Too many things all at once.
That’s the problem I’ve had this past month. Unexpected stressors have been pushing from too many directions. Complicated relationship and work issues. Financial struggles. Complicated parenting issues. None of these have a good clear solution.
Maybe you’ve felt the same kind of stress and anxiety. I’ve been flooded with it. Late this week I was reminded, however, that I don’t have to live with it. Neither do you.
In Luke 12:22-34, Jesus offers a cure for anxiety. When I came across it (a text I’ve read a thousand times before) it re-focused me. If you’re struggling with worry, maybe it can help you too.
In these verses Jesus was teaching. His disciples were worried about food and clothes and how they were going to make ends meet. Jesus told them to consider the lilies and the sparrows and the grass in the field. Do they worry? No. Does God provide for them? Yes.
I’ve read those verses before. They sound nice. But are they practical?
After all, the grass in the field doesn’t have a mortgage to pay or a pre-existing condition the insurance company won’t cover. But Jesus isn’t being flippant. As he continues, he actually offers an alternative to worry. This alternative is the cure for anxiety.
The cure is made up of a focus, an identity, an attitude and an action.
Where Do You Focus?
Your focus is where you look. When you worry you are focusing in a certain direction, looking anxiously at a potential future outcome. Perhaps your anxiety is plausible given what’s happening around you, but that particular outcome hasn’t happened yet. Anxiety becomes a droning emotional buzz, keeping you out of the present moment, focused on something that might happen in the future.
When I’m struggling with anxiety, my emotional energy is consumed. My entire vision is occupied with seeking my own security. I’m a solver by nature, so my brain starts spinning around the puzzle of how to fix the source of my fear. What can I fix? What can I change?
When I’m feeling that kind of stress my priorities can get all out of whack. I’m less emotionally available to my family. I’ve got a shorter fuse. I’m liable to fall back into unhealthy patterns and coping mechanisms. It’s not good. Let me be clear: This isn’t happening because I have a problem. It’s happening because I’m focusing on that problem (and my lack) so intently that I can’t see anything else.
So Jesus starts by directing our focus away from the worry. Luke 12:31: “Seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you.” Jesus says, “Keep your focus on what matters most: God and God’s rule in your life.” It doesn’t matter what you have or what you need. Don’t get distracted. Keep your focus here.
What Identity Will You Live Out Of?
The second element in the cure is choosing our identity. In Luke 12:32 Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.”
We are identified in two ways in this verse. First, he calls us “little flock.” That’s calling us sheep. Not in the derogatory “sheeples” way, but as a term of endearment. This is a shepherd talking lovingly about the sheep that he cares for and protects. Second, Jesus tells us that “our father” delights to give us the kingdom. If God is our Father, then that makes us his Children.
This is about identity.
Your identity is a special belief that you hold. It’s your core story. It shapes you and gives you a way to understand your life. It also impacts your reactions and thoughts about the future. Here’s the identity Jesus says we can live out of: We’re the shepherd’s sheep–the ones he watches out for and protects. We’re the father’s children–the ones he loves and provides for.
Why would this identity matter? Because it counters the identity that so many of us live out of that says we’re on our own. We can only depend on ourselves. We can only trust ourselves. We aren’t enough. These beliefs are powerful.
If your identity is that you are alone and you can only depend on yourself, how is that going to shape your thoughts and actions? It’s going to lead to you fighting and striving. When things aren’t working well, it’s going to lead to you living in anxiety and stress. It’s going to push you into a place of performance-based value.
Now consider the identity that Jesus is offering. If your identity is that you are cared for, that you are loved and provided for, how is that going to shape your thoughts and actions? It’s going to lead you to peace and trust.
What Attitude Will You Hold?
As the passage moves on Jesus gives an instruction to sell your possessions and give to the poor. (Luke 12:33) In order to do this, you must have an attitude of holding your stuff lightly. If your attitude is that your stuff gives you value or security or justification, you’ll be grasping it too tightly. In order to give something away, you’ve got to have a belief that something else is more important.
If your security is found in God, in God’s love for you, in your God-given identity, then you can release your grasping hold on money and stuff as a way to protect yourself and establish your value.
What Will You Do?
Once this open-handed attitude takes hold, you can begin to do something extraordinary. You can be generous and give.
Even if you’re poor, even if you’re uncertain how to make ends meet, even if you’re struggling, you can still live with an attitude of abundance. When you hold tight, when you are unwilling to be generous, you are living out an attitude and identity that says, “I must take care of me. No one else will. I am alone.” When you can give, you are living out an attitude and identity that says, “I am loved and provided for. There is enough for me.” This new identity allows you to give.
Ready to stop worrying?
I’ve been up to my ears in worry these past weeks. As I reflected on these words of Jesus, I was corrected. My focus had gotten off track. (How can I fix this? If only I can solve the problem, then everyone will be OK with me.) I’ve been living out of an old identity (I’m not enough), instead of my identity in Christ. This has resulted in a grasping attitude (It has to go my way, or things won’t be OK.) That’s led to acts that have been selfish, undermining, taking me away from who I want to be.
Jesus tells his followers, tells us, that there’s another way to live. We don’t have to worry. Focus on seeking God’s kingdom, instead of seeking our own security. Live out of the identity that we are loved and provided for, instead of the identity that we are alone and don’t have enough. Hold what we have loosely and freely bless others.
This is the kind of life Jesus calls us into. Notice there’s no fear.
Note: This post is the core of a recent sermon of mine. If you’d like to hear more, including more of the Biblical background, you can watch it here, on Youtube.