In this sermon for fifth Sunday in Lent, Pastor Joel Pukallus explores what the bible says about worrying and some practical things we can do when faces with anxieties.
Philippians 4:4-9 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
The theme song of my year 8 camp at Redeemer Lutheran College (I think we even had it printed on t-shirts), right back in 1988, was a song by a one hit wonder named Bobby McFerrin, and it was called “Don’t worry, be happy”. It was great for a bunch of young people who didn’t really have any great problems, or anything to worry about anyway, but it just doesn’t cut it when faced by a problem like a world-wide pandemic.
Just to tell people to “don’t worry be happy” is a fool’s paradise. It is burying your head in the sand and leads to the kind of irresponsible behaviour we see from those who are not taking the social distancing protocols seriously, and endangering others.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, tells us a far better reason to not be anxious, and even gives us a way to do that, a way which works regardless of the situation, through war and plague and flood and drought and death.
He tells us, in the way that the Greek was put together, not to “never be anxious”, but instead not to ALWAYS be anxious. It does not help us at all. That sort of 24/7 anxiety is crippling, it will kill us just as surely as any pandemic.
There are also those who have anxiety disorders, which must be awful, and of course, Paul does not say this to make their lives worse, or to make them feel bad about it, but to give them a tool to use.
Now there are some people, and you might be one of these, who are naturally just worriers. It is part of their nature. People who always imagine the worst and prepare for it, so that if it does happen, they do not get a nasty shock. But they spend so much of their lives preparing for things that most of the time do not happen.
When I preach about faith, and about not worrying, I need to be very clear that worrying is not a lack of faith. The last thing that I want to do is to take people who are feeling anxious, and then load guilt on top of them as well for feeling that way. No, it is not a lack of faith, but perhaps, instead of looking at who or what is to blame, we should be looking forwards, and see if it is something that can be alleviated, can be helped, by certain actions, certain practices.
And what does Paul say about the way to not be anxious? Pray. By Prayer and Petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. We are always told that regular prayer times are important, but it is rare that anyone does them. Life is just so busy these days. At least, it has been. Who has the time? We say. Well, maybe we do now.
We might have a bit more time now, and I want to give you a very real practice to help you combine two important things, 1. Prayer, and 2, practising not being anxious.
On our Kitchen table is a cross. I put it there just recently. It is normally in my study. Beside it is a bowl, a notepad and a pen. You will see why.
I once had a psychologist tell me that if I wanted to worry, I should do it, for half an hour a day, and do it hard. Worry as much as you want, for 30 minutes, but then, if you feel like worrying for the rest of the day, think: “No, I am going to put that off until that half hour. I will get to it later. I am not allowed to worry right now. I will do it during my 30 minutes”. And then you will be relatively free from worry for the rest of the day.
Half an hour a day is better than all day, right? Well, let’s go a step further. We have decided as a family to set our half an hour a day as the time after we have finished the evening meal. But it is not going to be 30 minutes where we worry. It is going to be 30 minutes a day where we give our worries to God.
So, for the rest of the day, this is what we do: Every time we worry about anything, we write it on a piece of paper, and throw it in the bowl. We will deal with that in our thirty-minutes of prayer and devotions later. “Here is one I prepared earlier: “I am worried about our finances. We have been trying to save for a home for when we retire. This crisis might set us back to nothing” I think that’s a fair concern. Right, in it goes. If that thought crosses my mind again today, if I start to think about money, I am not going to worry about it, because it is already there in the bowl to deal with tonight. I will pray about it then. We will write them all down, every day, our worries over our health, our loved ones, our congregation and Parish, my fire brigade, and after dinner we will hand them out to the family and pray about them together, and then, we will throw them away.
We will throw them away. Once they are dealt with, we don’t need to hold onto them. If we are still worried about them tomorrow, we will write them down again then, and deal with them tomorrow night.
So we will be spending about 23 and a half hours a day not worrying about these things, but getting on with the business of living, and loving, and washing our hands. Maybe you can try it. You probably are going to have the time, and hey, it’s not going to hurt.
Paul tells us why we should bother praying. Why, what is the promise? : “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Won’t that be great. Peace be with you all. Stay safe.