#32: Stress Busting

Matthew 6:24–34

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

‘Money makes the world go round’ – Liza Minnelli in Cabaret
‘Money, that’s what I want’ – The Beatles
‘Money, money, money in a rich man’s world’ – Abba
‘Living in a material world, and I am a material girl’ – Madonna
‘Forget about the price tag’ – Jessie J

Of course everyone needs money. We need food and shelter, clothes and a roof and a certain amount of pleasure and luxury. Jesus understands our need for cash, but he also understands our love for it. It is this, our cash hunger, our money madness, our grubby, all consuming, love denying, and life absorbing gold lust that he sees as our ultimate life and peace despoiler.

So why did Jesus talk so much about money and wealth. He talked about it as a blockage to personal freedom, as something that changes our heart and causes us huge amounts of worry. Why? Because he brilliantly understands the world and you and me, and he wants something better for us. Most of us live and work as if money will make us happy; he turns this cash position upside down and gives us a glimpse of true happiness.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not primarily worried about money. He is worried about our worry which he seems to think is caused by our search for money and the things it brings. Now Jesus was never some sort of shallow hippy guru; ‘forget about food and clothes and just live on ‘flower power’ type’, but he was a ‘let’s keep it all in perspective and focus on the main issue’ type of teacher. Vicars of course are supposed to be above grubby materialism. Well I am not. I am a vain creature with an appetite for expensive clothes. In particular I like smart shirts, brogue shoes and Levi 501s (I have never worn a pair of Asda jeans in my life). So I can vouch for the accuracy and truthfulness of Jesus’ words. His down to earth practical advice is to strive not for the consumer goods of this world, but for the eternal goodness of the Kingdom. Then as we learn to trust in God all the other stuff will fall into place.

Today our big word for modern living is not trust, but stress. The very idea brings many of us out in a rash. All I have to do is hear the word ‘stress’ and I start stressing. For many of us daily stress has become normal, part of us, often we don’t even know it’s there. We stress about our kids, our home, our car, job, shopping, – we stress about our stress. It tells us always to be busy and never resting, to always go fast, never slow, to do two things at once, never one.

My wife and I are virtually polar opposites in all this. I am the stressful worrier, she is the peaceful truster. Actually life is never quite as black and white as this. I have occasional bits of peaceful trusting in my ‘stresser-mania’ and from time to time she has occasional bits of panic in her ‘trust-fest’. We sort of mutually impact and balance each other out.

It looks as if I have simply been put together in a different way from my wife. Whether it’s down to childhood experiences or DNA, who knows, but it is the way I have turned out. But I don’t want to stay for all my days as a stresser. I want to be and am trying to become a peaceful truster. So here I share with you five little tips, all taken from the Sermon on the Mount.

  1. Build up the ‘want to be’ – ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ – the more you want it the more it will happen.
  2. Give some away – ‘whenever you give alms’ – the more money you give away, the more relaxed you become about it.
  3. Say your prayers – ‘give us today our daily bread’ – praying and trusting go together like ‘salt and pepper’, bacon and eggs’.
  4. Look around you – ‘see the lilies, how they grow’ – God dresses the world better than we dress ourselves.
  5. Pull away from a crazy world – ‘for it is the Gentiles’ – spend more time with the right sort of people.

‘Lord you are more precious than silver.
Lord you are more costly than gold.
Lord you are more beautiful than diamonds,
And nothing I desire compares with you.’