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What Matters

A sermon by Howard Batson, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.

Philippians 4:1-9

November 3, 2013

Our stress levels are off the chart, aren’t they?  The death of someone in our family.  The pain of divorce.  A court case pending.  Awaiting the lab results of the biopsy.  Having your name on the list for the next round of layoffs.  Bringing a new baby home from the hospital.  Taking care of your elderly parent in your home.  Facing foreclosure on the mortgage.  A son or a daughter about to go away to college.  Moving.  Tension with your boss at work.  Being transferred to the night shift.  Our lives are filled with anxiety, stress, and worry.

Norman Vincent Peale once said that people are so worried in today’s society that they can’t even fall asleep in church anymore!  The reality is we are worrying ourselves all the way to the grave.

Stress.  Worry.  Anxiety.  All impact our health. 

Wake Forest University found, in a study, that cancer cells in animals were fueled by anxiety and worry.

Yale University discovered that worry and anxiety actually shrink the brain.

The Journal of Molecular Psychiatry found that worry and stress prematurely age kids.

The U.S. National Institute on Mental Health discovered that stress causes depressive symptoms.

Penn State research suggests that stress causes increases of chronic diseases.

The Journal of Neurology and Neurosurgery and Psychiatry stated that stress raises stroke risk.

Columbia University Medical Center concluded that stress raises the risk of heart attack at the same rate as smoking five cigarettes a day, or a 27% higher risk.

Carnegie Mellon University found that stress even makes the common cold worse.

And the University of Miami said that women with less stress have more positive results from breast cancer treatments.

We are literally worrying ourselves to death.

A little boy expressed his views as he began his journey in education.  Just think what his small mind was worrying about on his first day of school.

My name is Donald, and I don’t know anything.  I have new underwear, a loose tooth, and I didn’t sleep last night because I’m worried.  What if a bell rings and a man says, “Where do you belong?” and I don’t know?  What if the trays in the cafeteria are too tall for me to reach?  What if my loose tooth comes out when we have our heads down and are supposed to be quiet?  Am I supposed to bleed quietly?  What if I splash water on my name tag and my name disappears and no one knows who I am anymore?  (Erma Bombeck, www.homileticsonline.com)

We start worrying when we’re little, and we never grow out of it, do we?  For people who really enjoy worrying (for some people I think it’s a hobby), there is always something to worry about.

There is a fascinating book written by a psychologist, William Van Ornum, Ph.D., called A Thousand Frightening Fantasies.  It’s a book that some people find very helpful.  At one point in the book he says that our minds are like an airport that is always open.  No sooner does one airplane leave than another one is ready to land.  So it is with the person who is constantly worried about some problem of conscience.  He or she might get rid of one particular matter, might go see the preacher, might talk to a counselor, to a therapist, to a psychologist, but then another problem quickly comes along to take the place of the one just gotten rid of. (www.homileticsonline.com)

Some of you need to close down the airports in your mind – shut down the runways, the runways of anxiety, stress, and worry.

Worry robs us of so much.

Worry is really borrowing, isn’t it?  It’s a disease of the future.  Worry borrows the unknown trouble of tomorrow.  The worrier loses the beautiful spirit of hope because worry paints such a gloomy, shocking, dreadful picture of the future.  (Joyce Landorf)

Our message today is a message of hope, and worry robs us of that hope.  When you borrow tomorrow’s problems, you rob yourself of today.

Worry distorts our thinking.  We begin to look at life through a magnifying glass that makes things bigger than they really are.  When we worry, our molehills become mountains.  (www.unionchurch.com/archive/032501.html)

There is not anyone here this morning who hasn’t had some anxiety or some worry – so, with all of our care and concerns we’re going to look at some ways that God’s people ought to handle worry.

I.  Join with God’s people.

Dr. Hallowell, the leading expert on worry, has discovered that being involved with others is a great way to take away worries.  (http://onhealth.webmd.com)  Paul posed the same a long time ago in the book of Galatians when he said, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2)

John Leo, writing in U.S. News and World Report, noted that twins are now more frequent.  Someone said, “I guess it’s because little children are afraid to come into this world alone.”

People who feel alone in this world run a much higher risk of illness (U.S. News and World Report, August 6, 1990, p. 62).  When we come and gather in worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we do not come to exhibit our holiness or righteousness.  Rather, we come with our hurts, our anxieties, our stresses.  We come together in Sunday School classes and study God’s word.  We share prayer requests.  We worship together.  We’re a supportive family.

So, first of all, join with God’s people.

II.  Focus on others.

Amy Flowers, a psychologist, states that when she serves as the beverage lady at a local soup kitchen each week to people whose problems include poverty, homelessness, and paralyzing disabilities, she realizes that her problems are not so bad after all.  One way to get rid of worry in your life is to focus on somebody else’s life.

By nature, worry is a self-centered exercise.  Those who focus on helping others are much less likely to overdose on their own, often illusory, would-be, could-be problems.

III.  Admit your fears.

Maybe you’re afraid about losing your job.  Whenever that thought pops into your mind, don’t try to force it out of your head.  That really reinforces the fear by not facing it head on.  Take a moment and admit to yourself that it is always possible that one might lose one’s job.  Maybe make an appointment to go and see your supervisor and ask if there are any areas in which you need to improve.  Prepare for all possibilities by having a savings cushion.

Acknowledge your scary thoughts, and they don’t seem so scary any more.  You lessen their power by confession.  Paul tells us that in this passage – we are to let our requests be made known to God (v. 6).

IV.  Realize that most of what you worry about never, ever takes place.

Most of what you worry about never, ever takes place.  Mark Twain, always insightful, said, “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” (IOW Fall 2000)

Did you hear that?  That’s the way a lot of us are.  We put ourselves through the stress, the anxiety, the emotions of a lot of terrible things that never, ever happen.  “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”  There aren’t many things that actually do happen.  We worry about a lot more than ever does happen.  But we’ll deal with it when it gets here.  Do not borrow tomorrow’s worries.

One study suggests that an average person’s anxiety focused in these areas:  40% about things which will never happen; 30% about things that happened in the past, which can’t be changed; 12% about criticism from others, most of it untrue; 10% about health, which gets worse with stress; and 8% of our worry goes to real problems that need to be faced and solved.  (Preaching, Vol. 2, No. 3)  How much of your worry is meaningless?

We create a lot more problems trying to solve problems that don’t exist.  There is a true story about two guys in Fort Worth, Texas, who had a 90-year-old mother, and they were worried about her safety.  She was still driving, still going out and about.  She was just an easy target, so they decided they needed to get mama a pistol.  “Mama, we’ll get you a pistol.  We’ll show you how to use it, then you can take care of yourself.”  I guess they were buying themselves peace of mind more than they were buying her safety.  I don’t think we need a lot of 90-year-old women packing heat out there, even in the state of Texas.

Well, they bought her a pistol which she dutifully packed in her purse.  They taught her how to use it.  And one day, when she left the Ridgmar Shopping Center to get into her car, she found two young men sitting in the car.  She took out that pistol.  She pointed it at their heads, and she said, “Get out of my car or I’ll shoot you right now.”  They jumped out of the car and ran off.

She got into the car, nervous now – put the pistol down on the seat beside her, put the key in the ignition, and it didn’t fit.  She realized this was their car – it was not her car.  She had just become a car thief.  She went over the parking lot and found her car.  She said she wanted to find the two young men to apologize, but they were no where to be found.  (Ervin Gathings, via Barry Bailey, Fort Worth, TX 10/4/92)

You know, we have  a lot of anxiety over a lot of things that really just don’t matter.  Don’t matter.  If a real problem develops in your family, in your life – you’ll understand that most of the things you’ve worried about in life, well, you have wasted your time.

V.  Adjust your attitude.

With thanksgiving (verse 6), let your requests be made known to God.

Don’t deny them, but confess them with a heart of thanksgiving.  You might be thinking, “That’s easy for Paul to say.”  What about Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  Paul is  awaiting the result of a trial.  He is awaiting, with a sense of imminence, the pronouncement of the judgment which will mean life or death.  Paul is waiting on the big one.  Paul sits and waits for the word that will save his life or take his life.  But even as he waits, Paul says, “Have a heart of thanksgiving.  Don’t worry.”

VI.  Don’t delay (v. 2-3).

Worrying can make you put things off.  Procrastination is really just a fancy form of worry.  When you procrastinate, you are holding an unpleasant task or uncomfortable emotions at arm’s length instead of taking a deep breath and facing them.  For example, April 15 is looming and you haven’t even located your W-2s.  You’re dreading finding out how much money you’ll owe, so you put off filing until the very last minute.

Or, you know you’re due for a mammogram but somehow you can’t seem to find the time to fit the appointment into your busy schedule.

Ignoring important issues such as finances or health just makes your anxiety worse.  Yes, you may get some bad news, but at least you’ll know what you’re dealing with sooner rather than later, when the situation may be harder to change.  Tackle the thing you hate to do the most first.  And then, after a difficult morning you can have a worry-free day stretched out before you.

Facing your fears head on allows you to put worry out of the picture.  Don’t procrastinate.

All-time hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, of the Los Angeles Kings, said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.  There are some of you sitting on the sidelines of life, procrastinating because you’re afraid of failure, afraid of discomfort.

Don’t procrastinate.

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1).

VII.  Paul says pray (v. 6).

There is a bumper sticker I saw one time that said, “Why pray when you can worry?”  Well, that’s not that far off.  There is a Jamaican proverb that summaries the biblical view of worry and prayer.  The proverb states, “If you’re going to pray, don’t worry.  If you’re going to worry, don’t pray.”

Prayer puts our burden on Him.

Pray.  Don’t worry – pray.

VIII.  Keep your mind on what matters (v. 8)

If you read the average newspaper or listen to the average news broadcast, your mind is filled with negativity – who’s in trouble, who’s fallen, who’s bankrupt and bad.  The newspaper’s stock in trade is often anything that is unholy, unjust, impure, ugly, of ill-repute, vicious, and blameworthy.  Are they really giving us a true representation of God’s good and beautiful world?  How do we celebrate the goodness of the Creator if we feed our mind only with the places in the world which humans have made ugly?

With internet access and news broadcasts from around the world, we have the bad news now not only from our own city – we have the bad news from the whole world laid at our feet.

Be careful.  Don’t read too much or listen too much to negativity.  Keep your mind on what really matters:  that which is “honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (v. 8).

I wonder what the ratings would be if the news changed its approach?  What if there was one channel that really dedicated itself to the good, the worthy, the honorable?  Occasionally the local news will do a positive story.  What if there was another channel that occasionally did a negative story, but most often told us about what was good and great in our city and beyond? 

Do people really want all the negativity, the bad news?  If so, it shouldn’t be that way with God’s people.

There is an old Quaker story told about a king who asked for an inventory to be taken of all the flowers in his kingdom.  He sent out a census taker with a clipboard to count all his flowers.  Then he realized that the information would be of little value to him unless he had something to compare it with.  So he called for a second census taker.  This one was asked to count all the weeds in the kingdom.  Before long, the first census taker came back, floating into the king’s chamber, draped in smiles and warmth.

“King, whatever you do, don’t ever transfer me or my family out of this kingdom.  It has to be the most beautiful kingdom in the world.  It is overrun with flowers.”

Just then the door slammed and the second census taker came stomping in, threw down his clipboard and demanded an immediate transfer to another land.  “King,” he shouted, “this has got to be the worst kingdom in the world.  It’s overrun with weeds.  I didn’t even get past the drawbridge and I couldn’t count all the weeds in this kingdom.  I want out!!”

The moral of the story is that in this life you are going to see what you are looking for, and it will affect your feelings and behavior.  If we look for the things that are excellent and good, we will excel and be good.

I don’t know what makes you worry…take it an leave it with God.

Slow me down, Lord.  Ease the pounding of my heart with the quieting of my mind.  Steady my hurried pace with the vision of the eternal reach of time.  Give me, amid the confusion of the day, the calmness of the everlasting hills.  Break the tension of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory.  Help me to know the restoring power of sleep.  Teach me the art of taking minute vacations, of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a good book.  Remind me each day of the fable of the hare and the tortoise, that I may know that the race is not always given to the swift, that there is more to life than increasing its speed.  Let me look at the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.  Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values that I may grow toward Your will for me.