Jesus Christ said it best (and He always does), “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34 MSG, from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”).
Worry is endemic in our American culture. And it seems the more we have or want or think we need and/or must have, the more we worry about what we have (or don’t have), whether it’s money and/or possessions, or our jobs, or our spouse and/or children (if married), or our significant others (if not married but in some type of relationship), or our friends, or even our enemies (gee, what are they up to???) or our government, or our economy (at this point you can complete your own list). And we worry about what is going to happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year and we try to plan for it in any way that we can.
Worry, worry, worry . . . it dominates our lives . . . . And it takes away from living life fully today . . . in the “here and now.” We spend so much time right now thinking about tomorrow or next week or next month or next year and planning for “future events” that may or may not happen that we lose our effectiveness and our focus in dealing with what’s going on right now–today.
Well, I have some news for you and it’s found in James 4:14, “. . . you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” The Message Bible states that verse along with two surrounding verses (vv 13-15) like this, “And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’”
An old friend of mine that I was out of contact with for a little over three years recently reminded me of the way I used to be when he knew me before the time of our last email correspondence. We had been out of contact since our last email communication nine days before I was fired from my job in Houston (April 2009). However, due to a comment from a mutual friend of ours this past May (2012), I decided to try to get back in touch this him this past summer. The biggest reason I had not contacted him during those three years was that the whole issue surrounding my unemployment and the sheer length of the unemployment situation itself was embarrassing to me and I wanted to wait to contact him until I was employed again. Well, as you know, I’d still be waiting if that was the case.
When I got back in touch with him this past summer it was like no time had passed at all since our last communication over three years earlier. I told him that after all this time I was still unemployed and that my unemployment benefits ended in May 2011 after collecting all 99 weeks but that I wasn’t broke and God had clearly provided for my needs through a small retirement account I had accumulated from my years of working in higher education. As we communicated through the summer and fall, he told me he noticed a big change in me from when he knew me before I lost my job in Houston. He said it was quite apparent that I was much happier, more content, and the worry about money that consumed my life before was now gone. None of that had actually crossed my mind until he mentioned it, but he was absolutely right. And he asked me if I remembered how consumed I was about money issues. Now, mind you, I never made a lot money in most of the jobs I’ve had over my lifetime but enough to pay bills, keep a roof over my head, and have a few extras like books, music, techy stuff, etc., but basically I lived “paycheck to paycheck” like a lot of other folks but managed to save some money and put a small amount into a retirement account. And, I’ve stayed out of debt, too. I never spent beyond what I earned and at the time I lost my job in Houston my only debt was the last six payments on my car which I paid off in October 2009.
Still, my friend’s comment gave me pause for thought. He was right, of course. For years I was consumed with worry about “tomorrow” with all of the “what if’s” that come from worrying about something I had little or no control over. And once I got into my 50′s I worried about having enough money in my “retirement years.” I even remember the fear that came over me when I left my job in Florida to move to Houston to start my new job as there were several days between my last day at the job in Florida and my first day at the new job in Houston when I was essentially “unemployed” and not receiving a wage for those few days. I say all of that to let you know how absolutely consumed I was with worry about money issues.
When I first lost my job in Houston, I was terrified, yet because I had started taking my relationship with Jesus Christ very seriously after years of semi-neglect when I arrived in Houston to start my new job seven months earlier, there was a very real underlying sense of His presence in my life that I had not felt in years. After receiving my last paycheck, it took me a month to get through the paperwork process before I received my first unemployment check ($550 for two weeks at $275/wk before taxes were taken out). Before I got fired, I was making $1500 every two weeks after taxes (that is the most I ever made at any job in my entire life).
I remember the day I received that first unemployment check and how incredibly grateful I was to receive it. I think I cried and thanked God profusely for it. At the time my apartment rent in Houston was $845/mo. and the lease wasn’t up until the end of September 2009, and with all of the rest of my monthly payments–car payment, cell phone & internet, electricity, water, etc.–my bills alone came to $1400/mo. before adding in other expenses like gas, food, and other essentials. The $1100/mo. I received from unemployment benefits didn’t cover it all, but my small savings paid off the rest each month and I learned to cut way back on my spending on food items in the grocery store and in other areas, too. At the end of my apartment lease I left Houston as I couldn’t afford to stay there living on Florida unemployment benefits and I came back to Florida. And by returning to Florida I was able to receive extended unemployment benefits which I would not have received had I stayed in Houston (although I didn’t know that at the time I left Houston).
Long story short, over the course of all of this time of unemployment, and totally trusting in the Lord to keep me going (with much fear and trembling in the beginning and at varying times throughout), I have experienced one miracle after another in seeing God provide for me during this time. And slowly (yes, it was slowly at first), He has taken that horrible compulsion of fear and worry away from me. But that’s not all He’s done. He has awakened in me the ability to see the world as it is, right now, and not just my own small world but the world at large. When I move about my day I pay attention to almost everything around me. I pay attention to what I read on the internet. I pay attention to a million things now that passed me by when I was working and consumed with work and worry. And, my life has gone from being “dull gray” to being filled with brilliant colors in high definition.
In short, what has happened to me in the past four plus years since I landed in Houston for that job in September 2008 that I lost seven months later is nothing short of remarkable–actually, it’s a miracle. God allowed the one thing I feared most in life–long-term unemployment and a consuming fear of not having enough money–to happen to me to show me that HE is enough and that HE will provide as long as I keep trusting in Him completely with every area of my life.
What I learned is that we can’t have the kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that totally changes every area of our lives by sitting in a pew once a week listening to a sermon or reading the latest Christian book to come off the press thinking that’s all we need to get us through this life. No . . . . It’s about a living, breathing, vital, life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ and getting into His Word (the Bible) regularly and praying (and not just when we need something) to really, truly begin to understand what this life is all about from His perspective and not from ours. For me, long-term unemployment has been the best gift He could have ever given me because it caused me to finally take my eyes off of myself and my own small world, and see Him and this world through His eyes and not just my own.
So, do you want to stop the compulsive fear/worry cycle in your own life? Then get to really know Him, and start now. You’ll be absolutely amazed at what He will teach you and bring into your life if you do this, but you have to give Him total control, and stop trying to control things on your own.
So do it now . . . .
You’ll never regret it . . . .
YouTube Video: “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” (1973) by Stevie Wonder: