Some time ago I heard about a middle-aged businessman who was suffering from severe anxiety and he went to the doctor. The doctor said, “Well, I want you to take up the game of golf to relax.” The guy said, “Oh, no. I’ve played golf and it stresses me out even more.” The doctor said, “Well, I want you to play again, but in an unusual way. I want you to go out and play with an imaginary ball. Just imagine that the ball is going exactly where you want it to go.”
Well, he decided to try it. He got up to the first tee and took out his driver, swung, and imagined the ball going about 250 yards right down the middle of the fairway. He walked to where the ball was, took out an eight iron, swung it, and imagined the ball going right up to the green. He walked up to the green and two-putted for an easy par. He said, “This is alright.” He played a couple holes and enjoyed himself.
Now another guy saw him and asked what he was doing. He said, “Well, the doctor prescribed me to play with an imaginary ball to relax.” The guy said, “Do you mind if I join you?” He said, “I’ve been playing golf for years and it stresses me out, too. SURE… So the two of them played 18 holes with imaginary balls. They enjoyed the walk, the conversation, the scenery, and they were so relaxed… until they got to the middle of the 18th fairway and realized they were tied.
The first guy took out his club and swung it and he said, “Look at that. It’s going up toward the green. It’s toward the pin. It’s in the cup. It’s in the cup!” The other guy said, “You just hit my ball.”
You know, we’re living in a pretty competitive and anxious age. But I can assure you, we might be stressed, but God is not! In Luke 21, Jesus said one of the characteristics of the end times/last days, would be that men’s hearts would fail because of fear. He said, “Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.”
But, we are a tension/anxiety ridden people and we’re not handling it very well. With COVID, JT and I have noticed that folks have skipped grief and gone straight to anger! Dr. Rollo May, the noted psychologist, said, “Anxiety is now the official emotion of our age.”
So I thought it might be helpful to do some therapy on the counselor’s couch (which we do collectively from time to time).
JT did so well talking about this last week. He shared the Philippians 4 passage, and I’d like to read it again today using The Message translation: “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”
A pastor told about a woman in his church who worried for 30 years that she had cancer. Every time she had a pain, she knew she had cancer. She died at age 73 of pneumonia. She worried for 30 years about the wrong disease!
One of our staff had a grandparent that was playing with a Ouija board one time when he was younger and it told him he would die in an accident if he traveled. And so from that point on, he had dreams about it and his anxiety made it so that for the rest of his life he rarely drove anywhere outside of his hometown. For decades, he didn't drive or go anywhere and that lasted for his entire life. He was a prisoner in his mind - tragic.
Excessive worry is an exercise in futility and energy. Worry doubles our trouble. Somebody said, “Worry is enjoying a crisis before it arrives.” My dad used to say worry is useless, because 95% of the things you worry about won’t happen, and the other 5% is going to happen whether you worry about it or not.
What worries you most or keeps you up at night these days? I want to pose and answer a few specific questions today from the Counselor's Couch.
Why is anxiety and worry more of a problem today than ever before? Why is it so much more prevalent compared to say 50 years ago? Let me offer a few possibilities…
The Affluence of Our Age
In Ecclesiastes 5:12 Solomon said, “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.”
You would think the more you have, the more peace and security you will feel and the less you will worry; but just the opposite is true. The more we possess, the more we have to insure, protect, preserve and guard.
About 20 years ago, I owned and restored a '66 Mustang convertible. It was sweet! And for a while it was awesome, but I began to discover that having this vintage car was maybe more of a problem than it was worth. I was worried someone might steal it, so I always kept an eye on it. Insurance was not cheap and parts for it were hard to find and expensive! And I was always concerned that when somebody opened the car door parked next to me it would dent or ding my car, so I started parking diagonally, taking up two spaces and that didn’t go over so well. So I started parking way at the end of parking lots and had to walk a lot further. Then I’d hear people make catty comments. “I wish I was a pastor and made the kind of money to buy a classic car… It didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t own it – it owned me! Sometimes having a lot of things increases worry.
Maybe because we have more immediate access to 24/7 coverage of urgent and negative news compared to 50 years ago? You know that TV and radio’s goal is not to inform, but to make money, right? In order to sell newspapers or increase ratings, media personnel have to convince us that the news of every single day is crucial and we can’t miss it!
Just one night, when they come on TV at 10pm with that teaser, “Be sure to watch the 11:00 news,” wouldn’t it be cool if they would just be really honest and say, “Folks, to be honest with you, nothing really big happened today. We’re gonna show cartoons tonight at 11:00. Go to bed early and relax”?
Not a chance. With instant, worldwide coverage we now know everything about everyone. Whether we want to or not. And even if it’s true, what exactly are you going to do about it? A little secret of growing older... I’m in bed before the news comes on and I sleep a lot better! If the world ends, I’ll find out about it when I wake up!
Our Pace of Life
Having lived a few years now, I think there is a 3rd thing that increases the anxiety of this age - our modern lifestyle. Advanced travel, technology, and 21st Century expectations have changed our habits. We’re the most hurried, hassled, and hectic people who’ve ever lived. You wonder if God designed our nervous system to cope with the kind of extra pressure we put on ourselves these days. So many are suffering from FOMO (the fear of missing out).
Year ago, someone gave me a book entitled "When I Relax I Feel Guilty." I’m sure it’s good; I just haven’t had time to read it yet! I’m too busy! Maybe throttle down on the RPM gauge of your life instead of running at red line all the time. I notice as I study Jesus, that he was busy, but he was never in a hurry. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry and you might eliminate worry.
I want to tell you one other thing that increases our worry maybe more than anything else and that is families. If I were to ask you what’s your #1 worry the majority of you would likely say, “My spouse or my kids.” If I were to say, “What’s your other worry?” Many of you, depending on your age, would say, “My grandkids.”
I love an article the late author Erma Bombeck wrote a number of years ago, “To Parent is to Worry”…
So into this weary and worried world, Jesus Christ says this in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:25-34: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Did you notice that in this Sermon on the Mount Jesus, says multiple times, “Do not worry. Do not worry. Do not worry.” Now I think it’s important we understand there’s a difference between being concerned and being worried or anxious. Concern focuses on probable difficulties and produces action; anxiety focuses on the improbable and produces inaction.
Jesus did teach us to plan for and be concerned about some elements in the future. He said, “No man builds a tower without first sitting down and calculating the cost, or he gets half done and he can’t finish. No king goes forth to war without calculating what the odds are of him winning.” So when Jesus says, “Don’t worry,” he’s not saying, “Don’t buy life insurance,” "Don’t invest in or save for the future," “Don’t fasten the seatbelt of your car,” or "Don’t buy a smoke alarm."
Sometimes the best way to overcome worry and anxiety is to simply take action. You’re worried about your grades at school? Well, why don’t you study. Worried about your marriage? Well, go to a counselor. Worried about your finances? Sit down and do a budget. Sometimes we need to be concerned and just take action.
But anxiety focuses on the improbable and is always asking, “What if?” “What if the plane crashes? What if I lose my job, what if I get COVID, what if there’s a terrorist attack? What if?” So I think Jesus is saying don’t live in the land of what might happen... unless it’s positive thinking you are doing. I have survived life and ministry because I have learned the everyday habit of believing God and His word. That HE is in control and the best is yet to come.
Jesus also tells us here why worry is wrong: It focuses on this world.
He says, “The pagans run after all these things..." They are always asking, "What kind of food am I going to eat today in this world." "What kind of clothing makes me look good or less fat?" All things that have to do with where we live now. But you are made for another world!
You’re not a body with a soul, you’re an eternal soul with a temporary body. The pagans seek after those things because they have no eternal concerns. One hundred years from now it’s probably not going to matter if you’re 10 pounds overweight, if the Bengals win, if politicians vote to increase the debt ceiling, if you’re the most popular person in your school or if you’ve got crabgrass in the front yard.
What’s going to matter are spiritual things. Did you love God? Did you love people? Did you fulfill the purposes of God in your generation? That’s why the Bible says, “Set your affection on things that are above not on earthly things.”
I think worry is also wrong, because it’s an evidence of weak faith in God.
Jesus said, “Oh, you of little faith.” Oswald Chambers said, “Worry is infidelity. It means we don’t really believe that God looks after the details of our lives.”
You see, God promises all things are gonna work together for good to those who love him, but worry says, “I don’t think they will.” God’s Word says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”, but worry says, “I’m not sure that I’m gonna go to heaven when I die even though that’s what the Bible says. God’s Word promises, “I will supply all of your needs according to my riches in Christ Jesus,” and worry says, “I don’t think you’ll supply my needs.”
Which led the poet to pen – "Said the robin to the sparrow, “I would really like to know why those anxious human beings rush about and worry so.” Said the sparrow to the robin, “I think it must be that they have no Heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.” Well, as I close, let me give you a few tools to help you overcome anxiety and worry. Practical things Jesus says to do here. Because we need something besides just singing that song - "Don’t worry, be happy." Let me give you three quick ones that come right out of the scripture…
1) Examine the evidence of God’s provision in your life.
Take a look at God’s care and provision in your life. He said, “Consider the birds of the air.” Birds are interesting creatures you know, especially when it comes to food. We say, “You eat like a bird.” But I’ve read that birds actually eat two or three times their weight in food every day. That means some of you would eat…uh… 200 or 300 pounds. Others of us, it would be 500, 600 pounds of food a day. That’s a lot of food!
And yet, God feeds them every day. You never see a bird at night pacing on his little tree limb - “Oh, I just…I don’t know if there’ll be enough worms out there tomorrow. I didn’t see many extra when we left, did you?” And as I have mentioned before, you’ve never seen a bummed out bird sitting on a branch (tweet tweet…) "Consider the birds. You’re much more valuable than the birds.”
And he said, “Consider the lilies of the field. See how they grow?” Nobody’s out here weeding, spraying, and cultivating them. Yet, “Solomon is not dressed any better than that.” If God takes care of them every day, why are you worrying - you’re much more valuable. He knows the number of hairs on your head. Which really isn’t actually much of a miracle for some of us here!
If you’re struggling with worry, examine God’s providence. Most of us here have never been hungry because we totally lacked food, or worried when we woke up one morning that we had nothing to wear at all. I know some of you occasionally say - "I don’t have anything to wear today.” But you know what I mean.
You’ve never said, ‘I’m gonna have to go out there naked today.” You always have something to wear. It’s not IF you eat or wear, but WHAT you eat and wear. The Psalmist said, “I was young and now I’m old and yet I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” SO when do we come to the place when we say, “You know, God’s provided all these years. I think he’s gonna continue to do it. How much more is God going to have to do to demonstrate you can trust Him. I love the plaque that reads, “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I can’t handle together.” So examine the evidence of God’s providence.
2) Place your primary emphasis on the spiritual.
The second thing he says is, "If you want to overcome worry, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” Don’t just say it, practice it and watch what happens when you put him first – not last.
So even though there’s a lot of busyness and competition, and it’s time to go to church, you go to church and you worship God like he says. Even though there’s a lot of financial stress, you give the first part of your income to God. Christianity is trusting God in advance for what will look so obvious and easy afterward. Put the primary emphasis on the spiritual.
3) Practice the art of living one day at a time.
JT hit on this some last week in his message which I heard at 9:00. By the way, Donna and I served in the 4-year-old department in Harbortown KIDS at the 11:00 service last week. We wanted to be the example and not the exception. They could use some others to do this, too! It’s not pediatric purgatory back there!
If you want to overcome worry, Jesus says to practice the art of living one day at a time. “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I love the Bible because it is so practical. It tells it like it is. He doesn’t say, “You’re never gonna have any trouble.” YOU will! Again - consider the birds... snakes eat their eggs, they have to go south for the winter (a long trip). Birds die. They get hit by cars.
For every person listening to this today, I can promise you that somewhere down the road there are going to be some tough and trying times, but the Lord is saying, “Don’t worry about that because when you get there I’m going to supply your needs and take care of you." He will give you what you need FOR TODAY! So don’t worry about it!
That’s why Jesus said, “When you pray, you pray, "Give me my daily bread.” And that’s why God gave manna in the wilderness to the Children of Israel just one day at a time. “Don’t store up too much. I’m gonna supply your need every day.” So learn to embrace, cherish, and live in the present! “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
What rock solid verses and principles to claim and practice today. They are so rich with truth. And by the way, make sure you don’t mistakenly use these verses as a weapon against those who really struggle with depression and/or anxiety and benefit from prescribed meds. Some Christ followers do that. They will say, "Just pray about it and trust God." So let me say this as clearly as I can - you are not a failure for needing medication, nor is it evidence of a weakness or lack of faith on your part. Now medication is not a magic pill to cure everything, but is one tool in the toolbox along with some others that we have given you today.
Everyone of us needs help with our mental health – even those who look like they have it all together.
I heard about a man who was really struggling with depression/anxiety and went to see a counselor who tried to help him by suggesting he go to the circus that was in town that week. I hear they have a really funny clown that makes everybody laugh. To which the man seeing the counselor replied, "Sir – I am that clown!"