Second Sunday after Easter
John 10: 11
Time magazine conducted a $15 million poll with the National Institute of Health over a six-year period. They recently reported that the No. 1 problem in America is anxiety. More than 13 million Americans are afflicted by it, and anxiety, not drugs, is the No. 1 cause of suicide in America. There is one suicide every two minutes in the United States, and the largest age group is between 15 and 24.
You look in the mirror of your life, and your creditors may be closer than they appear. The people who don’t like you may be closer than they appear. The next birthday is looming. It goes on and on. We do a lot of things to make sure that the worry machine inside of us stays in full operation. There seems to be no escape from this.
A man in Australia in 1939 discerned by reading the news that the South Pacific Basin was going to be caught up in a war very soon. He didn’t know when, but he knew it was going to erupt into a war, so he wanted to do the most judicious, the safest thing possible for his family. He looked at a map of the South Pacific to determine the safest place because he was going to sell everything he had in Australia and move his family there.
So he did. When he found that place, he liquidated his business and all of his holdings; he put everything in cash, and moved to Guadalcanal. And, as you remember, it became the site of one of the most horrible battles fought in the South Pacific during World War II.
We all have a worry machine inside of us. Worry is thinking that has turned toxic. Worry is the imagination used to picture the worst. Worry is interest we pay on trouble before it even appears.
I am a world-class worrier. It’s a family affliction. I don’t worry about the little things so much. I have come to the place that I worry more about the black holes in the ozone layer than anything else. I lie awake at night worrying about the South American rainforest disappearing or the polar ice caps that are melting away. Yeah, right! I only worry about getting through communion without fainting from anxiety.
But I want you to know that 50 percent of the things that are worried about never happen. Twenty-five percent of the things worried about cannot be changed by worry. Twelve percent are things past. Ten percent are petty, miscellaneous things that don’t amount to anything, and about three percent of the things worried about are legitimate. The problem is trying to determine which of the things to be concerned about fall into the three percent.
Worry at its core is atheistic. When we spend our time stewing and grinding about issues around us, we are basically expressing an atheistic point of view. We are breaking the first commandment because we don’t believe that God can take care of our issues.
When we worry, we doubt God’s ability, his providence, and his presence. We think God is not capable of knowing us and is not concerned about us. We fracture, scatter, break, and crumble the first commandment; Thou shall have no other gods before me. We dethrone God and put ourselves in his place.
Worry is also slow suicide. People have said to me, "I am worried sick about this." That is a true statement because worry does make us sick. I am not a therapist, but I understand that there is a close relationship between mind and body. Worry will make us sick; it will choke us down and strangle us. I imagine that very few of us have done our best thinking when we have been anxious about things. What happens when we worry? It only changes the worrier; it does not change what we are worrying about.
Although I read those astounding suicide rates a moment ago, many people do not commit a sudden suicide. We destroy ourselves slowly by worrying over things that exist only in our minds. It is not the work that kills people; it is the worry. Work actually makes people stronger and better and is healthier. Like rust on the blade, worry is rust in our lives. It is not the movement of the machinery that destroys it; it’s the friction and rust that destroys it. Worry and fear will secrete a stomach acid in our lives that tears us up
OK, now I have told us all not to worry – but telling people not to worry only accomplishes one thing. You worry about why you can’t quit worrying. There is an old example that all public speakers have used, and I want to use it here again.
If I were to tell you right now not to think of an elephant, what would you do? You are seeing elephants in your minds right now, aren’t you? If I tell you not to do something, that’s the first thing that you do. Your mind goes right to it. So if I tell you not to think of an elephant, you are going to think of an elephant.
So let’s turn it the other way. What kind of antidote can I give you so that you don’t stew about everything? I think it comes down to good advice, based on Scripture.
First of all, we must remember that Jesus, in our Gospel reading said there are two kinds of shepherds: the good shepherd, who owns the sheep and takes care of them when the wolves come and scatter the flock, and the hireling shepherd, who is brought in under contract to take care of them and runs when wolves attack the flock. The good shepherd stays and never abandons his sheep.
Jesus does not abandon us. You may not understand all that God is doing. You may have to walk in a fog, only sure of your direction by the voice of God. You may see through a glass darkly, but Scripture is there to remind all of us that underneath are the everlasting arms of God.
We have picked up the idea somewhere that if we do wrong the Shepherd will not love us anymore. Remember this Scripture talks about the scattered sheep. Even when the sheep scatter, he is still the shepherd. The shepherd fights to the end for the flock and will never leave the flock. Remember, he is the shepherd; we are the sheep. The problem with many of us is that we try to take on the role of the shepherd also.
The other thing that we need to understand is that the shepherd stands between the sheep and the problem. So between you and the physical health issues that you face, there is the Good Shepherd who loves you. Between you and the impending financial disaster that you are frightened about, there is the Good Shepherd. Between you and the problems that are haunting you from your past, there is the Good Shepherd. Between you and the enemies who would harm you and destroy you, there stands the Good Shepherd.
We fail to realize that He does know about us and cares about us. He is the Good Shepherd.
You say, "I have prayed and nothing happened." I know that feeling. Nothing happens immediately. We are so conditioned to see the television miracles where somebody prays and suddenly angels come with harps in their hands. We don’t understand that God is not scripted by Hollywood. We need to understand that God has his purposes, and the purposes of God will not be delayed.
All of us worry, and have serious concerns. All of us feel vulnerable in this world. But the Shepherd knows His sheep, and the peace of God will guard our hearts.
There is a quote attributed to Winston Churchill that goes like this: "When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened."
The storms may rage on the outside but the sheep are calmed on the inside by the Good Shepherd.
Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care. In thy pleasant pastures feed us for our use thy folds prepare. Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus, thou has bought us, thine we are. Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus, thou hast bought us, thine we are. Amen.