Peace in the Middle of a Pandemic (Part 1) - Radical
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Peace in the Middle of a Pandemic (Part 1)

Despite our many material comforts, our culture continues to be characterized by anxiety and depression. We worry about every aspect of life: Is my job secure? Am I healthy? Will I get married? Will I have kids? What’s going to happen to the economy? While we do not float above the problems of this life, as followers of Christ, we have no reason to give in to worry and fear. In this message from Matthew 6:25–33, a message given in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic, David Platt points us to Christ’s counsel for anxious souls. We can trust in the care of our heavenly Father, who provides not only for our earthly needs but more importantly for our eternal good.

If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—let me invite you to open with me to Matthew 6. Our plan today was to be in 1 Corinthians 6, in light of our Bible reading together as a church. I want to encourage you to continue that Bible Reading Plan through 1 Corinthians and the Psalms, even though we’re going in a different direction in the Word during our time together today—and likely next week if we’re in a similar situation.

I want to talk about peace in the middle of a pandemic. I’m pretty sure this is going to be Part 1 of multiple parts over the coming weeks. As I was praying this week about what God is saying to us right now, I was drawn to two places in God’s Word. One is Matthew 6, starting in verse 25—which we’ll read in a moment. The other place, which I want to read first, is Proverbs 12:25: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”

The reason this verse came to my mind is because I see so much anxiety right now and it feels so heavy. We’re already anxious people. Did you know that for every generation over the last century, people in the United States have been three times more likely to struggle with anxiety or depression than the preceding generation. Basically we are tripling our struggles with anxiety and depression with every generation. We’re anxious about so many things. Just like this verse says, anxieties weigh us down.

I’ve talked before about hiking in the Himalayas. Based on this verse, I picture a backpack I take when I go hiking. In light of Proverbs 12:25, I picture anxieties like putting weight in a backpack. From early in life, we worry and are anxious about what other people think about us. As much as we’d like to think that goes away, the reality is it’s hidden pretty deep within us and affects what we do in many ways throughout our lives. What people think about us is a constant anxiety for us.

Or as students, we start to wonder, “Am I going to get into this school?” So we put that in our backpack. Or once we get into a school, “Am I going to get this job?” We take that and put it in our pack. Then we start to think, “Okay, am I going to get married?” We’re anxious about if we’re going to get married or whom we might marry. Then there comes anxiety about whether or not we are going to stay married and how marriage is going to go. In marriage, we start getting anxious about whether or not we’re going to have children. So that’s another whole level of anxiety. Then when we have children, we start getting anxious about how those kids are going to turn out.

We haven’t even gotten to anxiety about our finances and how we’re going to pay the bills. So add that to the pack as well. Or anxiety about our future and what the next year holds, next two years, next three years. Anxiety like this can turn into a string of worries, of “what if’s,” that we start thinking through in our minds.

Here’s an example. We start thinking, “Okay, what if I don’t have extra money to get my kids braces?” That’s some anxiety, because I know braces cost a lot of money. “Well, if don’t have that extra money, what’s going to happen if my kids have crooked teeth?” That’s an extra anxiety. Then we start thinking, “Well, if my kids have crooked teeth, that might keep them from getting a job or getting married. If that’s true, that means they’re going to live with me the rest of their lives, because I wasn’t able to get them braces.” So there’s some extra anxiety.

All of a sudden, things start piling on and we have a pretty full pack. I’ve just mentioned general things and haven’t even gotten to the specific things in each of our lives that we get concerned about. So we’re already anxious. Our pack is full, then along comes a pandemic—the world-wide spread of a new disease—and now we’re going to take another backpack and fill it full with all the anxieties that come with a pandemic.

Money-wise, what is our financial situation going to look like? What is our economy going to look like? Let’s throw this in the pandemic pack. What about school? When it comes to books, are we going to be able to finish our education? What does that look like? What about work? How is this going to play out at my work? So we put that in the backpack. Or what about our health? Will I have enough medicine? Let’s put that in the backpack. Will I have enough food and essential resources? Then what seems to be the most pressing question, will I have enough toilet paper? Let’s put that in the backpack.

So now we have a global pandemic. Our backpack is already full, but now we’re going to load on some more. We’re going to stuff more in there and this is going to become the picture of our lives right now. In light of Proverbs 12:25, we have a picture of you and me and our families weighed down with anxieties on so many different levels. Do you feel like this at times? Maybe you feel like this right now. I think many of us do. I look around at people’s faces; I have conversations with them and there’s a heaviness with all kinds of things in life, then add a global pandemic on top of that. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” This verse came to my mind this week, because I’m looking out across our city and know a host of different people are carrying a host of different weights so I want to give you a good word that makes you glad.

Matthew 6: 25–33 Helps Us Battle Anxious Thoughts

Now, the last thing you need from me is for me to come up with what I think is a good word on my own. There are plenty of sources for words from people during these days in the middle of this pandemic. Instead, I want to give you a good word that comes straight from the mouth of Jesus, straight from the mouth of God in the flesh. I want to read Matthew 6:25-34 over you. I want to encourage you in seven simple ways, and I hope you will soak these realities in as long as this pandemic lasts. So let’s hear a word from Jesus Himself.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. 

Did you notice what Jesus says three times? Verse 25, “Do not be anxious…” Verse 31, “Do not be anxious…” Then in verse 34, “Therefore, do not be anxious…” Apparently, Jesus desires you and me to be totally free from anxiety in this world. Now, here’s the deal. As soon as I say that, I need to define anxiety, because it’s not an easy word to define. A dictionary definition of anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about either an immanent event or an uncertain outcome.”

Then the American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by a feeling of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” That then leads into anxiety disorders, characterized by “states of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, often with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” Signs of anxiety include “irritability, anger, sweating, unusual mood swings, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, exhaustion, nervous twitching, decreased concentration and memory, nausea, shortness of breath, hair loss, weight gain or loss, panic, indecisiveness, muscle tension, insomnia, high blood pressure,” and on and on.

I’m assuming that many people are familiar with some of these signs to varying degrees. If you put all this together, trying to define anxiety can even give you a bit of anxiety. The reason this is important is because we need to be careful not to read our definitions of anxiety into the biblical use of this word.

For example, someone may have clinical anxiety—a medical condition—that includes some of the side effects I just mentioned. When you hear Jesus say to His disciples, “Do not be anxious”—as though He’s commanding them not to do that—then you might start thinking, “Is my medical condition a sin?” As best we can tell, Jesus is not referring here to a medical condition. Then, to make things even a little more complicated, there are other places in the Bible where anxiety is talked about as a good thing. In Philippians 2 and 2 Corinthians 11, Paul talks about his anxiety for the churches he cares so much about. The picture here is one of a genuine concern from people.

So then, what does Jesus means when He says, “Do not be anxious”? What does anxiety mean here? Here’s my best attempt to define it biblically. Anxiety and worry are often used interchangeably in the Bible, so I’ll include both. According to Scripture, anxiety is carrying concerns in this world in such a way that we lose perspective on life and/or we lack trust in God. Anxiety is being weighed down with concerns, much like Proverbs 12:25 talks about.

As we saw with Paul, having concerns in this world is not a bad thing. It’s right to be concerned for other people and even for certain things for ourselves. The problem comes when we carry our concerns in such a way that we lose perspective on life and/or we lack trust in God. This is what Jesus desires to free us from in Matthew 6.

When I define anxiety in this way, I trust you realize this is exactly the kind of anxiety we are tempted to have right now. We are tempted to walk through everyday life with anxiety like this, then all the more so when a virus is spreading around the world. We’re tempted to lose perspective and are tempted to lack trust in God. What does Jesus say in a world filled with so much anxiety that weighs us down? Here’s what He says.

1. Your life is about more than anything this world offers you.

What Jesus says in verse 25 is so interesting: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Just think about those three things Jesus mentions: food, drink and clothes. Those are pretty basic needs, right? If you’re going to worry about anything, it seems like these would be at the top of the list. These are not frivolous things. Jesus is not saying, “Don’t be anxious about what kind of car you drive, or how many Instagram followers you have.” He’s saying, “Don’t be anxious about water or food or clothes,” basic needs.

So why not worry about them? Because your life is more than food. The body is more than clothing. Your life is about more than what you eat or what you drink or what you wear. When you realize that, you realize you can put anything the world offers into that sentence. Think about the many things you and I are tempted to worry about and put them in the blank. Your life is about more than what others think of you. Your life is about more than what school you get in to. Your life is about more than what job you have. Your life is about more than how much money you make. Your life is about more than whether you marry or have kids.

Speaking directly into this pandemic, your life is definitely about more than what happens in the government or the sports world. Your life is about so much more than what happens at your school. Your life is about so much more than what happens at your work. And ultimately, your life is about so much more than what happens with your health. Anxiety is care and concerns about these things in this world in ways that lose perspective on what your life is ultimately about.

2. Your life is about trusting the God Who eternally values you.

This leads to the question, “What is my life about?” Matthew 6:26 says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” So apparently your life is about more than anything this world offers you because your life is about trusting the God Who eternally values you.

“Look at the birds…” Jesus says. Who knew that the antidote to anxiety was birdwatching? How do you have peace in the middle of a pandemic? Jesus says, “Behold the birds.” There are no worried birds right now. No bird is frantically watching Fox News or CNN right now. No bird is reading the latest articles online. No bird is worried about what’s coming next. Why not? Because the birds know that God will provide for them. And if they know that, Jesus says you can know that too, because you are more valuable to God than birds. You are God’s prized creation. You are eternally valuable to God.

So if you’re joining us today and you’re not a follower of Jesus right now—maybe you’re joining with friends, neighbors, family members or are exploring Christianity on your own—let me pause here and give you a big-picture story line of the Bible. We are all created by God and are loved by God, yet we have all sinned against God. We’ve all turned aside from God’s ways to our own ways. As a result, we are separated from God and the effects of sin in our world are all around us, including things like natural disasters, sickness and pandemics.

The good news of the Bible is that God loves us and has not left us alone in our separation from Him. God has come to us in the person of Jesus Who has lived the life that none of us could ever live, a life with no sin. Then, even though He had no sin to pay any judgment for, to endure any justice for, He chose to die on a cross to pay the price for your sin and my sin against God. Jesus died for our sin.

Then three days later, He rose from the grave in victory over sin, so that anyone anywhere in the world who turns from their sin and puts their trust in Jesus will be forgiven of all their sin and restored to relationship with God for all of eternity. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will never perish but have everlasting life.

So now bring that to bear here in Matthew 6:28 where Jesus starts talking about flowers and how well they’re dressed. Then in verse 30, He says, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Grass and flowers that last for one day, yet God clothes them in beauty? They just last for a little bit of time. You’re going to last forever.

Put this in perspective. Jesus is saying, “Look at the lilies and grass and how they’re clothed. Why are you worried about what to wear, when God is going to dress you in eternal glory? Why are you worried about your paycheck, when God is going to give you the whole earth as your inheritance? Why are you worried about your position at work, when you’re going to reign in God’s Kingdom forever? Why are you worried about your health, when God Himself has guaranteed you eternal life?” Your life is about so much more than all these things that are weighing you down. Your life is about trusting the God Who eternally values you—that totally changes your perspective!

3. Avoid anxiety because it’s unhelpful.

Jesus says in verse 27 that it’s pointless: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Worrying doesn’t make things better; it only makes things worse. It is completely counterproductive. Life is challenging enough as it is. Why weigh yourself down with worry on top of everything else? Jesus says, “Avoid anxiety because it’s extremely unhelpful.

4. Avoid anxiety because it’s for unbelievers.

In verse 31, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, saying what ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things.” Basically, Jesus is saying here that worrying is what the world does; not what God’s people do.

If I could apply these words from Jesus to our situation right now, it’s like Jesus is saying, “Listen, if you don’t know that God is in control right now and you don’t know God as your Father Who values you as His child, then you have a lot of reason to be worried in this world. If you don’t know God as your Father, you have a lot of reason to be anxious.”

But if you do know the God Who is in control, if you know His goodness, greatness, wisdom and mercy, then you not only know about Him, but you actually know Him as your Father in heaven. If you have a relationship with God as Dad and you know that He values you as His child, then you have no reason to be worried, right now or at any time. Anxiety is for unbelievers in this sense, not for believers. Another way to put it is that anxiety, as we’ve defined it here, is a sign of unbelief in God, not of belief in God. Anxiety is for unbelievers.

5. God your heavenly Father knows all that you need.

Jesus is telling us, “The Gentiles seek after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them all.” God knows it all. Jesus is saying God knows every single thing each one of us needs right now—better than even we know. Can I say that one more time? Listen closely, Christian. To all who know God as Father through Jesus, God knows everything you need better than even you know what you need. God is not up in heaven looking down on you saying, “I wonder what he needs? I wonder what she needs?” God is in heaven saying, “I know exactly what you need—better than you know yourself.”

So, Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” All of them—it’s a promise!

6. God your heavenly Father will supply all that you need.

Not only does God our heavenly Father know all you need, but He will supply all you need. “All these things will be added to you.” How’s that for a promise from the One Who possesses everything? We’re not talking Amazon here. You thought Amazon had everything until everybody started buying Clorox wipes and hand sanitizers; now there’s nothing left. The supply line is empty. But here’s the difference: With God the supply line is always full.

You don’t have to worry about your heavenly Father running out of strength when you are weak. He never runs out of courage when you are afraid. He never runs out of hope when you are hurting. And ultimately, He will not run out of life when you are dying. Every moment for all of eternity, your heavenly Father will supply all you need.

7. God guarantees you mercy today for trouble today and mercy tomorrow for trouble tomorrow.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” These words from Jesus are life-changing, if we will grasp them and live in them. This is so important, especially in these days.

Matthew 6: 25–33 Reminds Us that God is the Only One Who Knows for Sure

Let me put it this way. Who among us knows what the news is going to say tomorrow or what this situation is going to look like tomorrow? None of us do. No one in the world does. This leads many to anxiety, especially if you think things might get worse. We’re already weighed down today, so we start thinking, “I can’t take anything more tomorrow.” But that’s just it. The mercies God gives today are not designed to carry the burdens that may come tomorrow. God’s mercies today are designed to carry today’s troubles. Then when tomorrow comes, if new trouble comes, new mercy will come with it. It is guaranteed by God.

Think about it this way. At numerous times over the last year in this adoption process our family has been in, Heather has looked at me at the end of a long, hard day and said, “Can we handle a fifth child?” I’ve looked back at her and said, “No, we can’t. Not today. You know why? Because we don’t have five kids today. We have four kids today and God has given us mercy today for four kids.”

Now, when we bring our fifth child into our home—which we pray every day will be soon—we can bank on the fact that extra mercy is coming. Why? Because God has guaranteed it. I don’t know what tomorrow holds in my life, in your life or in the world. But I do know that tomorrow’s mercy from God will be sufficient for tomorrow’s trouble in this world. This means you and I have no reason to worry for a second about what tomorrow holds. When we get there, new mercy will be waiting for us and that guarantee frees us from anxiety. That’s the point of what Jesus is saying.

So let me bring this to an end. Right now, a host of people are weighed down with anxieties in this world—amidst a pandemic in this world—and I have a good word to make you glad. Jesus will free you from anxiety. He will free you from the weight of worry. Jesus will free you from the fear of the future. Jesus will give you total peace in the middle of a pandemic—if you will trust in Him and cast your anxieties on Him.

I want to invite Todd Peters, our campus pastor from Prince William, to join me here. Todd is a former Navy SEAL and an instructor of Navy SEALs. If I was hiking through the Himalayas and could choose only one person to be with me, there is no question in my mind who I would choose—Todd Peters. No offense to Heather, but I’m not looking for romance at that point; I’m looking for survival.

Let me be honest. This backpack has been pretty heavy since I filled it up and put it on my back. This is the first time I’ve ever preached with a backpack on. If I was hiking through the Himalayas, I imagine it would feel pretty heavy there, too. That’s kind of the point—life is not easy as it is. I don’t want to presume these days we’re in are easy; they’re not. But life is a lot harder and these days are a lot harder if we’re weighed down with anxiety in the midst of them.

So this is the good word I have for you today. There is Someone Who will take these anxieties from you. I’m going to let Todd represent Jesus, Who has clearly said, “Do not be anxious. You don’t have to carry any of that. In a world of unknowns, cast all your anxieties on Me, because I care for you.” That’s the picture I want you to have.

This is a daily battle, because tomorrow you’ll want to take them back—and the next day and the next day. Don’t do it. The easiest way to trek through the Himalayas is without a pack on your back and I would submit the wisest way to trek through life. Well, actually there are easier ways to trek through the Himalayas than just giving your pack to a guy like Todd and here it is. [Todd picks up David, along with his full backpack!] That was definitely not social distancing on so many different levels. It would be easier to hike through the Himalayas without a heavy backpack and that’s the picture I want you to receive more than anything else today. Not just giving your anxieties to Jesus, but your life.

How do you have peace in the middle of a pandemic? How do you have faith over fear in an unknown future? Here’s how. Trust Jesus with your life. That’s the beauty of what Jesus has done. He comes to you and takes all of you upon Himself. He says, “I will carry you. I will take responsibility personally to provide for you.” I just want to encourage you to trust in Him and let Him, not just give you peace, but let Him be your peace in the middle of this pandemic.

I want to invite you to bow your head, right where you’re sitting, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Pause for a minute and answer these questions. Do you know Jesus as your peace? Do you know God as your heavenly Father because you’ve put your faith in Jesus, because you trust in Jesus? If your answer is not a resounding yes, then I want to invite you to put your faith in Jesus today. I invite you to pray this to God.

“Dear God, I know I have sinned against You and that I am separated from You by my sin. But today I’m saying I need You to save me from my sin. I need You to bring me back into relationship with You. Today I believe Jesus died on a cross for my sin, then He rose from the dead in victory over sin and sickness and death. Today I trust Him as my life, as my joy, as my peace.”

When you put your faith in Jesus in this way, God declares you forgiven of your sin, God declares you His child and God declares you free from the anxieties of this world.

Lord God, I pray for people right now who have just now trusted in You. I pray they will know and feel and realize Your peace for the first time today. I pray that they would know they have peace with You and that You have taken responsibility for the provision of their every need. God, I pray that those who trusted in You today would have the courage to share that with someone—with us online, or with friends or family members, someone they know is a follower of Christ—that they might grow in this peace.

I pray for each one of us when we are tempted to pick up that backpack with all kinds of weights. Help us put it back down. Help us jump into Your arms and let You carry us. We are so glad that You carry us. So we say, “Help us not be anxious. Help us to trust in You in all these ways.” You are our Savior, our Provider, our God, our King, our Lord, the Promise Keeper and the Miracle Worker Who provides for everything we need. We worship You, our Peace in the middle of a pandemic. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

 

How can we apply this passage to our lives?

Question 1

Why are we so inclined to be anxious?

Question 2

In what areas of your life have you struggled with anxiety?

Question 3

According to the sermon, what is anxiety?

Question 4

How can the Christian have peace in the middle of a pandemic?

Question 5

Why can we guarantee fellow believers that God will be merciful today and tomorrow?

Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

Matthew 6:25 – 33

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly  Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore  do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Carrying concerns in this world in such a way that we lose perspective on life and/or lack trust in God.

  • Your life is about more than anything this world offers you.
  • Your life is about trusting the God who eternally values you.
  • Avoid anxiety because it’s unhelpful.
  • Avoid anxiety because it’s for unbelievers.
  • God your Heavenly Father knows all that you need.
  • God your Heavenly Father will supply all that you need.
  • God guarantees you mercy today for trouble today, and mercy tomorrow for trouble tomorrow.

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

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