Background Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34
Quotes of the Week:
Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
This next lesson on Transformation hits upon our plans. Are you a planner? There are different types of plans that people make. Perhaps you have planned a vacation and you are considering what you will do when you are away. Planners tend to have looked at the different possibilities of places to go and have done a fair amount of research prior to going. Non planners usually know where they are going, but will figure out what to do when they get there. Perhaps you plan to retire someday. Financial planning becomes more important to account for things when you reach that point in your life. There are other plans that you might make, based on circumstances you are in. As you know, Berkley and I have been dealing with my ALS diagnosis and its many symptoms, causing us to at least think and act on different medical conditions and home modifications that will need to be made. It can be overwhelming, no, scratch that, it is overwhelming. I am very fortunate and thankful for Berkley in my life, as she tends to be a much better planner in many of these areas, although planning for what you are not looking forward to is another matter altogether.
There are other people who don't seem to really care about plans. They go from one thing to another, seemingly without goals or any thought of what is next. Some may just leave it all to fate. Recently, I saw a quote that says "The truth is most of us discover where we are heading when we finally arrive." I suppose that can be true, based on situations in life, but if you were leaving New York City and driving to Seattle, you are not likely to get there if you just plan on starting to drive in that general direction, hoping to make it. It will obviously take some measure of planning a route. Often, people who don't care about plans end up with people who are very focused on plans, which can lead to other problems.
The next thing to think about is what happens when your plans don't come through. There are some plans that we realize are not likely, and when those don't happen, it's not that big of a deal. For example, we may make a plan of what we will do when we win the lottery, knowing that we are very, very unlikely to win the lottery (and even more unlikely if we don't play the lottery). However, there other times when our plans fall through, it can cause a varying degree of trauma. Perhaps we had planned to work at the same place for an entire career and were laid off. Perhaps we had planned on a vacation and other things came up, causing us to miss it. There are myriads of plans that can fall through. Some of the time, it may feel like we are hitting a speed bump in the road, while traveling fast (and getting jarred around) and other times it may just feel like we hit a concrete wall.
The text of the passage deals more with worry than planning, but at least in many ways, they go hand in hand. Obviously, there will be times where you are uncertain and you don't know how things will pan out, or when things will happen, as in the case with my ALS. I believe that we all deal with anxiety and worry in our lives. For some, it is a bigger problem than for others.
You probably remember the song by Bobby McFerrin in the late 80s, Don't Worry, Be Happy. It has such a catchy tune and it is so light and airy, until you really hit a time of worrying. What have you worried about in the past two weeks? What are you worried about now? It's the summer time now, but during the school year, students of all ages worry about grasping content in school and quizzes and tests. Aside from our (Berkley and mine) personal situation, I know of many others who have legitimate health concerns right now and people are worried about what will happen. Some people are on the verge of financial ruin and they are worried about how they will make ends meet. When we worry about things, we have a divided mind and it typically involves some sort of dread of something that may (or may not) come. When we know something is going to happen, it's hard to get it out of our minds. If we knew that a meteor the size of Mars was headed straight for the Earth and there was nothing anybody could do to destroy it or prevent catastrophe, don't you think that people would be living in a chaotic state? There is no meteor headed toward our planet and we all have no guarantee of tomorrow, but people still worry. I've read that worry is the top mental health disorder in our nation. We worry when things are out of our control. For some reason, when we think we can handle whatever is needed to save the day, we are much less worried (as if we have control). What does the Bible say about worry?
Jesus spoke of the birds of the air. They don't sow. They don't reap. They don't store away in barns. I suppose you could say that they literally fly by the seat of their pants (if they had them). God provides for the birds, but they must do what they need to do. There are no UPS delivery birds, or Amazon for birds. There are no bird construction companies. In the spring, you will likely see birds that are quite industrious, if you watch them build and then protect their nests around your house.
When Jesus said that the birds don't sow, reap or store, He was not saying that we should put our lives in cruise mode and let God take care of all of our needs. In fact, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul wrote "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat". I believe that Jesus was telling us that we need to continue to do what we do, but we should not obsess about it. I think of all the things that many of us would worry about if we were birds. I would wonder where I could find the closest bird feeder. I would wonder where to find food. I would wonder what would happen if I were not able to fly, and then, I would wonder, just how do I fly. I would wonder about protection, and if I was of the variety that flew south in the winter, I would wonder which way is south? The birds seem to go about their business without much of a worry. God does provide for them.
What do we gain by worrying? We do not live longer and as a matter of fact, it probably shortens our lives. We don't grow taller or thinner. We can take care of our bodies, by focusing on the right foods and the appropriate amount of exercise, yet there is still no guarantee of health. Worrying about it won't help at all. It is easy for us to agree that we should not worry, but we all deal with worry for a variety of reasons. It isn't the worst or biggest sin, but it can be the most debilitating.
So, how does this factor into our plans? We need to make plans, but we need to be willing and able to be flexible. When I used to go to help with the Sports Camp in Vancouver, Janet Campbell, one of the ones who organized the camp, spoke to those of us who were workers, telling us that we needed to be flexitive. We were encouraged to be flexible and realize that our plans may not come to pass, but at the same time, we were encouraged to be positive, as our moods could be contagious to the campers. Would you consider yourself as primarily flexitive with life, or do you find yourself focused solely on what you want, allowing yourself to be swayed this way and that by the unfulfilled expectations in life?
We need to see that God cares for the flowers that are here and gone, and realize that He cares much more for each of us, who are here 'longer'. In James 4:4, we can read that our lives are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. In the context of human history and eternity, our lives are but a blip on the screen. However, the average lifetime of a human is many more years than that of grass and flowers.
Jesus really gets to the heart of obsession on anything in this life. You will find many people who are consumed by the things of this world. It's not as if we don't need to be concerned about the things of this world and how we live our lives, but we need to realize that God, the Creator of the universe already knows our needs and He is the great Provider.
We end up getting caught in the trap of needing more and more (or thinking that we need it). We need to realize that there are many things that we have been led to believe that we need, not because of a true need, but because of what we have been told. Those who tell us that we have to have things are generally people who are very worried about those things (for their own benefit). When we are obsessing on worry, we are showing a lack of faith. Many believers have been caught up on the worry train and quite frankly, appear not very different from those who have no relationship with the Lord. Isn't it unfortunate that for many people, you can only guess whether they are believer or not by what they do on Sunday mornings? Honestly, if we have to look hard to find the differences between ourselves as believers and those who aren't, we are truly missing many of the benefits of Christianity.
It is important for us to make plans for our future - we need to schedule appointments and plan other things in our lives, but if we are focused on tomorrow all of the time, we miss today. If you've followed these lessons for a long time, you know that I don't care much to go to the dentist or the doctor, so having the diagnosis of ALS and all of the medical things that I have had in the past couple of years can be overwhelming. Having this diagnosis always puts in the back of my mind of how short life is. While, on one hand, I dread the appointments and surgeries, and I dread the loss of mobility and use of my muscles, I find that I have given up if that is in the forefront of my mind. Seriously, it is difficult to put all of that behind me, but I choose to focus on what God is doing today, and how much of life that I can experience today. That is the only way that Berkley and I can keep it together. Have our plans changed? What do you think? Of course they have. But, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.
Whether you have a terminal illness or not, there can be a sense of dread of things to come. Even when things are going good, we can easily lose focus by setting our sights on goal after goal. I used to call this a highway mentality. It's like driving past landmarks, small towns and other things of interest, because you are solely focused on the destination (or goal). Perhaps we should focus on the side roads, and see what we are going past, as opposed to being so focused on the destination.
It may not lessen your situation, but there are things we can do to minimize worry. Accept the things that you cannot change. There are some situations where we might like things to go differently, but if you are unable to change, accept it and cast the remainder on to God in prayer. Turn your attention to God. We know that He is in charge. He knows your situation and He can sustain. Psalm 55:22 says "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you."
In a bit of a different closing, let me share that our 15 year old beagle dachshund mix, Sarah Sally, was put to rest today. She was a family pet, but more of a family member. Those of you who have had pets know what I'm saying. In a very fitting reflection, Berkley posted this on facebook. I thought I would just let this be the closing.
...as the sun sets on a beautiful night, a sweet and loyal girl watches it for the last time with her sister sitting quietly by her side. Tomorrow they will say goodbye for the last time but tonight, time stood still as they laid on their blanket and watched the sky melt into a pool of golden light and bathe them in its warm glow. There's no worry in their hearts, no pain of what tomorrow holds - they just know they are together and that is all they need to be happy and content in this moment. It is my heart that grieves, that wishes I could explain the beauty and finality of this moment to them. To encourage them to remember it, to etch into their minds so they can recall it on sad days. But perhaps they know something I don't. They aren't focused on what's before them, they are peaceful in this moment, they are focused on "now" and their "now" is nothing but each other, the warm sun on their faces and the love they feel all around them. Perhaps my dogs continue to teach me how to truly live in the moments I am given. To enjoy a sunset without worrying about the next time I'll have that moment or the worries of the next day. Instead, I need to be fully present in this time, with the people I'm around and knowing that I'm well loved. Maybe I need to learn to sit on a blanket and watch a sunset and be happy with that moment and enjoy a peace that seems to escape me - but that my dogs are able to fully embrace.