Do Not Worry: An invitation or a rebuke?

Don’t worry! Such a simple statement. It isn’t hard to grasp, to understand. I know what worry is and if I forget (as if) I can always look it up!

If you google ‘dictionary definition for worry’ the following will appear in a box at the top of the page. If words aren’t your thing just skip over this bit!
– feel or cause to feel anxious or troubled about actual or potential problems.
synonyms: fret, be worried, be concerned, be anxious, agonizebrood, dwell on, panic, get in a panic, lose sleep, get worked up, get in a fluster, get overwrought, be on tenterhooks
– annoy or disturb.
synonyms: trouble, bother, cause anxiety, make anxious, disturb, distress, upset, concern, disquiet, discompose, fret, agitate, unsettle, perturb, frighten, alarm, scare, fluster, flurry, stress, strain, tax, 
harass, torment, plague, bedevil, besiege, irk, vex..
 – the state of being anxious and troubled over actual or potential problems.
synonyms: anxiety, disturbance, perturbation, trouble, bother, distress, concern, care, 
upset, uneasiness, unease, disquiet, disquietude, disconcertment, fretfulness,restlessness, nervousness, nerves, agitation, edginess, tension, tenseness, 
stress, strain…
Ringing any bells?
Interestingly the worry box that Google offered also had a graph plotting the frequency of mentions of the word worry over time. Starting in 1800 the line sat at the bottom of the mentions axis for about 50 years, and then crept up steadily to a ridiculous height in 2010. I didn’t chase up the definition of terms or the reliability of the research, however the general pattern doesn’t surprise me!
Not that worry is a new thing. I’m sure they worried before 1800 – as we can see from the synonyms above there were plenty of other words they could have used to express themselves or maybe they just talked less about it than we do!
So, when we are told “Do not worry” it is not the meaning we are struggling with, but the practice.
I don’t know about you, but the phrase “Don’t worry” does anything but calm me down. In fact, often it has quite the opposite effect – my pulse quickens and it gets harder to breathe!
Imagine the effect of Lance Corporal Jones running around yelling “Don’t panic!” in Dad’s Army and you’ll get the picture.
That is if you are of a certain age like me!
Not only am I worried about something, but now I am being told off for being worried about it!
Or are we?
Philippians 4:6-9 – how familiar are you with those verses?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

I don’t know how many times I have read, sung, taught on, been taught on, re-read and memorised Philippians 4:6-9, but I know it is a lot. A lot, but not enough – no, that is too negative – not to completion. As I have read the words of one of God’s saints, and as the Holy Spirit has been at work in me by his living and active word I have seen something quite new – as though I am seeing the passage in focus for the first time.
The saint I am referring to is Linda Dillow. I am reading her book “Calm My Anxious Heart – A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment” published by NAVPRESS.
As I drove to collect the One and Only I reflected on what I had just been reading and the phrase ‘Do not worry – pray’ came to mind. So often we concentrate on the first half of that sentence without reading on. We have folded the phrase in half and only look at one side of it. Meditating on this passage then becomes like trying to appreciate a funny greetings card without looking at the punchline inside. Similarly we are challenged to hear Jesus’ words from Matthew 6 ringing accusingly in our ears: “Do not worry”…. but we have folded over the part that says ‘Know your Father’.
In fact it is worse than that because in practice I have added my own punchlines and they aren’t very funny.
Don’t worry – behave yourself. Don’t worry – it is naughty. Don’t worry – what little faith you have. Don’t worry – don’t you ever learn. Don’t worry – I can’t believe we are back here again! Don’t worry – you’re being a hypocrite. Don’t worry – just stop worrying…
In effect it becomes a rather humiliating caution because you go on doing it again and again.
Imagine coming regularly across a sign on a radiator that says: “Do not touch – this surface gets very hot”.
You’ve read the notice, you’ve understood the caution, you’ve been burned before so you know the warning is warranted – and yet you touch it again and again and again! Eventually the warning sign starts laughing and pointing. “You idiot!” the sign seems to say, “You touched it again – will you ever learn!”
Of course, in one sense, the call not to worry is a caution. A loving caution against something that is harmful to us. In one sense it is a command – worry is a symptom of the sin in our lives that dominates our perspective, takes our eyes off of God and sets us chasing after other things and we do need to – all things that we need to throw off in the words of Hebrews 12:1.
BUT let’s consider why God says – not once, but again and again and again:
It certainly isn’t to laugh at us and discourage us. Nor do I believe it is simply to rebuke us. No, I believe that he says it to invite us.
Imagine with me a different sign: “Don’t be hungry – eat from my table”.
This calls to mind Aslan’s table at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
If you just concentrated on the first half of the sign you would be missing the point wouldn’t you. To a starving person “Don’t be hungry” is neither a very comforting or very helpful phrase to come across on a billboard. But add to it the invitation “eat from my table” and put a table laden with goodies in front of it and you have something very different! You have something that will bring a smile to their face, a lifting of their spirits, take a load off their shoulders and put a spring in their step.
There may be times when God calls us to be physically hungry, but he never wants us to fast from peace. Because of Jesus, God’s table of peace is always full for his children to feed from.
Re-read the verses from Philippians – but read them as a peace-hungry person being invited to a peace feast!
Dear Father God, thank you so much for bringing these verses into focus in this way for me this week. Thank you for your saints who teach us from your living and active word and for your Holy Spirit who quickens our hearts to the lessons you would have us learn. Help me to feast on the peace that is freely available to me in Jesus. When I worry may it act like a rumbling tummy that sends me rushing to your table groaning with peace. In Jesus, name Amen.
A postscript:
How exciting to think that this time last week God hadn’t ‘spoken’ those particular words into my heart and that now he has. God’s word is complete (Hebrews 1:1-4) but his gracious and loving communication of it to me isn’t! To put in one more obscure TV reference from way back when God never says “I will say this only once” and certainly not in a terrible french accent!

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