Something about anxiety

Something about anxiety

Our little eight-year-old had an insight last week that will likely be replayed for years to come.

On Wednesday she said to Fi, “Mum, I’ve realised that there are things that I see and want in the shops and on TV and, for a while, I can’t stop thinking about them. I just want them. But I’ve also realised that after a couple of weeks, it just becomes part of the ‘stuff’ that I have and I don’t care about it anymore”.

If we could help her truly understand that dynamic now, we could save her a whole lot of time, angst and money in the future! After all, who of you can add a single day to their life by fixating on the latest Moshi Monsters magazine?!

If there’s a hinge verse on which Jesus’ entire Sermon on the Mount swings, it could well be Matthew 6:33. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you”. Yesterday, we spoke around it at The Big Table in its original context: anxiety.

While our myopia could frustrate Jesus endlessly, there’s always a gentle corrective which He brings to our concerns that doesn’t extinguish earthly realities, but puts them in their proper place.

“Why do you care about clothes,” questions Jesus as though pondering ‘what is all that about?’.

“How will worrying help you?” he says in a bunch of different ways through this discourse before presenting the cornerstone polemic to earthly obsession: Kingdom seeking.

What I love about Jesus’ encouragement to “seek first the Kingdom” is that it doesn’t regard the things of this world irrelevant in a way that we should be ashamed that we were ever hankering for those blue suede shoes (or whatever) in the first place. Rather, He’s saying: ‘when you have a revelation of the goodness and grandeur of my Kingdom, you’ll no longer want to chase after that other stuff. Oh, and one more thing: I’ve got your back, I’ll look after those needs as well.”

‘Yay,’ says the person fixated on the blue suede shoes, ‘I get my shoes after all!’. Well, maybe you do. Or, maybe you no longer want them so much anymore. Perhaps, in the light of seeking out His Kingdom first and foremost, the security we thought may be delivered by a four-course meal, or single-malt whisky or blue-suede shoes (eat/drink/wear) is suddenly seen in its proper light.

The things of this world can only carry temporary hope for this world. They were never meant to carry weight beyond this.

You can choose to live in the anxiety of the stuff you place your hope in or you can live in the ‘now’ and treasure a moment that only resurrection life can bring.

The truth that a seed will only live if it first falls to the ground and dies, is also true for our understanding of the God’s Kingdom and its currency.

Death precedes resurrection. Hardly a revolutionary thought but it’s also true that we cannot chase after all that God has for us while clinging to the stuff that we think may make us happy right now.

It seems that God uses that stuff and those things for His glory and our joy once we relinquish the hold that they have/had on us, but that is a fruit of surrender.

Jesus stands before his followers and us in 2016 and offers freedom from a fixation on a fickle future through a focus on ‘now’ and a redefinition of ‘life’ and ‘future’.

Jesus’ encouragement isn’t to abandon any planning, vision, future-thinking or aspirations. It’s far more life-giving than that.

It’s an encouragement not to be so paralysed and obsessed by the future that we miss the presence of His Kingdom…now. And now. And now.

The moment we transfer our hope from who He is and what He’s doing, we transfer our security to things that were never intended to sustain us. They may have been given to us for our joy and pleasure, but they were never intended to carry the weight of our expectations.

It doesn’t stop us trying, though.

CS Lewis nails this in one sweet sentence of ‘Mere Christianity’ when he writes: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

He’s talking about the Kingdom of God.

Throw all your cares on Him, because He cares for you,” the Apostle Peter writes of Jesus.

The one who can sustain the weight of your worries about your kids?
Your marriage?
Your future partner?
The political landscape of the world?
The future of this planet?

It’s Jesus.

Why does Peter need to remind us of this? Jesus already said it once. You know why; we need reminding. We live in the tyranny of the urgent and unimportant. We throw away hours to solve problems that look a whole lot different when our primary pursuit is His Kingdom.

In Jesus’ day, day-labour was de rigueur. You turned up at the vineyard and hoped there’d be a day’s work for you. I’ve wondered whether that would stop you worrying about the future. What’s the point? (It surely brings greater understanding of Jesus’ prayer for our daily bread.) But I think that’s probably nonsense. If I only had today’s work, I’d likely wonder where tomorrow’s may come from. As someone who has worked a small business for 23 years, I’ve only ever had the work-security of a 1-3 month pipeline of work ahead with the lingering thought “what if there’s nothing after that?”

No, whether you are a day-labourer, next in line for a gold watch after 40 years of noble service, or raking in the big bucks, you are not immune to worry.

Some of the most anxious people getting around are shackled by extraordinary wealth.

The distinction, time and again, is simple: where do you place your hope. In whom do you place your trust? Who/what is your God/god? The answer to that one determines whether your anxiety can be sustained and carried.

Why does Jesus say ‘do not be anxious about your life’ in an almost dispassionate way? Because He knows that you don’t have to and he doesn’t want you to be wearied by its weight. Paul would later encourage the church at Phillipi with a similar command:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Phillippians 4: 6-7

Unpack all that. And the gold that follows after it. The antidote to our anxiety over the future and of what we need and want, is prayer, thanksgiving and praise because they bring a fresh awareness of His Kingdom and peace that passes all understanding.

Pray on.

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