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SOUDER: ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ and other impossibilities

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The Bible gives us a lot of standards to follow and some advice about worrying about them.

By Chuck Souder

The great theologian G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” And, for what it’s worth, I believe he was right.

Christianity is indeed difficult. Actually, I’ve found that humanly speaking it goes well beyond difficult. In point of fact, it is impossible.

I mean, really, have you ever considered all the commands in the Bible? Although some of them may come easily, many are very difficult. Perhaps the most well-known directions found in the Bible are those we refer to as the 10 Commandments.

They are few in number, but they certainly are not easy to follow. Consider just a couple of examples.

The fifth commandment says to “Honor your father and mother.…” Anyone with children knows that this one is broken early and often in our households (and I’m sure our parents would’ve said the same). What about No. 10 – “Do not covet”? This one is certainly out of fashion. In fact, some observers might say that the last presidential election was won on a campaign that encouraged others to disregard this command.

If those weren’t difficult enough, Jesus comes along and ups the ante with teachings that were anything but easy. Here’s just a very short list: Turn the other cheek, forgive others as God has forgiven you and love your enemies (see Matthew 5-7). Anyone think those are for the timid?

We want to scream back at God, “But you don’t understand what they did! You couldn’t know how much they hurt me! You’re asking the impossible!”

My guess is that many would say those are among the most difficult commands in the entire Bible.

For my male readers, how about this one: “Don’t look at a woman lustfully” (Matthew 5:28). In this highly sexualized society, most of us with a “y” chromosome struggle with that one.

And if all those weren’t enough, this one seals the impossibility deal: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Certainly, all of the biblical standards that I’ve listed are difficult, at best, to live up to. But for me, perhaps the most difficult one (OK, the second most difficult – that one about being perfect is hard to top) is this: “Do not be anxious about anything.” (Philippians 4:6).

Do not be anxious about anything. Right.

But what about our kids, our parents and our marriages? What about our jobs, our finances and the economy? What about the Middle East and terrorism and war? What about space aliens, global warming and Big Foot? (Just seeing if you were still paying attention.)

Without doubt, there are many aspects of our life that are out of our control, and that uncertainty often quickly leads to anxiety. Personally, I like to feel that I’m in control of my situation.

However, because I understand that many things are simply beyond my power to do anything about – as long as I can figure out any possible scenario in which what I want to happen happens (or where what I don’t want to happen, doesn’t) my anxiety level remains relatively low. But, if I can’t come up with at least a possible, plausible course of events that cause things to go the way I hope they do, I really feel powerless and my anxiety skyrockets.

For example, I have recently been thinking through a situation that I fully understand is well beyond my control and yet well within God’s. Of course, most things are that way, but this one was clear to me that it was so. It was one of those “God, if you don’t…it won’t” kinds of situations, and I had resolved to leave it in God’s hands and not worry about it.

Still, when I learned a piece of “new” information – a contingency that I hadn’t thought of – it immediately created anxiety within me.

Of course, we know that anxiety is harmful, not just to our emotional well-being but also to our physical health. Not only that, but it does absolutely no good whatsoever. Consider these wise words about worry:

Jesus asked this question: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Obvious answer: No one.

Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom said, “Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Worrying wears you out! In fact, as John Lubbock wrote, “A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.”

Often, our anxieties create a “mountain out of a mole hill.” In the words of a Swedish proverb, “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” Even worse, have you ever noticed that many (if not most) of the things we are anxious about never actually happen?

Perhaps you can identify with Mark Twain, who said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

So is it even possible to follow the biblical command and “not be anxious about anything?” And, if so, how?

The answer is found in the remainder the verse: “Do not be anxious about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

If you are a follower of Jesus, the solution to your anxiety is, as Martin Luther put it, to “pray, and let God worry.” Perhaps you are like me and think that some of the things you worry about are too insignificant to bother God with.

If so, consider more of Boom’s words: “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.”

The reality is that if something is of concern to us, it is also of concern to God – not because the issue is significant, but because we are his children and are important to him.

Remember, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine so that a friend who was hosting a wedding party wouldn’t be embarrassed – not exactly life-and-death stuff. Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll went so far as to call it “trivial.”

So go ahead and give it a try. Bring all of your anxieties to God – even the small things (he’s going to be up all night anyway). And then leave them there. The peace that he has promised sure seems like a good thing.

One last thing concerning all those “impossible” commands I wrote about earlier. The really good news is that Christianity isn’t about how well you can follow any of those. The truth is that Jesus came, not to establish or enforce a set of rules, but to restore our broken relationship with God.

He came precisely because he knew we could never follow the rules in our own strength.

So, be encouraged! Don’t worry about tomorrow; God is already there, and today has enough to keep us busy.

Or as the renowned theologian Charlie Brown put it, “I've developed a new philosophy....I only dread one day at a time.”

 

Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. He can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org. Find other columns by Souder at www.SentinelNews.com/columns.