Don’t worry, be happy

Matthew 6:25-33 and Psalm 126

Don’t worry be happy. In every life we have some trouble. When you worry you make it double. So sang Bobby McFerrin in 1988. It was such a happy song that you couldn’t help but smile. It managed that rare trick – to stop you worrying by telling you not to worry.

Doesn’t always work like that though. I heard of a poster displayed outside a church which read ‘Don’t worry it may never happen.’ But what does that say to someone to whom it has just happened?

A few months ago I was very anxious because I had to go up to London and make a case in a legal hearing. I got really nervous about it, all these questions were going round my head. What will I say? What if I get torn apart by cross-questioning? What if I dry up? I don’t often travel into London – how early do I need to leave to get there in time? What if I turn up late?  The worry kept on like a voice in my head – it was hard to sleep at night.

When you’ve got a real worry, a big worry, what do you do? Just being told to pull yourself together, get over it or it will all be fine just doesn’t cut the mustard. On the other hand, someone with the time to listen is a great gift – someone who doesn’t interrupt much but just listens and lets you unload. Someone who doesn’t try and offer solutions instantly but acts as a sounding board can be an immense blessing.

For as you talk it through you begin to get a sense of perspective. Your thoughts become more ordered, perhaps even form a plan. You begin to realise that you can only do so much, and after that leave it in the hand of God. Your friend may not even need to say ‘God will look after you’ because by giving you their time and listening well they make the love of God real.

What a blessing it is to be able to receive that gift. And what a blessing to be able to give it back as well! For any of us can learn how to do that. The principles are: Give someone who’s anxious the time and space. Listen well. Ask a few open questions. Be sparing with your advice. And you’ll be amazed how often they come up with answers themselves. They’ll say thank you so much for your help, I feel so much better – and you think, well I didn’t really do anything. You did it all!

So when Jesus tells us not to worry, there are two reasons why he says it. Firstly, he knows that worry doesn’t achieve anything. In v. 27 ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his span of life?’ It’s absolutely true: worry can’t make you live longer. In fact, I found a study which said chronic worry and stress increases by 20% your chances of illness and dying young. Now that’s something to worry about!

Jesus says there is no point in worrying. And it’s absolutely true. Of course worry is different from reasonable preparation. When Jesus said ‘Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them’, he wasn’t saying it’s wrong to sow, reap and store. The Jesus who told so many parables about farming surely can’t have believed that! No, he then goes on to say: ‘How much more valuable you are than the birds’.

In other words the birds don’t sow or reap yet God looks after them. You are much more valuable than the birds, and you can prepare for the future. Don’t worry therefore, but trust in God. Now if we can see possible hazards on the way, it is right to prepare for them. It’s sensible to put money into a pension and save a bit in case the car breaks down. And once you’ve done what you can, lay it at God’s feet. Be at peace that you’ve prepared for reasonable risks. Don’t continue to fret.

Because the second point Jesus makes is that we can trust God. In v.28-30, God provides for the lilies of the field. How much more will he provide for us! So seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.

Let’s be clear about what this is saying and what it isn’t. It’s not a promise that we won’t have to work – in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul writes that if someone won’t work, he shouldn’t eat. We need to be responsible for ourselves and one another… It’s not a promise that we can go our own way – Jesus says seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.

It’s not a carte blanche to feel entitled to whatever we want. The examples Jesus uses here are food, drink and clothing. The essentials of life, not a big house and a fast car. Don’t worry, you will have what you need says Jesus – not necessarily what you want.

And at this Harvest we might also think about how God keeps his promises. How does our food reach us? Through the hard work of farmers and distributors – other human beings. Those people who don’t have enough food, why is that? Almost always it is because of other human beings – because of war, profiteering, injustice, skewed trade or discrimination. Maybe our generosity, our political influence, is part of God’s solution to other people’s worries.

Nor does Jesus promise here that there won’t be troubles ahead. In the very next verse he says ‘So don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’ In effect, being a Christian does not mean we shall sail through life unscathed. We only need to reflect on our own experiences to realise that faith is not a shield against harm. Far from it – we may even pick up persecutions on the way. But Jesus does promise that God will hold us through whatever happens, and that he will bring us safely to himself at the end.

That’s the point of the reading from Psalm 126. It was written when the people of Israel had been in exile for many years, separated from the land they loved. Now at last they have been allowed to return. Joy at the homecoming is mingled with sadness as they see the broken down homes and the overgrown fields. They have so much work ahead.

I wonder if we can think of analogous situations today? Of refugees fleeing Syria, arriving in safety with tears? We should pray for political will amongst the world powers so that those people can one day return home and rebuild their lives.

In the Psalm they go out to sow corn. But doing so is a great sacrifice. They only have a limited amount of seed. Those grains of wheat must cover their meals and their sowing. Every handful cast for the next crop is another handful that you cannot eat. They sow with weeping because they feel hunger and yet they have no choice. God is faithful, and at the end of the psalm the reapers return with joy, carrying sheaves of corn. Under God they are making for themselves a new future.

It is full of hope because God has been faithful. God kept his promises and now they are free. It will not be easy – there will be much hard work ahead. Perhaps there will be trouble too. But they can trust in God because he is faithful. They can trust in the God who keeps his promises. They can have faith in the God of the Harvest who gives us what we need. May we too at this Harvest be free from worry, and trust in God. Amen.

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