This post is about the spiritual dimensions of anxiety. I recognize that anxiety (like depression and several other struggles) is a complex combination of spiritual, biological, and social factors. For more about a holistic approach to anxiety, check out Brad Hambrick’s Resources for Anxiety.
This probably doesn’t come as a big surprise to you, but I don’t worry that much about your kids’ grades. I wish the best for your kids and want them to do well. But you don’t worry about my kids’ grades, and I don’t worry about yours, because you are not devoted to my kids, and vice versa.
I also don’t lose much sleep over what your boss thinks about that project you turned in last week. If you ask me to pray about it, I will, but I promise within 10 minutes I’ll forget about it. But you won’t, because you are far more devoted to your job than I am.
Most of us think of anxiety as an emotion that just naturally arises from the uncertainty of life, but Jesus says it is intimately connected to our deepest desires. We worry most about what we are devoted to most (like our kids and our careers), which is why Jesus talks about anxiety by first challenging what we are most devoted to:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
–Matthew 6:24 ESV
Jesus knows that if you are devoted to money, then that’s what you’ll worry about. If you think that money is the one, indispensable ingredient in the “good life,” then you will worry all the time about it—about getting it, keeping it, and not losing it. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve got a lot of money or not. Devotion isn’t about what we’ve got so much as what we want.
Then, Jesus asks a series of questions that challenge our devotion to money. He says,
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
–Matthew 6:25, 33
In other words, is money really what defines the good life? The point is not that we shouldn’t save for the future or buy nice things for ourselves—just that our primary devotion, our primary concern should be about pleasing God and obeying him with our money, and then we can let him worry about the other things.
Anxiety thinks too little about God because it elevates the obtaining of other things besides him as the most essential element the good life. The good life is more than making a lot of money; it is more than good career choices and successful parenting techniques and finding the right person to spend your life with. The good life is walking with God and letting him provide every thing you need.
When it comes to money, parenting, marriage, education, career, and any of the other litany of things we worry about, God is not telling us to sit back and do nothing. He is saying that we need to do what we can—in obedience to God, to the best of our ability—and trust him with the results.
While anxiety thinks too little about God, it also minimizes how much God thinks of us.
After he tells us to consider how well God takes care of the birds, Jesus says, “Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). And, after talking about how beautiful God made the flowers, Jesus says, “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30).
This is an argument from the lesser to the greater: If God cares for birds and begonias, then surely he cares for you! Isn’t it obvious from creation that we serve a good, good Father who loves to bless and prosper us?
In one of the other Gospels, where Jesus teaches something similar, he also argues from the greater to the lesser. He says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). How pleased was he to give us the kingdom? Enough to send Jesus to the cross. If God loved you enough to give Jesus for you, would he neglect your day-to-day needs (cf. Isaiah 49:16, Romans 8:32)?
Surely, if God cares enough for us to send his Son to the cross, we can trust him with our bills, our relationships, our health, and the future of our families.
Anxiety says that God may be able to take you to heaven, but he can’t handle you on earth. It tells you that God is good for eternity but insufficient for the present. It whispers that God delivered you from damnation but won’t work out the details of your life. Anxiety scoffs at the promises of God.
That’s why Jesus says that it’s “the Gentiles” who worry about all these things (Matthew 6:32). Submitting to anxiety makes you act like an atheist, or at best one of these pagans who thinks that God is this capricious Viking, a glorified thug, whose good side you have got to stay on lest he smite you.
But Jesus reminds us that we, by contrast, have a heavenly Daddy—who cares more about us than you care about your kids and would no sooner neglect you than you would one of your kids. He is neither capricious nor distant, but has set his steadfast love on us from eternity past through eternity to come. He has always been, and always will be, more devoted to our good than we could ever hope or imagine.