“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his or her life?”
In 1988 Bobby McFerrin had a popular hit single entitled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The first verse went like this:
“Here is a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note –
Don’t worry be happy
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it
Don’t worry, be happy……”
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his or her life?” That question is as timely today as when Jesus posed it 2,000 years ago. Does worrying do us any good?
It would be good to know the answer to that question, because, Lord knows, we’ve put huge amounts of time and energy into worrying about all sorts of things that might happen, and most of those things never really do happen.
We worry about our kids, we worry about our parents, our jobs, we worry about money, about the weather, we worry about our health, you name it, we worry about it.
I guess it is possible that there might be situations where worrying could actually add years to your life, Take for example the man who was scheduled for surgery; he was caught running down the hallway to get out of the hospital just prior to his operation. A security guard stopped him before he could leave the hospital and asked, “What’s the matter?” The man said, “I just heard the nurse say, ‘it’s a very simple operation, don’t worry, I’m sure it will be all right.’” “Well, she was just trying to comfort you,” said the security guard. “What’s so frightening about that?” “She wasn’t talking to me,” exclaimed the man. “She was talking to my surgeon!”
Jesus begins with a question of why one would worry about life, as defined by what you will eat, and what you will wear. Life is greater than food, and the body is greater than clothes (v. 23). Jesus’ words challenge us to re-evaluate our lives by calling us to serve a different master: not material goods and money, but God.
These two comparisons are followed by a more extensive assessment of the “birds of the air,” who do not lack food, though they do not sow, reap, harvest or store provisions (v.24). The point of the comparison is simple: If God feeds these birds, then God will feed “you.” Jesus continues: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his of her life?” (v.25)
Since you cannot add a single hour to your life, why do you worry about the rest? Don’t worry – instead, trust God.
Jesus points to the birds; they don’t sow or reap, yet they are fed by the heavenly Father. He points to the flowers; they don’t toil or spin but they are clothed in beauty by the heavenly Father.
It’s important for us to understand that Jesus’ words were directed to people who did have to sow, to reap, to toil and to spin, and he wasn’t telling them to stop doing those tasks; he simply wanted them to understand that their lives were a lot more than the sum of their sowing, reaping, and toiling.
Life is a lot more than what is contained on your resumé, your college or your job application or the length of your LinkedIn profile.
Further, Jesus tied the call to “not worry” to the kingdom of God:
“But seek (strive for) God’s kingdom (God’s righteousness), and all these things will be given to you as well.” (v.31)
That’s a significant linkage because God’s kingdom, God’s righteousness, is the ultimate reason for optimism and hope. The very meaning of God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness is that
God and those who stand alongside God will overcome and will prevail.
In the end, good triumphs over evil. If you’re a citizen of God’s kingdom, it’s still possible that you might be pessimistic about human activity in the short term, but you’ve got every reason to be optimistic about God’s activity in the long term.
In fact, on another occasion, Jesus made that very point: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
And what does “take heart!” mean other than “be optimistic!” The King James Version reads “be of good cheer.”
So by bringing the kingdom of God into the discussion, Jesus reminds us that in the long haul, we who follow him have nothing to worry about.
Let’s look at this a little more closely. Don’t we have some objections that make it hard for us to go along with Jesus on this?
1. The day to day worrying we do for the most part is not usually about long-term issues.
Most of us did not worry or live in fear that the world was going to end this past December as some predicted with the end of the Mayan calendar.
To deal with people’s anxiety, NASA had a website intended to put people’s minds at ease, and prior to December 21st, 5 million people logged on to read the reassuring words: “The world will not end in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than four billion years.”
Many Mayan experts said that the calendar didn’t mark an ending, but a new beginning.
Most of our concerns – our worries – are over shorter-term issues:
“Will I get a good report from the doctor?” “Will my kids stay out of trouble?” “Will they get into a good college; will they graduate, find a job, and will they finally move out of the house?”
We worry, “What will happen if I lose my job?” “Can I find another one at my age and with such a depressed market out there?” “What do I want to do with the rest of my life; I can afford to retire and I am not sure that is what I want to do anyway?”
And while many of us are not pessimists by inclination, we can be stressed out by the possibility that some of our fears and worries will come true.
2. Isn’t our anxiety, our day-to-day worrying, isn’t that normal?
We all experience “normal anxiety” from time to time, and surely we should not feel guilty about that. Furthermore, normal worrying causes us to take preventative measures against potential problems and even energizes us to make some significant and constructive changes in the way we live. Isn’t it also natural to feel vulnerable to the forces of nature, to sickness and to death, and we ought not to feel guilty about that either.
3. It seems that Jesus is SO logical in this passage; maybe even a little too logical.
Since we trust God and we believe that everything will ultimately work out for the good, and since we trust that he cares for us even more than he cares for birds and flowers, we therefore should not worry about what we will eat or what we will drink or what we will wear.”
Yeah, right, but unfortunately, logic doesn’t always rule. We aren’t wired that way. We cannot neatly compartmentalize anxiety and then talk ourselves out of it. Some worry tends to occur despite logical reasoning, for it’s based more in our emotions than in our thinking. We hear ourselves saying:
“That’s a great idea for a new business, but…”
“Where’s the market?”
“It is so hard to find financing these days,”
“It is so hard to anticipate all the unknowns,” and remember Murphy’s law: “Whatever can go wrong probably will?”
Our minds keep processing those thoughts over and over, building up dread and leaving us uneasy. So we’ve got objections to being told not to worry.
But here’s the deal: What all of these objections really tell us is that we have missed the heart of what Jesus is talking about in this passage. Jesus’ main point is this:
“Seek ye first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (v. 33)
Seek it, strive for it. “Strive” means to exert a tremendous amount of energy and effort toward a goal.
Far from simply saying we should rely on the eventual coming of God’s kingdom as an antidote to daily worry, Jesus is saying we should actively work for the spread of the kingdom.
As we actively work for the spread of God’s kingdom, God’s righteousness, many of the things we fret about are going to become non-issues because we’ve got more important things to be busy with.
None of this is to say that we won’t, therefore, have some normal worries.
We can’t love someone without worrying about threats to his or her health and well-being. We cannot be sensitive persons without occasional concern that we haven’t done all we should. We cannot listen to the news without some uneasiness about the direction that so many things in the world appear to be going.
As we actively work for the spread of God’s kingdom, as we strive to be about God’s righteousness, we focus on the things of God, and in so doing, we are able to relax, to let go of our worries, our anxieties, and live with confidence in God’s providential care.
That’s why, instead of wringing our hands in worry and despair, we clasp our hands in prayer.
When Robert Louis Stevenson, racked by tuberculosis, was nearing the end of his life, his wife came in one morning and said, “I suppose in spite of all your trouble, you will tell me again that it is a beautiful day.” The great novelist smiled and looked at her and said: “Yes, my dear. It’s a beautiful day!”
You cannot add to your lifespan by worrying, but ironically you likely will add to your life span when you are open to the divine optimism that is rooted in God’s kingdom. That divine optimism is connected to the long term, to be sure, but its power flows back to us in the present in the form of a great confidence in God.
As we actively work for the spread of God’s kingdom, as we strive to be about His righteousness, we focus on the things of God, and in so doing, we are able to relax about our worries, our anxieties and live with confidence in God’s providential care.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (Matthew 6: 25)
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6: 33-34)
In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33 – The Message)
And what does “take heart!” mean other than “be optimistic,” “be of good cheer,” and keep the faith!
That attitude keeps us from worrying and provides the energy to strive for the coming of God’s kingdom right here “on earth as it is in heaven.”