Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A word for the worried

Jesus said, "Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own".  Matthew 6:34

I knew somebody once who became a bit of a standing joke. We used to say (affectionately, I hasten to add!) that she was such a worrier that she used to worry if she couldn't find anything to worry about. It's not a good way to be! Jesus says later in this passage that the solution to worry is to live for the glory of God and simply trust him for everything life throws at us - though, to be fair, he seems to be thinking mainly of the basic necessities of life, rather than the crisis times.

Especially, he tells us not to worry about tomorrow. That doesn't mean we shouldn't think about the future or even plan for it - that's something every sensible person does. But the fretting, the gnawing anxiety over what might happen, is foolish, unproductive, time-wasting, energy-sapping, peace-destroying, and can be crippling. Worry paralyses you. "Don't do it!" Jesus says. Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch woman who spent terrible months in a Nazi concentration camp, observed wisely that "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it only empties today of its strength."

Some people live in the past. They are always harking back to by-gone glories, the "good old days". They can be, frankly, a real bore, because they barely seem to be alive in the present at all. "Get a life! - there's a big wide world out there," you feel like telling them.

Other people live in the future. They are full of grand schemes and ideas about what they are going to do, how successful they are going to be when eventually they get to grips with things. Again, they can be quite irritating. "What about now?" you feel like saying. What matters is to live in the present.

Many years ago when I was a young minister there was a pop song: "One day at a time, sweet Jesus, one day at a time". It became quite common at funerals, especially among people who were obviously not regulars in church. To be honest, I don't usually like pop songs at funerals because they tend to be schmaltzy and sentimental - musical treacle, if you like. (No more "I did it my way", thank you very much!) But I have to admit that this one got to grow on me. I can't remember the rest of the words, but the sentiment of the main line was, surely, a good one.

In fact, you could go further and say not just "one day at a time" but "one hour at a time, one task at a time, one responsibility at a time". God promises strength and grace for the moment, and we need to keep drawing on him every minute of every day. 

When you stop and think about it, there is only one moment in your life that you can actually do anything about. And what's that? The present. To be even more precise: right now, this very moment. Jesus is telling us, in effect, "Make a success of the moment you are living in. Just concentrate on getting your life right now."

I have a friend whose wife died tragically young, leaving him with a small child. He was as low as he could possibly be. How could he go on living? How could he function? How could he do his job? Looking back on that dreadful time some years later he explained to me how he managed to come out of the darkness. "I just asked God to get me through the day," he said. "Then when I woke up the next morning I asked him again. And you know what? He did - just one day at a time."

I remember too a prayer which I learned as a child. It asks God for daily strength, and it finishes with these lovely words: "...and so bring us to the ending of the day unashamed and with a quiet mind". Amen to that! A quiet mind is an unworried mind.

O God my Father, give me wisdom to learn from the past, to trust you for the future, and, most of all, to live for you in the present. And so help me to build, moment by moment, a good and Christlike life. Amen.

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