In 1988 Bobby McFerrin dropped his enormously popular hit that would become the first a capella song to summit the Billboard Top 100 chart to reach the #1 spot.
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” resonated with a generation of those who identify as overstressed, overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.
The lyrics, sung in an affected accent amid the bobbing and weaving of McFerrin’s own vocal gymnastics, became an anthem for the economically oppressed urbanites and a mantra for the angst-ridden collegiate coeds. Many know more stanzas of this song than of the national anthem.
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry, you make it double
Ain’t got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don’t worry, be happy
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don’t worry, (ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha) be happy (look at me, I’m happy)
Ooo-oo-hoo-hoo-oo hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ooo Don’t worry
Woo-oo-woo-oo-woo-oo-ooo Be happy […etc. …]
The problem with this cheerful chant is that it is misleading; it posits that the opposite of worry is happiness. Let’s delve into a verse of Scripture that brings rich theological protein to this otherwise unsubstantial cotton-candy advice.
Philippians 4:5-6 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything,
Here are the first two of…
Four aspects of God’s command to avoid anxiety
When bad things happen to us the solution is not to try not to worry, to Disneyfy the script and add a catchy, chipper soundtrack (à la “Hakuna Matata, it means no worries”).
The opposite of worry isn’t denial; it’s an appropriate, reasonable, godly response.
We all worry about our health, our children, our finances, our country, our church, our walk with the Lord. And after reading Philippians 4:6 you might be tempted to worry about how much you worry! But don’t. Paul isn’t laying an impossible burden on you.
The promise of this verse is that as you grow in your trust in Jesus—as you learn about who he is and what he has done for you—you’ll experience a gradual increase of your confidence in God’s control of your health, your children, country, and all other concerns.
The key to verse 6 is verse 5: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.”
The word “reasonableness” is a Greek word ἐπιεικής that has no direct English correlation. It describes a person who is fair, equitable, appropriate. It’s a person who reacts appropriately to a situation, rather than overreacting. It has to do with keeping events in perspective, about viewing what happens and what could happen relative to our relationship with an eternal Lord and Savior.
“The Lord is at hand.” This could mean that the Lord is near in space or it could mean near in time, they both work equally well and have the same effect. It means you must keep Jesus in the picture. This is the requirement for peace and repentance from worry: that you never look at your fear without Jesus in the picture.
If you put a little toy soldier next to a molehill and take a picture, the molehill looks like a mountain. But if you put an actual Army Ranger in full gear next to the molehill and take a picture, you don’t even notice the clump of dirt near his boot.
Jesus is not a toy soldier, he is a warrior, armed with power, and he is on a mission to accompany you through whatever valley you are going through: The Lord is at hand.
When you zoom in on your fear to exclude Jesus, of course it will cause anxiety but the more you remember that Jesus is near, the more confidence you will have in this life.
Is this blog making you anxious? Calm down, take a deep breath, I think this command will make more sense when you understand what anxiety is and what it isn’t.
Anxiety is the unproductive concern about something you can’t do anything about that hasn’t happened, and might not happen.
I am not saying we should never have urgent care and concern, or even alarm, in situations that warrant it. If your awareness of a clear and present danger springs you into action, that is not anxiety. Taking immediate and urgent action when your toddler goes missing in the mall is not sinful. An elevated heart rate and raised voice is appropriate and wise when sounding the alarm in the event of danger. Sinful anxiety is having an untrusting, uncontrolled reaction to something that isn’t happening and might not ever happen.
So, what do you do when your mind and body begins to react to future danger that might not happen?
Come back next Monday and I’ll tell you!