In one of the stories in the book of Numbers, Moses sends 12 men into the land of Canaan to spy on those inhabiting the Promised Land. They return and describe the bounty of the land, “a land which floweth with milk and honey.” But before the people can get excited, 10 of them continue on and tell “an evil report,” a frightening and false account of how large and powerful the Canaanites are.
The people were already worried in their hearts. They had lived in worry ever since leaving Egypt. Now their spies return with tales of a fearsome enemy. The people add anxiety of the head to worry of the heart.
Joshua and Caleb call on their people to get a grip on themselves while the anxious 10 lose their composure. The anxious 10 are not in immediate fear of their lives, so they are not afraid. Indeed, they successfully carried out a dangerous mission. These men showed courage when danger was close.
Yet these 10 fall apart after the danger was over. The specter of imaginary problems tempts them to lose themselves when safely back home. Out of insensible worry for their families, they tragically cause great problems for them. The people rely on the report of their sons. Instead of listening to the encouraging report of Caleb and Joshua, they “lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.”
The anxiety of the few spread to the many. Unfounded worry spread like a disease among the people.
The result of this widespread anxiety was rebellion against God. They were required to spend 40 years in the wilderness. Their lack of trust in God led to a false understanding of reality, which infected the people as a whole, leading to avoidable and tragic consequences.
Trust drives out anxiety. Let’s say I have a neighbor who has proved himself thoroughly reliable. When we need to run out of town for an emergency without time to find a place to board our pets and our neighbor says that he’ll take care of them, I leave town without worrying about our furry friends. I know in my head he will look after them, and I know in my heart that our neighbor is a man of his word.
More than 450 years ago, Archbishop Cranmer added the “Comfortable Words” into the Book of Common Prayer. Right before we go into Holy Communion, the priest reads four sentences of Scripture which are meant to strengthen and relieve us by assuring us of God’s good will.
One of these comfortable words comes from St. Matthew 11:28, when Christ says, “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”
When we worry in our heads and hearts, the Son of God calls us to Him so that He may refresh us. He knows that we go through our lives suffering real pain and bearing actual burdens. We do not need false worry on top of proper concern.
Refreshment from on high does not mean that He will give us a carefree and silly life devoid of all responsibility. Instead, we learn that God is with us and helps us bear the concerns and troubles of our lives. We can trust God with both our heads and our hearts.
If we understand just how powerful, good, and reliable God is, then we would realize that we have no need for worry. We can know everything in our head about our problems, but when we know in our heart that we can rely upon God, then we will avoid the pangs of worry and anxiety. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Not only will we not suffer from unfounded worry, but we will not cause others to suffer so as well.
THE REV. JEFFERSON OTWELL IS THE RECTOR AT ST. LUKE ANGLICAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.