Worried? The “Bible Verse of the Year 2021” Will Help. (Thinking Through Matthew 6:33)

Are you worried? Stressed? Anxious? Who isn’t these days?!

For the past few years we have looked at the “verse of the year,” “the verse shared, bookmarked, and highlighted most often throughout the year” by those who use the YouVersion Bible app, which is a lot of people.

This year’s verse of the year is a great one for anyone who is worried. What is it?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

When we first read this verse on its own, we may become even more worried. We might jump to the conclusion that Jesus is making a promise, namely, that if we are righteous according to God’s standards, then life will be perfect. We may think Jesus is speaking of a transaction, namely his blessings for our obedience. And so in addition to everything else we worry about, we may worry that we are not keeping our end of the transaction, living up to God’s standards. More stress.

We may also worry that we might not have found the correct standards. Are we to be striving for God’s standards according to Baptists, Roman Catholics, or those in United churches? These, and many more, present some different standards of what “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” look like. More stress.

Yet when we read this verse along with what Jesus said before and after, we will be worrying less, not more:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 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 6:25-34 (NIV)

Jesus’ main point is, do not worry. Look at the birds, Consider the flowers. Life happens. Life keeps happening. There is a lot of beauty as life happens and keeps happening. God’s got this, for this is God’s world. God’s got you. Therefore, we can stop trying so hard to get and secure all the things we think we need. God’s got that covered, so rather than allow all that stuff to overwhelm and consume our minds, we are to “seek first” the Kingdom of God. To seek first the kingdom of God is to give our minds first to the reality of God’s kingdom and our part in it, rather than the things we are worried about.

We seek first, God’s kingdom. This world is God’s kingdom. This is God’s world. There are bullies and tyrants here and there, not just people, but diseases and viruses, but what are they compared to God? This is God’s world, and while there is ugliness in the evil around us and in us, there is much that is beautiful. Yes, we pray “thy kingdom come,” but yes, this already is God’s world, God’s kingdom. To seek first the kingdom of God is to consider what God’s kingdom is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God takes care of it.

We seek first, God’s righteousness. We might assume that this means we are to strive to be righteous as God is righteous. That is a good thing to do, yes, but part of the point Jesus is making here is that we are to fill our minds with the fact that God does the right thing, God does the good thing. This is God’s world and God takes care of it. Consider the birds of the air, and the lilies. God takes care of them. To seek first God’s righteousness is to consider what God is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God cares.

When Jesus says to us “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” he is not making a promise that life will be perfect if we are, nor is he saying that we should not show appropriate concern for the troubles we face, or make proper preparations for situations ahead. This verse is not a promise to be claimed in every specific situation, but is more like a proverb, a general truth that with God caring for us, it will all be alright. If it is a promise, it is a promise that God loves us. Consider the birds of the air. Consider the lilies. Consider Jesus, his teaching, life, death, and resurrection. Consider the reconciliation we have because of the cross. God takes care of us.

When I hop on a motorcycle, I still wear a helmet. Something bad could still happen while I ride a motorcycle. If it did, it would not be proof that I had not sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Nor would it be proof that God does not care about me. God cares, is involved, and because God is involved, it will ultimately be alright.

When we put God’s Kingdom and His righteousness uppermost in our minds we are overwhelmed with the goodness and love of God. Given that life happens, beauty happens, this world is God’s kingdom, God does the right thing, the good thing, and that God loves us, we can know it will all be okay.

There will be things to worry about in 2022. But let’s be overwhelmed by the love of God, and not those worries. The best way to not let anxiety and concern overwhelm our hearts and minds is to allow God to overwhelm our hearts and minds first.

2019 Bible Verse of the Year

With 35 billion chapters of the Bible read using their Bible apps in 2019, the people who bring us YouVersion have some impressive statistics to back up their announcement of the “verse of the year.” It is the most looked up, most highlighted, and most shared verse in the YouVersion community. So what is it?

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

This speaks to the fear and anxiety in today’s society, and since the app is used across the globe, the anxieties felt around the world. This verse was written by someone who had great reason for anxiety and worry, for people who had great reason for anxiety and worry. It is in a letter written by the apostle Paul from prison, always a place of uncertainty in that time and place, to the Christians in Philippi who were facing persecution. So what does Paul say? Let’s consider what the Bible says about worry here, beginning with verse 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

We rejoice, even though we may feel scared, mad, or sad. That might seem like an impossible thing to do, since we cannot normally choose our emotions. However, “rejoice” here is an imperative verb, it is an action rather than a feeling. According to Greek experts it is the activity of being glad or taking delight. It is possible to feel sad, and be glad at the same time. Paul is not contradicting himself when he says “we are saddened, but we rejoice” in 2nd Corinthians 6:10.

To give an example, I might be sorrowful that we are now in a Canadian winter and I cannot ride a motorcycle. But at the same time I can be glad that I have enjoyed motorcycling every year since 1991, and look forward to another season of riding in the spring. For another example, I am unhappy about my Mum having Alzheimer’s disease, and feeling distraught that she is now living in a nursing home. However, I am glad she is safe, and with our shared hope in Christ, I take delight in the fact that her best days are still ahead. My emotions have not changed, I am still feeling the emotions brought by grief, but I can focus my mind on things to take delight in. I don’t try to change my emotions from feeling sad to happy, but rather refocus my mind, engaging in the activity of rejoicing even while unhappy.

This is part of what happens in worship and praise at church gatherings. Whatever our emotions resulting from a difficult week, or a difficult season of life, in worship we focus on the big picture, the reality that is ours in God. There can be awful stuff happening in our lives which will result in negative emotions, but in worship all the awful stuff takes the background. The reality of God takes the forefront of our hearts and minds. We cannot change our emotions, but we can change our focus. We are told to “Rejoice in the Lord!” We focus on God. We focus on the big picture God paints for us which takes the focus off the limited perspective of our own field of vision.

Next:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

We keep our cool, even though we may be mad enough to blow our tops. If our emotions take the forefront, then our relationships will be affected. When we allow the worries of life to take the foreground of our hearts and minds, we can easily hurt others. We can “kick the dog” so to speak. The Greek word for ‘gentleness’ has the idea of fitting, appropriate, or fair. Our response to the troubles of life can make our family and friends suffer unfairly, not to mention the poor dog. It is much better when we relate to people with the reality of God in the foreground. We relate to people, not as wounded people flailing away with swords, but as healed and healing people, experiencing grace and love from God, seeking grace and love in the lives of others.

And now for the verse of the year:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

We can pray, even though worry seems like the best, or only, thing to do. When we rejoice, we put the big picture in the forefront. In prayer, we have the opportunity to get our concerns and frustrations back to the forefront. Our frustrations and concerns are important, so should not merely be hidden away as if they do no matter. However, we do not put them forward so they can consume us. We focus on them in order to name them and hand them over to God. What is the result?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (NRSV)

We may be uncertain about many things, but in Christ we can be certain God is our Heavenly Father who works out all things together for good (see Romans 8:28). One very literal translation puts it this way: “The peace of God, the one surpassing in value all reasoning, will watch over your inner selves and your thoughts” (from Scripture Direct Interlinear Greek Bible). While many understand this verse to mean something like “the peace of God is beyond understanding,” another possibility is; “having the peace of God is better than having understanding.” In other words, it is better to experience the peace of God, than have everything figured out. That is often our trouble, we want to have everything figured out, we worry and fret when we don’t. We don’t need it all figured out! Give it to God, Who already has it all figured out, Who has the power to do something about it, Who has the love to do something good about it, even if we can’t see it or understand it. Once we have given our concerns over to God, we can then refocus the mind again:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)

We have something far greater than knowing every detail of the future, and the ability to control that future. We have a relationship with the One who holds the future. Instead of worrying, let us go to God, rejoicing in our reality in Christ, relating to others with that reality in mind, giving our concerns over to God, then refocusing on all that is good. Whatever emotions you may experience in 2020, may you know peace, especially the peace of God.