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The Burden of Worry
He leads me beside the still waters. -Psalm 23:2 NKJV
Your ten-year-old is worried. So anxious he can't eat. So worried he can't sleep.
"What's wrong?" you inquire. He shakes his head and moans, "I don't even have a pension plan."
Or your four-year-old is crying in bed. "What's wrong, sweetheart?" She whimpers,
"I'll never pass college chemistry."
Your eight-year-old's face is stress-struck. "I'll be a rotten parent. What if I set a poor example for my kids?"
How would you respond to such statements? Besides calling a child psychologist,
your response would be emphatic: "You're too young to worry about those things.
When the time comes, you'll know what to do."
Fortunately, most kids don't have such thoughts.
Unfortunately, we adults have more than our share. Worry is the burlap bag of burdens. It's overflowing with "whaddifs" and "howells." "Whaddif it rains at my wedding?" "Howell I know when to discipline my kids?" "Whaddif I marry a guy who snores?" "Howell we pay our baby's tuition?" "Whaddif, after all my dieting, they learn that lettuce is fattening and chocolate isn't?"
The burlap bag of worry. Cumbersome. Chunky. Unattractive. Scratchy. Hard to get a handle on. Irritating to carry and impossible to give away. No one wants your worries.
The truth be told, you don't want them either. No one has to remind you of the high cost of anxiety. (But I will anyway.) Worry divides the mind. The biblical word for worry (merimnao) is a compound of two Greek words, merizo ("to divide")
and nous ("the mind"). Anxiety splits our energy between today's priorities and tomorrow's problems. Part of our mind is on the now; the rest is on the not yet. The result is half-minded living.
That's not the only result. Worrying is not a disease, but it causes diseases.
It has been connected to high blood pressure, heart trouble, blindness, migraine headaches, thyroid malfunctions, and a host of stomach disorders.
Anxiety is an expensive habit. Of course, it might be worth the cost if it worked. But it doesn't. Our frets are futile. Jesus said, "You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it" (Matt. 6:27). Worry has never brightened a day, solved a problem, or cured a disease.
How can a person deal with anxiety? You might try what one fellow did. He worried so much that he decided to hire someone to do his worrying for him. He found a man who agreed to be his hired worrier for a salary of $200,000 per year.
After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, "Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?" To which the man responded, "That's your worry."
Sadly, worrying is one job you can't farm out, but you can overcome it. There is no better place to begin than in verse two of the shepherd's psalm.
"He leads me beside the still waters," David declares. And, in case we missed the point, he repeats the phrase in the next verse: "He leads me in the paths of righteousness."
"He leads me." God isn't behind me, yelling, "Go!" He is ahead of me, bidding,
"Come!" He is in front, clearing the path, cutting the brush, showing the way.
Just before the curve, he says, "Turn here." Prior to the rise, he motions,
"Step up here." Standing next to the rocks, he warns, "Watch your step here."
He leads us. He tells us what we need to know when we need to know it. As a
New Testament writer would affirm: "We will find grace to help us when we need it" (Heb. 4:16 NLT, emphasis mine).
Listen to a different translation: "Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of our gracious God, where we may receive mercy and in his grace find timely help" (Heb. 4:16 NEB, emphasis mine).
God's help is timely. He helps us the same way a father gives plane tickets to his family. When I travel with my kids, I carry all our tickets in my satchel.
When the moment comes to board the plane, I stand between the attendant and the child. As each daughter passes, I place a ticket in her hand. She, in turn,
gives the ticket to the attendant. Each one receives the ticket in the nick of time.
What I do for my daughters God does for you. He places himself between you and the need. And at the right time, he gives you the ticket. Wasn't this the promise he gave his disciples? "When you are arrested and judged, don't worry ahead of time about what you should say. Say whatever is given you to say at that time, because it will not really be you speaking; it will be the Holy Spirit"
(Mark 13:11, emphasis mine).
Isn't this the message God gave the children of Israel? He promised to supply them with manna each day. But he told them to collect only one day's supply at a time. Those who disobeyed and collected enough for two days found themselves with rotten manna. The only exception to the rule was the day prior to the Sabbath.
On Friday they could gather twice as much. Otherwise, God would give them what they needed, in their time of need.
God leads us. God will do the right thing at the right time. And what a difference that makes.
Since I know his provision is timely, I can enjoy the present.
"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes" (Matt. 6:34 MSG).
That last phrase is worthy of your highlighter: "when the time comes."
"I don't know what I'll do if my husband dies." You will, when the time comes.
"When my children leave the house, I don't think I can take it." It won't be easy, but strength will arrive when the time comes.
"I could never lead a church. There is too much I don't know." You may be right.
Or you may be wanting to know everything too soon. Could it be that God will reveal answers to you when the time comes?
The key is this: Meet today's problems with today's strength. Don't start tackling tomorrow's problems until tomorrow. You do not have tomorrow's strength yet.
You simply have enough for today.
More than eighty years ago a great Canadian man of medicine, Sir William Osler,
delivered a speech to the students of Yale University entitled "A Way of Life."
In the message he related an event that occurred while he was aboard an ocean liner.
One day while he was visiting with the ship's captain, a loud, piercing alarm sounded, followed by strange grinding and crashing sounds below the deck. "Those are our watertight compartments closing," the captain explained. "It's an important part of our safety drill. In case of real trouble, water leaking into one compartment would not affect the rest of the ship. Even if we should collide with an iceberg,
as did the Titanic, water rushing in will fill only that particular ruptured compartment. The ship, however, will still remain afloat."
When he spoke to the students at Yale, Osler remembered the captain's description of the boat:
Each one of you is certainly a much more marvelous organization than that great liner and bound on a far longer voyage. What I urge is that you learn to master your life by living each day in a day-tight compartment and this will certainly ensure your safety throughout your entire journey of life. Touch a button and hear, at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting out the Past-the dead yesterdays. Touch another and shut off, with a metal curtain, the Future-the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe-safe for today.
Think not of the amount to be accomplished, the difficulties to be overcome,
but set earnestly at the little task near your elbow, letting that be sufficient for the day; for surely our plain duty is not to see what lies dimly at a distance but to do what lies clearly at hand.
Jesus made the same point in fewer words: "So don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will have its own worries. Each day has enough trouble of its own"
Easy to say. Not always easy to do, right? We are so prone to worry. Just last night I was worrying in my sleep. I dreamed that I was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative muscle disease, which took the life of my father. I awakened from the dream and, right there in the middle of the night, began to worry. Then
Jesus' words came to my mind, "Don't worry about tomorrow." And for once, I
decided not to. I dropped the burlap sack. After all, why let tomorrow's imaginary problem rob tonight's rest? Can I prevent the disease by staying awake? Will
I postpone the affliction by thinking about it? Of course not. So I did the most spiritual thing I could have done. I went back to sleep.
Why don't you do the same? God is leading you. Leave tomorrow's problems until tomorrow.
Arthur Hays Sulzberger was the publisher of the New York Times during the Second
World War. Because of the world conflict, he found it almost impossible to sleep.
He was never able to banish worries from his mind until he adopted as his motto these five words-"one step enough for me"-taken from the hymn "Lead Kindly Light."
Lead, kindly Light . . .
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
God isn't going to let you see the distant scene either. So you might as well quit looking for it. He promises a lamp unto our feet, not a crystal ball into the future.3 We do not need to know what will happen tomorrow. We only need to know he leads us and "we will find grace to help us when we need it" (Heb.