"Where Our Worries Belong"
(Delivered Sunday, February 11, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).
As a pastor, I'm probably more aware than most of the different things that are going on in the lives of our church members. I know that several in our church family are, right now, going through some very difficult and frustrating trials. And it may seem like a paradox; but I have felt led this morning to share with you what the Bible tells you to do concerning those things about which you can do nothing.
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I'll never forget something that happened in a church that Marilyn and I used to attend. We were talking with someone that we hadn't seen in church for a while; and we wanted to express our concern for them. We knew that this particular woman was going through a lot of trials at the time; and we wanted to let her know that we had been missing her, and were hoping that everything was alright. And in response, she told us why we hadn't seen her for a while: "I've just got too many troubles in my life right now, and I just need to take a break from church."
I'll never forget that response. As a matter of fact, I was haunted by it for a long time. I wondered what we were doing so wrong as a church that people had to feel they needed a "break" from it if they were going through a trial! It felt as if the idea was somehow being communicated that you shouldn't come to church if you have troubles. And yet, if all that the Bible tells us about God's love and care for us is true, shouldn't church be the very best place to bring our troubles?
What better place is there to bring your burdens than to the place where we meet the gracious, loving, forgiving Savior from sin? And yet, here was the idea that you had to leave your troubles behind if you wanted to come to church. Where did that idea come from? Why were people in that church having the idea that they wouldn't be welcomed to seek relief from their troubles in the house of the Lord? And as I came to Bethany Bible Church some time after that incident, I prayed that such an attitude would never be propagated here.
Have you ever heard it said of someone that they were "dressed in their 'Sunday best'"? It's too bad that the tradition came about (and that's all it is, by the way ... a tradition) that you must come to church all dressed up in your "Sunday best". In some ways, it's out of keeping with the authenticity that genuine Christianity demands of us.
I fear that people sometimes get the impression that, just as you are "supposed" to show up for church all dressed up nicely, you must also come to church with your life in "perfect" order too -- or that you should, at the very least, come "looking" like your life is in perfect order. Everyone in the family might be at one another's throats in the car while coming up the church driveway; but as soon as they hit the church parking lot, it's time to be "perfect"!
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that folks should set out to come to Church dressed poorly; nor that they could come and fight within church either; but I sometimes fear that people feel that they must leave their troubles at home when they come to church -- that they must come in their "Sunday best", even though the realities of life during the other six days of the week leave them frustrated, or disappointed, or apprehensive.
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The other day, I was driving around and heard a commercial on the radio. It was for a study that a local mental health clinic was doing on the subject of anxiety. The announcer asked a series of questions: "Do you experience this?" or "Do you find that you feel that?" And then came this remarkable statement: "If you answered 'yes' to one or more of these questions, then you may be suffering from anxiety ... and not even know it!!" That amazed me; because I always thought that someone who was suffering from anxiety knew it very well! In fact, I imagine that if you didn't think you suffered from anxiety, the thought that you might be suffering from anxiety and not even know it would be enough to make you have an anxiety attack right then and there!!
I have tried to think up a good, working definition of "worry" or "anxiety". Try this definition out and see if it makes sense to you: Any time we bear undue concern for those things that only God can deal with - concerns which He never meant for us to bear - then we're experiencing worry or anxiety. We've all suffered such anxiety at one time or another; and when we did, we knew it.
But consider what these two verses are telling us. Do you realize that God here gives us the open invitation to bring our troubles to Him - any trouble, any time - and be relieved of anxiety? You see; God is far more realistic about our lives than we are. He knows about our struggles, fears, temptations, disappointments, hurt feelings and frustrations. He doesn't want us showing up to church with the presence of joy and happiness - as if those things aren't really on our hearts when, in fact, they are. He wants us to be real with Him. He wants us to bring our concerns to Him for His healing touch. He doesn't want us to try bearing the burdens on our hearts that He alone is capable of bearing.
Peter tells us here that the Almighty God of the universe cares about the things that cause you and I anxiety! That alone is amazing news; but he also lets us know that God invites us to be relieved of our anxieties by "casting" them on Him! What an offer! I'm hoping that our look at this passage will encourage us to get more into the habit of accepting God's offer and to cast our anxieties and worries on Him increasingly.
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The people Peter wrote this letter to had plenty of cause for anxiety. They were experiencing serious "life-and-death" troubles. They were believers who had been scattered all over the Roman world, and who were suffering persecution because of their faith in Jesus. Many of them had suffered the loss of homes, or careers, or property, or even loved ones because of their faith.
Yet, Peter's letter is one of hope in light of what was ahead; and of encouragement to trust God in the midst of their suffering. He began his letter by saying,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ ... (1 Pet. 1:3-7).
The clear, unmistakable signs of 'suffering' are found throughout this little letter. It has only five short chapters; yet in every chapter, we find that the apostle Peter deals extensively with the "fiery ordeal" of suffering that his readers were undergoing (1:3-9; 2:11-12, 19-23; 3:13-17; 4:1, 12-19; 5:8-10). And as something of a side matter, one of the great lessons we can draw from Peter's letter is that the Christian faith carries with it no promise of an easy, prosperous life on earth that's free of trials and difficulties. These people were sincere followers of Jesus; yet they suffered greatly for their faith.
But while there's no promise that trials won't occur in our life if we follow Jesus, there is the promise that you and I can be free from the anxiety those troubles may bring. There's no promise of trouble-free circumstances; but there is the encouragement that we can be free from worry in the midst of life's circumstances.
What are we to do about those things for which we can do nothing? What are we to do to be relieved of our anxieties? Peter tells us that the first step is that of ...
1. HUMBLING OURSELVES UNDER THE MIGHTY HAND OF GOD (v. 6).
Peter says, "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time."
When someone has to have surgery, they have to consent to go to the hospital and become the patient of a particular surgeon. They can't stay awake during surgery and tell that surgeon what to do. Instead, they must willingly submit themselves under the skilled hand of that surgeon - confident that the the surgeon can and will do what is necessary to bring about the desired end. It may be that he has to take something out that's harmful so that future harm or illness can be alleviated. Or it may be that he has to put something in that's needed for better health in the future. It may even be that he has to adjust something that's malfunctioning so the body will function as God designed. But whatever is needed, it's essential that the patient trust the surgeon's skilled hand to do what is necessary to bring about the desired end. In a sense, the patient has to "humble themselves" under the hand of the surgeon.
With that in mind, its interesting that in this verse, the verb "humble" is in a tense in which you and I are exhorted to make the willful choice to allow ourselves to be humbled under God's hand. In the original language of Peter's letter, these words constitute a command, not to actively 'humble ourselves', but rather to be the passive recipient of the actions of another - literally, to 'be humbled'. We're to allow ourselves to be humbled under God's hand so that He can bring about His desired end -- our exaltation in Christ. We're to recognize that He knows what is needed to accomplish this desired end in us; and to allow Him to do whatever is necessary to us in order to make us what He wants us to be.
Look at some of the other details about Peter's exhortation to allow ourselves to be humbled under God's hand. First, notice the principle that serves as the basis for this exhortation. It's found in the fifth verse: "Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'" Peter is taking this principle directly from the Old Testament (Proverbs 3:34); but he may have also been thinking of Jesus' words in Luke 14:11: "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
God hates pride -- the sinful exaltation of self. Pride made Satan rebel against God. Pride motivated our first parents in the garden to taste the fruit of the forbidden tree. God specifically names seven things He hates and that are an abomination to Him; and one of them is "haughty" or "prideful" eyes (Proverbs 6:17). The principle God has established is that those who, in pride, exalt themselves will be "humbled-down"; but those who come to God humbly and submit themselves to His hand will be "exalted-up" by Him. We can never exalt ourselves as highly as we could be when God exalts us; but He only exalts those who first humble themselves.
Secondly, notice what it is we're to be humbled under: the mighty hand of God. In the original language, the word "mighty" is given emphasis. It's nothing less than God's "mighty" sovereign power and providential control that we're to be humbled under. It wouldn't be very encouraging if we were only told to humble ourselves "under the circumstances". But we can be very confident if we're humbling ourselves under "the mighty hand of God".
Remember that surgical illustration? What if you submitted yourself to the surgeon for a serious, complicated procedure; and just before you went under, you heard the anesthesiologist say to the surgeon, "Now please try not to mess up this time!" Being humbled under God's hand isn't like that, because His hand is described as "mighty". His hand rules the universe. His hand holds all things together. You're not being exhorted to submit to the circumstances; but to the hand that controls them; and that hand is mighty and sure and cannot fail!
And finally, notice why it is that we're to be humbled under God's mighty hand: so that He can exalt us at the proper time. That's encouraging; isn't it? He welcomes us when we're in a humbled, submissive state before Him - acknowledging His sovereign rule over the circumstances of life. But it's not His intention to leave us in that humbled state. He has big plans for us. Romans 8:28-30 says,
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Rom. 8:28-30).
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Humbling ourselves under God's mighty hand is the first step in dealing with those things about which we can do nothing. But why does this come first? Why should the command to be humbled under God's mighty hand come before the invitation to cast our cares on Him? I believe there are several reasons why this is so.
First, consider the simple fact that you and I can't even have a relationship with God without first being humbled before Him. Sin stands in the way of our having a relationship with a holy God; and if we're not willing to admit that we've sinned against Him, and that our sins deserve His righteous judgment, and that only the death of His own Son could pay the price for our sins - if we insist in trying to come to Him on our own terms, as if we "deserve" to be accepted by Him by virtue of our own merit - then we can have no relationship with Him. Our very salvation requires that we be humbled before Him; let alone our freedom to lay our burdens on Him.
Most people dislike flossing. Gross, I know ... but true. In fact, most folks dislike it so much that the only time they really start flossing is just prior to going to the dentist. I think that's how we sometimes approach God. Instead of coming to Him with all our problems and imperfections, we try to clean up our act first. That, of course, is not being honest with God, is it? Coming to Him to cast our cares on Him requires that we, first, become humbled before Him; and then that we come as we are so that He can make us into what He wants us to be.
It takes a great deal of humility to admit that you're a sinner and need to be saved from your sins. And pride keeps many people from making such an admission. Such people don't find any comfort in the invitation to cast their burdens on God, because they have refused to take the first step to be "humbled". But for those of us who have become convicted of our sins and have cast our hopes on the cross of Jesus Christ, we've already come before God in the fundamental humility that leads us to receive all of God's grace.
But I think that there's another - and perhaps more direct - reason why we must first humble ourselves under God's hand before we can be set free to cast our cares upon Him. Whenever we worry and fret over things about which we can do nothing, we're behaving as if we're able, in fact, to do something about them. In fact, we're almost telling God that we can do a better job at being "God" than He can. When we worry about things about which we can do nothing, we're behaving as if we know more about a situation or about possible future events than the omniscient God! Or, when we're anxious about things over which we have no power, we're behaving as if we're actually more capable of handling them than God is. We're telling Him that we trust ourselves more than we trust Him. In that sense; whenever we worry or fret over our circumstances or over the future, we're dreadfully committing the sin of pride.
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We can never cast our anxieties and cares on God until we first humble ourselves and admit that we can do nothing about such things. Once we've humbled ourselves under the mighty hand of God in this way; we're ready to place our anxieties and cares on the only One whose able to do something about them. And so, that leads us to the next step ...
2. CASTING OUR CARES UPON HIM (v. 7).
In the context of being humbled under His mighty hand, then, Peter gives us this invitation: "casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." Peter paints a great word picture for us, here. He uses a word that means "to throw something upon something else". It's a word that's used in only one other place in the New Testament - in Luke 19:35, where, as Jesus was about to make His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His disciples took a colt and "threw their own clothes" on it for Jesus to sin on.
What an image this gives us -- "casting" our anxiety on God. It's a picture of committing our concerns to God's care -- and leaving them with Him to carry for us. Peter, no doubt, was thinking of what it says in Psalm 55:22: "Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved."
Let's look at the specifics. First, notice what we're invited to cast onto God: our 'care'. According to Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, the word Peter uses for "anxiety" or "care" means "to be drawn in different directions". Have you ever felt that way? Imagine, being under the "mighty" hand of the sovereign God, yet also worried and troubled about the matters of life as if we could change them! That's an attitude of being "drawn in different directions".
Peter tells us here to cast our "care" upon God while in the mist of troubles and trials . As much as we might wish we could, we can't always throw off the troubles and trials themselves. I'm quite sure that the people Peter wrote to wished they could have thrown off the trial of persecution they were suffering. But then, those same trials and troubles are a part of the training process God "humbles us down" to go through. One day in glory, we'll enjoy the eternal blessings God brought about through those trials in our lives; and then, we'll be very grateful we couldn't throw them off. And yet, the point is that, while it isn't always God's will that we throw the trials themselves off, it is His will that we cast onto Him the "care" or "anxiety" those trials may make us feel.
Second, notice the totality of this invitation. He invites us to throw "all" our anxiety on Him. There isn't a care or concern in life that we could face that He doesn't welcome us to cast onto Him.
Do you ever find yourself laying in bed at night, thinking about the worries and cares of the day. Do you ever find yourself robbed of sleep because of rehearsing future events in your mind - and do you find that your thoughts about those events turn into "anxious worry" ? I heard about someone who was finding themselves laying awake, worrying about the problems of life too much. And they found a wonderful way of dealing with those worries. They got up out of bed, sat down, and brought those concerns before God - one by one - in prayer. And when it was all over, they said, "Well, God; you said I could cast all my anxiety on you; and there's no sense both of us staying up all night. I'm going to sleep." And they did!!
Third, consider who it is we're invited to cast our anxiety on: on God Himself. God is completely sovereign; and that means that He mightily rules over all the events and circumstances of our lives. God is also infinitely wise; and so He rules over the circumstances of life with full knowledge and understanding, with nothing taking Him by surprise. And God is perfect in love; so His sovereign rule and wise counsel is governed by His unfailing love for us. You can confidently cast your anxiety on Someone who is completely sovereign, infinitely wise and perfectly loving; wouldn't you agree?
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This leads us to the third step in doing what we're to do with those things about which we can do nothing ...
3. TRUSTING THAT HE CARES FOR YOU (v. 7).
Peter said that we're to cast all our cares upon God, "for He cares for you." Literally, Peter puts the matter emphatically; "He Himself cares for you". You are His personal concern - not His worry, of course; but His concern. He really, truly cares for you.
Do you realize what a wonderful thing it is to know that God cares personally for you? Religions and the religious systems that have been invented by people all over the world - with all the ceremonies and rituals that go along with them -- are built around the attempt to get God to "care". "If I perform this act; or if I make this sacrifice; or if I act out this ritual; then maybe ... just maybe ... God will care about me. Maybe then, God will accept me and make me His concern." But as believers in Jesus - made God's own children by faith - we're already assured that God does care about us! We begin with, and are meant to build our lives on, the complete confidence that God already makes us His personal concern! Jesus even tells us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). So, we can relax. God cares about us! Our great need is to simply trust ourselves to His care.
All this is all great news; but when we're in the midst of troubles and tests, it's a struggle to remember and do, isn't it? But that's what I'm hoping and praying that our time in the Scriptures this morning will move us to -- to get into the habit of always casting all our cares on the wonderful God to cares so much for us.
If you've come to church this morning, bringing your troubles with you, I want you to know I'm glad you did. And so is God. He knows about those troubles and cares very much about them. Let's be unafraid then of being "humbled" together under God's mighty hand; since He intends that our "humbling" result in our being exalted in Christ in due time. And then, let's be uninhibited in casting our every worry and anxiety on Him - just as He invites us - because we're assured that He cares for us.
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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