Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Anxiety and the Kingdom of God

Look at the birds of the air . . . Consider the lilies of the field ~ Jesus Christ

Aside from the fact we now have to mow our lawns more than once a week, most of us have welcomed the refreshment that comes with the warm weather of May. Hasn’t it been nice to be outside for a change? To spend the sunset hours on the back porch – to spend Sunday afternoon throwing and batting the ball around the yard – to go for a Saturday afternoon bike ride has been a welcome relief from being “cooped up” indoors!

Because there wasn’t much “indoors” to go around in the First-Century Middle East, Jesus spent most of his time outdoors. What he noticed outdoors was a resource that would help us deal with one thing that distracts us from the main thing. For Jesus, the main thing is described in Matthew 6.33.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Jesus “left the splendor of heaven” in order to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. God created the earth to be a place where peace and justice reign – a place where the will of God is done by everyone and everything – a place where God and humans would dwell together in unhindered unity. Obviously, the world as it is, is not the world that God desires. The Bible says sin is the reason for the disparity between the world God created and the world that is. The good news, however, is that God loves the world that is and will restore it back to the world that was. In fact, the Bible seems to indicate the restored world will be even better than the original. The plan of God to restore his world came to fulfillment and is coming to fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into this world preaching the kingdom of God. Jesus desires us to seek that kingdom above all other pursuits. The main thing, according to Jesus, is seeking first the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God.

One thing, according to Jesus, distracts us from the main thing. The one distracting thing is worry. When we are anxious, we stop seeking the kingdom of God. When I am anxious – when I am overwhelmed by worry, all my energy is transferred to the kingdom of David. I become enamored with my finances, my possessions and my reputation. When I am overwhelmed with concern, which is just a less threatening word than worry or anxiety, I lie awake at night wondering how I will pay for it all – how I will get it all done.

It is that this moment Jesus comes to us and says, “Calm down.” To which I scream, “How?” Jesus’ answer is simple. Go outside. That’s right. Jesus tells us, in our anxiety to go outside. Shut down your computer. Put away your phone and go to where the birds and the flowers can be found. And once we find some birds and flowers, Jesus says, “Watch.” Presently, I am reading a book on stress, entitled, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. Although the author is not a believer in Jesus, his premise about worry/stress/anxiety is similar to what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6.25-34. What Jesus wants us to notice about birds and lilies and what Robert Sapolsky wants us to notice about zebras is that they don’t worry. Furthermore, they seem to get along just fine without the thing to which many of us devote much energy, namely, worry.

So may each of us be encouraged to walk away from worry. May each of us be wise enough to walk away from the sources of anxiety in our lives. And it just might be the case, that to walk away from worry will involve taking a walk outside and considering the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. So now that you've read this, put your computer to sleep and go outside to watch these living things do quite well without worry.  

Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6.34, ESV).