The first week of nursing school and we were a little scared, excited, and hopeful—all at the same time. Several of my new friends and I gathered around some seniors who would soon graduate and enter the workforce as registered nurses; hanging on every word, listening in awe as they spoke of diseases and treatments that were far beyond our comprehension. Yet, even as we sat spellbound, longing for such wisdom, they began talking about how unprepared they felt to leave the safety net of our school and enter the world of nursing on their own. But how could these smart, efficient women doubt themselves? They seemed so knowledgeable and competent to our untrained minds.
Fast forward just a few short years, as my roommate and I were getting ready to go to our own graduation ceremony, sitting on our beds with those brilliant white caps in our hands—caps that for the first time ever were adorned with the black velvet stripe signifying that we were no longer just students but graduates of the LA County School of Nursing. Our conversation mirrored that of those other seniors—we felt so unprepared; we didn’t know enough; we weren’t experienced enough; and what if we made a mistake that harmed someone? Yes, we were excited, but at the same time overwhelmed—the responsibility just seemed too huge to contemplate.
Recently I came across my photo of a giant chair that is displayed in front of a home furnishings store somewhere in New England. It reminded me of those old nursing school doubts, as well as the many challenges since, when life’s issues seemed beyond me; because as big as that chair is, I know that it’s still way too small for God. He is sufficient to handle all that concerns me, as well as all that concerns everyone else in the world, without even lifting a finger. Nothing is too big for Him.
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” Mark 4:37-41
Yes, who can this be? If He can calm an angry sea with a gentle command, surely He can calm the storms that threaten to wreak havoc in my life. Surely He is big enough. His name is Jesus.
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you. Psalm 55:22a
(This is an except from “I’m Still Standing,” a series of essays based on my journals during my encounter with breast cancer.)
Who would have thought so many would turn out to hear what this nondescript young man had to say? What was it that stirred up so much interest—even among those who were sick and tired of hearing any discussion regarding politics or religion; or among those politically-correct individuals who sought to avoid controversy of any kind, preferring their “live and let live” philosophy that rejected any interference or judgment by others? It certainly wasn’t his appearance. He looked like any other 30-something guy; casually dressed in a way that didn’t make any sort of statement; and he didn’t have those movie-star-good-looks that the tabloids loved. But there was something different about him. Was it the humorous gleam in his eye? Or the intriguing way he spoke in what seemed to be riddles? Was it the way he seemed to be speaking directly to you when you were standing way in the back of a crowd? No one seemed to be able to put a finger on it, but there was a certain charisma in his manner that divided people—they either loved him or hated him. He was considered a dangerous terrorist who wanted to bring down the government to some, and a peace-loving pacifist to others. So here they were—common everyday working people, stay-at-home-moms with their kids, reporters, clergy, politicians, celebrities and unknown businessmen—all gathered around and hanging on every word he spoke, just trying to figure him out.
He had a lot to say that day; touching on legal issues, personal accountability, lifestyles, and even the meaning of life. Amazingly, the crowd remained quiet. He was such a captivating speaker that they were literally speechless. Then his manner seemed to change—for a moment he seemed genuinely puzzled as a new thought occurred to him. “Why do you worry so much about things that really aren’t all that important?” he asked. “You shouldn’t be so obsessed with your jobs, your finances, with how you’re going to afford to buy a house, with the cost of that new outfit or car or vacation, or even with where your next meal is coming from. All you really need is faith in God because he knows what you need even before you do. All you really have to do is look to him first and everything else in your life will fall into place.” Oh boy—he’d done it now—if the crowd was just divided before it was polarized now. Yet they remained quiet, almost mesmerized, as he continued speaking, with each person forming his own opinion of just who this guy was, and just how relevant were the things he had to say.
Such could be the scene should Jesus preach what has come to be known as The Sermon on the Mount in a public forum today. And the simple truth he set down originally is as valid now as it was then, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV)
It’s so simple we miss it—no matter that it’s written over and over in God’s Word—we still miss it. “Seek him first.” It means just what it says. It shouldn’t be a complicated or difficult-to-understand instruction. After all, the concept of diligently seeking after something is not foreign to us. If we desire the love and attention of another person we go after it with everything we’ve got—romantic dinners, gifts, doing all of the little things that would please the object of our affection. Or, if it’s a career we want, we perform and perform and perform to keep the boss happy—late hours, heavy workloads, compromised ethics—we do whatever it takes to get that bigger check or promotion. We understand these pursuits, but when the Lord says, “Seek me first,” we don’t seem to get it. We don’t seem to understand we need to pursue him just as we would pursue anyone or anything else that’s important to us.
And what of his admonition not to worry about tomorrow? After all, worry is such a normal part of life. It’s so easy to do it. Who among us doesn’t worry about something? Aren’t we supposed to worry about our kids, our health, or our finances? Aren’t we supposed to worry about threatening global issues like poverty or war?
As a teenager, I remember worrying about what would happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis and, a few years later, about Viet Nam. For my parents it was World War II and the Korean War; for my grandparents, World War I. And today, the terrorism and doomsday scenarios are worse than ever before, even in fictional accounts. Have you ever watched 24, or read a Clancy or Ludlum novel?
Jesus is still the solution. His word remains true—he doesn’t make false promises, and he promised that if we seek him first all of our needs will be supplied. Therefore, worry should have no place to rest in our lives.
So why is something that sounds so simple so difficult to implement? I believe it’s largely because Satan knows how to manipulate us, and worry is just another face of fear. Life is hard, and we routinely face painful and difficult situations and/or decisions. And when fear wears this disguise it often appears legitimate—sometimes even admirable. It appears as concern for things that are our responsibility—the financial stability of our family, the well-being of our child, or issues regarding our health. But when worry appears, fear has done its job. Fear has turned our attention away from the simplicity of God’s command and focused it on the “what-ifs” of life.
Part of my own struggle to overcome worry is recounted in a journal entry: How do I re-focus and get rid of worry? It remains just as Jesus said—I must seek him first. And, in order to do that, I must give him ownership of all of the things that concern me. I must ask myself, “What is the worst-case scenario, and if it happened would God still be there for me?” Yes! As promised in Romans 8:38-39, nothing can separate me from his love. So, it comes back around to wanting him more than anything else—it comes back to seeking him first.
But worry is accepted—even expected—as normal behavior, and I’ve been criticized for not being logical when I’ve refused to worry about certain things. I’ve been accused of being unrealistic, irrational, or impractical. I’ve been told that “the world just doesn’t work that way” or that I need to “get real.” Others have tried to put me on a guilt trip for not worrying—surely they’re more well-adjusted than me because they worry about things that are important, and I’m being irresponsible if I refuse to do it too. But the ways of God are not understood by man’s logic, so I must come back to faith—I must trust what he’s said in his Word—I must live outside of worry because my God is bigger than any problem I face—he’s bigger than the cancer, he’s bigger than the chemotherapy, he’s bigger than the radiation.
This, then, is the foundation of my faith—God is real and his Word is true. Jesus said it—I believe it—I must always seek him first. My life is his and he is my refuge, my place of rest, my peace, and my hope. He meets my every need. What more could I want?
An abundance of blackberry vines grew wild and, as Mom was fixing dinner, we’d often run outside and pick enough so she could put together a quick cobbler for dessert. And my Dad—oh, he was the king of the blackberry pickers. Give him some buckets and some loaded vines and he’d fill them up in nothing flat while we “helped,” eating as many as we were picking. Then the kitchen would smell delicious for days as my mother canned enough blackberry preserves to last until the following year.
One day as I was reading my Bible, a verse popped out as never before, Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints! For the LORD preserves the faithful, and fully repays the proud person (Psalm 31:23). Before I’d always visualized the Lord throwing out a life preserver to save me, but now I realized that He was turning me into fruit-of-the-Spirit preserves; and I prayed that my life would become as flavorful as those wonderful blackberries of years ago.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
He shall abide before God forever. Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him! Psalm 61:7)