How To Win Over Worry

How to Win Over Worry

Matthew 6:25-27

Dr. Jim Denison

An Arabian sultan grew displeased with his chief servant and ordered him beheaded. On the execution block, the man turned to his king and said, “If you will spare my life one year, I will teach your white stallion to talk.” The king was shocked by such a ridiculous promise, but loved his stallion more than all his other possessions. “What happens if you do not keep your promise?” he asked. The servant answered, “Then you may boil me in oil.” The king gave his servant the year he requested.

A friend of the servant watched all this. As the man descended from the execution platform he told him, “You’ve lost your mind. Being beheaded is much better than being boiled in oil. What are you thinking?” The servant smiled and said, “Much can happen in a year, my friend. The king might grow ill and die. His enemies might kill him. I might become ill and die. The horse might die. And who knows? The horse may learn to talk.”

In other words, don’t worry. But it’s hard, isn’t it?

Billy Graham writes: “Physicians tell us that 70 percent of all illnesses are imaginary, the cause being mental distress or worry. In reading hundreds of letters from people with spiritual problems, I am convinced that high on the list is the plague of worry. It has been listed by heart specialists as the number one cause of heart trouble.

“Psychiatrists tell us that worry breeds nervous breakdowns and mental disorders. Worry is more adept than Father Time in etching deep lines into the face. It is disastrous to health, robs life of its zest, crowds out constructive, creative thinking, and cripples the soul” (Unto the Hills, 52).

What is your greatest worry at this moment? What does Jesus want you to do with it?

Do not worry (v. 25)

Verse 25 begins, “Therefore I tell you.”

“Therefore” connects to what has just come: none of us can serve two masters. We will hate one and love the other. We cannot serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24). You cannot have two gods.

“I tell you”—Jesus is now speaking with full rabbinic authority. This is the divine word of God himself. Not Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura or Time or Newsweek. This is the holy word of Almighty God.

What does he tell us? “Do not worry.”

The Greek word means “to divide the mind.” To serve both God and Money. To live for us and for God. To be spiritual and secular, carnal and godly. To focus our lives on our material needs and problems, and on our heavenly Father as well. To live as though we are responsible for our lives, while believing that God is.

Such a person is “a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:8). Unstable in thoughts, words, decisions, actions, life.

Jesus’ words are a command, an imperative. If you are worrying, you are breaking the word of God. They are best translated: “Stop worrying.” What are you worrying about this moment? Stop it, says Jesus Christ.

They are in the present tense, a continual action. Do this not some of the time, but all of the time. And this is a decision, something we can do. You can choose not to worry, or the Lord would not ask you to.

Jesus means these words to apply to every dimension of our lives, even what we will eat, drink, or wear, the things we must have to survive. Don’t worry about your next paycheck, your health, your safety. We all have problems, anxieties, burdens. But Jesus is clear: don’t be anxious about them. Don’t be burdened, stressed, weighted, discouraged. Every time you worry about anything at all, stop.

In light of the clear word of God, such worry is a sin against the word of God. As we will see in a moment, it is a sin against the providence of God, for he has led us where we are. It is a sin against the provision of God, for he will meet our needs. It is a sin against the temple of God, for it damages our bodies and lives. It is a sin against the witness of God, for it distorts his all-sufficient grace and love in our lives.

A priest met a beggar. “God give you a good day, my friend,” he said. The beggar answered, “I thank God I have never had a bad one.” The priest said, “God give you a happy life, my friend.” “I thank God,” said the beggar, “I am never unhappy.” The amazed priest asked, “What do you mean?” “Well,” said the beggar, “When it is good weather, I thank God; when it rains, I thank God; when I have food, I thank God; when I am hungry, I thank God. Since God’s will is my will, and whatever pleases him pleases me, I am happy always.” The priest looked at the beggar in astonishment. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am a king,” said the beggar. “Where is your kingdom?” The beggar answered quietly, “In my heart.”

Trust the provision of God (v. 26)

Stop worrying about any anxiety, any burden, any fear, any problem. Why? Because of the provision of God.

“Look at the bird of the air,” Jesus continues, probably pointing to birds flying around them on this hillside beside the Sea of Galilee. Look in your mind at the birds resting in the trees on our church campus right now.

Notice that they do not sow, reap, or store. Jesus is not saying that they don’t work, just that they don’t worry about their work. He prohibits not work but worry.

Why don’t they worry? Because “your heavenly Father feeds them.” Perhaps some were feeding just then. God Almighty cares about them.

“Are you not much more valuable than they?”

If your father would feed your pet bird at home, won’t he feed you? If God gave us life, can we trust him for all that life requires?


The Cure For Affluenza

The Cure for Affluenza

Matthew 6.5-8, 16-18

Dr. Jim Denison

“They were running hand in hand, and the Queen went so fast that it was all [Alice] could do to keep up with her: and still the Queen kept crying ‘Faster! Faster!’… The most curious part of the thing was, that … however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything … ‘In our country,’ said Alice, … ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.’ ‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that'” (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, in Arthur Simon, How Much Is Enough? 49).

Psychologist Jessie O’Neill specializes in the treatment of what the doctor calls “Affluenza”—runaway consumerism which drives us to stress but leaves us unfulfilled.

Here’s an example of the problem. Gerard Straub, network TV producer, explains why he abandoned his lucrative career: “The joys I’ve experienced in life have all been lined with sadness … All around me, I see people fighting to suppress the sadness by searching for joy in a wide array of ways: sex, power, fame, fortune, drugs. We crowd into gigantic malls and gobble up all the goodies on display. We consume more than we need because we think we need more than we have … But the sadness remains” (How Much Is Enough? p. 19).

Author Art Simon comments: “The problem is not that we’ve tried faith and found it wanting, but that we’ve tried [materialism] and found it addictive, and as a result find following Christ inconvenient” (p. 21).

All the while the prophet Isaiah asks us, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2).

Richard Foster says there is misery when people lack provision, but there is also misery when we try to make a life out of provision. He’s right.

How do we escape the affluenza which surrounds us? How do we find lives filled with purpose which lasts beyond the next promotion or purchase? Deep joy which cannot be lost in the stock market? Transcendent peace which the morning news cannot steal? Let’s ask Jesus.

Trust God with your time (5-8)

Jesus’ Sermon addresses two issues in our lives today. The first is prayer—dos and don’ts. What Jesus teaches may surprise you. “And when you pray,” he begins. Jesus assumes that his hearers would pray.

He was right. Frequency of prayer was not their problem.

The central affirmation of Jewish faith was the “Shema,” a statement which required memorizing 20 verses from Deuteronomy and Numbers. The Jews said it every morning as soon as possible, and every evening before 9 p.m.

They repeated another set of 19 prayer requests every morning, afternoon, and evening.

They prayed specifically when they lit a fire, saw lightning, comets, a new moon, a storm, or the sea, received good news, used new furniture, and entered or left the city.

Their Rabbi Levi taught, Whoever is long in prayer is heard.” The problem was not the amount but the motive.

Some would pray standing in the synagogues. Standing was the usual posture of prayer. The synagogue was where the religious gathered. To pray standing before them is obviously to be seen by them, as would be the case if any of you stood and began praying right now.

Some prayed standing on street corners. These were where crowds stopped for business or to talk, and could be seen from all four directions. Picture a street-corner in downtown Dallas, and you have the idea. Jews were required to pray each day at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. They could arrange their schedule so as to be in the synagogue or on a street corner when the hour of prayer arrived. And they often did.

To pray for these reasons was to be a “hypocrite,” literally an actor who played more than one role. Actors only act before crowds. Spiritual actors only pray where they will be seen praying.

Many kept on “babbling like pagans” as well (v. 7), thinking that they could impress God with their many and eloquent words.

Jesus had to warn his followers about praying to impress people, which shows that the problem is a very real temptation. It still is.

Last weekend Janet and I visited the LBJ library and museum. It was a fascinating trip back in time, and reminded me of the time Bill Moyers was at a meeting with the president and was asked to lead in prayer. As Moyers was praying, President Johnson said, “Speak up—I can’t hear you.” To which Moyers replied, “I wasn’t speaking to you, Mr. President.”

So how are we to pray?

Regularly: “when you pray” (v. 6a). Have a set appointment to meet with your Father every morning, and through the day.

Secretly: “go into your room, close the door” (v. 6b). “Room” meant a closet or storeroom where the treasures were stored. Set aside a place where you will not be distracted by work or anything else, where you can meet only and secretly with God.

Intentionally: “pray to your Father, who is unseen” (v. 6c). R. A. Torrey: “we should never utter one syllable of prayer, either in public or in private, until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to Him.”

Expectantly: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8). He promised through the prophet: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

Let’s summarize.

Why pray? Not to tell God what he already knows, but to agree with his will. To surrender to his purpose. To trust our need and lives to his care. He can only give what we will receive. In prayer his Spirit molds our spirit, his heart our heart.


The Power Of A Mother’s Prayers

The Power of a Mother’s Prayers

Matthew 6:6

Dr. Jim Denison

On April 13, 1989, in Los Angeles, California, a little girl named Tiffany Schaffer was walking home from school clutching her teddy bear. Mrs. Johnnie Matheston, mother of one, was waiting at a red light where Tiffany was crossing the street.

All at once a man turned right on red and headed right for little Tiffany. Mrs. Matheston blew her horn, but it was too late. She watched in horror as the blue Datsun ran over the little girl. The car stopped, with Tiffany directly under the motor. Before anyone could react, Johnnie Matheston got out of her car, ran to the 2,600 pound car and picked up the front end four inches while someone pulled Tiffany out.

Tiffany escaped with only two broken bones and some abrasions. Mrs. Matheston pulled two muscles but was otherwise unhurt. Though six months pregnant, she dead lifted over 1,000 pounds—something no man has ever done, but one mother did.

On this Mother’s Day, we are grateful for the power of a mother’s love.

As you may know, a woman in Philadelphia named Anna Jarvis began a campaign in 1907 to honor mothers, for the sake of her mother. President Woodrow Wilson made the second Sunday in May an official national holiday in 1914.

And so the holiday is not found in the Bible or on the church calendar. As a result, preachers have often wondered what to do with it. My friend Daniel Vestal, now coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, preceded me as pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland. They tell the story about the time Daniel decided to ignore Mother’s Day in his sermon. It’s a secular holiday, he said, as he determined to continue in his sermon series for that day. He later called it the biggest mistake of his ministry.

It is interesting that you have come to church for Mother’s Day. Many of you would be here anyway, but most of you see worship as a part of your Mother’s Day observance. Some of you are our guests today as you have come to worship with your mothers. Most of you wouldn’t feel it was truly Mother’s Day without such worship.

Why is this? What is it about being and having mothers which requires spiritual connection, spiritual help? Why do we seek the vertical in the midst of the horizontal? What is it we need and seek by coming to church on this day?

Praying for an unborn child (1 Samuel 1.10-11)

In our text last week we studied Jesus’ admonition: “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). The “room” Jesus mentions was the storeroom where the treasures were kept. A mother’s greatest treasure is her child. So how do mothers in the Bible pray for their children? Here’s what I discovered this week.

Some of you are not mothers, but wish to be. For you, this is a hard day. You watch the joy of the mothers and families around you in worship and don’t understand why you cannot join them. You know that you would be a wonderful mother. You hear of mothers aborting or abusing children, and you just cannot understand why you don’t have a child to love.

How did someone who wished to be a mother pray? Hannah was the wife of Elkanah. She desperately wished to bear a child, but the years passed with her prayer unanswered.

One time when she and her husband had traveled to worship at the sanctuary at Shiloh, Hannah “wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow, saying, ‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head” (1 Samuel 1:10-11).

Hannah made the “Nazarite vow,” dedicating her child to full-time service in the Temple and the work of the Lord. And her son became what she dedicated him to be. Samuel was Israel’s last judge, anointer of her first king, prophet and priest of God.

So why go to worship on this Mother’s Day? Why seek the spiritual today? Why did Hannah? Because she knew that a child is his gift. How would Hannah answer our question today? She would tell us that every child is the miraculous gift of God, and that he is to be praised and worshipped for such a grace and trust to us. Something in us draws us to worship on Mother’s Day, so we can praise the God who has given us the child we celebrate.

Lessons:

Never give up. Keep praying for God’s will to be done. Consider all the ways he might answer your prayer, through conception or adoption. Keep trusting him.

Dedicate your unconceived child to the Lord. This does not guarantee that you will have a child, and certainly does not suggest that you have not yet conceived because you have not made such a commitment. I do not know why God brings children to some and not to others. But I do know that every child he gives us is to be returned to him. This is a gift, a trust, a stewardship. Be in prayer now that your child will belong to him.

Praying for a growing child (Luke 1:38)

Some of you are hoping for a child. Some of you are expecting one. Next Mother’s Day, you’ll have a baby in the church nursery. And many of you have one. Your children are in the preschool, or beside you in church, or living in another part of the world, or preaching this sermon.

Here’s someone who was where you are. When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, a 13-year-old peasant teenager in the tiny village of Nazareth, he brought astounding news: this virgin would conceive a bear a child. How? “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). What a birth announcement! Outside Mary’s home there would not be a wooden stork with a baby in its beak, but an angel with a baby in its arms.