What Did Jesus Mean When He Said “Do Not Worry about Tomorrow"?

Contributing Writer
What Did Jesus Mean When He Said “Do Not Worry about Tomorrow"?

During his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34). Tony Evans put it this way in his Bible Commentary on Matthew 6:34:  "Today is the tomorrow you were worried about yesterday. Focusing on living for God’s kingdom today is the antidote to worry."

Too many of us are familiar with it. A tight feeling in the chest. Butterflies in the stomach. A sense of impending doom. Even for those not previously plagued by anxiety, it is hard to remain unaffected by the fog of worry that settled over the globe in 2020. Worrying seems like a natural response to the challenging nature of life on the earth, but Scripture provides insight on the supernatural means of thriving even amidst uncertain times. So, how do we live in a way that we do not worry about tomorrow?

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What Did Jesus Mean When He Said 'Do Not Worry for Tomorrow Will Worry about Itself'?

man head in hands depressed sad tired

Early in the book of Matthew, Jesus had just begun his ministry after being baptized (3:13-17) and being tempted by Satan in the wilderness (4:1-11). As he engaged in preaching, he drew people to him, including his disciples (4:18-22), but also crowds of people desperate for hope. Jesus healed many of them from sickness and oppression (4:23-25), and then he went up on a mountain and began to teach the disciples in the context of active ministry.

The Sermon on the Mount, as it has come to be known, is recorded in Matthew 5-7 and is a far-ranging discussion of the ethics of the Kingdom of God. It includes teaching on anger, revenge, adultery, treatment of enemies, prayer, judgment of others, and more. In chapter 6, Jesus also devotes considerable time to the topic of anxiety, asking simply, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27). Instead, Jesus asks his listeners to look to nature and exhale as they consider the flowers of the fields and the birds of the air, who don’t anxiously control every aspect of their lives, and yet flourish as God cares for them.

He concludes: Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

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If Each Day Has Enough Trouble of Its Own Why Should We Not Worry?

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The Bible does not shy away from the difficulty of life in a fallen world. Ever since Adam and Eve’s exit from the garden after succumbing to the temptation of Satan (Genesis 3), life “under the sun” has been full of “toil” which often feels “meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3). Indeed, not only humans but “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).

While the pain of life can feel excruciating and tempt us to worry, we are not left alone in it. The same passage in Romans comforts believers that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:26-30).

We are not left to navigate the storms of life by frantically grasping for the steering wheel and thinking it all depends on us to control every contingency. Rather, we serve a God who holds all creation in his hands (Colossians 1:17), knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and in whom we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28). During Jesus’ ministry, he called his disciples to come away from the crowd that had gathered and to cross over the sea. En route, Jesus fell asleep, and a storm blew up with water coming in the boat. The disciples – many of whom were seasoned fisherman who wouldn’t have been scared by just an ordinary storm – were terrified and angry at Jesus, implying that he was being negligent of them by allowing this storm to come: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).

“Jesus woke up and said to the storm: ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:39-41).

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How Can I Stop Worrying about Tomorrow?

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We can stop worrying about tomorrow by exchanging worldly fear for godly fear. Fear is a great paradox in the Bible. People are instructed, “Do not be afraid!” many times when they are encountering God (for example, in Revelations 1:17), but they are also instructed to “fear God” (for example, in Proverbs 3:7). The proper fear of God is not an anxious terror but a worshipful amazement, in the spirit of Hebrews 12:28-29, “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

When we rightly fear God, earthly fears grow dimmer and anxiety lessens, because our focus is on Him. Because the Psalmist has experienced God as the “shepherd” (Psalm 23:1) who “restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3), so he can also confidently say: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). This Psalm also ends with a sense of God’s current care as well as a surety of eternal security: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).

What Is the Opposite of Worry?

Do you believe that God’s goodness and mercy is pursuing you? That he walks with you to guide you? That His Spirit is indwelling you and interceding for you? You are not alone. Yet in the midst of life’s storms, we are prone to forget or question his care for us, just like Peter did when another storm blew up and Jesus appeared walking on the water and asked Peter to come to him. At first, when looking at Jesus, Peter was able to walk on the waves, too, but as soon as he focused his attention instead on the waves themselves, worry took over and he began to sink (Matthew 14:22-33).

If you are overwhelmed by looming waves in your own life and feel that they’re obscuring your view of God, draw near to Him in prayer by being still. Psalm 46 says:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling…” (46:1-3).

“And in the midst of this chaos, God speaks: ‘Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!’” (Psalm 46:10)

The Psalm concludes with a sense of God’s presence despite continued tumult:

“The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:11).

In the New Testament, the concept is repeated when Paul instructs believers: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

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God’s Presence Is Constant

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Worry giving way to peace happens to the extent that we are aware of God’s powerful presence with us. God’s presence is not something that can be manipulated or earned – rather, it is a constant that we can become increasingly attuned to and aware of through prayer. It is through this prayerful communion with Him that we can learn to say confidently with John: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).

As we rely on God and His love for us, we can entrust the future into His hands, choosing instead to live in the present enjoyment of his presence. Each day has enough trouble of its own, and we know that in any trouble we face, we are not alone, for the one who provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, the one who has authority over storms and who created and holds the world together is with us and for us.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? ...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 31-32, 35, 37-39).

A Prayer to Not Worry About Tomorrow

“Dear Father, I admit that I often forget that you are with me. I often forget what you’re like. Would you please forgive me for that? I need to get to know you better. I need to get to know your Word and your promises better. Help me to put you first in every area of my life. Help me to live one day at a time. Help me to not worry about tomorrow but instead focus on what you’re doing in my life right now. I want to trust in your promise to take care of every one of my needs — financial, relational, physical, social, spiritual, and emotional. Help me to trust you more and worry less. I pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”

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Jessica Udall author photoJessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.