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The secret to a worry-free life

Are you worried about anything today? If you are like most people, you’re probably worried about your weight. That might not be at the top of your list, but according to a survey by Beneden Health in the United Kingdom, that’s the # 1 concern for most people. Here are the Top Ten Worries according to this survey (counting down from #10 to #1):

10. Diet

9. Job security

8. Rent/mortgage payment

7. Credit card debt

6. Low energy level

5. Overdrafts and loans

4. Overall fitness

3. Lack of savings/financial future

2. Growing old

1. Overweight

Don’t you think it’s ironic that many of us worry most about eating too much on Thanksgiving Day, when Jesus teaches us in his sermon on the mount, “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear . . .”? Many of us would say, “Thank the Lord. He’s giving us permission to indulge . . . and not feel guilty.”

Jesus instructs us not to worry about what we eat and in Great Britain, at least, the thing they most worry about is their weight. I wonder how you and I would come out on that same survey? Fortunately, our text is not on gluttony–but on worry which is a big issue in many people’s lives.

I’m not going to ask you to raise your hand if you are a worrier. Not many of us have to worry about our life, what we will eat or drink; or about our body, what we will wear . . . But we treasure Christ’s words nonetheless:

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” he asks. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Worry is a destructive force in our lives that rarely does any good. Forty percent of all adults suffer health problems due to worry and stress, and about 50% of all visits to primary care physicians are stress-related disorders.

The same survey that asked people what they worry about also asked people how much time they spend worrying. Here’s what they found out: Each week, we spend approximately 14½ hours worrying. “That equals 744 hours of worry each year. Which turns into 45, 243 hours of worry over a lifetime. That equals 1,885 days in a lifetime spent doing nothing but worrying. Which means that we spend 5.2 years of life consumed by worry.” That’s a lot of time feeling tied up in knots fretting about something that’s probably not going to happen anyway.

Do you know why many people worry? Worry is a substitute for faith. Worry does for some people what faith does for others. Have you ever heard somebody say, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t help to worry. Most of the things I worry about never happen!” They really mean that. Some people are genuinely concerned that if they fail to worry, that which they fear will happen.

Thomas Borkovec, a professor of Psychology at Penn State University, is an expert in the field of worry. He points out that the habit of worrying is reinforcing in the same sense that superstitions are.

“Since people worry about many things that have a very low probability of actually occurring–a loved one dying in a plane crash, going bankrupt, and the like–there is, to the primitive limbic brain at least, something magical about worry. Like an amulet that wards off some anticipated evil, worrying psychologically gets the credit for preventing the danger it obsesses about.”

So, some people worry because, in a primitive way, they believe it keeps danger away. In a sense they are substituting worry for God. But there is a better way to deal with our life.

That brings us to Thanksgiving. The best preventive to worry is to focus our mind on giving thanks to God. You and I can trust God to handle any situation that we may confront and then relax. God’s resources are greater than our resources. We can live our lives in perpetual praise to God for His goodness, and fear and worry will melt away.

As R.G. Letourneau once said, “Worry and trust cannot live in the same house. When worry is allowed to come in one door, trust walks out the other door; and worry stays until trust is invited in again, whereupon worry walks out.” How true it is.

Notice Jesus’ words: “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Do you see why we are not to worry? It’s because we are valuable to God. Do you believe that we are valuable to God? The God who created the heavens and the earth and everything that exists upon it cares about you and me. What are we worried about? “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Then he adds a very practical admonition: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” No, we can’t, but we can sure take many hours, days, months or even years off our lives by indulging in an exercise that can poison every cell in our body. That’s worry.

There’s a popular Bible App from an organization called YouVersion, that allows us to read or listen to the Bible on our cell phone. This app has 400 million users worldwide. Recently the group that produced this app announced that the most popular Bible verse from this past year on this app was Philippians 4:6 “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.” That’s the most popular verse in the Bible according to this survey: “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.”

Friends, that is the secret to a worry-free life. You and I can’t maintain a spirit of gratitude and a spirit of anxiety at the same time. But what if we are having a bad day? How can we maintain a spirit of gratefulness when so much is going miserably and praying doesn’t seem to help?

A few years ago, Pastor Ray Pritchard happened to catch a few minutes of an interview with Hamilton Jordan, Chief of Staff under President Jimmy Carter. Some of you may remember Jordan. He had written a book with the intriguing title, No Such Thing as a Bad Day. It’s his own story about being diagnosed with cancer on three separate occasions before the age of 50.

“Where did the title come from?” asked the interviewer.

Hamilton Jordan said he called a friend who is also a father with several young children and who was also battling cancer.

After they chatted for a bit, Mr. Jordan asked him, “Are you having a bad day?”

This man replied, “When the doctors tell you that you have only three months to live, there is no such thing as a bad day.” Think about that for a moment. If we only had three months to live, wouldn’t we appreciate every one of them? That’s when we start appreciating life and those around us.

As you and I reflect on some of the events of our lives this Thanksgiving, I would invite us to ask ourselves this question “if it hadn’t been for God?” That’s the question I would like us to focus on for the next four days leading up to Thanksgiving. Where would you and I be right now if it were not for God? Where would we be? Would we be: Isolated? Mentally broken? Financially ruined? Physically destroyed? God has not let us down. So, let’s not despair!

When you and I sit down with family let’s look around and ask ourselves, where would we be without her? Where would we be without him? And then consider where would we be if it were not for God?

The Apostle Paul wrote: “In everything give thanks.” It’s not the test of faith to give thanks when the sun is shining. The test comes when we’ve been knocked down.

Out of great suffering have come the greatest expressions of gratitude. There is great reward in learning to give thanks to God with whom we plan to spend eternity. Repeatedly scripture makes it clear that God delights in a grateful heart. Therefore, may our prayer be “O God, who has given us so much, we pray that you grant us one thing more, grateful hearts.” Learning to be thankful helps us not to become anxious or discouraged.

You and I can celebrate Thanksgiving knowing God is good. When you and I are truly grateful, we come to understand that God’s mercies endure forever. There will be no end to God’s love.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you and I not much more valuable than they?” That’s the primary reason to give thanks. We are of more value to God. He cares so much about us that he gave his beloved Son in our behalf. Don’t worry about a thing. Relax in the knowledge that God loves you.

¯¯¯

Rev. Charles Eldredge is pastor of Maitland Church of the Brethren, Lewistown, PA where he is currently serving in his 28th year. He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.

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