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“What, Me Worry?”

I’m a kid of the MAD Magazine era, where their mascot, Alfred E. Newman, was famous for saying this line… “What, me worry?” Of course, in many cases, it was the punchline of the joke and it conveyed the he ought to have been worrying about the state of affairs around him. That, of course, was the sarcastic humor of the magazine that appealed to me during my pre-teen and early teenage years.

Sarcastic humor aside, the statement about not worrying has stuck with me over the years and is frankly quite Biblical for the Christian. Jesus says that we are not to be anxious because our Father in Heaven knows our needs and will provide them…instead of expending energy worrying about this, that, or the other thing, we should pursue building Christ’s kingdom with all our strength. God will make provision for us (Luke 12:22-24).

The implication here is that the only ones who really have a license to worry are unbelievers. These pagans bow down to gods that cannot answer prayers and cannot provide for their needs…they are deaf and dumb and motionless, the creation of the hands of men (Psalm 115:4-8). 

The question that the Christian really needs to ask is, just how extensive God’s design is for his people. Is God in control of the big things that happen but leaves the small things in our own hands or does God sovereignly ordain all things that come to pass, both great and small. To this, Jesus takes one of the most insignificant things that can be mentioned and instructs his disciples that God cares for us so greatly that he even has numbered the hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7) and he goes as far as to assure the disciples that during times of persecution, not a hair on their head will perish apart from God’s design (Luke 21:18) — a promise that the Apostle Paul even extends to those on the ship with him prior to their shipwreck on Malta (Acts 27:34).

One of my professors in seminary used to say that not one hair fell from his head “without the parachute of providence,” and indeed, this is the idea that the Bible communicates to us. The Heidelberg Catechism words it this way: “He also preserves me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven…” In other words, if we take our Bible’s seriously, recognizing that we are in our Father’s divine hand, then ought we not say, with Alfred E. Newman, “What, me worry?” Our God not only ordains the end, but the means by which he brings about the end…and in that wonderful truth there is great hope because I, in my fallenness, will not confound the plans that God has for me…instead, God ordains and uses even my own sin and foibles to bring about his will and to conform me into the image of his Son. In a world where assurances are often fleeting, this is one iron-clad promise in which we can truly rest and hope.

Anxiety is not Good for the Believer

“Do not be anxious, but in everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

(Philippians 4:6)

Are we to suggest that God does not know our needs before we “make them known”? Certainly not! Jesus says that our Father in heaven knows our needs even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8). No, the emphasis on the making our needs known to God is not on informing the omniscient one, the emphasis is on how we present ourselves before the King of the Universe.

Paul writes that we first must not be anxious in our manner. Why not anxious? Why shouldn’t we be worriers over every little thing? The answer is that we are adopted by the God of the universe who knows our needs and has the power to see those needs met. It is the pagan who has the right to worry, for their gods cannot act or move or hear their prayers.

Thus, we take our prayers to God in a way that is not anxious, but trusting in his divine hand, his divine character, and his divine goodness and we lift them before the Lord of heaven. Paul uses the phrase, “prayer and supplication,” which is a common phrase for the Apostle (see Ephesians 6:18;1 Timothy 5:5). Supplication speaks of specific entreaties or pleas for help before God and prayers speaks in a more broad and general way. The key is, that with this humble reliance upon our God, we are to lift our cares before him.

The thing, of course, that many struggle with is the anxiety part. How we often ask God for things in such a way that we would not want our children asking us for a need or a concern that they might have. How often we come across (if we look at our prayers objectively) as if we are doubting God’s goodness or power or both. How often we try and make demands rather than being still and having confidence that God is, well, that he is who he says he is (Psalm 46:10). Beloved, do not worry or be anxious and do not allow that anxiety to become part of your prayer life…instead, let your prayer life be such that it takes away your anxiety because you are assured of the one to whom you speak.

Hands Off!

“Let go and know that I am God;

I will be exalted amongst the peoples;

I will be exalted on the earth.”

(Psalm 46:11 {verse 10 in English})

 

This is one of those wonderful passages of scripture that is given to focus and comfort us at every turn in our lives. It is a passage that I have often quoted as I have counseled people struggling with hurt, loss, and anxiety and it is a passage that I have often quoted to myself as I have gone through struggles of my own. Much like a loving parent, God is saying to us, “Relax, don’t get so wound up in this or that, learn to trust my providence for my grace is sufficient for you.”

Typically, we see the first line rendered, “Be still and know that I am God.” Literally, the Hebrew word used here means to let go of something. It is a picture of God telling us to let go of all of those things that we are trying to control by our own efforts and he is saying, “Trust me, I will work things through.” Certainly that does not mean we are to sit back and never do anything because God uses us as tools to do his work in this world. But it does mean that we should not get so uptight about the process for God is in control. Jesus himself cautioned us not to feel anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34). We have a God who has ordered all things according to the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:11) and that God loves us, so why waste our days fretting and worrying about what might happen or about what might have happened. We can only live in the present; God says, “Let go and know that I am God.”

I suppose that letting go is one of the hardest things for us to do. Our struggle with doing so goes back to the Fall of Adam and Eve, each wanting to do their own thing rather than trusting a loving God to order their days. How much we have yet to learn as we go through the process…

But do not miss the rest of this verse in the context of the psalm as a whole. Paul writes in Philippians that there will come a time when every tongue will confess and every knee will bow that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). When will it be that God is properly lifted up amongst the nations and throughout the earth? It will take place when justice rolls down the mountains like rain upon the wicked and they are finally and eternally brought into submission to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. So why be still? Because the God we worship wins in the end…hands down and with no qualifications. And if we are trusting in him, then who can stand against us? Why should we fear the world when we serve the one who has overcome the world on our behalf? Beloved, this is the call and command of God, let go and know in the very depths of your being that our God reigns and he cannot be moved from the designs he has set forth.

The Sleep of the Beloved

 

“It is vain for you to get up early and go late to your dwelling,

Eating the bread of toil;

For he gives to his beloved sleep.”

(Psalm 127:2)

 

It may be granted up front that there is some discussion as to how to interpret the last line of this verse. Commonly it is rendered as I have done so here, but some would argue that it ought to be rendered, “for he provides for his beloved during their sleep.” Though the nuances of the psalm are changed within that translation, the essential meaning of the text remains the same. God provides for the needs of his beloved — and he does so in an abundantly wonderful way.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus speaks in much the same way. It is expected that the pagans will lay awake worrying all night, working long and thankless hours to provide bread for their families. Their idols are false creations of their own hands and imaginations. What benefit can a chunk of wood give me apart from helping to heat the house when I burn it in the fireplace? If I create something with my own hands, it contains no power to do anything but sit there. It has no life. One can draw no hope or assurance from such things.

But we worship a true and living God — one from whom we can draw assurances. He lives and is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32; Luke 20:38) and not of the dead; he gives us new life (1 Peter 1:3) and he gives us that life abundantly (John 10:10). And thus Jesus says to us, “why do you sit home and worry about what may or may not happen this week or even tomorrow?” Do we forget whom we serve? Our worry seems to betray that we do, yet to the beloved, God gives rest and peaceful dreams at night.

How often my dreams have been haunted by the cares of countless anxieties—anxieties that are projected in nightmarish ways. Yet, in prayer, there is rest for the soul. How often there has been tossing and turning rather than restful slumber; again, trust in God’s provision, believer, and you will find that rest will come. There is no need to fear what may transpire; our God is sovereign over all events (Ephesians 1:11) and has promised to work them all out for our good (Romans 8:28). What comfort there is in those divine promises to us! What rest we can find in that context!

For the believer, rest means more than sleep during the evening hours. Rest also includes rest from one’s enemies—the greatest of which are the spiritual powers of wickedness that roam this world like a roaring lion. They may roar, but we are held secure in the hands of our loving Savior (John 10:28-29); of what shall we fear? No, we are loved of God and true love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Loved ones, sleep well and dream well of the glory of our God. He will provide for your needs because he loves you (Matthew 6:31-34); the pagans eat the bread of their sweat and toil—enjoy the restful sleep that your Father provides.

Ego Custodiam

The fourth of the relational statements that the early church fathers made reflected God’s relationship to the church. “I will guard them,” says God of his people. At first, we might be inclined to think that this statement could be fuller or more involved. We might expect God to say Ego Redimam (“I will redeem”) or Ego Amabo (“I will love”) or even Ego Sanctificabo (“I will sanctify them” or “I will make them holy”). At the same time, if we explore this idea of guarding something, we can argue that it contains at least an element of each of these statements. One guards those things that they love or hold to be valuable and one must have something in one’s possession to guard it, thus God redeems his people from the sin that once held us captive. Also, those things that we guard and cherish, we choose to refine, removing those imperfections that we can find in the object of our affection. Thus the language of Ego Custodiam includes all of the above comments.

So, why does God choose to guard his church? Certainly it must not be assumed that God places his affections upon us because of who we are or because of what we have done. All of our works, we must affirm like the Apostle Paul, are naught but dung (Philippians 3:8). No, he places his affections upon us because of whose we are—his own—and as a revelation of his glory. What we all deserve is eternal condemnation because of our sins and the guilt of sin we have inherited from our forefathers, yet he has chosen us since before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), before we had done anything good or bad (Romans 9:11), and sent his Son to pay the price to redeem us from our just judgment, substituting himself in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21). As the value of an item is based on the price that one is willing to pay for it, our value to God is without measure, for his Son, Jesus, being eternal God, paid an eternal price for our souls. And because of that price paid, he will never let one of his own slip from between his fingers (John 10:28-30).

Beyond redemption is the idea of his guardianship. God does not save us to leave us saved but to our own devices. No, God preserves us and guides us through life. The Psalmist writes of God’s guardianship:

“For his angels he will command regarding you— 

To guard you in all of your ways.”

(Psalm 91:11)

The picture here is self explanatory; God is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 5:9) and he will not share us with any other. We are guarded, kept, and held secure for this great purpose and he will not revoke his calling upon us (Romans 11:29). Indeed, nothing on earth or in heaven can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).

But what does that mean for us? It means that there is no reason for us to despair. How often we go through life and feel as if we are standing as one person against a host of enemies and that the world’s sole goal is to tear apart the things that we have sought to bring together. How often we feel lost, confused, and abandoned when confronted by tragedy in this world. How often we feel as if God is not listening to or responding to our prayers. How often chaos seems to dominate our lives and the world around us. Yet, all of these perceptions miss the mark. Because our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and from our hearts flow all sorts of vain imaginations and sin (Mark 7:20-23), we miss the glory that God has prepared for us even in the challenges of this world (1 Corinthians 2:8-9).

You see, we often get so wrapped up in the events of the moment that we forget that we do not see the big picture. Indeed, even when we begin to try and focus on the big picture of God’s redemptive history, because we are finite and grounded in this world, we still do not see with the scope and breadth that our Lord sees it. Indeed, compared to the immensity of God’s vision, our vision is minuscule to be generous. The sad thing is how often we take our minuscule vision as the whole of God’s vision and then wonder why God is permitting things to take place, all-the-while questioning his character and his goodness. There is none like our God (Psalm 77:13) who calls us not to be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34), but instead to cast all of our cares before him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

Reflect on what God speaks through the psalmist as Psalm 91 is brought to a close:

“Because he clings to me in devotion, I will save him;

I will make him untouchable because he knows my name.

When he calls me I will answer him,

With him, I will be in times of distress.

I will rescue him and honor him.

With long days I will satisfy him,

I will reveal myself to him in my salvation.”

(Psalm 91:14-16)