Combating Worry: How the Army and Jesus Use Procedure to “Keep Calm and Carry On”

A sermon on Matthew 6.25-34

 

“Don’t worry. Chill out. Calm down. Take it easy. What are you so stressed about? Relax!”

I can’t help but feel a bit irked when I hear someone telling me this. Don’t they have any worries of their own? Don’t they get stressed about stuff?

Of course they could be Christians, in which case I’ll let them off. It’s not that Christians have special super powers, but there’s something in the way we’re taught to live out our faith that helps us to combat worry.

How? Well it’s about following a procedure. To illustrate what I mean, let me share what I learned from my time in the Army. I’ve served 3 tours of Afghanistan and spent a year and a half on the front-line in Helmand Province, so I know plenty about worry and procedure.

Picture a scene with me.

It’s the peak of summer. The sun is beating down. You’re patrolling down a dusty village lane. Sweat rolls down your face and into your eyes. Your body armour is heavy and uncomfortable. Your clothes stick to you with sweat. Your mouth is dry.

Children with no shoes on, dart in and out of doorways, shrieking and kicking a battered football. Adolescents sit outside shops chatting or fixing a bicycle. They look up at the patrol. They shout insults, or ask for sweets, or come over to shake your hand. It depends on the village. Thick set dogs tied to gates bark and snarl, and you hear the distant cries of a baby from inside one of the low mud-walled farm buildings.

You walk on with your rifle held firmly in your hands. It’s a day like any other.

Then BANG. Bang. Bang. Bang. Stop.

Everything slows down just a fraction and your whole body reacts to the real-time life-threatening danger.

You’re being attacked. Bullets are whizzing past your head and thumping into walls behind you.

Then time speeds back up to normal and you hear different voices shouting orders and responding, and soldiers scattering in a beautiful dusty dance that looks chaotic to the untrained eye but it’s a perfectly synchronised movement. Every member of the patrol has their place.

Rifles are cocked. Safety catches are switched. Pouches are checked.

Someone shouts: “Contact. Enemy. 100m. Left of Mosque. Two times enemy. Rapid fire.”

Panic rises and bullets cut through the air, but you resist the desire to just lie flat on the floor and cover your head, because you’ve been taught not to panic.

You’ve been taught to trust in procedure and to act accordingly.

Why? So your can do your job.

How? Because training kicks in.

We’re going through the motions we’ve practiced time and time again on exercise. We’ve trained for this moment. Everyone knows their role. Worry is replaced by confidence in procedure and acting in a predictable way to unpredictable circumstances.

What I’ve described isn’t the sort of worry Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6, but the theory’s the same. We combat our worries by following procedure… Christian procedure. So when Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” let’s look at how Jesus modelled dealing with worry.

His simple procedure was to spend a lot of time in prayer. He totally relied on God for every provision, including supernatural provision. Jesus practiced trusting in Him.

This was his go-to response. This was the procedure he followed. This was how his training kicked in.

Jesus tells us to do the same when we worry. To set our hearts on God, to trust in God, to pray to God, to concern ourselves with God’s work and to not worry about tomorrow. And He promises us that then will we see how well we are provided for.

He said: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

But having faith that God’s got it covered is really hard. Maybe that’s why worrying is so commonplace. And if it wasn’t such a universal experience, the Bible wouldn’t be full of lines like “Don’t be afraid, don’t worry, trust in the Lord”. Jesus wouldn’t have needed to say, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”

Exodus 16:18-20 is a classic example. The Israelites were in the desert and God provided them with food. They were told not to stash it overnight, but instead to trust that God would provide the next day and every day. But some of them couldn’t. Despite all they’d been through and all they’d seen of God’s grace and faithfulness, still they worried about not having enough in the future.

Trusting God with our worries has always been hard. But I think it’s so important, not least for our peace of mind, but also because when our worries get too big, they can seriously affect our ability to serve God.

Take money worries for example. This worry comes up a lot in my line of work. Personal debt, increasing energy bills, the pension age rising, house prices and rent increasing. And churches tell me they worry their numbers are dwindling. They worry about repairs. They worry about having enough money to pay their share into the central pot so that the diocese can continue to fund clergy stipends. They worry their most generous givers might ever leave.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Squeamish as we might be at the mention of money, I think bringing it up is really important because not only is money something we handle every single day, but how we spend, save, hoard, stash, give away, donate, and contribute can be indicative of where we are with God, where we are with trust, and where we are as disciples of Jesus.

Worrying about money can get so bad that it clouds our judgement. It makes us so anxious that we want to hold tightly onto it and not give it away. Our money worries can stop us from being the kind of disciples Jesus is calling us to be. We can get fixated on tomorrow with all its “what if’s”.

  • What if I don’t have enough money tomorrow?
  • What if I increase my contributions, but tomorrow I can’t sustain it?
  • What if I have to reduce my giving in the future?
  • Wouldn’t it be best if I just gave less to start with so I know I can always manage?
  • What if a bigger priority comes up?
  • Isn’t it sensible to keep a large amount in reserve?
  • Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Money worries can stifle and hinder us and stop us from being as generous as we truly are. So many of us would agree that being generous people in every way is a really important aspect of being Christians, but the difference between thinking and doing can be massive worries about money.

Money worries can stop us taking the next step. In James’s letter he said faith without deeds is dead. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” We’re called to be people of action. And yet so many of us are trapped because of our money worries. We can’t let go.

But imagine a different picture.

Imagine following and practicing Jesus’ procedure for worry: Praying, spending time in God’s presence, trusting, stepping out, gaining in confidence, trusting more, giving our worries to God. Being honoured and provided for by God. Being freed from that anxiety about tomorrow.

Imagine each one of us having the freedom in Jesus to give as generously as our situations and personal circumstances will allow.

Imagine God seeing and blessing and remembering every single generous act.

Imagine if we had such faith in God that we could each release whatever we felt able, and use that money for good and righteous deeds to serve God.

Imagine if our worries about tomorrow were overcome… would we be able to be more generous today?

What difference will that make to our local area?

To our homes and families and church and wider community? To charities and the Food Bank and the poorest and neediest in our neighbourhoods.

Think back to the soldiers under fire. Think of the panic and worry in that situation, and think of them all getting into the right positions and acting in predictable ways. Think of how they were able to keep calm and carry on because they did what they’d practiced. We need to do the same when we worry.

Remember that our procedure is to pray, seek God’s kingdom first, trust, and step out in faith. How much more manageable would our money worries become? How much would that free us to live more generously? Remember that God is bigger than any of our worries and knows our personal situations inside out. God knows if there’s any obstacle in the way. And God asks us to be generous only according to what each of us has.

And remember that God will honour our generosity, so have faith. God feeds wild birds, how much more will he feed us?

If you feel Jesus is inviting you to recommit yourself to trusting in God more so that you’re released from any money worries you may have that are restricting you from being who God’s calling you to be, then next time you pray, pray about that. See where it takes you.

I’d like to end in a prayer based on Philippians 4:4-7:

Lord help us to trust that you are at hand; and to not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to You. And Lord may Your peace, which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen

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