The question before the house (from the recent post, Good News for the Anxious? Part I of IV) goes something like this: what is the good news of the gospel for those who are anxious. Does Jesus speak a word to the anxiety of our day? If so, what?
I hope you will spend some time, if you haven’t already, thinking about this.
I also hope you will find a way to share your thoughts with me and others. Perhaps in the comment section of this blog?
Either way, in parts II, III & IV of this blog post, I want to share with you three unique responses to our current line of inquiry.
First. My own reflection.
The passage of Scripture I and many others first think of when thinking of anxiety is Chapter 6 of Matthew. It is part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are?
And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life?
Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith?
So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (NET, Matthew 6:25-32.)
What do you hear Jesus saying?
I hear a few assurances and a command. Life is about more than just staying alive, Jesus is saying. Worrying about the future accomplishes nothing. Plus, God cares even more about you and me than the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field, and look how well the Father provides for them! So, do not worry!
If I’m being honest, at times, these words from Jesus remind me a bit of a comedy sketch with Bob Newhart.
I don’t want to downplay the assurances Christ offers. Truly, it is no small thing for the Son of God to remind us that the God of the universe cares for us. But, when I’m anxious, and I read this passage, I can’t help but feel like I’m sitting across from Bob Newhart being told to just “Stop it!”.
“I would if I could,” I want to yell back.
Fortunately, unlike Mr. Newhart, Jesus says more than this. He goes on.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV, Matthew 6:33-34)
“Don’t worry,” Jesus says. “But, instead, seek the kingdom of God; seek it and seek it first.”
It is this word which has been good news for me recently in the midst of my own anxiety.
Those who seek, they will find, Jesus says only a little while later in Matthew 7:7. Seek the kingdom of God and, indeed, the kingdom of God is what you will find.
But there is more. Not only does kingdom seeking result in kingdom finding (7:7), Jesus also promises (6:33-34) that kingdom seeking will result in (a) the meeting of our most basic needs, (b) the proper ordering of our lives, and (c) the lessening, if not elimination, of our anxieties.
Surely this is good news for the anxious. I know that is how I have received it.
I was recently reminded of something C.S. Lewis said:
Aim at heaven and you will get the earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.
Aiming at heaven and getting earth thrown in seems somewhat akin to seeking first the kingdom of God and having all the rest added.
As has always been the case, today, one can choose to live in any number of kingdoms (put another way: today, one may allow any number of kingdoms to grow within them). There is the professional kingdom ruled by the dollar and/or recognition or promotion, the political kingdom ruled by influence and power, the on-line kingdom ruled by “likes”, “followers”, relevance and immediacy, plus many others.
However, as far as I can tell, the kingdom of God remains the only truly sovereign kingdom. All others seem to me to be mere vassal states; that is, kingdoms which do not ultimately rule themselves, but rather are subordinate, or submissive, to another, outside kingdom or ruler. That foreign ruler, today, is often anxiety.
If the choice is mine, I choose citizenship in the kingdom of God… a kingdom which stands as master over instead of mastered by anxiety… the one kingdom in which the king’s yoke is easy, and his burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)
Are we anxious because we find ourselves seeking the wrong thing first (i.e. not the kingdom of God)?
If I am anxious, does this necessarily mean I have been seeking first something other than the kingdom of God?
If you are like me, your typical response to anxiety is to work. Work harder. Work more. Work better. Make a to-do list and start knocking it out. But, again, if you are like me, this only gets you so far, for, it serves to bury anxiety, not eliminate it.
Seeking first the kingdom of God, however, is different… at least, according to Jesus.
According to Jesus, the kingdom of God is effective. “And all these things will be given to you as well.”
What would happen if we took Jesus at his word? What if doing more, i.e., seeking to accomplish, was no longer my response to my anxiety? What if instead of seeking to accomplish, I sought the kingdom of God, and I sought it first?