Bible Study

Why Do You Worry?

“We can invite worry into our lives by making our highest priority something other than God.” by Major Valerie Carr

Anxiety and worry seem to be an ever-constant struggle for most of us. A recent “Forbes Health” article noted, “Nearly one-third of adults reported anxiety and depression symptoms in 2023.” The dictionary defines anxiety as “a feeling of worry or unease, typically about something with an uncertain outcome.” The last few years have made it clear to all of us that most outcomes are uncertain and beyond our control. Our natural human inclination is to turn inward and focus on any number of possible outcomes until we have tied ourselves in knots without any sense of peace or solution.

Throughout this study, we have zeroed in on moments where Jesus asks a question, and we have sought to find the answer we might give and what that means for our lives today. This month, we come to a question that focuses on worry and anxiety in our lives, as shown in Matthew 6. It becomes evident that in asking about our anxieties, Jesus seeks to reveal our priorities through how we answer His questions.  

Our passage is part of the teachings of Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ magisterial teaching on how a very different approach to living marks the life of a Christ-follower. Adultery is equal to indulging your eyes when you think there are no victims in your lust (5:27–30). He teaches that murder should be taken as seriously as being angry with a fellow Christian and not dealing with it maturely (5:21–26).  He challenges His hearers that love should be graciously, openly, extravagantly extended towards one’s enemies (5:43–48).

At the beginning of our passage of Scripture, Jesus teaches that treasure on earth is meaningless, but that we should be storing up treasure in heaven. Matthew 6:24 states, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” Jesus goes on to say: “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life” (Matthew 6:25). His following teaching and questions about His followers’ worries are contextually focused on the problem of putting possessions in their proper place in the life of a believer.

The word “worry” is used six times in this short passage (vs 25, 27, 28, 31, 34). Its translation could also be “anxiety.” Anxiety can come and take root when material concerns crowd the heart. It can sprout from a troublesome obsession that produces no results for its effort. If we jump back to the beginning of the Bible, we see this anxiety is a product of the curse of the Fall. In Genesis 3:17, where God is speaking to Adam about the consequences of his choice to sin in the Garden of Eden, He says, “Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil, you will eat of it all the days of your life” (NASB). The word “toil” shares etymological roots with the Hebrew word for “worry.” Anxiety and worry about daily survival were never part of God’s plan but were a consequence of the Fall.

Jesus points out in Matthew 6 the common concerns of what to eat, drink, and wear. In verse 25, He asks, “Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” Anxiety can center around the practical. The problem isn’t being concerned about these things; the problem is that life should not be determined by and oriented around these concerns.

Today, Jesus asks us directly: Why do you worry? We could most likely come up with many different problems. The things off the top of our heads would just be the beginning of our list. There are ongoing worries that seem to circle around and around in our minds and hearts: to-do lists that never seem to end, demands at work, demands at home, financial strain, relationship stress, health ups and downs, and the list goes on. Furthermore, some of us suffer from anxiety as a mental health disorder, requiring various forms of care for treatment. In Matthew 6, Jesus isn’t confronting anxiety of that kind but worry we can bring upon ourselves. 

We can invite worry into our lives by making our highest priority something other than God. We focus on keeping up with our neighbor’s standard of living. We waste countless hours comparing our lives to the varnished version of someone else’s social media page. We hide our struggle with addiction. We invite anxiety into our lives through a zealous dedication to our phones, our cars and our limited-edition gigantic water cups. The things that keep us awake in the early hours of the morning push us to spend time, energy, and money we don’t have on things we don’t need, all based on the image they can create. 

Anxious obsessions limit our growth in Christ because they occupy too much room in our hearts. Our problem is that we cannot grow as Christians when our anxiety dictates our priorities. The struggle comes when we let worry run the ship. We weaken our faith when we obsess over what we don’t have rather than thanking God for the blessings we do have. We let worry scare us into living like there will never be enough in our stockpile instead of seeing the abundance of God all around us. 

In Matthew 6, Jesus gives the solution to halting these distracting worries in their place. He employs a “lesser to greater” argument, and through the school of visual education, He calls us to think about birds and flowers. In verse 26, He says, “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” In verses 28–30, He goes on to say, “Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.” Jesus’ point is that if the small things of this world can flourish in a state of utter dependence upon God, what makes us think His care for us is any different? 

The culmination of Jesus’ answer to the anxiety caused by worldly cravings in our lives is found in verses 33 and 34: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.” One commentator explains: “‘Do not worry’ is not a license for irresponsibility but an occasion for reorienting ourselves. It urges us to place our needs within the larger horizon of God’s reign …What is excluded is a debilitating anxiety that is antithetical to trust in God” (Case-Winters). Anxiety caused by our longing for stuff suggests that we don’t actually trust God to do what He promises to do. Culpepper in his commentary on Matthew says, “Preoccupation with material needs not only exhibits a lack of faith in God’s providence but ultimately leads one away from the kingdom.” As believers, God calls us to the challenge of seeing the impossible odds of our circumstances and trusting Him anyway.  

In Matthew 6, we receive a promise that Jesus offers hope in place of our worries. He calls each believer to reorient their life around His Kingdom and watch Him care for all of our needs in the process. We are called to trust and not to worry, even in the face of overwhelming realities like financial hardships, unknown futures, relationship struggles, and health concerns, among other burdens. In the face of all the anxiety, Jesus offers the promise of verse 33: “Be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (GNT). When we prioritize Him above all else, we will find all our needs met, just like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. If we make the Kingdom our greatest obsession, we will find that our anxiety about everyday things will reflect the old chorus line: “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” 

Questions to Ponder

  • What anxieties may take up too much room in your mind and heart? 
  • How have you seen God provide for your needs as you sought the truth first?

An Open Invitation

You can receive the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ by praying something like the following:

Dear God, I know I am a sinner. I need Your forgiveness and grace. I believe that Christ paid the penalty for my sin, and He died in my place, and He rose from the dead. I invite Jesus Christ to come into my life as Savior. Thank You for saving me from my sin and making me Your child. Help me to grow and learn how to serve You. Amen.