“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”
Lenten Series: “The Sins Jesus Carried to Calvary
March 17, 2019, Second Sunday in Lent
Several years ago, the psychologist Richard Carlson wrote a best-selling self-help book, titled Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. You may remember the book, or at least the title. Carlson got the idea for the book one day while driving his six year old daughter home from school in the San Francisco rush hour traffic. They spent 40 minutes or so crawling along the Central Freeway. As they sat in their car, Carlson’s daughter looked out at all of the other cars, also creeping along, and said to her father, “Daddy, why are all the people mad?” Her observation caused Carlson to take a look around at the other drivers himself, at which he point it dawned on him that the other drivers indeed had these grim, anxious look on their faces. He figured they weren’t necessarily mad, but they sure didn’t seem very happy either. The scene led him to reflect on the causes of their unhappiness. Perhaps they were thinking about where they needed to be and what they needed to do once they got there, if they ever got there. Maybe there were children to pick up, or errands to run, or dinner to make, or work projects brought home to be completed. Or it could have been that the time stuck in the traffic gave the other drivers too much opportunity to think about the things they were anxious about – their families, their work, their health. Whatever the cause, the effect was most evident in their anger. And so Carlson began work on his famous book, which detailed his grand conclusion that most of the things we worry about aren’t really worth worrying about in the first place. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” which then led to the book’s subtitle, and It’s All Small Stuff.”
I know what you’re thinking; I’m thinking the same thing. “Well, that’s easy for you to say. You don’t know the stuff I’m having to deal with.” And to be sure, while to an outside observer the things that cause us worry are indeed small, because we are having to shoulder those concerns, they are to us a big deal. They are to us a very big deal.
I remember the story of an expert on stress management who was giving a lecture on the topic. During the lecture, he raised a glass of water and asked the audience, “How heavy is this glass of water?” The audience started calling out answers, which ranged from 10 ounces to 16 ounces. The lecturer replied, “The absolute weight of the glass of water doesn’t matter. What matters is how long you hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s no problem. But if I had to hold it for an hour, my arm will soon give out. And if I had to hold it for any longer than that, you’d have to call an ambulance.” I think you see his point. The stuff we’re holding may actually not be very heavy; it may indeed be “small stuff.” But if we carry those seemingly tiny burdens over time, sooner or later they become big burdens, and it won’t be long before we crumble under their weight. Some of you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
We put terrible burdens upon ourselves, when we insist on shouldering our concerns instead of choosing to trust them to God. Those were Jesus’ words to people in his day who, like some people in our day, were at the end of their rope.
This teaching that is before us this morning comes from Jesus’ most famous set of teachings, the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his disciples on matters pertaining to what he called the Kingdom of Heaven, which is nothing less than God’s preeminence on earth in the same way that God reigns preeminent up in heaven. This section of the Sermon has to do with his elaboration on certain parts of the Lord’s Prayer, the same prayer we pray each Sunday here at Mountain Brook Baptist Church. In particular, it deals with the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread” (6:11). In other words, if we trust God to provide for our needs day in and day out, then what, pray tell, do we have to worry about?
Listen to Jesus: “Don’t be worried about your life, what you will eat or drink, because it’s irrational and illogical since life is about more than that what you eat or drink. And besides that, it’s inane, because you can’t add anything to your life, not a single hour, and you’ll only wear yourself out trying to do anything of the sort. And most of all, it’s irreverent, because it leads you to doubt whether God is capable of meeting your needs, so that you end up shoving God to the back burner of life, just like the people who don’t even profess belief in God always do.”
Now, do you see why Jesus in this teaching refers to his disciples as people of “little faith?” It’s not that Jesus is put out with them already; it’s more that Jesus is chiding their lack of faithful focus, saying to them in effect, “Come on, guys, you can do better than this!” And then tells them what doing better looks like: “Seek above everything else in life the Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Please understand, Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about daily needs. He’s not saying that we shouldn’t make an effort to secure food and clothing; after all, those are some of life’s essentials. They are what Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist of the last century, classified as “physiological needs” or survival needs, needs that form the base of his famous pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs. Jesus understood the importance of every person having access to such needs. Not to have recognized that truth would have made Jesus guilty of another “I” word – irresponsible.
So, what then was Jesus saying? He was saying that these basic needs, as important as they are, cannot become the ultimate aim of our lives. As he put it, “Life is more than food and the body more than clothing.” What happens when we become unduly anxious about our own needs, making them the number one priority in life, is that our anxiety keeps us from seizing opportunities that come our way each day to join God in the Kingdom work Jesus taught us we should be doing. In other words, if we are constantly concerned with whether we will have enough food to eat or clothing to wear, we would not have the time or energy to be concerned over whether anyone else has enough. Our needs would in effect have become our “gods,” and as Jesus says in the teaching just before this one, “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon.” It’s a matter of priorities. Put first things first and get second things thrown in. Put second things first and we will inevitably lose both first and second things and a lot more to boot.
Can you do that this morning? Can you show the faith that is necessary to make the things of God the number one priority in your life so that you might be freed from obsessive concern with everyday matters? Can you instead choose to look at your everyday life with a “Jesus point of view?” Only then will you, as Jesus promised, be fully present in every moment of life and in a place where even in your little life God’s kingdom comes and His will is done as it always is in heaven because of how your little life is now aligned in accordance with God’s Kingdom purposes.
The reason I think this topic is so important is because of how worry is one of what we might call the “acceptable sins” in the Christian life. Now, you think about that statement for a moment. I could ask how many of you worry in the course of your everyday life and I dare say that practically everyone could raise a hand; I know I could. And most of us quite frankly would be somewhat proud to do so.
But worry is not the only sin against which Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. So, if I asked you how many could raise your hand if you committed murder or adultery or how many of you have sworn in the past several months, or harbored hate in your heart for a neighbor or found a way to get back at someone who wronged you, you would think I had lost my mind and you certainly wouldn’t want to raise your hand. We see worry as one of the more “respectable sins” in our day. But of course no sin is respectable in God’s sight, not even worry, and it too is one of the sins that Jesus took upon himself to Calvary.
I think of the night prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, when John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus, “knowing that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father” (Jn. 13:1), he called his disciples together and gave them a last sermon, what students of the Fourth Gospel call “the Farewell Discourses.” Jesus knew that his disciples would be anxious upon his departure, certainly given the nature of how he would be taken from them, nailed to a cross, which was the most ignoble and shameful form of death in the first century Roman world. But Jesus didn’t want his disciples to be paralyzed by their worry. So, what did he tell them? You know the passage well. “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. For I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself so that where I am there you may be also” (Jn. 14:1, 3). Jesus took our worries with him to the cross and there robbed them of their power over us so that our little faith that too often causes us to sweat the small stuff in life might be transformed into a much bigger faith that assures us that God is more than able to provide for our needs.
So, just keep seeking the Kingdom and making it the top priority in your life. Then watch how God works in you and through you so that in terms of what really matters you’ll never lack for anything.