I have this doll. I guess you could call it a “doll.” Actually, I have no idea what to call it. This was a big part of my childhood. My earliest childhood memories include this thing sitting on our shelf at home. I never really questioned it when I was little. It was always just there. When I got a little older and a lot more sarcastic, I asked my mom, “Where on earth did you get that thing?” My mom, who remembered every gift she ever got and who gave it to her, said, “Your sister Terry gave it to me.”
My mom died in 2015. My sister Terry passed away in 2018. Now this doll has a place of honor on the mantle in my home. And should anyone ever dare to question why we display this hideous thing, my answer will always be the same. “Because my sister Terry gave it to my mother. And now it belongs to me.”
What defines our treasure? If indeed “one’s man trash is another man’s treasure,” then how do we draw the line? It’s about value, isn’t it? This doll is worth more to me than you could ever imagine because I say so.
It might not surprise you to learn that Jesus has something to say about value: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).
The context of Matthew 6:24 really boils down to choice, one or the other. Go back to verse 19 and following. Treasures on earth OR treasures in heaven. Healthy eyes or unhealthy eyes. Light or darkness. God or money. Now we can kid ourselves into thinking that we straddle some sort of line, that we have the ability to live in both worlds. But Jesus has a way of cutting through the junk and getting to the heart of the matter. We will choose. We will pick one side or the other to land on. We will serve a master. So which side are you on? Answer this: What are you worried about? It is a basic and fundamental principle: What you are most devoted to…is what you will worry about.
The woman who gave me the doll is the same mom who stayed up all night sitting in her living room chair waiting for me to come home from prom. I didn’t get it at the time, but I do now. I have a daughter and a son-in-law and the two most perfect little grandsons you ever saw. I worry about them. I have a special needs adult daughter who will live with us for the rest of her life. I worry for her.
There’s a flow to our thinking. We give value to certain things or certain people. We choose to devote ourselves to them. And as a result, we worry about them. Did you know that the word “anxious” comes from an ancient Greek word that means “to choke?”
Anybody feel choked lately?
The things I value – my loved ones, my career, my accomplishments, my responsibilities – all have the potential to choke me. To which Jesus says, 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? (Matthew 6:25).
Let’s go back in time and walk in these folks’ shoes for just a moment. If you had a job in Jesus’ day, you were more than likely paid one day at a time for the day you worked. These people are hanging out with Jesus. Guess what they are NOT doing? Working. There is no such thing as vacation time or personal days. You don’t work, you don’t eat. Think they might be worried?
Do you understand what it would be like to gather together and listen to the words of Jesus, all the while pulled back and forth by the anxieties that choke you? Of course you understand. For a lot of you, it’s happening right now. You’re here reading this article, but you’re not HERE. That person or thing you are so devoted to is on your heart and mind and it’s cutting off the blood flow. Don’t blow off this text in Matthew 6 thinking it doesn’t apply to you. Sure Jesus, tell me all about the birds and flowers. A bird doesn’t have my bills to pay. That flower doesn’t have to deal with my mother in law. Don’t miss the point. This story isn’t about birds or flowers. It’s about a Father who feeds the birds. It’s about the God who clothes the grass of the field.
I don’t know what you are devoted to. But I have a pretty good idea who our Father is devoted to. Look 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? … If 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? (Matthew 6:26, 30).
I remember when I was a kid my dad had a strawberry patch. It was huge, with row after row of strawberries. One year when I was little I had a wild hair. “Dad, can I set up a roadside stand and sell strawberries?” Sure. So my father brought out a table and chairs. My father went to the barn and got some cartons. My father went out and picked berries and put them in the carton. My father made me a sign that read “Strawberries for sale.”
Are you catching the common thread that runs through this story? (Hint: It’s not strawberries). My father did it all. He provided everything. Do you know what I did? I got to keep the money (I made $5.00. Sold 10 cartons at 50 cents each). Why don’t the birds worry? Because their Father feeds them. Why don’t the flowers get anxious? Because their Father clothes them.
So what do we do, the ones whom God loves much more? We fret. And as our anxiety pulls us one way or another, we more aggressively try to fight to get out of the chokehold. In essence, we attempt to worry ourselves into a solution. And Jesus says, “What are you doing?” Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:27).
“For a study published in 2008, researchers at Purdue University followed 1,600 men, ages 43 to 91, for 12 years to examine how those with neurotic personalities fared over time. At the end of the study, only 50 percent of the men with high or increasing neuroticism were alive compared to 75 percent to 85 percent of the other group.” (https://www.verywellmind.com/worry-and-anxiety-impact-longevity-2223983). The study defined neuroticism as “the tendency to always react to frustration, loss, or threat with negative emotions.” That sounds like worry to me.
You can literally translate Matthew 6:27 this way: “Can any of you by worrying add a single cubit to your height?” A cubit is a unit of measurement from the elbow to the tip of your middle finger, approximately a foot and a half. My wife is practically perfect in every way, but she is little. She’s 5 foot and one half inch tall (and you had better give her that ½ inch). There is no amount of strain on her part that will make her 6 feet 6 inches tall. There is no amount of worry that will solve your problem. In fact, your worry can create not just a physical problem, but a Kingdom problem.
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (Matthew 6:31-32). Let’s review: Your treasure is what you value. What you value, you become devoted to. What you are devoted to, you worry about. Your worry leads you to think that you somehow can fix this problem if you just fret enough about it. And Jesus says, “What are you doing?”
Think about our Kingdom job for a minute. Jesus brings up the “pagans,” so let’s talk about them. It’s our job to love God and people, to serve and lead and show what it means to look like Jesus in every part of our life. It’s not our job to worry, because worry flies in the face of our example to the world. When we allow our anxiety to get a good grip, we reveal a lack of confidence that God can handle the situation! It reflects on our witness in a world that looks for someone (anyone) who offers something different.
Our Father knows what we need. Therefore. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34).
There are really only two possible outcomes for our worry. You worry once and then it never happens, which means you worried once for nothing. Or you worry today and it happens tomorrow, so you end up worrying twice over one thing. Either way, that is a terrible trade off.
So what’s the answer? Don’t worry about stuff? Not that easy, is it? I don’t know if this will make you feel any better or not, but Jesus dealt with anxiety. The night before he was crucified, he sweat like drops of blood (I call that pretty intense anxiety). Three times Jesus prayed the same prayer – Lord, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.
But each time his prayer ended the same way: My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus had just finished teaching his disciples a prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. So what is the Father’s will?
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).
As my friend and colleague Dr. Tyler Stewart reminded us in a recent chapel service: Jesus doesn’t tell you not to worry about anything. He tells you to worry about the things that matter.
You are valuable to Jesus. He is devoted to you. The question becomes – are we willing to shift the focus of our devotion? Will you put your trust in the One who knows a thing or two about feeding birds and clothing flowers and who is absolutely nuts about you?
The doll I showed you earlier has a heart around its neck that says, “I love you THIS MUCH.” When anxiety rears its head (and believe me, it will), I will choose to remember my Savior’s arms stretched out on a cross. When worry shows up (and it will show up), I hope you choose to worry instead about the things that matter – His Kingdom and His righteousness. And whether you believe it in the moment or not, all these things will be given to you as well.
–Tracy Thomas, Director of Alumni Relations at Lincoln Christian University