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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Anxiety (1) (Matt. 6:25-34)

I want to take three or four readings to reflect on the issue of anxiety  After all, it is well-known that anxiety is one of the common problems of modern life. Depending on how we look at it, anxiety is a cause of unemployment because it can prevent people working to their full capacity or it is a cause of employment because there is almost an entire industry connected to it through counsellors, psychiatrists, producers of medicines, carers, not to mention the benefit that books about anxiety has been to publishers and authors. Nevertheless, anxiety is not merely a modern issue caused by the complexities and uncertainties of contemporary life; it was also present in all the previous periods of history and since Jesus addressed the topic it must have been present among his disciples.

People try and cope with anxiety in different ways. Some attempt to conquer it by diverting their thoughts on to good things, and obviously there is an element of wisdom in such a method. Others practise relaxation techniques, and no doubt these practices can help at times. The problem with all such responses is that they leave out of the equation the One who should be at the centre of life – God himself.

What advice did Jesus give to his disciples? It would be simplistic to suggest that Jesus is advocating a trouble-free life – only an irresponsible person would not worry about ill-health or a collapsing economy or poverty or crime or the continuing presence of injustice; it would be sinful to suggest that he is teaching we should ignore the causes of our cares as if we should abandon all responsibility for how we react to our current situations. Instead Jesus is teaching that we should not worry about things concerning which there is no real reason for worry. The answer to such wrong worries is a God-centred view of life.

In the immediately preceding verses of his sermon, Jesus has stressed two details. First, he pointed out the benefits as well as the importance of having a perspective that takes into account the realities of the eternal world. His disciples are to use this life to accumulate heavenly riches rather than earthly ones. Second, he stressed that his disciples can only have one Master, and that Master must be the Lord. It is essential that we understand his comments about anxiety in light of these two details.

In coming to speak about inappropriate worry, Jesus continues speaking about these two themes. He uses three illustrations, each of which highlights the difficulty of living without an heavenly perspective and of forgetting that God is the Master we serve. Jesus mentions an individual who has a good harvest, and then worries about what will happen to the crops; he mentions individuals who are not happy with their bodies; and he mentions people who are preoccupied with their clothing, about what they are going to wear in the days ahead. Each of these concerns is future-orientated: the man with the good harvest is worried about whether a thief will steal his crops or a fire will burn his barns; the person with a concern about their physical shape is worried about how others will see them tomorrow; the individual concerned about his attire is bothered about whether or not his wardrobe will last.

Sinclair Ferguson mentions a curious similarity between hypocrisy and worry. Each sin is a failure to take proper notice of God. The hypocrite wants others to impress others rather than God (he is taken up with their opinion); the worrier looks at himself instead of at God.

We will consider other aspects of anxiety tomorrow.

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