Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or 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 in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
According to the The Letter to the Hebrews, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). In chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins a teaching on how to pray (including fasting and almsgiving). The Chapter culminates in the session on “Do not worry.” This session (Matt 6:25-34) is introduced by the word “therefore,” as if Jesus wanted his disciples to pay attention to the conclusions he was about to draw based on the preceding teaching.
At the core of Jesus teaching in Chapter 6 is our relationship with the Father. Our prayer, our fasting, our almsgiving, should be guided and inspired by our relationship with the Father. It is not enough to simply pray and fast. What distinguishes and empowers our prayer life is that we are children of the Father. Our prayer is not addressed to an impersonal supernatural force called “God.” What is at stake here is the “personal-relationship” factor. It is the turning point in prayer. Human beings are persons. Their greatest fulfillment is to enter into a relationship with fellow persons. In Genesis Chapter 2, we read that Adam was surrounded by all the riches of creation. Yet, his joy was incomplete until he found Eve, another person like him. When you know you’re in the presence of another person who cares and understands, you know you’re not alone. It gives you a certain assurance that all will be well. It calms you down. This assurance can and does neutralize anxieties. Anxieties arise from a number of factors. One well known cause of worries and anxieties is the feeling of insecurity. Many experiences in life can produce this feeling.
Let us return to Jesus’ teaching. He says that we should not worry about what to eat, what to wear, and what tomorrow brings. He tells us the reason for his caution against anxieties: Your heavenly Father knows that you need these things. In other words, you are not alone. You have another Person with you. He is your Father. He has you covered. He has your tomorrow covered. You are safe in his hands (See Isaiah 49:16a: “See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name”). Your tomorrow is safe with him. All of this, put together, produces a feeling of security. In Christian terms we call this feeling, faith. But faith is more than just a feeling. It is what The Letter to the Hebrews calls: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” When you have assurance of something hoped for, why do you still worry? When you have the conviction (i.e. you are convinced) of things not seen, why still worry? This is the point of Jesus’ teaching. Faith and worries cannot co-exist. To people who worry about the necessities of life Jesus says: O you of little faith (Matt 6:30). In Jesus’ view, therefore, worries arise out of a lack of faith (i.e. a lack of assurance and conviction). Moreover, Christ teaches that when we give in to worries and become anxious, we are like “pagans.” The reason is simple. Pagans do not have a personal God, which means that they cannot have a personal, filial relationship with their idols and gods. This lack of personal, loving relationship is often the cause of anxieties, especially when things go wrong. Let us recall the incident in 1Kings 18:26-28. Here is what Holy Scripture says about the prophets of Baal who engaged Elijah in a prayer contest: “And they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped about the altar which they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.” Everything about this prayer suggests that it is born, not from filial assurance and conviction, but from frustration and anxiety. Prayer should never be a frustrating experience. Anxieties can neutralize faith. Similarly, faith neutralizes anxieties. According to the Savior’s teaching, our response to experiences of life (pleasant or unpleasant) should be faith, not anxiety.
To sum up: A key distinction between Christianity and “paganism” is that the latter places near absolute priority and emphasis on the outcome of prayer (results first, results only). By contrast, Christianity’s primary priority is on the personal relationship with God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). It is a religion of personal relationship with God. Personal, enduring union with a personal God is more important than the provision of necessities (important as these are). In Christianity, the worshipper seeks values friendship with God more than the “answers” to his requests. To become God’s son, God’s friend, is more valuable than to receive a promotion at your workplace. For this and other reasons, Christ said: “But seek FIRST the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matt 6:33). For a “pagan,” God is a means to an end. But for a Christian, God is an end in himself. And if God is an end in himself, anxieties have no place. In every situation, faith is what you need. Anxiety is what you do not need. Amen!
Invitation to pray:
Dear Jesus, by your Blood you have made me a child of God. Increase in me your grace of faith. I cast all my worries unto you, for you care for me. From this moment, I renounce the spirit of anxiety in your mighty name. I receive your peace which comes from faith. Fill my heart with the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen. Thank you, Lord. Amen.