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? 26Look 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? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:25 to34
I discovered some incredible figures recently, all to do with health and worry and stress related conditions
• 65% of all visits to GP’s are stress-related complaints or disorders. • Worry has been linked to all the leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis among others • Stress is said to be responsible for more than half of the workdays lost annually • 40 % of all employee turnovers are related to job stress. • And none of this counts the restless days and nights without sleep.
Someone once said “Worrying is like being in a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.”
In the above gospel reading Jesus tells us not to worry, but most of us do to some extent - So Why do we worry so much? My dog doesn’t show any of the symptoms of worry, in fact he knows he’s going to be fed twice a day, knows he’ll get out for a decent walk, that there are plenty of warm places to curl up and that he’ll get his tummy tickled on a regular basis. I wonder, is that perhaps because of a trust that someone knows what he needs and will give those things to him? Has he learned to trust that his needs will be met?
Is worry, is prolonged stress then, a human trait? And is it a trait that somehow the modern world encourages more than in the past? Well, there are some good scientific explanations for this. We’ve evolved with a fight or flight impulse. When our ancestors were in danger of becoming a meal for a bear or were about to be attacked by another tribe, then the body would produce chemicals; cortisol and adrenaline which would give our muscles that extra bit of energy and power to either do battle or to run away.
The problem for many today is that we are so busy, especially our minds are so busy with all sorts of things that we might perceive as threats – that we never switch off – that those stress hormones keep on being pumped around our bodies for extended periods of time. We stay on heightened alert all the time.
But Jesus tells us not to be concerned with the past or the future but to be concerned about today – ABOUT NOW! Seek God’s kingdom and his will right here and right now, he says.
Jesus life seemed to be very much lived in the now didn’t it? Yes, he knew he had things to do, he knew he was going to give his life, but it didn’t seem to stop him living in the present, giving his whole attention to what he was doing – be it spending time alone with his Father in heaven, in prayer or healing the sick and spending time with those in need. Psalm 46, which Jesus would have been very familiar with tells us to ‘be still and know that I am God.’ There’s a rhythm of being as well as doing, which permeated Jesus life. In fact Jesus clearly knew that he could only get into doing, once he’d spent time being.
Medical science knows this too and thankfully today there are a range of therapies which work on this basis, but perhaps the area which has seen most growth and most publicity in recent years has been that of Mindfulness – have you all heard of that? (Becky Burdon from St. David's is the expert in this – she'll be able to tell you more!)
Mindfulness says there are a number of modes our minds can work in. They’re a bit like the gears of a car - we can only be in one at once.
The first is the doing mode: This is what we often do automatically without thinking. Have you ever driven to a familiar place, stopped the car and wondered how you got there? That’s part of the doing mode – It’s life on automatic pilot and where we miss so much of what is going on around us. Doing also works by focusing on the past and the future rather than the present. This is where we think about the world more than experience it. Thinking of course is a good and necessary thing, but the point is that being caught up in what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future can stop us living today. Further to this, when we get locked into those thoughts about the past and worries about the future all our energy can go into either avoiding things and into trying to bridge the gap between what is and what we think should be. If we spend all our time in this mode – we end up stressed and always thinking we’re not good enough. ……And that can take some breaking out of. We could say more and I’m very much a beginner in all this, but to me it does make sense of the way my mind can tend to work when I’m stressed and worried.
In contrast to this, another mode our mind can work in is the ‘being mode.’ This is where we connect with life and experience more directly, it’s much more intentional and counters the automatic pilot in us. It’s about sensing and experiencing life – being more fully alive and aware of what is actually going on right now. It’s about getting away from all those spiralling thoughts, being much kinder to ourselves and less judgmental.
And more than 3000 years ago, the Psalmist wrote ‘Be Still and know that I am God.’ 2000 years ago Jesus said, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, today is enough for today.’ And ‘Come away with me to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ (Mark 6:31)
And what’s more he lived it out!
When Jesus taught, when he healed, whatever he did - he was fully attentive to it and he knew what he was doing – Seek God’s Kingdom – seek his rule over your life and his will for the world – seek this first he says…. but how? Well, the church at its best through the ages has passed on this wisdom for Daily living – and I believe it’s crucial for Christians today to engage with this. In fact before the title Christian was ever uttered, followers of Jesus were known as follower of ‘The Way’ – livers of Jesus way of life!
One way we are trying to make those things real for today is through - Be Still, here on Thursday evenings once per month For centuries Christians have explored Prayer, Meditation and Contemplative Practices. I love Christian theology and the study of God and have read a great many books. But there comes a point when simply thinking about God in a logical way is not enough.
On this point the Bible is full of stories of epiphany and encounter with God. Christian Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation provide us with a ‘means of grace’, a way of engaging heart to Heart with God. Perhaps at times we’ve been too afraid of using the M word for fear that we will somehow automatically open ourselves to a form of spirituality that is out of sync with a biblical approach and this is a concern for me too. But what if it was possible to be thoroughly biblical and at the same time tap into a rich mine of spiritual gold through prayer, meditation and mindfulness? What if medical science is rediscovering what Jesus always knew? The peace and stillness of coming to God in silence is often like a soothing balm to the soul, shifting our focus away from turmoil and unhelpful rumination. My Christian life has seen a gradual turn towards God’s promise and invitation to find a place of rest in Him (Ps. 62).
There are so many spiritual practices and so much we could learn which can make a difference to our lives day to day. When we take seriously Jesus’ call to seek God’s Kingdom first by coming away to a quiet place, by being still maybe then we’ll find the full life Jesus said he came to bring.
Perhaps one of the first stumbling blocks for us to overcome is the issue of self-awareness. The neglect of self and self-awareness is not a Christian virtue as some may suppose.
There’s always the danger for us and it’s a danger for me as much as anyone else is that we get so involved in serving God, and make no mistake about it, God does call us to serve him and to make a difference, but that we end up neglecting ourselves. Jesus didn’t say love others and forget about yourself. He said love others as you love yourself. We want the best for others spiritually, emotionally and physically yet we can tend to neglect ourselves in these ways. Isn’t that too part of seeking God’s Kingdom and didn’t Jesus model a life which did exactly these things? From a place of prayer, rest and kindness towards ourselves we can be empowered to love and serve others more effectively – just as Jesus was.
One of the biggest issues for Christians today, as I’ve said before, is to find ways of living as disciples, as followers of Jesus in the crazy, busy world we live in. There are a whole number of helpful things I’ll be suggesting over the next year or so, and there should be something for everyone. For example there’s a great deal in the so called new monastic movement where ordinary, busy people take on shared way of life and prayer.
But when it all comes down to it – it’s about trust. My dog trusts that I will supply his needs and how does he know that? – well it’s through experience - he’s spent time with me, he’s got to know me and how I will act towards him. I’ve met his needs in the past and he trusts I will in the future Now I’m not drawing a direct analogy between me and my dog and God and us, but what I am saying is that trust is something which is firmly rooted in relationship. The deeper our relationship with God is, the deeper will be our trust in him and the more we’ll find the life Jesus said he came to bring – the more we’ll find peace and purpose in the midst of a frantic world.
It never ceases to amaze me that prayer and living our lives after Jesus pattern can be not only spiritually good for us but physically and emotionally too? How like our loving God to make living his way good for our whole being! Now there’s much more we can say about all this, but for today – let me leave you will a couple of questions: Think about your life – how does it compare to the way Jesus went about things? I’ve talked recently about living our lives in 3 dimensions – up, in and out.
It all starts with THE ‘UP’– with our relationship with God – because its only through that relationship that we can learn to live in the now, by trusting God to deal with the past and the future.
How can you, how can I, deepen our relationships with God, to come away to a quiet place, to be still and seek His Kingdom?
What can you do differently this week to seek God in the here and in the now?