Feeling the Ache of Anxiety
Most of the time, it’s a tightness at my shoulder blades that slowly evolves into a pain that creeps up my neck and wraps itself around my head. At other times, it has been a slight tightening in my chest that stretched to the bottom of my throat.
Those are typically the sensations I experience when anxiety threatens to ensnare me. The cause of the anxiety or worry changes from season to season. Sometimes it’s a mountain of tasks that need to be completed. Sometimes it’s the reminder of certain fractured relationships in my life. Sometimes it’s the perpetual pressure associated with having a job that is reliant upon raising financial support.
Though the individual triggers may vary, the root is the same; I get weighed down by anxiety when I seek to shoulder a load on my own strength. The worries of yesterday, today, and tomorrow are too great for us to bear.
Seeing the Ever-Nourishing Hand of God
Jesus knows our tendency to load ourselves with worry. In the Sermon on the Mount, he warns that people cannot serve both God and money, and then he anticipates a concern that will certainly pop up: If we are not supposed to chase after money, how will our physical needs be met? In Matthew 6:25–34, Jesus goes on to answer that concern.
He doesn’t give a long theological treatise on the topic. Rather, he simply tells his followers to look around.
Summer in New Orleans is much like a rainy season you might experience in a tropical country. Downpours are a common occurrence. Following a quick storm, my backyard will stir with activity. Birds begin to dance around the yard after the summer rain. It’s their pre-meal routine as they await the worms that will inevitably come out of the ground.
Jesus points his followers to the birds around them. This simple process of birds getting their food is just one testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness to care for his creation. Likewise, the very rain that brings the worms to the surface is the rain that nourishes the flowers and allows them to grow beautiful blossoms. God clothes and feeds these small, delicate parts of creation, and he does it day after day after day.
Pushing his hearers to reflect on God’s persistent provision for plants and animals, there’s an important question Jesus asks that we must not overlook: Are you not of more value than they? Jesus touches on a doubt that can sneak into our thinking. It’s the lie that God has forgotten about us because he doesn’t care about us. That is the root of a lot of worries. We believe God doesn’t care. Yet, Jesus assures his people—and he assures us—that God does care.
Because he cares about us, we need not worry about being provided for. He is our sovereign and loving Father who is providentially tending to all of his children. There is not one aspect of our well-being that is outside of his vision or control. He knows what we need even more than we do, just like I know what my four-year-old daughter needs more than she does. Therefore, we rest in his fatherly love instead of taking the weight of our worries upon us.
A Simple, Yet Profound Command
Rather than worrying about where our daily provision will come from, Jesus points us to live for the Kingdom. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. We strive to work the gospel deep into our souls and to spread it abroad, all the while trusting God to take care of the rest. He is calling us to serve the kingdom and believe that the King can care for his own.
Anxiety over the future often leads to paralysis. Our minds are so preoccupied with the outcome of our current ordeal that we lose sight of everything else. But Jesus tells us to leave tomorrow in the future. We are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Our triune God is the only one who possesses those attributes.
Are you so fixated on what will happen tomorrow that you’ve lost sight of how God provided yesterday and what he has called you to do today? The path of the Christian life is one of faithful trust and obedience in the here and now, not knowing what is over the next hill.
The best thing we can do when we begin to feel the pangs of anxiety is to go see the birds dance, to see the beautiful flowers sway in the wind, and to rest in the heavenly Father who is sovereignly working all things for our good and his glory.