Happy Memorial Day, for those of you listening in the States as you enjoy a long weekend. Thanks for joining us again on the Ask Pastor John podcast as we enter week 280 in the life of this podcast. We couldn’t do it without all of you who listen. Thank you for your sustained interest over these years.
Well I recently ran a quick search of the APJ inbox for the words “anxiety” or “anxious.” Those terms appear in 620 different emails. Anxiety questions arrive every week, and they come in many forms. I know you have some general thoughts on anxiety you want to share, Pastor John. Today I’ll simply hand off the mic to hear from you on this theme, more broadly.
Well, let me tell you a story with a twist. This story really happened to me about 35 years ago. But I’m retelling it as a parable. It really happened, but it’s a parable. It made such an impact on me that I remember it to this very day. It’s intended — for me and I hope for you, by God — to be instructive about anxiety and to help us live more free from the crippling and witness-damaging effects of anxiety.
Parable of the Lost Mastercard
Back when Noël and I were in our mid-thirties, with three children at the time (we eventually had five), finances were really tight. We were going over our budget at the end of several months, and I knew I had to take some initiative to do something.
We attended a seminar that was held at our church, and we discovered that the culprit was the Mastercard, which we had in those days. We couldn’t stay on top of what we were using it for, so we cut it up into pieces. Actually, we saved one.
“This is a parable to help us live more free from the crippling and witness-damaging effects of anxiety.”
It actually worked. We stopped using a credit card, paid everything with the checks and cash, and therefore could tell what was in our account.
Now, I still carried this Mastercard, though I never used it. We took it to California on vacation with the family, and I lost it. I had no idea where it was. It could’ve been at the seals show in SeaWorld, or it could have been in a fruit shop in Tijuana, where we had crossed the border to visit Mexico. It could’ve been in who knows how many McDonald’s. It could have been on the beach in Coronado, California — where the sand really is gold and the condos sell for a one-and-a-quarter million dollars. (We were swimming, not shopping.)
The wonderful thing is that this time, I felt no worries at all — none. Now, mind you, this is not natural for me. I am by nature a short-term pessimist. Ask my wife.
Under ordinary circumstances, I would have concluded that someone had already charged the limit on our card, and that we were in deep trouble. I would usually get mad at myself or the family. I would take it out on somebody with frustration indirectly. I would, of course, try to find some divine purpose that God was working through this while struggling to be happy, because I’m a Christian Hedonist, and I’m supposed to be happy.
This time it was different. I felt no worries at all. I didn’t get angry with anyone. I never felt any frustration. I was happy the whole way through. What a victory! The whole time it was lost I went about my business as usual. I trusted God. I loved my family.
When I got back from vacation, there it was in an envelope from Dr. Fuller, my former teacher whom I had visited. He had found it on the floor of his car and had returned it to me in a letter.
You know what the secret to my happiness was? I didn’t know I’d lost it. I never even looked in my wallet. I didn’t know it was gone. I stood there holding it in my hand and smiling. I thought, “Just think of how feisty I would have been if I’d known I lost it.”
Think how depressed I would have been — and worried and angry and frustrated and irritable. The whole time, God was covering for me. The card was safely on its way to Minneapolis, and all my anxiety would have been useless. All the damage I would’ve done to people would have been absolutely unnecessary because everything was quite under control. Now, I ask, is there not a parable in this for me? There is.
Interpreting the Parable
As soon as we discover we have a problem, God has already been working on it, and the solution is on the way. It will not always be with this much ease and freedom from difficulty, but God is always at work with a solution, and it’s already on the way.
“As soon as we discover we have a problem, God has already been working on it, and the solution is on the way.”
I have seen it happen again and again in my life. A letter arrives with the solution to some problem, but just the day before I had been discouraged and downcast — not knowing that the letter was already in the mail.
If we believe in the God of Romans 8:28 — that our sovereign God works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose — if we believe in that God, we will remember that by the time we know a problem exists, God has already been working on it. His solution is on the way.
Yes, he is already working on it before it happens. It is fitting into a plan for our good, and therefore, don’t fret; cast all your anxieties on him. They are as unnecessary as mine would have been for the lost Mastercard.