Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
How often do we say to one another, Don’t worry about it—everything will be OK? It becomes a cliché that is not always true. Sometimes things don’t work out well.
How wonderful it would be if we could learn not to worry. But that’s easier said than done. If you’re a practising Christian, you will probably know we’re not supposed to worry—but to trust.
Have you ever noticed how Christians try to comfort each other? Let’s say that something really bad happens to you, like losing your job, or some bad news about your health. You mention it as a prayer concern in church and the person sitting next to you puts an arm around your shoulder, and says, Well, everything happens for a reason. It’s a nice statement, and I admit to having said it myself. If someone is worried, we don’t want to be burdened by their trouble, so we feel compelled to say something nice.
A better way of comforting others
But the phrase everything happens for a reason is not in the Bible, and when you say it, it suggests that God is behind this somehow: either that he allowed it to happen or that he wanted it to happen, and for someone who’s just lost his job that can seem kind of harsh—God wanted me to lose my job? Maybe what we’re really trying to say is what Paul says in Romans 8:28: that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
That doesn’t mean that everything will work out good for those who love God, but it does mean that even in the worst situations God is at work, deeply involved in the messy stuff of our lives, trying to bring something good out of it. So, maybe instead of putting your arm around someone and saying, Everything happens for a reason, you could just put your arm around someone and try to understand their pain and worry. You don’t have to always say something.
Or sometimes people say, God never gives us more than we can handle, which is only another way of saying, You can handle this. But when you’re in that situation it doesn’t feel that way at all. You want to say, No! I can’t handle it! It’s too much!
Again, that phrase is not in the Bible—we are better off to say, Help, Lord! I can’t do this by myself! And that’s where, instead of saying, God never gives us more than we can handle, you could say, Hey, I’m here for you, and together, with God’s help, we can handle this. Here’s a verse from the New Testament, a word from the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:6-7 – NLT):
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Just a pious platitude?
So, on first hearing, this reading from Philippians about not worrying may sound like another bad example of Christians trying to comfort each other. You lost your job?, they ask. Well, that’s too bad. But you know what Paul says: “Don’t worry about anything!” It sounds like just another one of those pious platitudes until you remember that this is actually in the Bible, and it was actually written by Paul, who actually had some things to worry about.
New Testament scholar Raymond E. Brown describes Paul’s everyday life like this:
We have to picture Paul trudging along the roads, carrying his limited possessions in a sack, at the maximum covering twenty miles a day. At times when he could earn some money with his leather-working skills and his travel pattern brought him to an inn, he may have been able to rent an overnight spot there—a place on the ground in the courtyard near the fire, or, more expensively, a bed (probably infested with bugs) in a room off the yard. Often, however, he had to sleep somewhere near the road, amidst the cold, rain, and snow.
As a poor man, he would have been easily victimized by brigands, especially in country areas that were less efficiently controlled by police. Sea journeys were not much safer. Coming east, the winds helped, but going west was dangerous; and in either direction there were many shipwrecks. Being a passenger on the open deck of a cargo boat, eating the limited provisions one had brought before, was really not much more comfortable than travel on land.
The difficulties were not over when Paul arrived at his intended destination. Today those who walk through the magnificent ruins of a city like Ephesus cannot help but recognize the grandeur and power of Greco-Roman culture embodied in majestic buildings, shrines, temples, and statues. Yet here was a Jew with a knapsack on his back who hoped to challenge all that in the name of a crucified criminal before whom, he proclaimed, every knee in heaven, on earth, and under the earth had to bend.
The contempt and mockery of the sophisticated Gentiles for this babbling man full of ideas reported in Acts 17:18 ring true. Further, the Acts accounts of his being hauled before magistrates and imprisoned throw light on Paul’s report of dangers from the Gentiles. Those dangers might have been bearable if his own kind had given him a warm reception when he proclaimed a Messiah descended from David. But both Acts and Paul’s letters portray struggle and hostility.
(To be continued in Trying Not to Worry – Part 2)