There is no denying that the American culture is a fast-pasted, high-stress environment with overloaded schedules and expectations that cause us to worry and fall into anxiety. The American Psychiatric Association has reported increasing levels of anxiety among U.S. adults, now at around 18% of the population. Safety, health, and finances are reported to be the largest sources of anxiety.
Just because you follow Jesus doesn’t mean you are immune. We are living, working, and raising families in this culture. The answer is not to run away and hide ourselves in a bubble. But we also need not wave the white flag thinking this is all there is to life.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus addressed an audience of Jews on this very same topic.
Matthew 6: 25-27,31-34
“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?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
The crowd from the ancient world that Jesus originally addressed was quite poor, highly dependent on the harvest for food and their livelihood. They were concerned with the basic necessities of food and clothes, such as Jesus describes. Most of us reading this now don’t necessarily need to worry about food or clothing—for many of us, it’s more likely that we have an over-abundance of those things. However, we still find things about which to worry—our careers, social standing, cholesterol numbers, if our kids will turn out okay, how we will ever get “it all” done, and the list goes on. As a human race, we are prone to worry about anything and everything.
But Jesus presents a challenge. Here, he invites his listeners to trade worry for trust in their God. He encourages them to trust their heavenly Father enough to seek his kingdom first, to seek God first, all the while trusting him to provide for their physical and emotional needs. Jesus continues with, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” because he wants us to have confidence that God will send his goodness each day to sustain us. Like the manna supplied to the Israelites in the desert, God provides what his people need daily, though not necessarily in surplus.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, he expands on this idea.
Phil 4: 6-8: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Paul follows his instructions for releasing anxiety by telling them to pray, give thanks, and think about good things. There is power in dwelling on the good. Giving thanks, practicing gratitude, it gives space for such. Even modern-day psychology backs up this notion of replacing negative thought patterns by challenging them with positive ones. When we think about the good gifts God has given us each day and give him praise, the natural outcome is going to be that of increased trust and lessened anxiety. When we give thanks instead of dwelling on our worries, it trains our heart to trust the Creator of the Universe.
Life presents real challenges that cause us worry and anxiety. We worry about lab results. We worry about the looming layoffs. We worry about our child struggling to fit in socially at school. We worry about that difficult conversation we need to have with our employee. We worry about how we’ll ever save for retirement. Worry can plague us at every turn if we’re not careful.
Giving thanks as opposed to worrying is not a denial of the gravity of some of life’s situations. It is anything but that. Instead, replacing our anxiety by giving thanks to God in everything from the mundane to the intense trial is posturing our heart to lift up surrendered hands to the only Holy and Almighty God who is powerful enough to orchestrate and navigate us through the complexities of life in the first place. It reminds us to relinquish control.
And when we practice on a daily basis to trust and give thanks to the Lord through the minor trials of coordinating a busy day of meetings, kids’ activities, and what to make for dinner, our heart has already been conditioned when we receive the negative report from the doctor, a phone call that there’s been an accident, or you unexpectedly receive the pink slip.
So in response to all this, on our journey through 21 Days of Prayer and Thanks, let us not only trust in the God who provides, but also be more attune to each and every small way in which he does so. It might be as simple as a hot meal provided by the neighbor to the sleep-deprived mom. It may be making a new friend at recess today. It may be a canceled business meeting that allows for a full hour of uninterrupted work time. Or it may be the passage of scripture that sustains your soul that morning. Regardless, when we pay attention we see God’s daily gifts of provision. We see a God who is worthy of our daily trust and adoration.