I want to confess a sin to you.
I struggled with this sin when I was a little boy. I was unable to conquer it as a teenager. As a young husband, I found myself wrestling with this sin every day. And even now, I occasionally struggle with it. I don’t think I’ve committed this sin today, but I have committed this sin within the past week. It’s a serious sin – so serious that Jesus Christ took time to address it and to warn against it.
The sin I’m confessing to you today is worry. (If you were eager for me to confess something a little juicier, this is all you’re getting!) But worry is a sin. We consider worry as more of a weakness, but God calls worry wickedness. The same God who said, “You shall not kill,” and “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not commit adultery,” also said with all the compassion of His heart, “You shall not worry.”
If you’re one of those people who says, I never worry about anything, then I encourage you to share this message with someone who does worry. But you might want to hold on to it just in case you need it.
It’s hard to escape worry. One lady said to me, “You know, Pastor, I just don’t worry about anything. But I’ve got a daughter who worries about everything. I’m really worried about her.”
We’re going to look at what Jesus said about worry in the greatest sermon ever preached: the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon, Jesus taught what it means to live a life of faith as a child of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus focuses like a laser on the issue of worry in our lives. These are the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25–34:
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
There you have it: Jesus said, not just once, but three times, “Do not worry.” You’ll find those words repeated in verses 25, 31, and 34 of Matthew 6. If Jesus tells us multiple times not to worry, then worry is wickedness. That’s bad news. But there’s also good news. Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sin of worry. He rose from the grave to give us victory over that sin. The beautiful message of Jesus is not just that you do not have to worry, but that He will give you His power day by day to deliver you from worry. He wants to take worry from you. As we consider this teaching of Jesus, notice several reasons the Lord commands us not to worry.
Worry refuses God’s security.
Worry is a rejection of the security God wants for you. Worry is a big deal because it chokes our lives and strangles our faith.
The English word worry comes from an old Anglo-Saxon term that means to strangle. When a hunting dog finally catches a rabbit, grabs it by the neck and begins to shake the rabbit, the dog is said to worry the rabbit. If I were that rabbit, I would be worried, too.
Jesus says, “Don’t do that!” Don’t let worry strangle you! When believers choose worry, they refuse the security that God wants his children to enjoy. In the verses 25 and 34 of our text, Jesus names the things we worry about: our daily provisions, our physical well-being, and our future. Pretty much everything we worry about fits nicely in those three categories.
Jesus says not to worry about your life or your body. Who gave you life? God did. Who made your body? God did. So, if God gave you life, He’s going to be faithful to sustain your life. And if God made your body, He’s going to faithfully provide to take care of your body. Then, in verse 26, Jesus illustrates how God desires to take care of us:
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Every day, all over the world, God provides food for the birds and other creatures He has made. Have you ever considered how much money it would take to feed all the wildlife in the world each day? No one in the world is rich enough to purchase all the food needed by all the wild animals in the world. But God feeds them every day.
The birds and other animals don’t worry at all about where the next meal is coming from. Squirrels may look nervous and anxious, but even they know the food will be there. Beyond the wildlife that God feeds, Jesus points out the plant life that God clothes with beauty. Look in Matthew 6:28:
Why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
During his lifetime, King Solomon of Israel was the most powerful and wealthiest man on earth. He surely had a wardrobe fitting his position. And yet even his beautiful robes, crowns, rings, and shoes were no match for the beauty of the flowers of the field.
God takes care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field because they belong to Him by virtue of creation. The Lord takes care of what He makes. But here’s a wonderful thing to remember: If you have been saved by Jesus Christ, you not only belong to God by virtue of creation, but also by virtue of redemption. He made you in your mother’s womb and breathed the breath of life into your lungs. And then He sacrificed His one and only Son upon the cross to redeem you with His own blood. Because of creation and redemption, He’s committed to taking care of you. So why worry?
Continual worry is really a rejection of faith. When you ask God for His salvation, you ask in faith, believing. The Bible says that we are saved by faith when we realize our sin and confess it to God. We realize we cannot save ourselves, so we trust the work of Jesus Christ to save us. If you are saved, then you have trusted your very soul to Jesus.
And yet, many will trust their souls to Jesus, but not their bodies. Can we trust Jesus with our eternity, but not to help us pay our bills? Will you trust Jesus to take you to heaven when you die, but not to take care of your retirement years? Does that make sense to you? Of course not! Trusting Jesus for eternal salvation means also having faith in Him to care for you day by day.
Try this experiment: Make a fist just as tight as you can. Squeeze so hard that your fingernails dig into your palm. Now hold it. Keep squeezing as hard as you can for as long as you can. For me, doing that becomes painful after a few moments. My hand goes numb.
That’s what worry is. Worry is grabbing tightly to the details of your life, believing that no one else can take care of you. It’s painful; it’s paralyzing; and it can prevent you from doing anything else.
Now, open up that hand. Relax the muscles, and let go. That’s what trusting the Lord is like. Saying no to worry means trusting God with everything you’ve held so tightly. Your finances. Your kids. Your future. Your job and career. Your health. Psalm 37:3–4 says,
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Absolutely everything you need for salvation and for your physical life is found in Jesus. He will feed you with His faithfulness. He will sustain you with His goodness. So, trust God, and enjoy the security of His promise to care for your needs.
Worry misuses your energy.
Jesus asks a comical question in Matthew 6:27:
Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
With this question, Jesus creates an odd scenario. Here’s a man who’s worried about his height. If he were just taller, maybe eighteen inches or so (the length of a cubit), he could achieve his dream of becoming a basketball superstar. He’s fast. He’s coordinated. He’s got mad skills. But he’s five feet six inches tall. He’ll never be tall enough to be the next Michael Jordan or Steph Curry. And he worries, and worries, and worries about it. Do you think he’ll wake up one day and find that he’s worried himself eighteen inches taller? No, that’s silly!
In the same way, worry won’t change the outcome of your situation. But it will prevent you from doing something so much better.
Years ago, when our son was a baby, our family was traveling from Mountain City, Tennessee to Bristol, Virginia. We were in an older car, and the route was mountainous. We came upon a signpost that said: SWITCHBACKS NEXT 22 MILES. Neither Michele nor I knew what a switchback was, but we learned quickly as we climbed slowly up that mountain through a series of tight hairpin turns – just back and forth up the mountain, and then back and forth all the way back down on the other side.
After about eleven miles of switchbacks, our tired old car began to misbehave. The “check engine” light began to flash. I was in the passenger seat beginning to stew in my own worry. I thought, I haven’t seen a house for eleven miles. I don’t know if we’re going to make it. The car’s going to give out, and there’s not even a shoulder to pull onto. Lord, my family’s going to die right here on this mountain!
I was flashing worry signals like a busy railroad crossing, breathing heavy, sighing, and rubbing my hands. Our baby son was asleep in the backseat, not a worry in his mind, but his dad was a basket case. Michele looked at me. She said, “Stephen, what are you doing?” My wife knows me so well. I said, “I’m worrying.” And she said, “Quit worrying and start praying.” She gave me good advice.
After years of ministry, I have never once heard someone share a testimony about the positive power of worry. There’s not one person who can say, “I worried and worried about my problem. I lost sleep, I bit my nails, and I got grumpy and irritated. And everything got better because I worried.” What you worried about may have never come to pass, but not because you worried about it.
But there are plenty of testimonies from people who have encountered a difficulty and brought it to the Lord instead of worrying. They’ve said, Lord, I can’t handle this. I’m worried about this. I’m giving this to you because I can’t take care of it. You take care of it. And God has answered their prayers. God did what they could never have done.
Quit worrying and start praying! That’s what Paul meant by his words in Philippians 4:6–7:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
On the side of that mountain, my wife knew prayer was a reliable strategy. So, we started praying. I prayed something like this: “Lord, when we got this car, we dedicated it to You. So, Lord, there seems to be a problem with Your car.” And do you know what? The “check engine” light stopped flashing, the car stopped lurching forward and going back, we made it through all 22 miles of switchbacks, and then home safely.
You only have so much energy. Don’t waste it on worry. Instead, invest it in prayer.
Worry Abuses Your Testimony
Jesus continues in Matthew 6:31–32:
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek.
Here, Jesus draws a distinction between Gentiles and Jews. Gentiles were pagans, separated from God’s promises. The Jews were God’s own special people. The Lord was telling His listeners – all Jews – that when they worried about the daily needs of life, they were acting just like the godless Gentiles.
In our context, as believers, Jesus is saying this: When we, God’s saved people, worry about the details of our lives – What will I eat? What will I drink? What will I wear? How we’ll ever make it through? – we’re not acting like saved people; we’re acting like lost people.
If you have been bold enough to identify as a follower of Jesus Christ, then people in your family, your community and your workplace are watching. They’re skeptical, not yet convinced that your faith in Jesus Christ makes a real difference in your life. They don’t just want to see you going to church on Sunday. That, in itself, will not impress them. They’re really not interested in your rituals or your spiritual language. They want to know if you’re really trusting God, day by day.
If you confront the issues of life with the same worry and anxiety that they do, they’ll notice that as well. A believer’s testimony can be terribly damaged by living a worry-filled life. But when unbelievers see you face problems, concerns, heartaches, and the stresses of life with faith that God will take care of it, that’s proof of a genuine transformation that Jesus has accomplished in your life.
I had just finished preaching a message on breaking free from worry at a church one Sunday. After the services were over, a woman named Liz came up to talk with me. She shared the beautiful story about how she became a Christian. Liz grew up in a home that was nominally Christian at best. Her family claimed a denominational affiliation, but didn’t believe in Jesus, or in God, or in the Bible.
When Liz became an adult, she moved to a new city. In her new workplace she met a number of believers, and one in particular caught Liz’s attention. This woman was never obnoxious, never pushy, but she took every opportunity to talk to Liz about Jesus. She invited Liz to church. Liz truly enjoyed the lady’s company and appreciated her friendship. But she politely refused the invitations, insisting that she really was fine and didn’t need religion.
Then Liz’s life was turned upside down. Her mother-in-law became ill and had to be put into a nursing home. Her father began to experience dementia and no longer recognized her. Financial troubles set in, making it difficult to pay the mortgage. Their teenage daughter ran wild. Liz was at a loss for what to do. Worry and anxiety moved in like squatters, taking over Liz’s heart and mind.
Liz knew that her friend at work was also going through many of the same difficulties: financial trouble, issues with aging parents, rebellious teenagers. Yet, every day she came to work with a deep sense of peace. Instead of worrying and complaining about her own issues, she asked Liz regularly how she could pray for her.
Finally, Liz asked her friend, “How are you managing all this so well? What do you have that I don’t?” Her friend smiled and answered, “Liz, it’s not what I’ve got; it’s Who I’ve got. His name is Jesus.”
Liz placed her faith in Jesus Christ. She led her family to Jesus. And all of this happened because of a believer who lived a life of faith instead of worry.
What do onlookers see in your life? When your family and neighbors know you are facing difficulty, what response do they see and hear in you? What about your kids? Do they hear late-night conversations laced with anxiety, or do they hear late-night prayers filled with faith?
Don’t let worry make your testimony for Jesus Christ ineffective. Instead, let faith protect your testimony so that others will be drawn to your Helper: Jesus.
Worry Confuses Your Priorities
The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33 are often quoted:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteous- ness, and all these things shall be added to you.
I learned Matthew 6:33 as a child by singing a little chorus with those words, from the King James. Whatever translation is used, most of the time when people quote Matthew a6:33, they leave out the first word: But.
That word is so very important! The word but here means instead of. Jesus is saying, “Instead of worrying, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Rather than worrying about all of those things that God knows you need and has promised to provide, the number one priority in your life should be this: seeking God’s kingdom. We seek God’s kingdom by striving to make Jesus Christ the King and Lord of every part of our lives. Seeking God’s kingdom means that righteous, faith-filled living that pleases God becomes our highest priority.
The children’s pastor at the church where I serve presents the gospel to children by calling on boys and girls to “make Jesus the boss of your life.” That’s a really helpful description of what it means to seek God’s kingdom. Seeking His kingdom means He’s the Boss!
There’s a promise for obeying that command: “And all these things will be added to you.” Don’t miss that. When you make Jesus your boss, He will provide all the things you really need in your life. What things? The things you probably tend to worry about! Your money. Your job. Your kids. Your health. Your future. Does that mean that all of your problems will go away if you trust Jesus? No; it does mean that when you entrust them to His care, He will take care of you.
On the way home from church, Jack was riding in the back seat of his parents’ car. His dad glanced in the rearview mirror and caught sight of Jack, who seemed to be having a hard time with something. He was fidgety and squirmed in his seat. “Hey buddy, what’s the matter?” his dad asked.
Jack responded, “I’m worried, Dad. I’ve made bad grades on all my math tests this semester. Dad, I’ve worked hard, but I’m afraid I’m going to fail. I’m nervous every day when I go to school.” He paused. “Dad, that song we sang in church today – God Will Take Care of You. Dad, is that true?”
Jack’s dad said, “Yes, son, God will take care of you. You tell Him what You need, and you study and do your best. Stop worrying, because God will take care of you in that math class.”
The next day, the dad arrived at work. Before he even got to his desk, here came his boss. “John, your numbers were less than stellar last month. You’re just not producing what we need. We’ll give it one more month, John, and if your numbers haven’t improved, well, John, you need to look for another job.”
John’s mind raced back to his conversation with his son. He thought about his daughter who needed braces; about another son starting college; about the house payment. He began to pray. Then he called his pastor. “Pastor, that song we sang yesterday – God Will Take Care of You. Pastor, is that really true?”
The pastor said, “Oh yes, John, it’s true. I don’t know what you’re going through, but it’s true, John. God will take care of you. Stop worrying, and keep praying. You can trust God, John. He’ll take care of all you need.”
The pastor hung up the phone. And his mind jumped to the rumblings in the church. There were so many complaints. Ministry felt like trying to push a wagon full of concrete uphill. He was seeing little progress, and he was worried. He fell to his knees and cried out, “Lord! You know what they’re saying. And that song we sang yesterday – God Will Take Care of You.” Lord, is that true? Will you really take care of me?” And it was as though the Holy Spirit laid His hand firmly upon the pastor’s shoulder and said, “Yes, son. You can stop worrying. I will take care of you.”
God knows every worrisome detail of your life. Jesus Christ, through His Word, says to you right now, “Do not worry. I died on the cross to pay the full price for all of your sin, including your worry. I rose from the grave to give you victory over every sin, including worry. So let go of your worry, trust Me. I will take care of you.”
Stephen Rummage is Senior Pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.
This sermon is excerpted from Healing Your Hidden Hurts, published by Northeastern Baptist Press, 2022. Used by permission.