Time magazine conducted a $15 million poll with the National Institute of Health over a six-year period. They recently reported that the No. 1 problem in America is anxiety. More than 13 million Americans are afflicted by it, and anxiety, not drugs, is the No. 1 cause of suicide in America. There is one suicide every two minutes in the United States, and the largest age group is between 15 and 24.
I was musing about this the other day as I was driving, and I wondered, "Why is everybody so upset?" I know we all have a worry machine inside of us that seems to drive us, but why is everybody so upset? We have the best of everything in this country, but there are a lot of things that we do that produce anxiety.
Then I looked in the rear view mirror on the outside of the car, and I saw that notice, "Objects are closer than they appear." If you're neurotic like a lot of us are, you think you have everything under control, and then you look in your rear view mirror and you see that little notice, "Objects are closer than they appear." How much closer are they? I wanted to change lanes but saw a truck coming up on me. It looked like I had plenty of room, but then I thought, "He may be closer than I think he is."
You look in the rear view mirror of your life, and your creditors may be closer than they appear. The people who don't like you may be closer than they appear. It goes on and on. We do a lot of things to make sure that the worry machine inside of us stays in full operation. There seems to be no escape from this.
A man in Australia in 1939 discerned by reading the news that the South Pacific Basin was going to be caught up in a war very soon. He didn't know when, but he knew it was going to erupt into a war, so he wanted to do the most judicious, the safest thing possible for his family. He looked at a map of the South Pacific to determine the safest place because he was going to sell everything he had in Australia and move his family there.
So he did. When he found that place, he liquidated his business and all of his holdings, he put everything in cash, and moved to Guadalcanal. And, as you remember, it became the site of one of the most horrible battles fought in the South Pacific during World War II.
We all have a worry machine inside of us. Worry is thinking that has turned toxic. Worry is the imagination used to picture the worst. Worry is interest we pay on trouble before it appears.
I am a world-class worrier. It's a family affliction. I don't worry about the little things so much. I have come to the place that I worry more about the black holes in the ozone layer than anything else. I lie awake at night worrying about the South American rainforest disappearing or the polar ice caps that are melting away.
But I want you to know that 50 percent of the things that I have worried about never happened. Twenty-five percent of the things I worried about cannot be changed by worry. Twelve percent are things past. Ten percent are petty, miscellaneous things that don't amount to anything, and about three percent of the things I worry about are legitimate. The problem is trying to determine which of the things I am concerned about fall into the three percent.
Worry at its core is atheistic. When we spend our time stewing and grinding about issues around us, we are basically expressing an atheistic point of view. We are breaking the first commandment because we don't believe that God can take care of our issues.
When we worry, we doubt God's ability, his providence, and his presence. We think God is not capable of knowing about us and is not concerned about us. We fracture, scatter, break, and crumble the first commandment, Thou shall have no other gods before me. We dethrone God and put ourselves in his place.
Worry is also slow suicide. People have said to me, "I am worried sick about this." That is a true statement because worry does make us sick. I am not a therapist, but I understand that there is a close relationship between mind and body. Worry will make us sick. The root of the word worry in the Greek is "to choke or strangle." It does choke us down and strangle us. I imagine that very few of us have done our best thinking when we have been stewing or have been anxious about something.
The Persians have a saying, "Worry eats human flesh." Worry is like a funeral pyre. It reduces to ashes our intelligence, our substance, and our very being. What happens when we worry? It only changes the worrier; it does not change what we are worrying about.
Although I read those astounding suicide rates a moment ago, many people do not commit a sudden suicide. We destroy ourselves slowly by worrying over things that exist only in our minds. It is not the work that kills people; it is the worry. Work actually makes people stronger and better and is healthier. Like rust on the blade, worry is rust in our lives. It is not the movement of the machinery that destroys it; it's the friction and rust that destroys it. Worry and fear will secrete a stomach acid in our lives that tears us up. But "love and trust are sweet juices to our lives," said Henry Ward Beecher.
OK, now I have told us all not to worry. But telling people not to worry only does one thing. You worry about why you can't quit worrying. There is an old example that all public speakers have used, and I want to use it here again.
If I were to tell you right now not to think of an elephant, what would you do? You are seeing elephants in your minds right now, aren't you? If I tell you not to do something, that's the first thing that you do. Your mind goes right to it. So if I tell you not to think of an elephant, you are going to think of an elephant.
So let's turn it the other way. What kind of antidote can I give you so that you don't stew about everything? It may come down to good advice, based on Scripture.
First of all, we must remember that Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11). He notes that there are two kinds of shepherds: the good shepherd, who owns the sheep and takes care of them when the wolves come and scatter the flock, and the hireling shepherd, who is brought in under contract to take care of them and runs when wolves attack the flock. The good shepherd stays and never abandons his sheep.
Jesus does not abandon us. You may not understand all that God is doing. You may have to walk in a fog, only being determined in your direction by what you know and what you feel and the voice of God. You may see through a glass darkly, but the Scripture is there to remind all of us that underneath are the everlasting arms of God.
The Good Shepherd does care for us. We have picked up the idea somewhere that if we do wrong the Shepherd will not love us anymore. Remember this Scripture talks about the scattered sheep. Even when the sheep scatter, he is still the shepherd. The shepherd fights to the end for the flock and will never leave the flock. Remember, he is the shepherd; we are the sheep. The problem with many of us is that we try to take on the role of the shepherd also.
The other thing that we need to understand is that the shepherd stands between the sheep and the problem. The leopards, the lions, the bears can never destroy the sheep because the shepherd is there.
So between you and the physical health issues that you face, there is the Good Shepherd who loves you. Between you and the impending financial disaster that you are frightened about, there is the Good Shepherd. Between you and the problems that are haunting you from your past, there is the Good Shepherd. Between you and the enemies who would harm you and destroy you, there stands the Good Shepherd.
We fail to realize that He does know about us and cares about us. He is the Good Shepherd.
You say, "I have prayed and nothing happened." I know that feeling. Nothing happens immediately. We are so conditioned to see the television miracles where somebody prays and suddenly angels come with harps in their hands. We don't understand that God is not scripted by Hollywood. We need to understand that God has his purposes, and the purposes of God will not be delayed.
Sometimes at 3:30 in the morning I get that tug at the shoulder, "Come on Bill, let's get up and worry." I have gotten to the place where I say, "No, I have a Good Shepherd stationed at the door. He is the peace of God, and he is going to protect me." I am part of his flock for whom he would give his life. Nine times out of 10 I will get the best night's sleep from that point on.
All of us worry, and have serious concerns. All of us feel vulnerable in this world. But the Shepherd knows His sheep, and the peace of God will guard our hearts.
There is a story about two artists who were commissioned to paint a picture of their conception of peace. The one who best captured peace on canvas would be given a prize.
They each went to their studios and painted for the allotted period of time, and then the moment came for the judges to look at their renderings. They pulled the veil off the first canvas, and there was a marvelous canvas. It was a Grandma Moses, peaceable kingdom sort of scene. A farmer's wife was preparing the evening meal. The farmer was bringing the cattle in at the end of a day from the pasture. The children were playing on the porch, and smoke was coming out of the chimney. The colors were beautiful. It made you want to be there. They said, "That's it, but we'll look at the other one."
So they pulled the veil off the second rendering and instead of beautiful colors and a peaceful scene, there was a raging waterfall. When you looked at it, you felt terribly upset. It got down into your soul and disturbed you. But at the side of the waterfall was a little tree. That tree had been growing in the mist coming from the waterfall, and on the end of the branch jutting out over the water was a bird's nest, and standing on the edge of the bird's nest was a mother bird singing her heart out. They said, "That's peace!"
The storms may rage on the outside but the sheep are calmed on the inside by the Shepherd.
Let us pray.
Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care. In thy pleasant pastures feed us for our use thy folds prepare. Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, thou has bought us, thine we are. Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, thou hast bought us, thine we are. Amen.