Link back to index.html
The Causes and Cure of Worry
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 NKJV)
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
IN Matthew 6:34 above our Lord brings to a conclusion the subject with which He has been dealing in this entire section of the Sermon on the Mount, namely, the problem which is created for us by our relationship to the things of this world. It is a problem that confronts us all. It does so in different ways as we have seen. Some people are tempted to be governed by worldly possessions in the sense that they want to hoard and amass them. Others are troubled by them in the sense that they are worried about them; it is not the problem of superabundance in their case, but the problem of need. But, essentially, according to our Lord, it is one and the same problem, the problem of our relationship to the things of this world, and of this life. As we have seen, our Lord takes great trouble to work out the argument with respect to this matter. He deals with both aspects of the problem and analyses both.
Here, in this verse, He brings this consideration to an end and He puts it in this particular form. Three times over He uses this expression, ‘Take therefore no thought’. It is so important, that He deliberately states it like that three times, and in particular with regard to the question of food and drink and clothing; and He works out the argument, you remember, with regard to these matters. Here is the conclusion of the whole subject, and I am sure that many, when they first read this verse in its context, must have felt almost a sense of surprise that our Lord should have added it. He seems to have reached such a wonderful climax in the previous verse, the thirty-third, where He has concentrated His positive teaching in the memorable words, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.’ That seems like one of those final statements to which nothing can be added, and at first sight the verse at which we are now looking seems to be almost an anti-climax. You cannot imagine anything higher than, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.’ Be right about that, says our Lord, and then you have no need to worry about these other things; they shall be added unto you. You are to be right with God and God will look after you. But then He goes on to say, Do not be anxious about the morrow---the future: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself: ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’
It is always good when we face a problem like this to ask a question. We can be quite certain that this is not an anti-climax; there is some very good reason for this addition. Our Lord never utters words merely for the sake of doing so. Having given us this wonderful positive teaching He returns to it and puts it in this negative form. He ends on the negative and that is, at first sight, what constitutes the problem. Why did He do that? The moment you face the fact and begin to question it, you will see at once why our Lord did so. It is because this is really an extension of His teaching. It is not mere repetition, or just a summary; it is that, but it is more than that. In adding this He carried the teaching one step further. So far, He has been looking at this problem as it concerns us in the immediate present; now here He takes it on and covers the future also. He extends it, and applies it, to cover the whole of life. And here, if one may use such language and such an expression with regard to our blessed Lord, He shows His profound understanding of human nature and of the problems with which we are confronted in this life. All must agree that you will not find anywhere in any textbook a more thorough analysis of worry, anxiety, and the anxious care that tends to kill man in this world, than you find in this paragraph which we have been considering in detail.
Here our Lord shows His final understanding of the condition. Worry, after all, is a definite entity; it is a force, a power, and we have not begun to understand it until we realize what a tremendous power it is. We so often tend to think of the condition of worry as one which is negative, a failure on our part to do certain things. It is that; it is a failure to apply our faith. But the thing we must emphasize is that worry is something positive that comes and grips us and takes control of us. It is a mighty power, an active force, and if we do not realize that, we are certain to be defeated by it. If it cannot get us to be anxious and burdened and borne down by the state and condition of things that are actually confronting us, it will take this next step, it will go on into the future.
We must have discovered this in ourselves, or perhaps when we have tried to help to deliver other people who are suffering from a condition of worry. The conversation starts with the particular thing that has brought them to you. You then provide the answers and show how unnecessary worry is. You will find, however, that almost invariably they go on and say, ‘Yes, but . . ‘ That is typical of worry, it always gives the impression that it does not really want to be relieved. The person wants to be relieved, but the worry does not; and we are entitled to draw that distinction. Our Lord does it Himself when He talks about the morrow taking thought for the things of itself. That is personalizing worry; He is regarding it as a power, almost a person, that takes hold of you, and in spite of yourself keeps arguing with you and saying one thing and then another. It leads to that curious perverse condition in which one almost desires not to be relieved and not to be delivered: and it often works in the particular form we are considering together now. When you have brought out all the answers and given a full explanation to such persons, then they say, ‘Ah yes, that is all right for now; but what about tomorrow? what about next week? what about next year?’ And on and on it goes, into the future. In other words, if it cannot work up its case on the facts it has before it, it does not hesitate to conjure up facts. Worry has an active imagination, and it can envisage all sorts and kinds of possibilities. It can envisage strange eventualities, and with its terrible power and activity it can transport us into the future and into a situation that is yet to come. And there we find ourselves worried and troubled and borne down by something which is purely imaginary.
We need not go further into the matter because we all know exactly what it is. But the key to the understanding of how to treat the subject is to realize that we are dealing with a very vital force and power. I do not want to exaggerate it too much. There are cases where this condition is undoubtedly the result of the work of evil spirits; we can see clearly that there is another personality at work. But even short of direct possession we must recognize the fact that our adversary, the devil, does in various ways, through using a lowered physical condition or taking advantage of a natural tendency to over-anxiety, thus exercise a tyranny and power over many. We have to understand that we are fighting for our lives against some tremendous power. We are up against a powerful adversary.
Let us see how our Lord deals with this problem, this worry and anxiety about the future. The first thing we must remember, is that what He says now is in the context of His previous teaching. Here again it is fatal to take this statement right out of its context. We must remember all He has been telling us, for it is all still applicable. We continue from that to the further argument that He uses here, where He shows us the folly of being anxious. He shows it for the foolish thing it is as He asks in effect: Why do you allow yourself to be worried thus about the future? ‘The morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ If the present is bad enough as it is, why go to meet the future? To go on from day to day is enough in and of itself; be content with that. But not only that. Worry about the future is so utterly futile and useless; it achieves nothing at all. We are very slow to see that; yet how true it is. Indeed we can go further and say that worry is never of any value at all. This is seen with particular clarity as you come to face the future. Apart from anything else, it is a pure waste of energy because however much you worry you cannot do anything about it. In any case its threatened catastrophes are imaginary; they are not certain, they may never happen at all.
But above all that, says our Lord, can you not see that, in a sense, you are mortgaging the future by worrying about it in the present? Indeed, the result of worrying about the future is that you are crippling yourself in the present; you are lessening your efficiency with regard to today, and thereby you are reducing your whole efficiency with regard to that future which is coming to meet you. In other words, worry is something that is due to an entire failure to understand the nature of life in this world. Our Lord seems to picture life like this. As the result of the Fall and sin there is always a problem in life, because when man fell, he was told that henceforward he was going to live and eat his bread ‘by the sweat of his brow’. He was no longer in Paradise, he was no longer just to take the fruit and live a life of ease and enjoyment. As the result of sin, life in this world has become a task. Man has to labour and must meet trials and troubles. We all know that, for we are all subject to the same tribulations and trials.
The great question is, how are we to face them? According to our Lord, the vital thing is not to spend every day of your life in adding up the grand total of everything that is ever likely to happen to you in the whole of your life in this world. If you do that, it will crush you. That is not the way. Rather, you must think of it like this. There is, as it were, a daily quota of problems and difficulties in life. Every day has its problems; some of them are constant from day to day, some of them vary. But the great thing to do is to realize that every day must be lived in and of itself and as a unit. Here is the quota for today. Very well; we must face that and meet it; and He has already told us how to do so. We must not go forward and tack tomorrow’s quota on to today’s, otherwise it may be too much for us. We have to take it day by day. You remember how our Lord turned upon His disciples when they were trying to dissuade Him from going back to unfriendly Judaea to the house where Lazarus lay dead? They pointed out to Him the possible consequences, and how it might shorten His life. His answer to them was ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?’ You have to live twelve hours at a time and no more. Here is the quota for today; very well, face that and deal with that. Do not think of tomorrow. You will have tomorrow’s quota, but then it will be tomorrow, and not today.
It is very easy to deal with this matter solely on that level and very tempting to do so. That is what you might call, if you like, psychology. Not the so-called new psychology but the old psychology of life which has been practised by mankind from the very beginning. And it is very profound psychology; it is the essence of common-sense and wisdom, purely on the human level. If you want to go through life without crippling yourself and burdening yourself and perhaps losing your health and the control of your nerves, these are the cardinal rules. Do not carry yesterday or tomorrow with you; live for today and for the twelve hours you are in. It is very interesting to notice as you read biographies how many men have failed in 1ike because they have not done that. Most men who have been successful in life have been characterized by this wonderful capacity for forgetting the past. They have made mistakes. ‘Well,’ they say, ‘I have made them and I cannot undo them. If I meditated upon them for the rest of my life, it would make no difference. I am not going to be a fool, I will let the dead past bury its dead.’ The result is that when they make a decision they do not spend the night worrying about it afterwards. On the other hand, the man who cannot help referring back keeps himself awake saying, ‘Why did I do that?’ And so he saps his nervous energy, and wakes up after poor and broken sleep feeling tired and unfit. As a consequence he makes more mistakes, completing the vicious circle of worry by saying, ‘If I am making these mistakes now, what about next week?’ The poor man is already down and defeated.
Here is our Lord’s answer to all that. Do not be foolish, do not waste your energy, do not spend your time thus in worrying over what has passed, or about the future; here is today, live to the maximum today. But of course we must not stop at that level. Our Lord does not. We must take this statement in the whole context of this teaching. So, having reasoned it out on a natural line, and having seen the essential wisdom of that, we go on to see that we must learn not only to rely on God in general, but also in particular. We must learn to realize that the God who helps us today will be the same God tomorrow, and will help us tomorrow.
This is perhaps the lesson which many of us need to learn, that not only must we learn to divide up our life in this world into these periods of twelve or twenty-four hours; we must divide up our whole relationship to God in exactly the same way. The danger is that, while we believe in God in general, and for the whole of our life, we do not believe in Him for the particular sections of our life. Thereby many of us go wrong. We must learn to take things to God as they arise. Some people fail very grievously in this matter because they are always trying to anticipate God; they are always sitting down, as it were, and asking themselves, ‘Now I wonder what God is going to ask me to do tomorrow or in a week’s time or in a year? What is God going to ask of me then?’ That is utterly wrong. Never try to anticipate God. As you must not anticipate your own future, do not anticipate God’s future for you. Live day by day; live a life of obedience to God every day; do what God asks you to do every day. Never allow yourself to indulge in thoughts such as these, ‘I wonder when tomorrow comes whether God will want me to do this or to do that.’ That must never be done, says our Lord. You must learn to trust God day by day for every particular occasion, and never try to go ahead of Him.
There is a sense in which we commit ourselves to God once and for ever; there is another sense in which we have to do it every day. There is a sense in which God has given us everything in grace once and for ever. Yes; but He gives grace to us also in parts and portions day by day. We must start the day and say to ourselves, ‘Here is a day which is going to bring me certain problems and difficulties; very well, I shall need God’s grace to help me. I know God will make all grace to abound, He will be with me according to my need---“as thy days, so shall thy strength be”.’ That is the essential biblical teaching with regard to this matter; we must learn to leave the future entirely in God’s hands.
Take, for instance, that great statement of it in Hebrews 13:8. The Hebrew Christians were passing through troubles and trials, and the author of that Epistle tells them not to worry, and for this reason: ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.’ In effect he says you need not worry, for what He was yesterday, He is today, and He will be tomorrow. You need not anticipate life; the Christ who takes you through today will be the same Christ tomorrow. He is changeless, everlasting, always the same; so you must not think about tomorrow; think instead about the changeless Christ. Or consider the way in which Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 10:13; ‘There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape’. That is certain with regard to the whole of your future. There will be no trial that will come to you but that God will always provide that way of escape. It will never be above your strength; there will always be the remedy.
We can sum it all up by saying that, as we learn in wisdom to take our days one by one as they come, forgetting yesterday and tomorrow, so we must learn this vital importance of walking with God day by day, of relying upon Him day by day, and applying to Him for the particular needs of each day. The fatal temptation to which we are all prone is that of trying to store grace against the future. That means lack of faith in God. Leave it with Him; leave it entirely with Him, confident and assured that He will always be going before you. As the Scripture puts it, He will ‘prevent’ you. He will be there before you to meet the problem. Turn to Him and you will find that He is there, that He knows all about it, and knows all about you.
That, then, is the essence of the teaching. But if we are to explain it honestly and fully, we are compelled at this point to consider a problem. Ordinary people reading this verse have always tended to ask two questions. ‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ Is it wrong, therefore, they ask, for a Christian to save, to save money, to put something by, as we say, for a rainy day? Is it right or is it wrong for a Christian to take out an insurance policy? The answer is exactly the same as it was when we dealt with the first part of this section. There we saw that the answer is that ‘take no thought’ does not literally mean that you should not think at all, but that you are not to worry. This should always be translated as ‘Do not be anxious about’, ‘do not be agitated about’, ‘do not worry about’ tomorrow. We saw, you remember, that our Lord does not tell us that, because the birds of the air are fed without ploughing and sowing and reaping and gathering into barns, therefore man should never plough or sow, and should never reap and gather into barns. That is to make the thing ridiculous, because it is God Himself who ordained seedtime and harvest. And the farmer when he ploughs is in fact taking proper thought for the morrow because he knows that his crop is not going to grow automatically. He has to plough the earth and to look after it, and eventually he reaps and gathers into his barn. In a sense that is all a preparation for the future, and of course that is not condemned by the Scriptures. On the contrary, it is even commended by Scripture. That is how man is to live his life in this world according to the ordinance of God Himself. So this verse must not be taken in that foolish and ridiculous sense. We are not just to sit and wait for food and clothing to come to us; that is to ridicule the teaching.
That entitles us, I think, to take the next step and to say that our Lord’s teaching throughout is that we are to do that which is right, that which is reasonable, that which is legitimate. But--- and this is where the teaching of this verse comes in---we are never to take so much thought about these things, or to be so concerned about them, as to allow them to dominate our life, or limit our usefulness, in the present. That is the point at which we cross the line from reasonable thought and care to anxious care and worry. Our Lord is condemning not the man who ploughs the earth and sows the seeds, but the man who, having done that, sits down and begins to get worried about it and has his mind always centred on it, the man who is obsessed by the problem of life and living, and by fear of the future. That is the one thing He condemns, for not only is that man limiting his usefulness in the present, not only is he crippling the present with fears for the future, but above all he is allowing these cares to dominate his life. Every man in this life, as the result of sin and the Fall, has his problems. Problems are inevitable; existence in itself is a problem. I shall therefore have to meet and face problems but I am not to allow myself to be dominated and crushed by that thought. The moment I am dominated by a problem I am in this state of worry and anxiety which is wrong. So I may take reasonable thought and care, and make reasonable provision, and then think no more about it. Even necessary affairs must not become my life. I must not spend all my time with them, and they must not always be occupying my thought.
We must go a step further still. I must never allow thought with regard to the future to inhibit in any way my usefulness in the present. Let me explain. There are various good causes in this world that need our help and assistance, and they have to be kept going from day to day. And there are certain people who are so concerned about how they are going to be able to live in the future that they have no time to help the causes which are in need at this moment. That is what is wrong. If I allow my concern about the future to cripple me in the present, I am guilty of worry; but if I make reasonable provision, in a legitimate manner, and then live my life fully in the present, all is well. Furthermore there is nothing in the Scripture which indicates that it is wrong to save or to be insured. But if I am always thinking about this insurance, or my bank balance, or as to whether I have saved enough and so on, then that is something which our Lord is concerned about and condemns. This could be illustrated in many different ways.
The danger with this text is for people to take one of two extreme positions. There are those who say that the Christian should live his life fully but should make no provision at all for the future. In the same way there are those who say that it is wrong to take up a collection in a church service, that these things should be done by faith. But it is not quite as simple as that because the apostle Paul teaches the members of the church at Corinth not only to take up collections, but he even tells them to put it aside on the first day of the week. He gives them detailed instructions; and there is much in the New Testament about the collection for the saints.
There must be no misunderstanding at this point; the teaching of Scripture is perfectly clear and explicit. There are two ways of maintaining God’s work, and what applies to God’s work applies to all our lives as Christians in this world. There are some men who are undoubtedly called to a special ministry of faith. Read for instance 1 Corinthians 12, and amongst the gifts that the Holy Spirit dispenses according to His own will to man you will find there is the so-called gift of faith. It is not the gift of miracles; it is the gift of faith, it is a special gift. What is this faith then? It is not saving or believing faith, for all Christians have that. What then is it? It is clearly the sort of faith that was given, for instance, to George Muller and Hudson Taylor. Those men were given a special gift by God in order that God might manifest His glory through them in that particular way. But I am equally certain that God called Dr. Barnardo to do the same sort of work and told him to take up collections and make appeals. The same God works in sanctified men in different ways; but both methods are obviously equally legitimate. Or take another illustration. It would be very difficult to find two holier or more dedicated men than George Muller and George Whitefield. Muller was definitely called to found an orphanage which was to be supported by faith and prayer, while Whitefleld was called to start his orphanage in America and to keep it going by direct appeals for money to God’s people.
That is clearly the truth concerning the conduct of the life of the Church as taught in the Scriptures; and we should apply exactly the same principles to our own personal lives. There are certain people who may be definitely called of God to live that particular kind of life which manifests that gift of faith. There are certain people for whom to put money aside or to take out an insurance policy would be quite wrong. But to say that anybody who takes up an insurance policy or who saves is therefore not a Christian is error. ‘Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind’; let every man examine himself in this matter; let not one condemn the other. All we must say is this; the Scripture certainly does allow this reasonable care, unless you are certain that God has called you to live your life in the other way. It is, therefore, quite wrong, and unscriptural, to condemn saving and insurance in the light of this text. But on the other hand, we must always be careful to maintain and preserve this balance.
Let us now summarize this teaching by putting it in the form of a number of general principles.
The first is this: All the things we have been dealing with in the last four or five chapters apply only to Christians. Somebody once said to me, ‘How can that teaching about God’s care for men be true? With all the need and poverty that exists in the world, with all the suffering of homeless and displaced men, women and children, how can you assert that?’ The answer is that the promises are only to Christian people. What is the commonest cause of poverty? Why are the children ragged and without food? Is it not usually because of the sins of the parents? The money had been spent on drink or squandered on vain or evil things. Analyse the cases of poverty and you will find the results illuminating. These promises are made only to Christian people; they are not universal promises to everybody. Take that great statement of David, ‘I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’ Applied to the righteous I think this is literally true; but let us be careful that we recognize the meaning of the word ‘righteous’. He does not say, ‘I have never seen a professing Christian forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’ He says the ‘righteous’. I suggest if you examine your experience you will have to agree with David that you have never seen the righteous man forsaken nor his seed begging bread. Now the important word there is ‘seed’. How far does it extend? Does it extend to the posterity and the seed of this man for ever and for ever? I do not think so. I think it extends only to his immediate seed, because the grandson may be a profligate and an unrighteous man; therefore the promise does not hold good. God does not say that He is going to bless a man who is living an ungodly life. It is to the righteous and his seed---that is the promise---and we can challenge anybody to give us an example to the contrary. These promises are only to God’s people. They are always based on full Christian doctrine; if you do not believe the doctrine they do not apply to you.
Secondly; worry is always a failure to grasp and apply our faith. Faith does not work automatically. How often have we seen that during these studies. Never think of faith as something put inside you to work automatically; you have to apply it. Faith does not grow automatically either; we must learn to talk to our faith and to ourselves. We can think of faith in terms of a man having a conversation with himself about himself and about his faith. Do you remember how the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 42? Look at him turning to himself and saying, ‘Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me?’ That is the way to make faith grow. You must talk to yourself about your faith. You must question yourself as to what is the matter with your faith. You must ask your soul why it is cast down, and wake it up! The child of God talks to himself; he reasons with himself; he shakes himself and reminds himself of himself and of his faith, and immediately his faith begins to grow. Do not imagine that because you became a Christian all you have to do is to go on mechanically. Your faith does not grow mechanically, you have to attend to it. To use our Lord’s analogy, you have to dig round and about it, and pay attention to it. Then you will find it will grow.
Finally, a large part of faith, especially in this connection, consists of just refusing anxious thoughts. That to me is perhaps the most important and the most practical thing of all. Faith means refusing to think about worrying things, refusing to think of the future in that wrong sense. The devil and all adverse circumstances will do their utmost to make me do so, but having faith means that I shall say: ‘No; I refuse to be worried. I have done my reasonable service; I have done what I believed to be right and legitimate, and beyond that I will not think at all.’ That is faith, and it is particularly true with regard to the future. When the devil comes with his insinuations, injecting them into you---all the fiery darts of the evil one---say, ‘No; I am not interested. The God whom I am trusting for today, I will trust for tomorrow. I refuse to listen; I will not think your thoughts.’ Faith is refusing to be burdened because we have cast our burden upon the Lord. May He, in His infinite grace, give us wisdom and grace to implement these simple principles and thereby rejoice in Him day by day.(462-473)
Link back to index.html