I once received a postcard from a relative with the message ‘Don’t worry!’ all over the front: ‘Don’t worry! ‘Don’t worry!’ ‘Don’t worry!’ The sender definitely meant well and the personal message on the back was reassuring, but I wasn’t particularly helped by the message on the front.
As a brothers and sisters at St Peter’s, we vary in personality and temperament, and some of us are more prone to anxiety than others. For those of us who worry, to be told ‘Don’t worry!’ (effectively ‘Stop it!’) - isn’t very useful. We need more than a command not to do something. Indeed, we might soon start worrying about not worrying! If there’s something that’s troubling us, its’s hard to stop thinking about it. Sometimes, it seems almost impossible to put whatever it is out of our minds and focus on something else. Anxiety can be overwhelming and all-consuming.
As I watch the news, receive updates from church ministers and mission partners or speak to members of St Peter’s, I get a sense of the various things that are troubling us at the moment. We’re concerned for the health and well-being of loved ones, especially those who are elderly and vulnerable. We’re anxious about the daily death rate of the coronavirus and some of us are already grieving the loss of friends and family. We’ve been worrying about whether there will be enough food in the shops and how we will make ends meet if we can no longer work. We’re anxious about church members living alone or in lockdown in care homes. Tensions can run high at home and we’re worried about whether we will get on with each other and how long this lockdown will last! The list goes on and these are valid concerns. Some of us are really troubled by these and other things. In the midst of such anxiety, can we do any better than ‘Don’t worry!’?
The Scriptures are full of commands not to worry: “Do not fear…” “Do not be afraid…” “Do not be anxious...” “Do not worry…” However, they don’t simply leave us with commands. One of the things I love about the Scriptures is that they give us positive alternatives - positive commands of what to do instead. Here are two personal favourites:
Luke 12:22-34: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear… But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Wonderfully, Jesus tells his followers, “Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” …so the kingdom is already ours! We seek his kingdom by living and speaking for Jesus - seeking his righteousness in our lives (compare with Matthew 6:33) and sharing the good news of the kingdom with others. Adopting a ‘kingdom perspective’ helps us focus on what’s most important - on what Jesus wants for us. This command also comes with a promise: God has got our daily needs covered. Rather than worrying about food and clothing, we focus on his kingdom knowing that God will provide.
Philippians 4:4-9: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” The alternative here is to pray with thanksgiving. God loves it when we depend on him in prayer and he welcomes our requests about the big things and the details of our lives. One of the encouragements of the prayer meeting on Wednesday was the number of prayers of thanksgiving. Mike commented that it would be easy for us to grumble but people expressed gratitude to God about all sorts of things. Paul doesn’t downplay anxiety here as if our troubles don’t matter but there are plenty of things to thank God for despite the problems we face. Christians may struggle with anxiety, but because of Jesus we can be joyful (v4), gentle (v5), prayerful (v6) and peaceful (v7). The promise that accompanies this command is divine protection for our hearts and minds.
So don’t worry… seek God’s kingdom and pray with thanksgiving. As you do so God will provide for your needs and give you his peace.
Love and prayers,
We hope and pray that the SPLOG (St Peter's blog) will provide encouragement & spiritual food during the coronavirus crisis. It's mainly for the St Peter's church family, but everyone's welcome to read it!