Monday, December 31, 2007

Worrying About The Future?

It's New Year's Eve here in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Christmas is over, the holiday hustle and bustle is over. People's thoughts are beginning to turn to New Year's Resolutions, weight loss after the seasonal delicacies, setting goals for the New Year, and exclaiming, “Where did the last year go?"

Or the last 5, or 20?

But wherever those years may have gone, the next year is upon us.

Here's my question: Are you worried about it? Are you worried about the next year, or the future in general?

Let me state it boldly up front.

There are two things that are infinitely foolish.

One is for a Christian to worry about the future. We all do it sometimes, but we at least need to recognize that it's foolish.

But the other thing that's foolish is for a non-Christian to NOT worry about the future. Someone who doesn't know Jesus as Lord and Savior should worry. In fact we should pray for those we know and love to worry, if they don't know Jesus.

There are lots of books written for unbelievers, which teach them not to worry. Psychology books, and self-help books, and positive thinking books, and success books. The book stores are filled with whole rows of shelves of books under the general heading of Self-Improvement. And almost all of these books contain some so-called wisdom in them which tell their readers not to worry.

Some will even quote the Scriptures, with hardly the slightest understanding of what they are really about. They will quote Phillipians 4:6, which says, “Be anxious for nothing.” But they might leave out the next part of the verse which says, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” They don't really know what that means, do they?

Some will quote Jesus who says, “Do not worry for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” - Matthew 6:34.

Of course, most unbelievers still worry. But many have learned to, as Romans 1 puts it, "suppress the truth in unrighteousness". In other words, they have more or less succeeded in “thinking positive thoughts”.

1800 years ago, a pagan philosopher who is still revered for his wisdom, spoke on this subject. His name was Marcus Aurelius. He was not only a Stoic Philosopher, but he had an interesting job. He was Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 A.D. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus wrote, “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

Nothing wrong with reason. Logic is a gift from God, but may I ask the same question Jesus asked? “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?”

See, Marcus Aurelius had something he should have been anxious about. He should have been anxious about his soul. And in the years he lived, he would have had ready access to the Gospel. The Good News that Jesus Christ, just a few years before Marcus Aurelius was born, died on a Roman cross, to pay for our sins, and rose again from the grave. So that whoever would believe in Him would not perish under the wrath of God, but have eternal life.

But the Emperor chose “the gods” of Rome, instead of The God of creation, and the God-Man of the Cross. And so he had plenty to worry about. But he apparently did not.

The great actor Anthony Hopkins, in a recent interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actor's Studio, said, “Today is the tomorrow I was so worried about yesterday.”

We see that same attitude echoed here by Hopkins, who is in effect saying, “See? I worried about today, and it's okay. So I shouldn't have worried.”

I can't help thinking about the Scripture in 2 Peter 3, where Peter writes, “...mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?” But as Peter says, it escapes their notice that God once destroyed the Earth with a flood, and “by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men....with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day....the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”

Sir Anthony Hopkins has something to worry about, doesn't he? I pray the Lord might open his heart.

But how about you, Christian?

If you are a Christian, a born again believer in Jesus Christ, well that's a different story.

It is utterly foolish for you to worry.

You can use your reason, your logic, just as Marcus Aurelius did, but for you the logic is based on a good foundation.

Your logic goes like this: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:31. See the logic there? That's what I call logic! If God the Father gave us God the Son, sacrificed on a cross for our sins, is it logical He will now desert us? Of course not.

“I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” He tells us. And that's reasonable, isn't it? With what He's already done, will He drop the ball, so to speak?

No. In fact, as the almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God, He can do whatever He wants, and He does.

And one of the things that He does is in that same 8th Chapter of Romans, verse 28. It goes like this, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

And did you ever stop to consider how logical that is? We don't deserve His love, but He chose to love us. And He paid for our sins, forgave our sins, and gave us the gift of His righteousness, declaring us righteous.

And we love Him because He first loved us. And now all things work together for good to those who love Him. That's us. Would it be logical that He would work things together for bad to us who love Him? Of course not.

And so it makes perfect sense when the Scripture says in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Now God knows that we are prone to worry, to be anxious. So He doesn't just say, “Don't.” He gives us a very practical alternative, in case we haven't fully absorbed the glory of His love for us yet. The better we know Him, and the wonder of His Grace, and the truth that He loves and accepts us fully in Christ, and that nothing we could do can diminish that love and Grace – the better we know that in our hearts and minds, the less we would be able to worry or be anxious.

But God knows we are learners. God knows we need our minds renewed. God knows that we are subject to the lies of the world, the flesh and the devil. And so He gives us some practical things to do, while we're learning the depths of His love.

He tells us not to be anxious for anything, but then He says to do something else instead.

First, He says, to let our requests be made known to God. Now obviously God isn't lacking in knowing anything. But He gives us the simple suggestion that we pray (that means talk to Him) with supplication (that means asking for something). Sometimes you'll hear pious preachers say, “Stop asking God for things. Just say, 'Thy will be done' and leave it to Him, you greedy little beggar.”

Well, the problem with that thinking is that it's just not Biblical.

God wants us to ask Him for things. Why? Many reasons, actually, but a big one is that He wants us to be dependent on Him. Not independent. Dependent. God loves being our Father, our provider. Even people like to be needed. Sometimes I neglect to ask for the help of my wife, and she says, “I'm here. Stop acting like a bachelor.”

And God is saying, “Stop acting like a god.” He wants us to pray to Him and ask for things. Of course, He doesn't want us to ask with bad motives, just for pleasure's sake, James 4:3.

But we can now come boldly before His throne of grace, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” - Hebrews 4:16.

So first He says in Philippians to let our requests be made known to God.

But secondly, He says that it should be “with thanksgiving”. What's the logic here? What's the process? Should I pray for something, and then when I get it, be thankful and give God thanks?

Well, there's nothing wrong with that kind of thanksgiving, but that's not what God is getting at here. He's talking about an attitude, as much as an action. Of course we should give thanks for specific things, and specific answers to prayer. But even higher than that, is a heart of gratitude. It's first the recognition for all the good that God has brought into our lives.

Now life is filled with bad things, isn't it? I mean, we live in a fallen world, and the bad stuff, like the poor, you will always have with you.

But most of the things in your life are good, in one way or another. Some of you will have trouble believing that, and I don't have the time right now to prove it. But if you actually, honestly believe that you have more bad things than good in your life, then you have a lot of meditation on the Scriptures to do. You are starting from scratch, you are starting from square one. That's okay. Start.

Absorb yourself in the Word of God and learn of Him until you understand that the blessings He has showered you with are abundant. In a very practical way, maybe write down, or list in your mind, all the blessings you can think of, one at a time. And thank Him for them. And do this over and over, until you have the simple basic truth down, that the blessings in your life far outweigh the bad things. Start with Jesus Christ Himself. Many of us can testify to the truth that if we have Christ, we truly lack nothing. The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall not lack for anything. Everything else is gravy, or frosting, if you prefer.

So first is the recognition for all the good that God has brought into our lives. Then comes our heart attitude about that. It starts with the knowledge that is expressed in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”

In other words, every good in your life is a gift from God. So after you recognize the good, be thankful to Him for it, and express that thankful heart with thanksgiving.

Now this process, like all of the Christian life, requires walking in the Spirit. That's why a pagan can't really live a life of thanksgiving. They may say in their psychology books, “Have an attitude of gratitude,” but what is sadder than having an attitude of thanksgiving and having no one to thank?

But we know who to thank, don't we?

And He is the one who has promised to meet all our needs, Philippians 4:9. We may not even know what our needs really are at a given time, but He does. And He will supply them as surely as He supplies the garment of the Lily of the Field.

And so we don't need to worry. We don't need to be anxious. We have a God, a Lord, a Friend who is closer than a brother. And with Him all things are possible. There is nothing He can't do.

And so I leave you with a final piece of logic. Not cold calculating logic, but the warm joyful logic of the Lord who loves you. Here it is:

“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” The wonderfully logical answer is...Nothing.

So don't worry. And have a Blessed New Year!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good morning devotional for me, Mr. Rayburn. I'm going to forward this to my brother, who's friend did a bit part in a movie with Anthony Hopkins.

It is good to be reminded that we as believers need to keep an eternal perspective, and to rest in Christ, understanding our inheritance in Him.

Thanks,
Mark Vilen

Bhedr said...

Thanks brother.