Author Adrian Plass tells of a charismatic preacher who passionately encouraged his listeners to reject worry. After explaining a number of times that faith was the end of worry, and describing how he never worried about anything, he ended his sermon. As he walked off the platform, he said to Adrian Plass, “I’m worried that I didn’t get through to them.” Adrian Plass responded with surprise, “I thought you said that you never worry!”, to which the speaker replied, “Oh, but I was preaching then.”
In all sorts of ways the exhortations of our faith and the realities of our lives come into conflict. All too easily we find ourselves saying one thing, but living another. And nowhere is this more true than with anxiety. It’s as if we long to live the words of Jesus, but we just don’t have the capacity. We hear the instruction not to worry, but it feels like an impossible request, and so we fall into an unintentional hypocrisy.
I doubt, though, that Jesus believed a less anxious life was beyond our reach. He was not in the habit of commanding what was unattainable, nor did he ignore the realities of the world we live in. Yet, in his usual, incisive way, he identified the pathology of human systems. When we are immersed in these systems of power, economics, security and in-group relationships, worry is the only possible response. Inevitably our lives are filled either with the anxiety of striving for that which we hope will provide us with security and comfort, or with the fear of losing those things.
The alternative to this anxiety-driven lifestyle is to immerse ourselves in a different reality – the reality of God’s reign. It’s not that God promises that we will face no suffering or have no struggle. Rather, it’s that within this broken world we constantly remain attuned to a different set of values and resources, and, to the extent that we live from this reality, we are able to overcome whatever life may throw at us. The deeper we go into God’s reality, the more we are released from the fear of failure, the striving for status, the suspicion of others and all the other factors that contribute to our anxiety. The world may remain broken, and we may still be wounded by it, but our hearts have found a home that gives us a still centre in the worst of storms.
But, where do we find this still centre? The best answer I have found is in the spiritual discipline of worship. As we gather and sing and pray, we open ourselves to a vision of God’s reign. And as we allow this vision to impress itself on our hearts and minds each week, we are aligned a little more to its rhythms and realities. It’s a simple process, but in it’s ability to lead us into an alternative, less anxious life, it is amazingly profound.