Jesus' Cure for Anxiety
‘America seems to be in the midst of a full-blown panic attack,’ the New Republic observed in 2019.
Maybe you’ve noticed.
One journalist noted that,
“The symptoms started in the late 1990s – High School students began having trouble sleeping and thinking, College Students were more likely to feel overwhelmed, and adults scored higher on depression studies. Between 1999 and 2017, suicide rates increased 33%.
“When polling company Gallup asked Americans in 2018 whether they’d felt stress during much of the day before, 55 percent said yes - up from 44 percent in 2008, when the country was at the bottom of the Great Recession. 45 percent said they felt worried a lot, up from 34 percent in 2008.”
Then came 2020
By mid-March, COVID-19 had shut down and stressed out most of the country. People worried about getting sick, about going to work (being exposed and then exposing family members), and about not going to work (How are we going to pay the bills?). They worried that the nation’s health-care system would be run over, that their local hospitals would run out of ventilators, that doctors wouldn’t have enough personal protective equipment. At the same time, they worried about their savings account, about local businesses closing, and the economy sliding into recession.
Anxiety seems to be the mood of the day. Biblically speaking, anxiety, however, is a symptom of deep spiritual sickness. In our passage this week (Matt. 6:19-34) Jesus speaks about curing it: ‘I tell you, do not worry’ (25).
In itself, that is, of course, an inadequate cure! Diagnosis is insufficient if it does not lead to treatment. That is why Jesus’ exhortation, ‘Do not worry,’ is set in specific teaching that helps to free us from paralyzing anxiety about our lives.
In essence, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to us, ‘Sit down. There are several issues that you need to think through.’ ‘Think through’ is the important phrase because healing of the diseased spirit – the process Scripture calls sanctification – begins in the mind. The transformation of our character begins with the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:2) with the Word of God. Only when we think with minds that have been instructed by Christ will we begin to live in a way that benefits the Kingdom.
In our passage this week, we will see a series of directives given to us with the intention of renewing our minds so that our lives become consistent with the Kingdom in which we live. To help you prepare to receive this word, and thus Jesus’ cure, a brief introduction to this section will be beneficial.
In the first half of Matthew 6 (vv1-18) Jesus describes the Christian’s private life ‘in the secret place’ (giving, praying, fasting); in the second half (vv19-34) he is concerned with our public business in the world (questions of money, possessions, food, drink, clothing and ambition). Or, as Stott notes, the same contrast could be expressed in terms of our ‘religious’ and our ‘secular’ responsibilities. This distinction is misleading, however, because we cannot separate these into watertight compartments. ‘Indeed, the divorce of the sacred from the secular in church history has been disastrous, writes Stott. He continues, ‘If we are Christians, everything we do, however ‘secular’ it may seem (like shopping, cooking, etc.) is ‘religious’ in the sense that it is done in God’s presence and according to God’s will.’
One of the emphases Jesus makes in this chapter is precisely on this point, that God is equally concerned with both areas of our life – private and public, religious and secular. For on the one hand, ‘Your heavenly Father sees in secret’ (4, 6, 18), and on the other, ‘Your heavenly Father knows that you need’ food, drink, and clothing (32).
In both spheres also the same insistent summons of Jesus is heard, the call to be different from the popular culture: different from the hypocrisy of the religious (1-18) and now different also from the materialism of the irreligious (19-34). For although the Pharisees were largely in his mind at the beginning of the chapter, it is ‘the Gentiles’ whose value-system he now bids us renounce (32). In fact, Jesus places the alternatives before us at every stage. There are two treasures (on earth and in heaven, 19-21), two bodily conditions (light and darkness, 22, 23), two masters (God and mammon, 24) and two preoccupations (our bodies and God’s Kingdom, 25-34). We cannot sit on the fence.
But how shall we make our choice? Worldly ambition has a strong fascination for us. The spell of materialism is hard to break. So, in this section Jesus helps us choose well. He points out the folly of the wrong way and the wisdom of the right. Regarding ambition, he sets the false and the true over against each other in such a way as to invite us to compare them and see for ourselves.
Are you being cured? Join us this Lord’s Day to experience the words of Paul as he writes, ‘Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6-7).
Remember to bring your officer candidate nomination forms this week to confirm the men whom you believe the Lord would have to lead shepherd us. We will have some additional forms Sunday.