Looking Forward, Looking Up

January 18th 2024



Looking Forward, Looking Up

It seems that for the past ten years, when we enter the new year, there has been a focus on treating the former year as a curse, as in, “curse you, 2023.” This thought process is usually followed by a doom-and-gloom approach to the new year with a side helping of fear and anxiety. In fact, fear and anxiety provide the key ingredients to what fuels the ratings for news outlets. You better tune in, or you might die. That may be overstated a bit, but not by much.

Sadly, even many “churches” and “ministries” contribute to this kind of hysteria by providing endless YouTube videos trying to predict the apocalypse (you know, the videos that one uncle keeps sending to you). Or, how the world is going to “Hell in a handbasket.” However, this type of “curse” mindset, couched in fear and anxiety, can be a form of discontentment and a distrust in God’s righteous control of all things.

All that to say, we need to revisit a familiar passage. Matthew, chapter 6, which is right in the middle of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” is a key place to find help for our most simple and complex anxieties. We need a renewed trust in God’s goodness. Jesus does just that in the “Sermon on the Mount,” as he explains what a relationship with God truly looks like. Specifically, in chapter 6, verses 25–34, Jesus calls us to reprioritize our lives by trusting God in three overlapping ways, which will be a sure remedy to alleviate our anxiety and fear.

Jesus Calls us to Trust God’s Care and Provision

Verse 25 starts with a “therefore.” In verses 19–24, Jesus challenges his listeners to “lay up their treasures in Heaven,” not Earth. With our treasures in the right place, this causes our focus to turn away from the things that cause us anxiety, specifically concerning life’s necessities: food and clothing. Jesus provides two testimonies that help us trust in God’s provision in our life.

The first testimony comes from the birds. The birds do not reap or store food in barns, because God provides for them. God is not against hard work or proper storage, but he is concerned with how we view him and where we place our trust. As image-bearers of God, we are more important than birds. If God provides for birds, how much more can we trust God to provide food for us? In fact, worrying about things like “daily bread” has the inability to add even an extra hour to our lives.

A second testimony comes from the lilies of the field. Jesus compares the superiority of the way the lilies are “clothed” with the way the dapper Solomon dressed. The lilies win the contest. Again, as image-bearers, God cares more for us than flowers. The real problem is not that God is unaware of our needs (v. 32), but that we often lack the faith that he will provide them (v. 30). These two testimonies are meant to give us confidence that God cares more for us than animals and plants. If God cares for them, how much more does he care for us?

In verses 31 and 32, Jesus explains that our focus should stand in contrast to non-believers (“Gentiles”). The world is obsessed with food and clothing, to the point of worry. Are you a Christian? Are you characterized by worry? This should not be. Let Jesus’ words be a reminder of God’s care and provision for you. Paul, too, reminds us of this amazing truth in Romans 8:32 when he says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” What a great reminder of just how trustworthy God is when it comes to caring and providing for us.

Jesus Call us to Trust God as Reflected in Our Priorities

Verse 33 starts with a “but.” This means there is a contrast in verse 33 compared with the previous verses. Rather than a heart focused on worry (vs. 25–32), Jesus calls us to refocus our priorities. This is a major shift in focus as to what the number one priority should be for a Christian. This number one priority is reflected in two areas.

The first area of focus is on “God’s kingdom.”  The word for “kingdom” in the original Greek is “basileia” which is not about geography or borders, but is a reference to “kingship, rule, dominion, and sovereignty.” This re-prioritizing is really about allegiance to God and his Lordship in our lives. We adopt God’s kingdom priorities and make them our most important priority. His kingdom, not our own, is our top priority.

A companion area of focus is in “seeking first...his righteousness.” As one commentator explains, “[Having] heavenly expectations is met with a holy life.” Seeking God first means living our life in obedience to our King. Paul echoes this in Colossians 3:1-4, saying: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

As Christians, we have a new life, a new focus, new priorities, and thus, a new way to live. Does the way you live your life reflect God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, or something else?

Notice that verse 33 ends with a promised blessing. The promise? Jesus said “...and all these things will be added to you.” What “things?” Precisely what Jesus has been talking about in the previous verses: food and clothing. God will meet our needs as we make him our greatest priority. This is the hope that eliminates anxiety and fear.

Jesus Calls Us to Trust in God’s Control of the Future

In verse 34, Jesus reiterates and summarizes this point of his teaching. Worry is a result of being anxious about the future. Jesus reassures his audience that we are to stay focused on “today,” and in so doing, we trust God with our “tomorrow”. This is not about Jesus telling us not to plan ahead. It’s more about him reassuring us that God is in control of everything, including the future. Even if 2024 turns out to be the craziest year yet, we can trust that God is at work, and we need not be characterized as those who worry.

Conclusion

I have heard it said many times in church circles that, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” That’s not actually true. Often times our faith can be stretched during circumstances that are beyond our ability to handle them. Here’s the real assurance: “God will never give you more than he can handle.” This is the heartbeat of Jesus’ message on re-prioritizing our lives.

So, as we embark on this new year, our response does not need to be fear and anxiety. Nor should it be. As we look forward, we look up. We are called, as Christians, to order our priorities according to God’s kingdom and for his righteousness, trusting that he will provide and care for us. Faith is not only trusting in God, but trusting that God is, in fact, good and cares deeply for those who are his. The most important question then is: Are you his? We have an amazing God who cares deeply for us, and 2024, nor any other year, will be an exception.

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Author: Todd Burgett

Todd is married to Lisa and they have 3 adult children. He has been pastoring since 1995 and joined the RBC pastoral team in 2022 giving oversight to several ministries including the Redeemer Training Center. Todd went to The Master's Seminary where he graduated in 2021 with an advanced degree in expository preaching.