Week of October 7

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

During the years that Abraham Lincoln lived with his family in Springfield, Illinois, he practiced law as a part of the circuit court. The whole court, including the District Attorney, the Circuit Court Judge and a few defense attorneys would travel from county seat to county seat in Illinois in order to try cases. In each town where they held court, the defense attorneys would meet with defendants and plaintiffs, establish lawyer-client relationships, and try cases before the court. When they finished their work, they would travel on to the next county seat and begin the process again. Lincoln learned many of the skills that would serve him well later in life. He obviously learned to practice the law, but he also learned to listen with understanding and learned how to argue a case and how to tell a story so that everyone would listen to him with rapt attention. In truth, the travelling circuit court was made up of lawyers who came to know each other well during their travels. One night, staying together at an inn when their work was finished, due the next day in the neighboring county, anxiety ran high as rains continued to fall heavily. To get to the next town, they would have to cross the swollen waters of the Red River. It was all that his colleagues could think about, and as they shared their fears out loud, their collective anxiety only rose. Finally, someone said to Lincoln, “What are you going to do tomorrow about the Red River?” Lincoln replied, “I always follow the same rule with regard to the Red River: I never cross it until I get to it.”

There is much wisdom in Lincoln’s decision not to worry about matters over which you have no control until you actually find yourself facing them. Jesus actually counseled such wisdom in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” Jesus was speaking about our tendency to worry, to focus upon our fears, forgetting about God’s providence. The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” The answer is direct: “The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by God’s fatherly hand.” Then the Catechism asks, “What advantage comes from acknowledging God’s creation and providence?” “We learn that we are to be patient in the midst of adversity, grateful in the midst of blessing, and to trust our faithful God and Father for the future, assured that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot even move.”

Remembering that God provides is one way for believers to deal with worry. Living lives in day-tight compartments, as God gives them to us live, is another way to contend with anxiety. How often have we worried about tomorrows that never actually materialized, robbing ourselves of life and joy by so doing? Jesus finally concludes, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Never cross the Red River until you get to it!

Todd Jones

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