October 29, 2013

Back to Basics

The urban legend goes like this: It was an unusually hot afternoon. After grocery shopping, a woman placed her bags on the back seat of her car. Then, remembering some other needed items, she pulled into another parking lot, locked the car, and went into the store for a few minutes. She returned to find her car as hot as an oven. As she drove toward home she heard three loud pops, like gunshots.

She felt something hit the back of her head. To her horror, she pressed her hand over the wound and barely managed to drive to a nearby emergency room. She received immediate attention as she screamed that she’d been shot.

A doctor urged the woman to move her hand so he could examine the wound. But the woman cried that her brain would fall out. The doctor finally convinced the distraught woman to let him look at the wound, and she squealed in agony as he removed her hand. But he noticed no blood. She had been hit, not by a bullet, but by a container of refrigerated biscuit dough.

A sigh of relief was immediately followed by a burst of laughter. The doctor exclaimed, “I’ve seen a lot of wounds in my career, but never one inflicted by the doughboy!” Aside from acute embarrassment, the woman went home unharmed.

There’s a big difference between genuine concern and obsessive worry. Genuine concern moves us to action on real issues and challenges. While it’s a positive motivator, worry torments and afflicts us with mental distress or agitation that leads to fretting that festers into anxiety. It affects everyone negatively. It immobilizes us physically, disrupting our sleeping, eating, and productivity. It affects us socially, causing the objects of our anxiety to consume our thoughts and turn us into persons whose paranoia ruins instead of builds relationships. It influences us spiritually, significantly reducing our ability to trust God and give Him first place in our lives.

Jesus addressed this subject several times in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, using the term for things that distract the mind, divide the attention, and disrupt harmony with God and others. Jesus said worry is useless, more harmful than helpful (Matt. 6:25-27), and shows a lack of trust in God (verses 28-30). He concluded by saying, “Your heavenly father knows that you need them” (verse 32); so avoid petulant worry about perishable things. Seek first the kingdom (verse 33).

Where the Sermon on the Mount may be considered as ethical commentary, this is a practical command to put God before temporal things. Many of our worries stem from living in two kingdoms at the same time (verse 24). Live one day at a time (verse 34). When all other fears are taken care of, the last worry of an anxious soul is “tomorrow,” the ghost of which never tires of stalking believers with doubts and distrust, especially about our salvation. But we’re saved by His grace; and our faith is the claim ticket for that precious gift.

George was a prisoner in Romania because of the Sabbath. One Friday he and two other Adventists were ordered to unload a railway car filled with dirt. They thought they couldn’t finish by sunset, so all three worked feverishly. To the surprise of their taskmasters, they completed their task before sunset. Exhausted, they collapsed onto the ground by the tracks and fell asleep.

Unfortunately, George stretched out across the railroad track, and a slow-moving rail car ran over him, severing both his legs. As painful as that was, the real suffering came when the officers taunted him, “Where was your God when the railway car cut off your legs?” The same question haunted him as he faced the prospect of being a beggar for the rest of his life.

But one night George prayed. The next morning his heart was flooded with love for the Lord. George understood that crippled or not, his life was still in God’s hands. When the officers saw his face, free from doubt, fear, and worry, they got their answer.

Not only was George released from prison; he became a wealthy man. His counsel: “Don’t worry. Wait on the Lord, and He will provide all your needs.”