Worry and anxiety are a common human experience. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his followers, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). At first glance this verse seems to suggest that Jesus is calling his followers to a carefree, lackadaisical attitude about the future. But a closer look at the context shows that Jesus is not advocating irresponsibility but rather directing our focus to what is most important.
The Context of Jesus’ Teaching
In Matthew 6, Jesus is speaking to a large crowd about righteousness and proper religious practices (Matthew 5:1-2, 6:1). He addressed three specific areas that can easily become corrupted by wrong motives – giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting. Jesus taught that these spiritual disciplines should be done for God’s eyes only rather than to gain admiration from people (Matthew 6:1-18).
Jesus then transitioned to addressing everyday anxieties and concerns. He used examples that would have been very relatable to his original audience – what to eat, drink, and wear. In the ancient world, daily provisions were far from guaranteed. Securing food, water, and clothing required hard physical labor. So naturally, worry about having enough to survive was commonplace.
It was in this context that Jesus told the people, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). At first read, it almost seems that Jesus is promoting irresponsibility. But as we look closer, we see that is not the case.
Does Jesus’ command really mean we should show no concern for the basic necessities of life? Or never plan and prepare for the future? A thorough examination of Scripture reveals two important truths:
- Jesus is not condemning all forethought and planning. Rather he is concerned about the heart motive behind it.
- Jesus calls us to embrace a radically different perspective on life than the cultural norm of anxiety and fear.
Planning with the Right Motives
While Jesus does warn against worry, he doesn’t condemn wise planning and hard work. In fact, Proverbs speaks extensively about diligent labor, prudent financial practices, and proper preparation (Proverbs 6:6-11, 21:5). Ecclesiastes 11:2 wisely advises, “Divide your means seven ways, or even eight, for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.”
The key in all our planning is to do it with the right heart motives—out of reasonable caution, not excessive worry. Jesus put it this way, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our heart will follow what we value most. If our chief treasure is money or material security, we will be dominated by worry. But if our greatest treasure is God and his kingdom, it frees us from fear (Matthew 6:33).
Paul demonstrated this balance of prudent planning without anxious worrying when he collected offerings for the poor saints in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8–9). He systematically planned and prepared to meet the urgent need. Yet he did it while maintaining complete trust in God’s sovereignty over the situation.
In summary, Jesus is not against wise planning for the future, providing for our families, and taking reasonable precautions. The key distinction is our heart motivation. Do we act out of faith in God or fear of circumstances?
A Radically Different Mindset
While allowing room for wise planning, Jesus makes it clear we are called to a radically different perspective on life. The cultural norm tells us that gaining money, comfort, and security should be our highest aims. Yet Jesus says, “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes” (Luke 12:23). He frees us from constantly striving for physical and material provision.
Jesus highlights the birds who don’t plant crops or store grain yet are fed by God day after day (Matthew 6:26). The lilies don’t labor for fine clothing yet outshine King Solomon in their beauty (Matthew 6:28-29). If God so faithfully cares for birds and flowers, how much more will he provide for us, his children (Matthew 6:26, 30)?
Rather than seeking security in money, possessions, and planning, Jesus says we are to seek the kingdom of God above all else (Matthew 6:33). God promises to supply all our physical needs as we follow him in faith (Matthew 6:33; Philippians 4:19). While we may plan and work diligently, we are called to hold our plans loosely and trust ultimately in God. “You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15).
This kingdom focus liberates us from constant worry and frees us up for joyful generosity. As we trust God to provide our daily bread, we become willing to share freely with those in need (Matthew 6:11; Luke 12:33). Anxiety loosens its grip as we seek first God’s kingdom and trust him for everything else.
How is Worry-Free Living Possible?
Jesus’ teachings may seem unattainable to us. Our culture is saturated with messages that feed our worries – news headlines constantly warn us of danger, advertisements fuel discontentment, and the pursuit of wealth and comfort is held up as the ultimate goal. In light of these influences, how can we possibly attain the worry-free mindset Jesus calls us to?
We need to remember that radical trust was just as counter-cultural in Jesus’ day. The Sermon on the Mount would have sounded just as outlandish to its original listeners. So how did Jesus expect them to obey his teachings on wealth, worry, and generosity? How can we follow them today? We find at least four keys:
1. Recognize the root of anxiety.
Worry often stems from believing that we are in control and responsible for securing our welfare. The truth is God alone holds the future. As an all-powerful, sovereign Lord, he cares for us and will supply what we need (Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:19). Our anxiety is relieved as we acknowledge his loving control over our lives. We become free to trust him in each moment rather than striving to control circumstances.
2. Repent of lack of faith.
Worry flows out of lack of faith in God’s goodness. When we give in to fear and anxiety, we need to repent and ask God to increase our trust in him. One man in the Bible cried out in desperate prayer, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). As we turn from our doubts and call out to God, he will strengthen our faith in his care.
3. Renew our minds with Scripture.
As we immerse our minds in God’s truth we begin believing his promises over the world’s messages of fear. Passages like Matthew 6:25-34, Philippians 4:6-7, and 1 Peter 5:7 reassure us that God cares for us affectionately so we can trust him fully. Meditating on and memorizing key Scriptures renews our minds to believe God’s truth over cultural lies.
4. Rely on the Holy Spirit’s power.
Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower his followers to live differently than the world. As we submit to the Spirit, his fruit of peace and joy can reign despite external circumstances (Galatians 5:22-23). By relying fully on the Spirit, we gain victory over crippling anxiety and live boldly in God’s care.
Practical Keys to Overcoming Worry
In addition to the foundational mindset shifts covered above, believers throughout history have utilized other practical strategies for worry-free living. Here are several key ways we can apply Jesus’ teaching:
Bring anxieties to God in thankful prayer.
Rather than being anxious, Paul says we are to pray about everything. As we turn our worries into prayer, God grants us supernatural peace (Philippians 4:6-7). Moreover, we are to pray with thanksgiving, focusing our minds on God’s past faithfulness. Gratitude for how God has already cared for us strengthens our trust in him.
Leave tomorrow’s concerns behind at the end of each day.
Many worries never materialize so it is useless to dwell on them (Matthew 6:34). We can release each day’s troubles to the Lord before going to sleep. As we lay our concerns down in prayer, we can pick up faith that tomorrow’s challenges are already in God’s capable hands.
Make a list of God’s past provisions.
As a reminder of God’s faithful care and encouragement to trust him today, we can write down ways he has already provided for us. Listing specific examples – a need unexpectedly met, guidance granted, problems resolved – builds our faith in God’s personal care. Referring to it regularly reorients us from anxiety to gratitude.
Limit sources of worry.
We can carefully guard our minds against unnecessary anxiety by filtering our influences. For example, limiting consumption of negative news gives worry and fear less room to take root. Being wise about financial commitments allows greater freedom from money concerns. Seeking encouragement from faithful believers rather than skeptics strengthens our faith.
Cast cares on the Lord immediately.
Rather than dwelling on worrisome thoughts, we can capture each one and immediately give it to God in prayer. As anxieties surface, handing them over to the Lord keeps them from overwhelming us. This allows God’s peace to rule our minds (Philippians 4:6-7).
Trusting God’s Good Plans
Ultimately, embracing Jesus’ worry-free way means trusting in God’s good plans for our lives. We can rest in the truth that an all-wise, loving God holds our future and nothing takes him by surprise. Even in difficult circumstances, he works to renew us and make us more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29).
Freed from constant striving, we have nothing to prove. Our worth is rooted in God’s love alone – not in our achievements, security, or other people’s opinions. With our identity grounded in Christ, we become more content, generous, and focused on eternal treasure rather than temporary trinkets.
While worry-free living requires continually realigning our hearts to God’s truth, the joyful result is worth it. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, he lifts our gaze to the needs around us. Freed from self-focus, worry and fear, we overflow with the loving care of Christ to others. And this, after all, is the very heart of the kingdom of God that Jesus calls us to seek first.