That ol’ verse from Phillipians that we like to quote…how does it go? “Be anxious for everything?” No, that can’t be it. “Be anxious for some things?” Well, that only seems natural and reasonable. “Be anxoius for the important things, the godly things!” Yes, that must be it! At least, that is, according to the way I live and according to multiple scenarios I have encountered this very week.
Sure, I have a sense that God says not to sweat the small stuff (or was that from a cocktail napkin?) My grandmother always reminded me that “this too shall pass.” Ahh. But what about when the small stuff has long term consequences? What about the times when this too doesn’t pass but just keeps getting worse? Anxiety is only natural and makes sense because if the outcome is different than we “know it should be”, certain doom is inevitable…right?
Perhaps its the lure of power that makes cynicism such an effective authority. Perhaps its our great fear of hearing “I told you so” from someone else that makes suspicion so delicious to us. But at the root of these masterful manipulators, if I can look honestly and closely at my heart, is unbelief. I do not really believe that God is in control of every single detail, including my foolishness, blindness and error. So, of course I am anxious because if He is not in control even of that, that leaves my future, my well being, and the well being of the world around me in MY hands, my decision making, my acting perfectly and speaking perfectly and thinking perfectly and feeling perfectly.
For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Exodus 9:15-16
God raised Pharaoh up for the very purpose of using Him to demonstrate His power to rescue. Pharaoh thought he was standing against God, but even his intended rebellion served God’s redemptive plans. God inteded that Joseph’s brothers, generations earlier, should foreshadow the wicked treatment of the very one who would rescue their lives. From their perspective, it was their scheme. From God’s vantage point and plan, it was a progressive revelation of His story of ultimate redemption. Wicked men put Jesus to death on the cross, but they did it because God planned it before creation to redeem all of creation according to His purposes. Do I really think my foolishness can do what Pharaoh’s could not? What Jonah’s could not? What David’s, Paul’s and the Pharisees could not? Oh but even so, panic is so much more alluring than peace. Something seems so much wiser about urgent, fearful distress than peaceful trust in the One who shuts a door no man can open and who opens doors no man can shut. Rev. 3:7 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:17-19
Why do we trust our fears so much more than the One in whom there is no fear? Why do we act on our “insights” if they stir up panic, suspicion and fear when there is no genuine doom that can befall those whose punishment has already been taken? “But wait!” cries my inner-Pharisee. “Actions have consequences and you can’t be saying that our actions don’t matter!” Of course they do, the Gospel responds, but there is no consequence that falls outside of God’s redemptive purposes and no benefit that I receive by anything other than God’s grace (the person and work of Jesus) working itself out even in my obedience.
This week I have been tortured by a commercial on the radio for a Christian conference which will expose all the ways our government is threatening to ruin our children’s futures and rob us of all our entitled freedoms. I also heard about an anxious and extended prayer meeting last week regarding the Health Care legislation and had a conversation with a friend concerned about another friend’s social choices. In each scenario, godly intention seemed soaked with fear and panic. “If ‘x’ happens, our life as we know it is sure to be filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Fear is so powerful and feels so wise because it tempts me to believe that by my insightfulness and attempts at omniscience, I can steer my future to sorrowless islands and a life of safety and ease.
Is the goal of my life to get to that island and paddle everyone who threatens my safe passage? Or, is He doing something so much better, so much more interesting, so very much more life-giving in transforming my heart and my very being into a clearer image of Himself? Is there any circumstance or “consequence” that can thwart that? Is there any circumstance or “consequence” that can’t be a tool in that beautiful process? And THAT is why I can be anxious for nothing, as God commands, because there is no action or reaction in my life which falls outside of His redemptive purposes and power. The goal of redemption isn’t a certain kind of earthly government, or a conflict free marriage, or financial prudence and prosperity but to be transformed into His image which happens through conflict, under any type of government, even in poverty and prison just as much, if not in some cases more so than, the life of luxury and ease I think I should have instead.