Community Group Study Guide — Freedom from Anxiety
Jesus continues his focus on the believer’s life in relationship to the world by discussing the nature of anxiety related to things in this world, your life and your body. This is a continuation of his teaching on storing up treasure and Jesus connects anxiety to storing up treasure for yourself on earth. It would appear that a heart set on earthly treasure is also a heart prone to be anxious.
The initial feeling of anxiety can be quite useful. If you’re standing next to the edge of a cliff that feeling of anxiety could be the thing that keeps you from stumbling over. Likewise, having some healthy stress can move you forward to complete tasks, seek reconciliation, and avoid unnecessary danger. However, Jesus is not talking about that initial feel of fear, worry or anxiety in this passage. Jesus’ focus is on the state of distraction and relentless focus on a thought or feeling that comes from a desire to control. We know this because the Greek word here is one that means to be divided or distracted. Likewise, it is in a grammatical construction implying that there is ongoing activity that needs to cease. Therefore, Jesus is saying “do not keep being anxious”, halt the train of worry and your thoughts of control related to things in your life that are out of your hands. Many of us have experienced times of anxiety, especially over this last year. How do we find freedom from worry and fear in the midst of our chaotic world? Jesus does not merely say “stop”, he also shows us a way out and lifts our eyes up to see God’s character and his care. This does not promise instant relief and it is not a formula but a great opportunity to refocus on the Lord to find freedom.
Jesus desires that we see God as our heavenly Father, which is why Matthew 6:25-30 intertwines two themes: God’s absolute control (heavenly rule) and his abundant care (fatherly love).
What do we worry about? Jesus tells us that we mainly worry about things related to your life and your body by using the illustration of food and clothing. These categories point to the essentials and the extravagant. He’d like us to see that our life is more than food and our body more than clothing… yet we worry about these things and miss that there is more to us than food, drink and clothing.
You can imagine Jesus teaching on the hillside as he points to two part of the natural world to make his case. In each example Jesus talks about 1. God’s control, 2. God’s care, 3. A correction for us.
First, consider the birds of the air. God has made the world in such a way that they are cared for by the natural ordering of the world. He has provided for them food in worms, seeds, rodents and grain to find their “daily bread”. They’re not to sit back and wait, but to take proactive steps to go seeking these things, but still the provision points back to God. You do not see too many starving and hungry birds out there yet the birds do not store, gather or plant and they’re taken care of. Matthew 6:26 points to God’s care, “your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” And Jesus rounds off his first example by correcting us with what may of us already know to be true, our anxiety cannot accomplish what it promises. Being anxious does not add a single minute to our life. In this discussions on worry about food we are reminded that we can trust God with our daily necessities and God in his loving provision has ordered the world in such a way for us to be cared for.
Second, consider the wildflowers. In this example Jesus points to our worry around things of the body and in particular beauty. The lilies of the field do not control their growth or how they look and yet they are more glorious than even Solomon in all his splendor. Solomon was the third king of Israel and according to Song of Songs he was a handsome man. Likewise he would have had extravagant and fashionable clothing at his disposal, yet in the beauty competition he comes in second to the flowers of the field. Jesus is not trying to indicate it is wrong to want to care for our bodies, rather he is telling us that the worry, obsessive thinking and control of our image is a problem. Our world would sell us a message to tell us that our value is in how we look, what we wear and the image we’ve cultivated, but that is not the way God works. God’s care is shown in how God makes the flowers of the field beautiful even though they are temporary, “how much more will he clothe you?” The correction in this example comes with Jesus calling out our “little faith”. When we’re anxious, we do not necessarily lack a saving faith, but we do lack a quantity of faith that would have us relationally trust God. Jesus wants us to see God as our heavenly Father, who knows what we need before we even have to ask (Matthew 6:7-8, 32).
How can someone stuck in a pattern of anxious thinking and controlling habits find freedom? When Jesus says “do not be anxious” he is telling us to stop something already in motion. It is helpful for us to think about how we can “apply the brakes” and bring our anxiety to a halt. The first thing we can do is to know the truth that Jesus brings out: God is our heavenly Father and in his absolute control he orders the world and in his abundant care he displays his love for his children. Second, you need to replace the anxiety with something else. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us that a response to anxiety is to seek God in prayer. This is not some trite or cliche activity, but rather proactive seeking of God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Jesus tells us to “seek first” his kingdom, which is to say that our lives should be ordered around living out God’s word and his ways in our day to day life. We need to say “no” to our anxiety and replace it with some proactive habit that focus our minds and hearts around what is true about God. Being in the word, prayer and community is essential to finding any sort of freedom from worry. This does not mean we will find instant relief, or that we should not seek counseling or help, however, Philippians 4:7 does seem to promise that the peace of God will flow to those who seek him and Matthew 6:33 tells us that “all these things will be added to you”. When you feel anxious thoughts rise up in your mind, use it as an opportunity to depend on God. Finally, admit that today will have “sufficient troubles” of its own (Matthew 6:34). Do not deny the reality that life this world is hard and trouble will meet you on a day to day basis.
Many of us struggle with seasons of anxiety and worry. Instead of telling us to look inward or control our circumstances, Jesus lifts up our eyes to see God’s character and his care as we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 6:25-34
Being anxious is not a new thing. Jesus talked about anxiety to his disciples over 2000 years ago! However, we know our world is set up to fuel or anxiety. What things exist in our world that push us more and more towards worry?
Why does Jesus focus on food and clothing in his discussion on anxiety? What does he relate food and clothing to in these verses?
How does God provide for “lesser” things in this world and how should that give us confidence in his provision for us? What parts of this passage point to God’s abundant care?
Jesus tells us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” what does this mean? Look back on the Sermon on the Mount to help answer this question.
Why does prayer seem to be a particularly useful tool to combat anxiety? See Philippians 4:6-7.
What action steps do you plan on taking in response to this passage, sermon and study guide?