What Good Does Worry Do?

Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? — Matthew 6:27

As someone has observed, worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but it will never get you anywhere!
Our pressure-packed world offers countless opportunities for anxiety, anguish, and, in a word, worry. No wonder many of us spend an inordinate amount of time worrying: we worry about something in the past that can never be rectified; we worry about something in the present over which we have no control; or we worry about something in the future that may not even come to pass. Looking back over my own life, I confess that most of what I worried about that might happen in the future never did.

Still, we will overcome our worries only when we understand this overriding truth: God does not merely frown upon worry; He expressly forbids us to worry. The following four principles may help you more easily resist the forbidden fruit of worry.

It Is Foolish to Worry

Note the context of Jesus’ question: He was encouraging us to look at the birds of the air. They don’t plant crops or gather a harvest. They don’t build barns or maintain storehouses. The heavenly Father simply feeds them, a fact that prompted Jesus to ask His listeners,

Are you not of more value than they? — Matthew 6:26

Instead of using a great soaring bald eagle to illustrate this truth, Jesus spoke of the little field sparrows:

Not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. — Matthew 10:29

These tiny birds — two were sold for a single copper coin — are vastly inferior and of far less value than you and I. So it makes sense that our Sovereign Lord, who provides for the birds and who cares infinitely more about you and me, will also provide for our needs. As the late singer Ethel Waters used to remind people at every Billy Graham crusade, “His eye is on the sparrow… and I know He cares for me!”

Said the robin to the sparrow,

“I should really like to know

Why those anxious human beings

Rush around and worry so.”

Said the sparrow to the robin,

“Friend, I think that it must be

That they have no heavenly Father

Such as cares for you and me.”

~ Civilla D. Martin, 1905

It Is Fultile to Worry

Not only is it sheer folly to worry, it is also futile. To help us realize this, Jesus asked, “which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Matthew 6:27). At first reading, this question sounds like a reference to physical height. But a cubit equals eighteen inches, far more physical height than the context of this rhetorical question suggests. Cubit, however, can also mean “duration of life.” Worrying will not increase your physical size, elevate your standing in the community, improve your reputation, or — as Jesus taught here — add any length to your life. Our times are in God’s hands. The psalmist reminded us that our days on Earth were already numbered before we lived a single one of them or drew a single breath (Psalm 139:16).

So what will worry do for you? Absolutely nothing. Worrying is futile.

One of my own biggest challenges when trying not to worry about a problem is to hurry toward the solution. But no matter how bleak a situation looked, Jesus never hurried to solve it. Not once in the gospels do we find Him saying to His disciples, “Let’s go! we have to hurry or we’ll be late for the miracle!” Waiting rather than hurrying — learning to wait on the Lord — is essential to overcoming worry. Throughout the Psalms we are continually told to wait on the Lord. Psalm 130:6 says,

My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.

Consider this comparison. First, we have to wait for the sunrise. We cannot hurry it. It does not rise any sooner if I move the hour hand on my watch. Second, the sun always rises. We never wait in vain for the sun. Every sunset since time began has been followed by a sunrise — and God is just as faithful as the sun He created. Those who wait on Him are like those who “watch for the morning.” He is always right on time, and no matter how desperate we may be, we can count on God to rise and meet us according to His perfect timing.

Worrying has never solved a single problem. In fact, it has complicated and compounded many of them. Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its trials, but it often empties today of its triumphs. Worrying accomplishes nothing.

It Is Frustrating to Worry

In Matthew 6, Jesus turns our attention to the lilies growing wild in the fields that “neither toil nor spin” (Matthew 6:28). They don’t punch a time clock or worry about how they look or what they wear.

Specifically He calls us to “consider… how they grow” (Matthew 6:28). Growth remains something of a mystery: How does a tiny seed ultimately become a beautiful flower? How does a speck of protoplasm, undetected by the human eye, become a human being with all the intricacies of a circulatory system, respiratory system, nervous system, digestive system, and the like? In winter a flower bulb lies hidden in the Earth, covered over by a frozen mound of ice and snow, as if it were dead. Yet, when spring arrives, that bulb bursts into life, sprouting stalk, leaves, and blossoms. Jesus wanted us to remember that the same God of glory who watches over those lilies watches over you and me. How do those lilies grow? God does it! They do not toil or worry. In His hands, they are carefree.

The moment we cut a flower off at the stem, it begins to die. Today it stands, radiant and gorgeous, but the next day the colors have faded and the leaves withered. You, however, are immortal, and you were created in God’s image. No wonder He cares infinitely more for you than He does for the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. That being the case, choose to focus on Him.

Worry will never take you anywhere except to frustration.

It Is Faithless to Worry

Jesus was very direct:

If God so clothes the grass of the field… will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? — Matthew 6:30

This gentle rebuke reminds us that worry is a lack of faith in God’s promise to protect and provide for His people.

The real test of our spiritual maturity is not so much our actions as our reactions.

In fact, the entire message of this Sermon on the Mount has to do with our reactions. If someone asks you to go one mile, go two. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other to him also. If someone asks for your tunic, give him your cloak as well (Matthew 5:39-41).

One more thought about worry. Both faith and worry are reactions to the events of life. If your life is governed by Scripture, you will react to certain circumstances with faith. If your life is not governed by Scripture, those circumstances will have greater power over you, and you will understandably react with worry.

Worry is not just foolish, futile, and frustrating. The most damaging aspect of worry is that it reveals our lack of trust in God and His promises.

Q & A:“Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” The obvious answer is… not a one of us. Worrying accomplishes nothing positive. The key to being free of worry is making God our top priority. Jesus put it this way:

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [provision for our needs] shall be added to you. — Matthew 6:33

Believers who have gone before us trusted that truth and sang, “Just remember in His word how He feeds the little bird; Take your burden to the Lord… and leave it there!” (Charles A. Tindley, 1916).

Excerpted with permission from The Jesus Code by O. S. Hawkins, copyright O.S. Hawkins.

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Your Turn

Are you bound up in worry? Are you a prisoner of anxiety and stressful thinking? Do you believe that you are worth more than many sparrows? Jesus has His eye on you. He is watching. He has your name tattooed on the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49:16). And, He is in control. Come share your thoughts about worry with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

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Dr. O.S. Hawkins

For more than 20 years, O. S. Hawkins served pastorates at the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and in Dallas, Texas. He is president of GuideStone Financial Resources, which serves 200,000 pastors, church staff, missionaries, doctors, and other workers of various Christian organizations with their retirement needs. He is the author of more than 25 books and preaches regularly at Bible conferences, evangelism conferences, and churches across the nation.

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