Don’t Worry; Be Grateful
Matthew 6: 25-34
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But 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—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Philippians 4: 4-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In 1939, the British government created a department called the Ministry of Information.
Its primary function was to create morale boosting propaganda to encourage the British people faced with the outbreak of WWII.
The MOI created a poster that has become a popular modern meme.
The poster simply said:
“Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Now, I want you to think about that for a moment.
Your country is at war with an enemy 21 miles away across the Straits of Dover.
Their goal is to conquer your country.
Keep calm and carry on?
Good advice, perhaps, but doable?
Stiff upper lip and all that?
Here is a bit of trivia that might surprise you.
That poster was never used.
Maybe because the MOI realized that “keep calm and carry on” was contrary to human nature and really not very inspiring.
This reminded me of Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
You know how it goes.
Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy
Good advice, maybe, but doable?
Like the British Ministry of Information poster, I think this song is contrary to human nature and just not very helpful.
Because frankly, it’s normal and healthy to worry a bit, right?
I mean worry is a word with many connotations.
It includes everything from concern over a planned dinner party to an anxiety disorder that requires medication.
It can cause a bit of a bad mood or it can cause major depression.
And there are difficult times in our lives that we simply cannot overcome by keeping calm and being happy.
So, saying things like “keep calm and carry on” or “don’t worry, be happy” might be instructive when we are concerned with the Thanksgiving menu, but are not really all that meaningful to someone facing an enemy at its shores or a personal crisis or an anxiety disorder or major depression.
To tell someone who is experiencing a serious illness or job loss or some other life changing time to keep calm or be happy can be downright insulting.
But when we read today’s scripture texts, doesn’t it sound like we are being told that when faced with any of these things we are to start singing McFerrin’s song or put on our t-shirt that says, “Keep Calm and Play the Trombone”?
That would be incorrect.
To understand what Jesus is saying we need to first understand its context.
Jesus is preaching his Sermon on the Mount.
Just before our text, Jesus is talking about where we should store our “treasures”.
In heaven, where it cannot be taken away.
What is the treasure Jesus says we should not be worried about?
The stuff we think we need that … well … we already have!
That is what Paul is saying, too.
Paul is telling the Philippians that God provides for all our true needs and that we should be thankful for it.
When we read these words we are called to change the orientation of how we approach worrisome things in our lives.
It’s not “Don’t worry, be happy”.
It should be, “Don’t worry, be grateful”.
So, let’s break that down.
First, we need to look at the Greek word we translate as “worry”.
That word is merimnao.
That word means to be so anxious about a particular thing that you become distracted from what is really important.
Jesus and Paul make a subtle distinction between the normal cares of life that must be attended to and an obsessive concern for more of what we already have.
It is normal to care about some things.
Here is what I mean.
I am the Chair of the Board of Baptist Homes Society.
I meet with the Residents Council from time to time to hear about their concerns and requests.
Recently, I was told that the residents wanted an ap for their phones that would tell them with a touch of the screen what was going on that day.
One of the residents described why he wanted such a thing.
“When I wake up in the morning, I want to know three things. What am I doing? What am I eating? And what am I wearing (which is often determined by the first two questions)?”
I thought about that for a moment and realized that this is the kind of thing we all do, right?
Maybe these are the most important things that are on our minds each morning.
Maybe this is a list or things we do in our lives generally.
What are we doing?
What are we eating?
What are we wearing?
Which is what Jesus talks about in our Gospel text.
While it is normal and appropriate to care about what we will eat, wear and do, we should not allow ourselves to be over concerned to the point we don’t notice what we already have.
Things that God has already provided.
Things that we should be grateful for.
And these days, we really do take for granted many things we should be grateful for.
And its more than food, water and clothing.
I listened to a TED Talk a while ago given by Brother David Steindl-Rast called simply “gratitude”.
I listened to it again this week.
Brother David’s philosophy of life is that we need to find gratitude in every moment.
But to do that, we need to stop and look for it.
And notice the things we should be grateful for but overlook because we take them for granted or are anxious about something else.
Brother David described how he came to this conclusion:
When I was in Africa some years ago and then came back, I noticed water. In Africa where I was, I didn’t have drinkable water. Every time I turned on the faucet, I was overwhelmed. Every time I clicked on the light, I was so grateful. It made me so happy. But after a while, this wears off. So I put little stickers on the light switch and on the water faucet, and every time I turned it on, water.
Think about that for a moment.
How many things should we put little stickers on to remind us to notice the things we should be grateful for.
Brother David’s remarks rang true to me.
Twenty-three years ago, my son AJ and I went on a kayaking trip with his Boy Scout Troop.
We spent a hot summer week kayaking up the intercostal waters between Chincoteague Island and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
We were required to pack into our kayaks everything we would need to eat and drink and wear and sleep in for the week.
It was pretty primitive.
The food we ate was all stuff that needed no refrigeration.
The water we drank was contained in five-gallon jugs.
The only other water available was the warm tidal saltwater surrounding us.
Everything we ate and drank was rationed.
Personal hygiene was a casualty.
Bathing in the saltwater was counterproductive.
Basically, we just brushed our teeth.
At night the only light we had was from the fires we built or our flashlights.
One night, two of us paddled for a couple hours to a habited spot with a small store.
We bought a case of Coke and a couple watermelons for the boys.
When we got back, you would have thought we brought a king’s feast.
On our last night, we were camped in a public park that offered showers – cold showers.
The next day we headed home.
When AJ and I got home, I immediately got in the hot shower and stayed there for a long time.
I shampooed and scrubbed and shaved and even put cream rinse in my hair!
Then we ordered pizza.
We watched a bit of television.
Then I got into my comfortable bed with dry clean sheets.
The light was on so I could read a bit before sleep.
It was when I listened to Brother David that I realized how much I took for granted the simple things that made my life comfortable.
A case of Coke.
Like the ability to bathe.
The availability of drinkable water.
A clean comfortable bed.
Why is gratitude so important?
According to Psychology Today:
- Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
- Gratitude improves physical health.
- Gratitude improves psychological health.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
- Grateful people sleep better.
- Gratitude improves self-esteem.
- Gratitude increases mental strength.
So those are some pretty good reasons, right?
It’s like that practice I talked about a while back.
Three good things.
Every night before you go to bed, write down three things that you are grateful for that day.
That practice reorients your mind.
It makes us notice things that we otherwise might not.
Things we should be grateful for.
And it is good for us.
Both Paul and Jesus would agree.
Which is a more profound reason to notice the things we should be grateful for.
It is what Jesus says on our text this morning.
And it is also what Paul is telling the Philippians.
If we are going to be grateful … well … grateful to who?
Jesus puts it this way:
Seek God first, because God is the source of all the rest that you already have.
Paul puts it this way:
Rejoice and give thanks to God.
And that gives us the peace of Christ.
Jesus and Paul are saying that we miss the point of life if we focus solely on getting more of what we already are being given by God.
Life is more than that.
We are called to a higher purpose.
We are called to be in a relationship with God.
We are called to be grateful to God.
We are called to notice God.
And when we notice God, we don’t need to be overanxious.
We can be thankful.
And then we can live with a new orientation.
It’s good for us!
It really takes me back to what I talked about in the sermon on the 23rd Psalm.
God cares for us.
God provides for us.
God protects us.
God takes us to Godself.
God is with us.
And because of that, we can say:
Don’t worry, be grateful.