Last week I wrote about the holy exchanges God offers us, which are always great deals for us. Now I want to unpack one of the trade-offs that I glossed over last week just a bit more.
Jesus offers to take this sin away from us: to carry all of our anxious thoughts, all of our fears, all worries we have about tomorrow or next month or next year.
Woah, hold on a minute! you might be thinking. Since when is worrying a sin? I don’t remember seeing that in the Ten Commandments.
It’s a fair question. Without going too far down a theological rabbit hole, let me assert that anything that puts you in opposition to or apart from God is sin. And although it’s not a rule from the Ten Commandments (sadly, breaking these is far from the only way we can sin), Jesus addresses it directly in his Sermon on the Mount:
“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 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? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”Jesus, in Matthew 6:25-27
So, are you with me? If Jesus explicitly tells us not to do something, I’m thinking it’s a good idea not to do it. But even setting that aside, it’s also not a good idea because it doesn’t do any good! If we think about why Jesus tells us not to worry, his rhetorical question says just that: who of us can add even a single hour to our lives by worrying?
If I had to guess (although of course I’m not God and his ways are higher than mine just like everyone else), I would say that the problem with fear and worrying is that it conveys a lack of trust in God. It’s easy for us to say we trust God, and even easy for us to believe that we trust God completely when things are going well. But what if an outcome isn’t what we wanted? Or if the answer doesn’t come when we want it? Do we still trust him then, do we still believe that his plan is to prosper us (as one of my favorite verses seems to promise)?
This is clearly more challenging. To some degree, we tend to behave like spoiled children when it comes to God–I want what I want when I want it! So God, if you really love me, you’ll do this thing for me, right?
As Paul wrote on behalf of God:
Every good parent knows you can’t give your kid everything s/he asks (begs, pleads, cries) for, knowing that doing so takes away any chance they have to build character, not to mention the fact that we know some of the things they ask for won’t be good for them. So why should we expect God to be any different with us?
So anyway, I hope we’ve established by now that worrying, living in constant fear, and not trusting God are all counterproductive things for us to allow into our lives. But what are we to do? Sometimes these thoughts appear in our minds. But what if this happens…? We can’t help that.
But why not?
Every sin, including this one, begins with a single thought. We don’t need to remain slaves to our thoughts–we can and must capture negative or sinful thoughts the moment they occur. To have had the thought is not a sin–we can’t help what pops into our minds. It is acting on the thought, or allowing it to run wild in our minds, that leads us down the path toward sin.
Once we have captured a rotten thought, instead of allowing it to drag us down that well-worn path toward hell, we need to replace it with something godly.
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with recalling a scripture to mind, which Jesus modelled for us when Satan tempted him after 40 days in the wilderness. Or if I can’t think of one, I’ll open the Bible app on my phone and read a few verses. When I do that, I actually end up feeling glad that I got tempted since it gave me the opportunity to turn to God (through his word) to overcome the temptation. What Satan meant to harm me and destroy me, God turns it into something good. What a great plot twist!
This is one version of a holy exchange–trading a temptation for a word of encouragement and strength from God. There’s another version, which I’ll wrap up with: when we are tempted by fear or worry, Jesus offers to carry those things for us. He’ll take that baggage onto his strong shoulders.
I’ve gotten pretty good over the years at catching myself worrying and handing it over to Jesus. Of course, it’s still an ongoing struggle not to stomp over to him and yank it back out of his hands! Hey, growth is a process. I just keep reminding myself that in exchange for my troubled mind, Jesus offers his perfect peace–the shalom that King David wrote about in the 23rd Psalm:
Who wouldn’t want to trade garbage for that kind of peace?
I know I do!