“A lamp to guide my feet, and a light for my path” is how God's Word is described in Psalm 119:105. "Light for Our Path" is a periodic feature in which a member of the church is invited to share thoughts and insights on a passage of Scripture. This month, our contributor is Ken McAlpin.
Matthew 6:9-13 and 25-34
When reading our Bibles, one way to understand the Scripture properly is to pay careful attention to patterns and repetition in the text. I am going to briefly give you examples of both from Matthew 6, which is a key part of Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount.”
The Bible tells us literally hundreds of times that we are not to be afraid and we are not to worry. That, my friends, is both repetition and pattern! But for what reason? Because worry and fear are common to all of mankind. Every single one of us struggles with these issues. In fact, worry/fear is one of the biggest obstacles that all of us face in life. But we make a mistake if we see the teaching of verse 34 as a kind of encouragement from God. Notice that this is not an encouragement, it is a command. We are commanded not to worry, and we are being disobedient if our lives are characterized by worry. Why is that? For one thing, worry is the very opposite of faith. The second thing is that He has given us an incredible salvation and it is truly a shame if we do not live in the joy of it.
Faith is best defined as “trusting” God. In salvation, God is delivering us from evil (as we pray in the Lord’s prayer) and is adopting us into His family. 1 John 4:18 says that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” All human beings understand, deep in our hearts, that we are in rebellion against God and that we justly deserve His punishment. But the gospel tells us that God has taken care of the only true problem that we have in life—our separation from Him, and the punishment that we so richly deserve apart from His grace. In other words, God has banished the greatest reason for fear and replaced it with a relationship of perfect love. To experience the reality of this in our present lives, we must actively trust in the merits of our Savior. This is one of the reasons that Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer. In a practical sense, life is often frightening or stressful. So, we must exercise this trust in our heavenly Father to provide whatever we need, every single day.
When we worry, we are really saying that we do not trust God and that we do not believe His promises. We are somehow believing that our troubles or fears are greater than God’s power to overcome those problems. Or, even worse, we may be believing that God does not really love or care for us. It may be that we believe that we are too bad to be loved by God. But how prideful is that! The Bible shows us how often God has saved sinful, lost people. Do we truly believe that somehow our failures are too great for the Creator of the Universe to overcome? The Bible tells us that He loved us while we were still his enemies (Romans 5:6-11). If He loves an enemy, how much more will He love us now that we are his family? He has adopted each of us into His family (Romans 8:12-17), He has made us heirs of His kingdom (we will rule with Him—Revelation 3:21), and He declares that we are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), among many other expressions of His love. It almost sounds too good to be true! But if those things the Bible says about our adoption into His family are true (and, of course, they are)...then why would we worry about anything else that we face in this short lifetime?
There are, of course, things that will frighten us. A natural disaster, loss of a job or business, war, famine, serious illness. But the issue is not that we are sometimes afraid. It is normal and rational to be afraid in such situations, and, in some cases, our fear may even be part of God’s plan to keep us safe. No, the issue is what we do when we are afraid. We have only two choices. We can worry, or we can trust.
This is what Jesus is telling us here in the second passage from Matthew 6. Remember that Jesus was sitting outside while he was telling them these things. Notice how he points to things they could easily see, at that very moment—the birds and the flowers all around them. In other words, he was saying, “You have proof—right before your eyes—that God provides for (relatively) worthless things like birds or flowers. Do you really believe He will do less than this for you?”
Now, let us look at a second important repetition and pattern in Matthew 6. It is this idea of trusting God for today and not worrying about tomorrow. Have you ever thought about the Lord’s prayer? Why do we pray for our daily bread? I believe that Jesus is referring to bread in a larger sense than merely what we need to eat today. It certainly covers that, of course. But I think that when he says, “our daily bread,” he is talking about everything that we need for the day, not just food. This can cover things like wisdom to make good decisions, friends, health, good work to do, etc.
Why do we pray only for our daily bread? Wouldn’t you like to have all the bread you could possibly need for the next 50 years? Well, let’s leave aside the question of whether you would be a good enough steward to handle all the bread you need for the next 50 years. I believe that God has something greater in mind and that is the relationship that He wants to have with us. He is a loving father and we are His beloved children. It is His joy to give us good things.
When we ask for our daily bread, we are acknowledging our need and dependence on our Father and we are reminded that we must deliberately trust Him every single day. Hopefully, you also noticed that this was the pattern God used when He delivered Israel from their captivity in Egypt. He provided the food they needed, one day at a time, with the manna from heaven (Exodus 16). Receiving only the bread we need for today also ensures that we remember to talk to God, every single day. I sometimes wonder how often we would pray if we didn’t need something from God. It should not be that way! Communicating with God should be a joy for us, and it is a joy for Him to hear from us.
Now notice Jesus’ command in Matt. 6:34. We are to focus on today and are specifically commanded to not worry about tomorrow. When is your anxiety usually the highest? For myself, I have found that it is often the highest when I am trying to think about things too far ahead of me in life. In reality, none of us is promised even the next breath. Yet how many of us worry about things we may encounter next week, next year, or even 20 years from now? We have no idea what our world will look like then or even if we will be here to see it.
The cure for worry is in verse 33. We are to focus on seeking His Kingdom as our highest priority in life, every day. Not so that He will add those other things to us but, rather, because Jesus wants us to understand that it is His Kingdom that is the true prize and the only thing worthy of our attention—today, tomorrow, and for all of eternity. Jesus is telling us that the things that most of us worry about are so insignificant that we should not worry about them, even for today. He is also telling us that we have a loving Father who knows that we need those things, that we can trust Him to provide, and that the proof of His faithfulness is all around us. We simply need to open our eyes and see!
So, in Matthew 6, the cure for anxiety is clear. We are surrounded by evidence that God provides whatever His creation needs and especially whatever His beloved children need. We simply need to open our eyes and see God’s faithfulness, every day. Second, we must understand that the only goal worthy of our pursuit is to obtain God’s kingdom and His righteousness. This should be our life’s focus. Third, we must actively place our trust in God every single day and refuse to worry about the future. Last, we must do all of these things, every day, and one day at a time.
So, how does this look, in practical terms? It is actually quite simple. We are to face today in faith, being grateful for the kindness and faithfulness of God that we can see each day (if we look for it) while also being careful to not worry about tomorrow. Then, tomorrow, we will trust God to provide for that day and the next day we will do the same—for the rest of our lives. I believe that if you practice what this Scripture teaches, you will find your faith increasing, your worry decreasing, and your life’s purpose crystallizing, more and more, every day from here through eternity.