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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Texts: Matthew 6:25-34, Philippians 4:4-9, Romans 8:28, 1 Peter 5:7.

Do you remember the Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? When it
hit the top of the charts, it was criticized as being too simplistic and
naive. But it has some very important sentiments?

Of all the living things that God created, human beings are the only ones
that worry. And we worry about everything – petrol prices, the stock
market, taxes (including, in Australia these days, the GST), jobs, paying
the bills, marriages, relationships; parents worry about children, children
worry about parents. You name it, somebody is worrying about it. At the
beginning of this year many of us worried about the Y2K bug. A TV
interviewer this week asked Michael Knight the Olympics minister: With two
days of the Olympics to go was he still feeling anxious? Yes, he said, he
was! Recently, someone found that four of the top five best selling
non-fiction hardback books on Amazon.com were dealing with subjects we
worry about – health, change, relationships, and money.

One guy, John, a ‘worrywart’, hired his laid-back friend Joe for a special
job. Joe had to think about all of the troubles affecting John’s life, and
any that might possibly affect him in the future, and worry about them.
John paid Joe $1,000 a week to be his worrier. When John was asked ‘How do
you find that $1,000?’ he responded ‘That’s a worry J!’

Thousands leave this life every day because they, quite literally, ‘worried
themselves into an early grave.’ A book written a couple of decades ago –
How to Win over Worry by John Haggai – pointed out that more people die in
America as a result of suicide (the consummation of stress, duress, anxiety
and worry) than die from the five most common contagious diseases combined.
Twice as many people die by suicide as die by homicide.

This morning I want to suggest nine New Testament antidotes for worry.

The key New Testament word for worry (merimnao) means ‘to be anxious, to be
distracted, to have a divided mind.’ It’s the word in Matthew 6:25 where
Jesus said, ‘Do not worry about your life’. And Paul used it when he wrote,
‘Be anxious for nothing’ (Philippians 4:6). This same word is used for two
kinds of worry: (1) a negative, harmful, crippling worry, and (2) a
positive, beneficial concern. Negative worry a troubled fretting and
anxiety. This kind of worry is mentioned six times by Jesus in the Sermon
on the Mount (Matthew 6) where he told his followers not to worry about the
everyday cares of life: food, clothing, shelter, or even the future. And
when Peter instructed his readers to cast their cares on God (1 Peter 5:7)
it’s the same word. But the Bible also speaks of a beneficial worry. In 2
Corinthians 11:28, Paul spoke of his ‘deep concern for all the churches’ –
same word. Paul told the Philippians of his desire to send Timothy to them
because he was concerned about (same word) their welfare (Philippians

So negative worry (our theme here) is a feeling of uneasiness,
apprehension, or dread, usually about something which may happen in the
future. Everyone worries: those who say they don’t are in a state of
denial. Worriers live in the future. They spend a disproportionate amount
of time speculating on what might occur, and then fearing the worst.

Psychologists tell us that worry is rooted in a survival mechanism which,
up to a point, has real value. Some anxiety is necessary and normal. For
instance, if a woman discovers a lump in her breast, she should begin to
feel anxious. It serves as a wakeup call for her to take action. Another
cause for worry comes out of the past. A young man may have trouble with
male authority figures because of his relationship to his father or a bad
incident with a teacher. We are designed by God to experience anxiety
whenever there is a threat. But, anxiety can easily get out of control and
start feeding off itself.

There are different kinds and degrees of negative anxiety. Obsessive
compulsive disorders involve obsessional worries, which may lead to
compulsive rituals like washing your hands hundreds of times a day. People
who have suffered a severe trauma may have panic attacks. Some of these
involve ‘agoraphobia’ – avoiding crowded places where you feel threatened.
If you’re over-worried about others’ evaluations of you, you might suffer
from ‘Social phobias’ – avoidance of situations like public speaking. Some
people have specific phobias – fear of snakes, heights, enclosed spaces
(those people get a lot of exercise walking up flights of stairs!).

Some of these phobias may be inherited (eg. humans’ fear of spiders or
birds’ fear of raptors) or learned (like ethnophobias – fear of people of
another race, or a child’s fear of dogs).

This morning we are looking at ‘generalised anxieties’ – persistent worries
about health, job, finances etc. Worry becomes a serious problem when it
becomes chronic – your knees feel like jelly when you stand to make a
speech, or you don’t ask a question because you’re afraid of being thought
foolish, or you find yourself worrying about the same thing most days, or
if the worry lasts longer than, say, six months.

More than one million Australians suffer from chronic anxiety: so it’s a
serious and common problem! And anxiety is expensive in terms of health:
many reasons for visiting your doctor, like insomnia, diarrhoea,
palpitations, high blood pressur may be spin-offs from anxiety. Probably
25% of those suffering substance-abuse resort to alcohol or drugs to help
them cope with life’s anxieties.

Are we more anxious than previous generations? Probably yes, but when you
visit the Third World, or talk with someone who lived through the Great
Depression, they had more reasons for worry than we have! In a village in
Mindanao, where there is constant fear about marauding Moslem extremists, I
discovered that every mother had lost at least one baby in childbirth!

‘Worry’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon word, “to strangle” or “to choke.” So
worry can get a strangle hold on us, and literally cut off the air supply
that allows us to breathe emotionally! Worry, anxiety, concern and
apprehension keep us from living our lives to the very fullest because we
are filled with fear that something awful will happen.

Worry wastes a lot of emotional energy. Have you analyzed how few of the
things we worry about actually happen? One survey says 40% of the things we
worry about never happen; another 30% of our worries are in the past, and
we can’t do anything about them. 12% concern other people, and are really
none of our business anyway. 10% are about sickness which we can do very
little to control. Only 8% of the things we worry about are worth worrying
about. The Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans studied 500 consecutive admissions
and found that 77 percent were there because of anxiety. Maybe that’s the
reason some people say that they’re ‘worried sick.’

So worry, like a rocking chair, it doesn’t get us anywhere. You know the
little ditty about this:

Worry never climbed a hill.
Worry never paid a bill.
Worry never dried a tear.
Worry never calmed a fear.

The antidotes for worry?


You are more valuable than any other creatures, Jesus says (Matthew 6:26).
Whatever you have done, whatever others think of you, whatever grade you’ve
got from other humans, please know that God loves you. You cannot earn his
love: it is unconditional.

To be in the kingdom, Jesus said, is to be like a child. Children are more
trustful than adults: they’re more willing to let others control their
life. When we tell our two young grandsons not to cross the road without
holding our hands, they trust us and do that. I’m a control-freak. I like
to be in charge of my life. When I nap during the day I wear ear-plugs,
switch on the phone answering-system, and put a couple of large signs
outside my bedroom door. All that usually works. But one day last week our
neighbour hammered outside my window to fix her dog-kennel. I had no
control over that. So I had to switch to ‘Plan B’. There are some things in
life we can’t control. Sometimes rather than accepting this reality we keep
worrying, unconsciously hoping that worry will change things – which of
course it won’t!

Now we don’t have to succumb to every worrying situation: becoming more
assertive can help. Anxious people are often unassertive people – they say
‘yes’ too often. Set boundaries – we do not have to assume responsibility
for things for which we are not responsible. Managing time is important:
anxious people are sometimes perfectionistic, spending too much time on
some things at the expense of more important things.

Faith involves understanding how limited we are. Control is a real issue
for many of us – which is why women find it easier to trust God than men.
Our problems are like the bottom of a tapestry — messy, but necessary. The
Master Weaver is creating a beautiful pattern. But right now we don’t see
the actual pattern he’s creating. We’re looking at the underside of the
tapestry, full of knots and loose ends. We believe, though, the day is
coming when we will ‘know fully, even as (now we are) fully known’
(1Corinthians 13:12).

Worry is a mild form of atheism, living as if God either doesn’t exist,
doesn’t have any power, or doesn’t care to use his power on your behalf.
You can trust him to fulfil his promises to care for you, to forgive your
sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, if that’s what you’re
worried about.


Jesus pointed toward the sky and said, ‘Look at the birds of the air (those
little insignificant sparrows); they neither sow nor reap nor gather into
barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.’

The God who has provided life also provides the necessities to keep that
life going. The point, of course, is NOT that the birds and animals are
taken care of without work; that is obviously not true – it has been said
that no one works harder than the average sparrow to make a living. The
message is that they do not worry about that living.

Outside our lounge-room window we have a couple of bird-baths, and a
container of wild-bird seed. Birds know there’s a pecking-order in all of
creation and after they’ve skirmished with other birds a bit they accept
that. Last week I spent a wonderful hour watching two King Parrots ?the
doves probably hadn’t seen these fairly rare birds before and didn’t know
who had priority! Life is all about testing boundaries, eh?

In Sunday School half a century ago we were taught this little poem:

Said the robin to the sparrow,
I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush around and worry so.
Said the sparrow to the robin,
Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.

As to that issue of quality of life, Jesus talks about flowers. ‘And why do
you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory
was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the
field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he
not much more clothe you?’ The poor and the rich can be concerned about
clothing. Has someone in your home asked recently, ‘Do I look O.K.?’


What good does worry do? Jesus asks, “Can any of you by worrying add a
single hour to your span of life?” In fact excessive worry has precisely
the opposite effect: not only will worry not ADD to your length of years,
it will probably considerably SUBTRACT from them, not to mention affect
their quality.

It’s important to develop coping strategies for worry – learning to think
more realistically. Most anxiety is a distortion in the way we think. For
example, our worry about what other people think: who said ‘We probably
wouldn’t worry about what people think of us if we knew how seldom they
think about us anyway!?’

Our reason has to be reality-checked – mostly with another, so talk your
worries over with someone – preferably a friend who is an empathetic but
positive listener, particularly when you are faced with an important
life-decision. I’m very grateful I talked over with my John Mark Ministries
Board about what car to buy: they suggested I look at a brand which didn’t
subscribe to the built-in obsolescence factor and which offered a 3-year
unlimited kilometre warranty (so we bought a Subaru, if you really wanted
to know!). Cost more in dollars – and I had to sell my lifetime-collection
of F.W. Boreham books to buy it – but driving is now almost worry-free for
us! Paying for good insurance policies helps towards a worry-free life too.

Astronaut Jim Lovell was in command of the Apollo 13 spacecraft when it
experienced an explosion on its way to the moon. Their oxygen was almost
gone; their electrical system was out, and their spaceship was plunging
toward lunar orbit. They were destined to be lost in space, thousands of
miles from home. During a press conference after their safe return, Lovell
was asked, ‘Were you worried?’ and he gave an answer that surprised almost
everyone in the room. ‘No, not really.’ He continued, ‘Worry is a useless
emotion. I was too busy fixing the problem to worry about it.’

Dale Carnegie’s excellent book ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ has
lots of ideas here. He tells the story of Leon Shimkin, general manager of
the large publishing house Simon & Schuster. After every executive meeting
he’d be so worried and frustrated because their discussions went around in
circles. Then after fifteen (!) years of that he decided that everyone ask
four questions before every meeting: ‘ What is the problem? What is the
cause of the problem? What are all possible solutions to the problem? What
solution do you suggest?’ Result: ‘Much less time is now consumed? in
worrying and talking about what is wrong; a lot more action now happens to
make things right.’ As a church consultant I’d go further: no one should be
on any church committee who is negative! Those people should do some
faithful job on their own!

Another idea is to limit the amount of time we allow ourselves to worry. I
heard about a guy who had so many things to worry about, he set aside one
day each week in which to worry. As worries came to him, he wrote them down
and put them in his worry box. Then, on Worry Wednesday he pulled out each
worry and read it – and discovered that most of the things he was disturbed
about had already settled themselves or had been taken care of in some
other way.


Seek first the kingdom, and everything else will be added to you? If we get
our priorities right, and live for God and others, we will have less time
to worry. And the more we worry the less time and energy we’ll have for
others. So worry is essentially selfish.

Get a habit of regularly helping others. Our website has a banner: ‘Help
Solve Poverty’. Why not visit us and click on it once every day? Poverty
takes the lives of 35,000 children every day. Only 10% of hunger is caused
by war, famine or natural disasters. For 90% of the world’s hungry people
food is available. Money is not. And you can also click on the Hunger site
– also on our website’s frontpage. There you’ll read: ‘Every 3.6 seconds
someone dies from hunger; 75% of them are children.’ When you become
absorbed in solving some of those macro-problems, your little worries get
into proper perspective. Isn’t it sad that most of us were more worried by
our last tooth-ache than those 35,000 dying children?

The fourth century Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate who tried to suppress
Christianity but met nothing but failure because of the distinctive
lifestyle he found among believers. He told his officials, “We ought to be
ashamed. Not a beggar is to be found among the Jews, and those godless
Galileans (the Christians) feed not only their own people but ours as
well.” To say the least, we have a great deal to learn from those early
Christians who, in spite of real reasons to worry – about property and
possessions being confiscated, worry about being tortured, worry about even
sacrificing life itself – in spite of all that, they could be concerned
enough about others to look after those needs rather than their own.


Jesus told us to live in day-tight compartments. Take life as it comes.
People living through a tremendous crisis soon learn that they have only
enough energy to face today. ‘One day at a time’ becomes their motto.
Paul’s ‘Let not the sun go down on your anger’ encourages us to deal with
today’s aggravations today.

Do unpleasant tasks now. Get them out of the way. Forgive other people q
uickly. Have some ‘time out’ for stillness and quietness each day. Do
nothing for the glory of God sometimes!

And live the serenity prayer: ‘God give me the serenity to accept what I
cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the


Jesus often homed in on one of the key worry-areas – our finances. We
cannot serve two masters, he said, God and money (Matthew 6:24). It’s not
that money in itself is evil, but if making money, enjoying the things
money can buy, being preoccupied with money takes a higher priority than
our relationship with God – then we’re setting ourselves up for worry.
There is no greater indication of our values, loyalties or priorities than
how we view the issue of money.

Sociologists reported a few years ago that at the start of the century the
average American wanted 72 things and considered 18 of them important. By
1950, the want list had grown to 496 and 96 were considered necessary to
happiness. Let us learn the art of living simply. Having food and clothing,
Paul wrote to Timothy, let us be content (1 Timothy 6:8).

Dr. Archibald Hart, in The Anxiety Cure writes that we worry too much, are
too disconnected and lonely, and are too entrapped with wanting too much.
Combined, these push us to live at too fast a pace. The fact is that we
were designed for Camel travel, but behave as if we are super-sonic jets.
The penalty? Increased stress and anxiety.

Many high achievers are worriers. This week we have witnessed the
remarkable saga of a world-class athlete fleeing to the other side of the
world because of her anxieties. The more stuff you have the more likely you
are to be anxious. One of the best things I did last week was to give away
six boxes of books to a Bible College library.


Jesus seemed to imply that worriers are lazy people. He told a story about
three servants who were given trust over their master’s investments (Mat
thew 25:25ff). The third servant, who hid his master’s investment in the
ground because of all his worries, was judged not only a “wicked,” but also
a “lazy” servant.

One of the best cures for worry is work. Worry kills lots of people; work
of itself doesn’t kill anyone. And planning for the future is fine. One of
Jesus’ sayings warns us about building a project before we considered how
much it will eventually cost.


Paul writes to the Philippians (4:5,6): 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 minds in Christ Jesus.

Count your blessings, name them one by one. During your times of trouble,
dwell on good things. Think about God’s blessings – his provision and care.
Next time you have a physical problem, think about the thousands of bits of
your body that are working brilliantly!


Cast all your anxiety on God, writes Peter to some persecuted believers,
because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). God can deal with your worries
better than you can!

One of the therapeutic elements in our little counseling practice happens
when someone wants to get rid of some bad emotions. They write them down,
we burn them up, and flush them down the toilet or throw them into the
fire. Some burn-marks in one of our bathroom basins is witness to one
person’s dealing with their pain this way! Doing something tangible about
our worries is a good idea.

Over in the Phoenix suburb of Carefree, Arizona, a fellow by the name of
Gregg Warren has become what the L.A. Times described as ‘something of a
guru for America’s worrywarts.’ He’s developed a service – or maybe it’s
more of a business – called “Worry Free.” If you have worries, write them
on a piece of paper, burn the paper, send Warren the ashes and, for $5,
he’ll toss them out of his airplane over the town of Carefree. In the first
six Warren handled about 5,000 requests – and took in $25,000 in six months
(which may have put a dent in some of his financial worries!) And the
symbolic act of burning their worries and scattering the remains may have
given temporary relief to those who sent him their $5.

One man took a paper bag, wrote ‘God’ on it, and taped it high on the back
of his kitchen door. Whenever he prayed about the things he was worried
about, like his job or his family, he would write them down on a piece of
paper, and put it in the bag. Then he made a rule for himself. If he
started worrying about a matter that he’d turned over to God, he had to
climb up on a chair and fish that paper out of the bag. He said it was
pretty revealing just how much time he spent sifting through those scraps
of paper. You see, we can trust God to be there, to care for us, to provide
for us. That’s the good news, so why worry?

So let’s pray about our worries. As someone said, ‘If our worries aren’t
worth praying about, they aren’t worth worrying about.’ A
friend-of-a-friend in theological college had a sign on his wall: ‘Why pray
when you can worry?’ Hmmm.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a
privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.

CONCLUSION: Near the end of his life, Mark Twain said, ‘I am an old man and
have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.’ Always
remember that the outcome of a situation will still be the same whether you
worried about it or not!

The necessities of life, the length of life, the quality of life? Jesus
suggests we don’t worry about these. We have a loving God who ‘knows that
you need them all’ and is with us to the end?

PRAYER. ‘Help us to do our very best this day and be content with today’s
troubles so that we shall not borrow the troubles of tomorrow. Save us from
the sin of worrying, lest stomach ulcers be the badge of our lack of
faith.’ (Peter Marshall).

Rowland Croucher. October 2000.


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