Anxiety is reaching epidemic proportions in Australia. Beyond Blue says it’s the most common mental health condition in Australia, with two million sufferers– twice as many as depression. One in four Australians will experience some form of anxiety condition. One in three women, and one in five men.
Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Most of us feel stressed or anxious in a situation where we feel under pressure. But, normally, those feelings pass once the stressful situation is over. Anxiety is when those feelings DON’T GO AWAY – when they happen without any particular reason.
This is the last of our series on FEAR. And, of course, anxiety and worry are CONNECTED to fear. At the risk of over-simplification, anxiety is fear about what MIGHT happen TOMORROW. While fear is about what’s happening NOW.
We’re anxious about all sorts of things. Climate change, terrorism, computer hackers, nuclear attack, housing affordability, unpaid bills, car repairs, work pressures, passing school exams or university subjects, personal health, health epidemics, safety of family. Or, as Charlie Brown says, even our anxieties have anxieties.
For many of us, a big factor is the changes in TECHNOLOGY AND WORK. Work’s no longer something kept at the office and left behind at the end of the day. It’s accessible at the touch of a button – or the tap of a screen – thanks to smartphones, tablets and laptops.
But it’s not just WORKERS of course. A 2017 study found that the average American consumer spends five hours a day on mobile devices. An increase of 20% from the previous year! Which means by the end of this year, it might be something like SIX hours a day! Technology means we’re never disconnected. Social apps are designed to keep you permanently in a state of anticipation. Waiting for that ding or buzz of a new notification. A friend of mine – not much younger than me- recently posted on Facebook, “About to surrender my phone for a few hours to get the screen fixed. I’m genuinely a little depressed about the fact that being parted in such a way makes me MILDLY ANXIOUS! What is this bizarre world we’ve created?”
And our children aren’t immune either. University of Queensland child anxiety researcher Dr Vanessa Cobham says one in 10 children aged six to 11 now meet the criteria for diagnosable anxiety. She says many children are overprotected, pushed too hard, and “relax” with screening devices instead of playing outside with friends. She says “The chance for a carefree childhood is slim. I see it. Many kids aren’t permitted to fail — at anything. They are conscripted into more competitive activities than they know how to handle, tutors are called in to fix what teachers can’t, and pressure from schools to excel really ramps up ahead of NAPLAN for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9”
Max Lucado, in his book Fearless, quotes the statistic “The average child today … has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.”
Anxiety, in the short term, can lead to panic attacks, heart palpitations, chest pains, light headedness, sleep deprivation. In the longer term, it can lead to a suppressed immune system, irritable bowel syndrome, and increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
But in the midst of all this, Jesus commands us, “Do not worry about your life.” And God encourages us, in 1 Peter 5:7, to “cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” And in Philippians 4:6-7 he commands us 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And then gives us the PROMISE 7 And the PEACE of God, which transcends all understanding, will GUARD your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
What a great promise for those of us who feel anxious! But how do we DO that? How can we take our eyes off the big monsters in life that loom over us, and instead look to God? How do we make this world SMALLER, and make God BIGGER? Jesus has the answers, here in Luke 12. The Master physician looks at our anxieties, and diagnoses them as having TWO ROOT CAUSES: What you LOVE. And who you TRUST.
Change what you love
The FIRST cause: what you LOVE. The HEART of the problem, says Jesus/ is THE PROBLEM OF THE HEART. You see, anxiety is, at its root, a HEART problem. We LOVE certain things. And then we’re ANXIOUS that we might not GET them. For example,
- You’re anxious about unpaid bills, because you love MONEY, and the POWER that comes from HAVING money.
- You’re anxious about health epidemics, housing affordability, nuclear attack and terrorism because you love SAFETY AND COMFORT – for yourself and for your family.
- You’re anxious about work pressures and passing exams because you love the ACCEPTANCE AND APPROVAL OF PEOPLE.
- You’re anxious about mess, or recycling, or a clean house/ because you love CONTROL, and the rest of life seems so OUT of control.
But Jesus says, INSTEAD, it’s all about setting your heart on the RIGHT things. (Treasuring the MOST VALUABLE things.) See how he concludes this section? Halfway through v33?
Provide purses for yourselves that will NOT wear out, a treasure IN HEAVEN that will not be exhausted, where NO thief comes near and NO moth destroys. 34 For where your TREASURE is, there your HEART will be also.
You can work at building treasure in all sorts of ways. Money, power, leisure, family, success, reputation, a legacy, a trophy house, pleasure. But for Jesus it’s not a choice between MANY. There’s only ONE choice to be made. You either open a bank account for treasure ON EARTH. Or you open one for treasure IN HEAVEN. One that WEARS OUT. And one that LASTS.
It’s like deciding between a GOLD necklace, or a gold-PLATED necklace. One won’t tarnish, or wear out, over time. Because it’s PURE. But the OTHER LOOKS precious, but underneath it’s CHEAP, and corrodes, and won’t last. The cheap copper or steel affects the thin layer of gold on the outside. Or it’s like choosing good quality tools over CHEAP ones. Like cameras or guitars or chisels. The GOOD quality tools last longer, work better, and are more enjoyable. The best thing about the CHEAP product is the PRICE, and you forget that pretty quickly.
Jesus says it’s the same with EARTHLY treasure, compared to HEAVENLY treasure. Heavenly treasure is SAFE and SECURE – it can’t be destroyed or corrupted. And it LASTS. It seems OBVIOUS when you put it like that. But it’s so easy for us to do. To set our hearts on EARTHLY treasure. To work at providing cheap, poor quality, temporary purses. Because those things are easy, and attractive, and immediate, and in-your-face.
How do we make that mistake? Why do we make such a foolish choice? Look at what Jesus says in v34. It begins with a DECISION about where your treasure will be. And then the steps you take to FOLLOW THROUGH on that choice. V34. “Where your TREASURE is, there your HEART will be ALSO.”
It’s a two-step process. FIRST, you DECIDE what’s most valuable- what your TREASURE is. You choose what you’ll worship. THEN, SECOND, Your life choices fall into line on the basis of what you VALUE. Your life will REFLECT that priority. Your heart will go AFTER that treasure. You’ll do ALL SORTS OF THINGS to GET it.
It’s where you’ll find your DESIRES, your PRIORITIES, your ATTENTION. It’s where you’ll invest your TIME and your ENERGY. It’s where you’ll commit the best of your thinking and emotions.
What is it WITH YOU? What keeps you awake at night? What fills your waking thoughts? What do you give your BEST to? What motivates you? What do you LOVE to receive? Many of the things we worry about come back to FOUR treasures: COMFORT, POWER, CONTROL and APPROVAL. What’s your TREASURE? And where is it FOUND? Heaven or earth?
That’s how he CONCLUDES his teaching. But look at how he BEGINS. Back up in v13. What it LOOKS like when someone’s chooses earthly treasure, and then sets their LIFE on ACHIEVING it. V13. Someone interrupts his teaching with a demand. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” It’s easy to see where HIS treasure is. EARTHLY WEALTH. It’s what pre-occupies him. It’s more important to him than FAMILY. He’s risking his relationship with his brother to GET IT. Life is GOOD only when he’s rich.
Jesus responds with a WARNING. V15. Not just to the questioner, but to ALL those listening.
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” LIFE DOESN’T equal POSSESSIONS. There’s more to life than STUFF. It’s NOT true that whoever dies with the most toys, wins. And then to illustrate the point, he tells a story about a rich farmer. Someone else, who, just like Jesus’ questioner, is chasing earthly treasure. V16. A bumper crop. And he’s unprepared for it. His barns are too small. So, v18, he begins a capital improvement program. New barns to store more grain and more goods. Then, v19, he’d be set for life. He’ll take early retirement. He thinks he’s provided a purse that won’t wear out. His wealth gives POWER. (The ability to have OPTIONS. To indulge himself, to take it easy, and to ENJOY life.) And that’s what he plans to do.
But Jesus concludes the story. It’s foolish, v20. Because it’s TEMPORARY. You CAN’T depend on it. V20 “But God said to him, ‘You FOOL! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
He’s set his treasure on earth. And ignored God, and HIS priorities. He’s built his life on a shaky foundation, and it’s all come tumbling down. He NEEDS A BETTER TREASURE.
And so Jesus comes to his LESSON. V22. What the disciples should LEARN from his guy.
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “THEREFORE I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.
THEREFORE, don’t worry. The COMMAND flows from the PARABLE. BECAUSE life is more than possessions, don’t WORRY about possessions. BECAUSE possessions don’t last, it doesn’t make sense to WORRY about them.
And he’s speaking to people who make the same mistake as the foolish farmer. Who think life is only about POSSESSIONS. See the connection they make? “Don’t worry about LIFE – what you EAT. Or about the BODY – what you WEAR.” People WORRY when they decide that life CONSISTS of what they EAT. We could add, “Don’t worry about your LIFE – where you live, your bank balance, how many friends you have, what they think of you. And people WORRY about they decide that the body CONSISTS of clothes. We could add, “Don’t worry about your BODY – the risk of terrorism, the threat of disease, the leaking roof, the broken heater, the chance of promotion, or your next holiday.
Don’t worry, says Jesus, because, v23. Life is MORE than food, and the body MORE than clothes. Because life is MORE than those things. Or GREATER than those things. And it’s foolish to think that life consists in the abundance of possessions. And to set your HEART on them. Because they don’t LAST.
When Jesus says life is MORE than food, he could mean life is MORE IMPORTANT than food. But that doesn’t really make sense. Because you NEED food to live. I think Jesus’ point is THIS. You have LIFE. God’s already done the HARD thing. He’s given you LIFE. (He’s turned bones, skin and tissue into a breathing, thinking, independent, relational self-aware being.) How incredible is THAT? That’s the REAL miracle. If he can do THAT. (Do the BIGGER thing), then the SMALLER thing of providing food to keep life GOING is EASY. So don’t worry about FOOD, because life is GREATER than food, and God’s already given you LIFE.
Just look at the BIRDS, v24. God feeds THEM and gives them life. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
And it’s the same with the body and clothes. “The body is MORE THAN clothes”. If God’s made your BODY – formed it in your mother’s womb. If he’s made your eyes that are better than the most expensive camera. Your hands that can wield an axe or thread a needle. A heart that beats and lungs that expand without you thinking about them. If he’s already done THAT, then providing CLOTHES for your body is NOTHING. Just look at the FLOWERS, v27. They don’t labour or spin. Or shop, or save. They’re clothed more richly than King Solomon. Then, v28, HOW MUCH MORE will he clothe YOU, O you of little faith?
You’re more important to God than birds or flowers. He’s given you LIFE. He’s given you a WONDERFUL BODY. So trust him for THE LITTLE THINGS. Trust him for the bills, and your health, and crossing that bridge. Trust him for the plane trip, and your University marks, and your children’s future. Trust him in the face of terrorist threats and housing unaffordability and climate change.
Change who you trust
And notice the connection between worry and unbelief. At the end of v28. “O you of little faith!” When you WORRY about things, you’re NOT TRUSTING GOD. Instead, you’re taking all the burdens onto YOURSELF. And you’re abilities to FIX them. Or DISability to fix them. Which is why you WORRY. Because most of them you CAN’T fix. That’s the SECOND of Jesus’ ROOT CAUSES for anxiety. You need to change WHO YOUR TRUST.
How big is YOUR God? When you worry about leaking taps, or lost keys, or a new dress, it’s squashing God into a tiny box. A box that says he’s too small to do this, or change that, or provide this. Worrying makes God SMALL. How big is YOUR God?
Some of you know Stu’s looking for a new job. And he’s had disappointments, and he’s missed out on some that seemed like a great fit. But through it all, he’s not WORRIED. He’s TRUSTING God. God’s looked after him SO FAR. So, he’ll look after him for the future. And God guides and he provides. All according to HIS perfect plan in HIS perfect timing.
Jesus says that anxiety comes from, 1, loving the wrong things. And, 2, about trusting the wrong person.
Replace it with a better treasure
And so, having put those things into perspective, having shown earthly treasures for the cheap imitations they really are, the logic is obvious. V29, Don’t CHASE after them.
29 And do not set your heart on (or don’t SEEK) what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.
Don’t chase after them, because they’re not WORTH it. AND because God knows that you need them. INSTEAD. Seek a GREATER treasure. A purse that WON’T wear out. Be rich towards God. Build treasure in heaven. V31. But seek HIS kingdom, and THESE things will be given to you AS WELL. 32 “Do not be AFRAID, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to GIVE you the kingdom. Seek HIS approval. Do the things that please HIM, and that build his kingdom. Make THOSE things your top priority. Set your heart on THEM. And EARTHLY treasure will lose its sparkle. Seek JESUS HIMSELF. Connect yourself more and more TO HIM. Make THAT your treasure. And your worry over worldly things will fade.
Sometimes we need to take an old bone from our dog, Charlie. It’s dried out and splintered and dangerous. But he’s very protective over it. One trick is to give him SOMETHING BETTER to DISTRACT him. A FRESH bone – FRESH and juicy and long-lasting.
It’s the same with OUR desires. The ONLY way to stop loving earthly treasure/ is to love HEAVENLY treasure MORE. You can’t just STOP loving ONE thing. You have to REPLACE it with a GREATER love.
Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish Presbyterian minister of the early nineteenth century, preached a famous sermon called “The expulsive power of a new affection.” He said It is impossible for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it… The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.
Jesus commands us not to be anxious. And the ROOT of anxiety is a love for the treasures of this world. The only way to be CURED is to love Jesus more. To seek his kingdom more. And as we DO that, we’ll grow to TRUST him more. And we’ll let go of our own power and control. And our confidence in God’s provision will GROW. And our worry will ease. And the promises of Philippians 4:6-7 will prove true. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.