“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Jesus tells us not to worry and instead to trust in Him. He presents worrying about even basic life necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing as a sinful mistrust in the Lord. I remember still the first time I read these words and truly understood them. They had a profound impact on me. With only a few exceptions, I have largely purged worry from my own life because of them. Sometimes, though, I have let this intention to not worry drift too far in the other direction which is laziness. This prompts and interesting (at least to me!) question in my mind: What does it look like to live free from worry in such a way that honors Christ?
Here’s why this matters: We are told to not worry. But, we are also told to work hard. God created us for work. He is not the kind of God who regularly drops something in our laps when we have done nothing for it. A good friend told me the story of his asking a baseball hitting coach about the number of his players who would make the sign of the cross or some other religiously significant gesture before they went up to bat. He asked the coach if it helped them at all. He replied, “Only if they can hit a fastball.”
I think God’s the same way. He will bless our efforts, but only if we first make them. What this means is that not worrying is not the same thing as doing nothing. God expects us to work and to work hard.
And yet, when we work hard for the things we have, it is incredibly easy for our hearts and minds to begin to drift in the direction of believing that our having them actually depends on our efforts. After all, if God doesn’t provide until we start moving, then it would seem that our moving is what prompts the provision. If, then, our effort is the necessary thing, if we don’t make it, we may not have what we need. This means that we have to do the work or else we go without.
As soon as things depend on us, though, worry comes rushing in the door. Have I done enough? Were my efforts sufficient? What if I missed something? I’ve got to work harder. I’ve got to put in more effort. The downward spiral here can take us to a dark place very quickly. We can very quickly find ourselves in a place in which, while we may perhaps espouse a public trust in the Lord, the truth is that our deepest trust is only in ourselves. This is the very thing against which Jesus was warning us.
At the same time, again, not worrying is not the same thing as not doing anything and waiting for people to simply give us everything. Laziness and idleness are sins just as devastating to our character as busyness and worry. They are equally condemned as well. Paul was the one who said that if a person isn’t willing to work, he should not eat (meaning, in context, that such a person should not be given any benevolence assistance to help meet his needs).
So what’s the balance? I think there are two traits most important to navigating this particular path. The first is humility. Humility is maintaining a constant awareness of who God is and who we are and being okay with this. It is not thinking of ourselves and our abilities more highly than we ought. In this case, it is recognizing that our efforts, good as they may be, cannot suffice to meet our needs on their own. And then, once we have come to this realization, responding not by working even harder or angrily giving up, but by continuing to work hard, to lean into this reality, and to make certain the other trait is in place.
The other trait is gratitude. As we work, and with our awareness of the insufficiency of even our best efforts to meet our needs firmly in place, we move forward with grateful hearts for what God is doing to provide for us. We live with gratitude that He consistently takes our efforts even when they are most meager, and makes them enough, even more than enough. We are grateful for the ability to work and receive meaningful return for it. We are grateful that God shared of His resources generously with us. And, we gratefully trust that He will continue doing so because of His unchanging faithfulness.
When we can lean into these two traits, worry will become a thing of the past. So will laziness. We will find ourselves pursuing the meaningful labor of the kingdom of God. We will cease to bear the load of worry that our neighbors do. Instead, we will be able to keep our eyes more firmly on Jesus who will unfailingly make sure we have everything we need. Worry really can be a thing of the past. And, we really can work hard in meaningful ways. The whole thing can be ours. It can be ours because it belongs to God who shares with His people and we can be His people.