Too Much To Handle
It happened more than a decade ago, but I still remember it like it was just yesterday. Ashley and I had scrimped and saved and we were taking our first-ever Disney vacation. And we had already spent days doing all the things people typically do when they go to Disney World. We walked down Main Street and took our pictures in front of Cinderella's castle. We took flight on Dumbo's back and on Aladdin's Magic Carpet. We sailed the high seas with the Pirates of the Caribbean and soared over London on Peter Pan's Flight. And we spent hours trying to get the tune from It's a Small World out of our heads. And I’ll go ahead and apologize if I just got that tune stuck in your head too.
But it wasn't until we were a few days into our vacation that we had one of those quintessential Disney experiences that you're never going to read about on the company's website. What I'm talking about is a full-blown-over-the-top colossal meltdown. And Ashley and I witnessed it while we were waiting in line for one of the most popular attractions in all of Disney World at the time, a ride called Toy Story Midway Mania.
We had just entered the queue for the ride. And we were looking forward to playing arcade games with Buzz and Woody and the rest of the gang from the beloved Pixar film. But the family that got in line behind us wasn't filled with the same enthusiasm we had. There was a mother and a father, a couple of small kids, and a grandma in the group.
And it became pretty obvious pretty quickly that after a few days at Disney World, this poor mother's nerves were shot. Her kids were being a little rambunctious, but that's par for the course when you're at any theme park. But she completely lost it.
And when I say she completely lost it, I mean it looked like a scene out of an old cartoon. This poor momma had smoke coming out of her ears and flames in her eyes. And right as she was in the middle of her complete meltdown, her mother — the grandma in the group — tried to encourage her to just take a break and remember that she was at the happiest place on earth. Which isn’t technically correct, because Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. Disney World is the most magical place on earth, but I figured if I interrupted and told them it would only make things worse.
But anyway, as you can imagine, that grandma's loving advice wasn't very well received. As a matter of fact, by essentially telling her full-grown daughter to take a timeout, grandma threw gasoline on the flames of this mother's anger.
So here, Ashley and I are in the middle of a dream vacation. And I feel like I need to pull out a business card and offer this family some free counseling. But fortunately, this full-blown-over-the-top colossal meltdown fizzled out faster than a box of sprinklers on the Fourth of July. And Ashley and I were able to return to the fantasy of Disney World.
But I did learn then and there, that even when you're at the most magical place on earth, you still can't escape stress. According to a study that was published last year by the American Psychological Association, the average American reports a stress level of 5.6 out of 10, which is up about 5% from where stress levels were in 2020.
And, let’s just be honest here, it’s not exactly surprising that the average American’s stress levels are rising. We all know that there are plenty of things to worry about. We can worry about the war that has been going on in Ukraine for most of this year. We can worry about our economy and the way that inflation is affecting all of our finances. We can worry about the recent surge in cases of COVID-19. We can worry about the ongoing epidemic of gun violence across the country or the ever-growing political divide in our nation.
It doesn't matter if you're young or old. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor. Sometimes we all feel overwhelmed.
We all feel overwhelmed.
Which is probably why Jesus spends a little time talking about worrying in his most famous sermon — the one that he preached on the Mount. So, let’s take a look at what Jesus says together. We find it in Matthew 6. And, as you’re finding it, let me remind you that the book of Matthew is one of four biographies about Jesus that we have in the New Testament. So the book of Matthew tells us about Jesus’ birth and his baptism, his ministry and the miracles that he performed, his crucifixion, and his resurrection.
And it also records some of Jesus’ teachings for us. And that’s what we find in the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus teaches about a lot of different areas…including stress. So let’s see what Jesus says in Matthew 6. We’ll start reading in verse 25. It says:
25 “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? 31 Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32 Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:25-34 (Common English Bible)
This passage of scripture can help put our worry and our stress into proper perspective for you. As people of faith, we believe in a great God who cares for every living creature. So we don't need to worry about what we'll eat because God will provide for us just like God provides for the birds in the air. And we don't have to worry about what we'll wear because God knows that we need clothes. And God will provide just like he does for the lilies of the field.
And all of that sounds great. It's a promise from God that we all need to hear and that we all need to remember. But it’s hard not to worry when you're hungry, or naked, or just feeling stressed.
Abraham Maslow explains why it’s hard not to worry when you’re hungry, or naked, or feeling stressed in a theory he first proposed in 1943. According to Maslow’s theory, there's a hierarchy to our needs. And unless the most basic needs are met first, we're not able to focus on and accomplish any of our other needs. Hunger is one of those basic needs. So if you're hungry, you can't really think about the promises of faith that we find in the Gospel of Matthew. Or if you're tired when you come into church on a Sunday morning, it doesn't matter how great a Sunday school lesson may be or how fabulous the preacher’s sermon is, you're going to spend the whole morning fighting off sleep. And you won't remember anything else that happened while you were here.
The problem that we often have in church is that we spend so much time focusing on the higher needs that we forget that a whole lot of us who worship together in person or online every single week, are feeling overwhelmed by much more basic things…like money. Last year, CreditWise conducted a survey that showed that money is the number one cause of stress for 73% of Americans…and that was before we saw record levels of inflation that have affected everything from our ability to buy a house to our ability to fill up our cars with gas.
But it's more than just money that stresses us out. Over the last seven years, there have been four things that Americans have consistently been worried about. Money is at the top of the list. But we also worry about work and doing something meaningful with our lives. We worry about our family responsibilities, and we worry about our health.
But we don't talk much about money, and work, and family responsibilities, and health in church. And you know what? That's a problem.
And it’s a problem because when we ignore these basic things that we all have on our minds when we worship together each week, we make it seem like God doesn't care about the real-life struggles we face every single day of our lives.
I think this is what the book of James is getting at when James says,
14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.
James 2:14-17 (Common English Bible)
Did you hear what James said? Let me read part of that passage for you again. James says:
15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.
In church, we tell each other that we care about each other because we do. So it matters to us if you're struggling with your health. It matters to us if your marriage has hit a rocky spot. It matters to us if you're not going to have enough money to cover your electric bill at the end of the month.
What good are we really doing if we don’t do anything to help people?
What good are we really doing if we don’t do anything to help people? What good are we doing if we don’t do anything to help people improve their health, or work on their marriages, or manage their money?
Back in March, I was contacted by a friend and colleague in ministry. He reached out to me because he’s been doing some research into burnout for ministers, and he was really interested in talking with ministers who have been able to avoid burning out over a long period of time. And since I have been in ministry for about 15 years and served here at Melbourne Heights for more than a decade, he wanted to pick my brain a little.
So over the course of about an hour, we talked about life and ministry. We talked about all of the struggles that everyone has faced since the COVID-19 pandemic began and the particular challenges that our church has faced. But, as our conversation was winding down, he asked me this:
What do you like the most about being a pastor?
Now, that’s not the kind of question that someone asks you every day. So I thought about it for a while. Finally, I answered him, “Bringing hope to people.”
To which my colleague smiled and nodded. And he said, “I've asked that question a lot when I’ve talked with other pastors. But I've never had anyone answer that question that way before. That really is what ministry is all about.”
As I've had more time to reflect on my answer, I've realized that bringing hope doesn't mean just one thing. We all need hope. But we all need hope in unique ways. Some of us need to hear that God is walking beside us in difficult times. Some of us need to hear that God is working to bring an end to pain and suffering and bring God's kingdom to this world. But others need to know that God cares about their finances and that God wants them to be good stewards of the resources that God has blessed all of us with. Other people need to know that God has a plan and a purpose for their lives and that no matter what stage they're at in life, God still calls them to do meaningful work for His kingdom. And others need to hear words of hope about their health, even if it may be in decline. Still, others need hope that they can have healthy and happy relationships.
That's the biggest thing that keeps drawing us back to church week after week — the promise of hope for our lives. But we don't always do a good job speaking the different promises of hope that people come needing to hear.
It's time for that change. It's time for the church, it’s time for us, to minister to people exactly where they are. That means that if someone's struggling spiritually, then we minister to them spiritually. If someone's struggling financially, then we minister to them financially. If someone's having family troubles or problems at work or difficulties with their health, then we have to minister to those needs as well. Or to put it another, our ministry is about meeting you where you are.
Our ministry is about meeting you where you are.
Because, it’s like James says, what good is our faith if we can't minister to others when and how they really need it? Everyone who is a part of this church, whether you've attended for years or are joining us online for the first time today, has had moments where you've felt overwhelmed. And we all need help dealing with the stress we face.
So over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be talking about what we can all do when we’re feeling overwhelmed. We’re going to talk about what you can do when you’re feeling overwhelmed about your finances, your health, and your work. But mostly we want to help you find hope when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
But that starts with remembering what Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. It starts with remembering that no matter what you’re facing, you never face it alone. God is always with you. And if God takes care of the birds in the sky and the flowers in the field, God will take care of you too.