the Boston Marathon, and many others were injured. Some people lost limbs; some were perhaps deformed, and some lost loved ones, yet they must all continue living. How can they do it, how can they bear up under such a “nightmare” that they will never wake up from? The way they can bear up is by realizing that they will, indeed, someday “wake up” from the nightmare, because Revelation 21:4 tells us, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” The key to getting through anything genuinely frightening, or even seemingly unbearable, is the same way the martyrs went through the things they suffered: by seeing our lives here as the exceedingly brief temporal prelude to the eternity that fulfills the entirety of our existence.
The solution to worry or fear, or even the seemingly hopeless is asking God for His vision—for the ability to see the situation as He see it, in an eternal light. Knowing that we have “…a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1) waiting for us–a real, genuine, and firm reality with God in the after-life–makes our worry and what we are going through here on earth seem insignificant. Seeing our situation here—no matter how terrible, or scary, or barren—in light of our future in the presence of the eternal God makes it bearable.
I truly believe most of us have very little understanding of, if even a genuine heart-felt belief in, the after-life. We somehow imagine that it will be like the dreams we sometimes experience when we sleep, vague and wispy. Yet the real-life accounts of people who have travelled to the edge of death seem to tell something completely different, which does appear to be confirmed by Scripture. Rather than the after-life being a shadow of this life, this life is a shadow of the after-life. Those who have experienced a taste of it report that everything is so much richer and more vibrant and real than this life is. They report that understanding is nonverbal and instantaneous, and love all-encompassing, and they actually struggle to describe it fully with our current limited mental ability and vocabulary.
It is interesting that one of the feasts God commanded the ancient Hebrews to observe was the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. Celebrated after Yom Kippur, a feast for contemplating sin and judgment, they were to build flimsy outdoor structures out of branches and the like and live in them for a period of time because their ancestors travelled through the wilderness before entering Canaan. Yet as with all of the Old Testament feasts commanded by God, it has dual symbolism.
Living in flimsy, make-shift shelters compared to the beautiful and comfortable homes we typically stay in impresses on us how much more perfect our eternal existence will be compared to what we have here. No one who ever had a taste of what lies beyond death recalls missing their earthly existence after having seen the glories of heaven, because having once experienced it, no one would. Being there is that much more real and glorious and excellent (which, incidentally, will make separation from the face of God so much more acutely painful for those not in Christ).
The writer of Hebrews seems to have understood, because he encourages us:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [witnesses of the real; people who saw the eternal and witnessed it through their perseverance in the faith], let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [this life is a race, as it were, a course set before us by our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer God to be run faithfully and finished well]…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, 22-24)
These are the realities we need to keep in mind when we are beset by worry and fear of the unknown, or a seeming inability to bear the present. For those in Christ, no matter what terrible things we must go through in this life, death is not frightening but a breath away and the entre to eternity in a reality words do not exist in this life to describe. Knowing what lies ahead makes everything bearable.
Help us see that we have “…a building from…[You], a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” waiting for us; help us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.