Readers of this blog are used to diatribes about the dangers of this or that movement every week. With each blog post, we fulfill our mandate to watch for wolves that Paul said would ravage the flock of God—and we make no apologies. But this week, there is no diatribe. Instead, I want to comment on perhaps my favorite moment in the Gospel of John. It is a particularly apropos section of scripture, as I will argue, because coming to the end of the year, most of us began to have all manner of anxieties. I am a Olympic class worrier. I mean it. I took the silver at Helsinki and would have taken the gold if not for a brief moment of faith. I worry about everything. The future is a big hairy monster with sharp, pointy teeth. And now that I have a two month old, my anxieties just got anxieties. Especially when I realize that in seven days, I will have made all the money for the year that I can and now the tax man cometh to bring judgment preceded by his forerunner and prophet, the W-2 form.
Now I’m sure some of you are really, really into scripture memory and you are already thinking of verses to help us Olympic class worriers. No doubt you will quote Philippians 4:6 to me: “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Or you might quote Jesus himself, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ from Mathew 6:31. And these are good verses all. However, I want to share what I think is the best modeling of both of these sentiments.
The picture of calm and peace in the midst of a situation that couldn’t be more anxiety ridden is found in John 13:1-4:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.
There it is. The greatest example of what we should be instead of being worriers. Why is this verse so important? Look at the scene. It is Passover week. While Jesus celebrates his last meal with his disciples, EVERYTHING is working behind the scenes to bring about his betrayal, torture, and death. In shadowy halls but a few miles away, men in big hats and long robes are deciding Jesus has to die. Barabbas is sitting in his cell. Pilate is entertaining guests himself plagued with anxieties about disruptions during Passover. Judas already has an idea and knows someone he can contact. And somewhere . . . somewhere in a pile lies a cross-piece and some nails.
And Jesus knows all of this, he feels the culmination of everything he had come to do, just a few hours away. Not just the culmination of three years of ministry or 33 years of his life, but the culmination of thousands of years of prophecy. What I find so amazing, is that Jesus doesn’t have his mind focused on any of this. Instead he is very, very much focused on the present moment. His focus isn’t on the future but rather eternity. “Knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up . . .” John gives us this insight into Jesus’ thinking and what we see is someone who is settled. He knows that all things are given to him. He knows that he came from God and is going back to God. He knows. He doesn’t think. He doesn’t simply hope. He knows. And this makes him calm.
The thought of what is going to happen, and how I will deal with it, consumes me. I’ll give you an example. Recently, I turned in my grades for my graduate students. I decided who got As and who got Cs and who didn’t pass the course. I shouldn’t have been surprised but I had some students question their grades. “Why did I get a B, my goal was to get an A” (as if having a goal entitled them to the grade). Some were angry. And I started worrying about them challenging the grade. Now, you have to remember I’m just a grad student. Student evaluations are a big deal. They partly determine what I get to teach and when. My mind started racing, imagining all the things these students could do. Would they complain to the dean? Would I be called on the carpet? Etc. Suddenly I’m pacing, biting my nails. Etc. I’m anywhere but the present. I’m lost in some imaginary future. And my entire evening and night’s sleep was ruined thinking about several different futures all of which were incompatible and none of which actually materialized.
It reminds me of a great song by Terry Scott Taylor called “Mr. Flutter” where Taylor, with characteristic wit, analogizes the struggle with anxiety:
And here comes Mr. Flutter
He and Mrs. Dread, well, they love each other
Gonna build a haunted house
Be my father and mother
They’re tying the knot in the middle of my gut
And they both want kids, so there’s one in the oven
They picked out a name
He’s called Little Nothing
I think he was born to be my kissing cousin
He’s pulling the chain in the middle of my brain
Taylor too looks to the divine to help him out but in a fit of honesty that makes him an unusual Christian poet, he says:
I got a Friend on high, and He feels my pain
But I still got this dust flowing through my veins
And I wanna have faith, and I wanna know grace
But it’s hard to break through when the rent’s overdue
It is hard to know our place in eternity when the future looms. It is hard to have faith when the rent’s overdue. But not Jesus. He attends the moment, doing his father’s will to the last—loving his own. Man, I wish I could just get that. I wish I could wrap my head around what C.S. Lewis’ devil Screwtape says:
“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the present is the point at time at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them…either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”
Eternity or the present. That is refuge for those plagued by Mr. Flutter and Mrs. Dread. Something to think about when they are tying a knot in the middle of your gut in the New Year. If you are like my office mate, who “can’t spell worry” then this meditation may not be much help, but for those of us who struggle with anxiety, Jesus’ virtue of taking refuge in Eternity in order to live in the Present might be the beginning of wisdom—and sure beats prozac.