February 26, 2020
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
In a February 2000 poll, The Barna Group found that 68% of “born again” christians agreed that the Bible taught the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves”. Spoiler alert, that phrase is not found in the Bible. It actually has its roots in ancient Greece and was in several greek tragedies written between 425 and 400BC. Sophocles wrote, “heaven ne’er helps the men who will not act”. Euripides said, “Try first thyself, and after call in God; For to the worker God himself lends aid.” Based on those quotes and the verses above, it seems possible that Jesus was purposely communicating the exact opposite of a common proverb. We can find tremendous comfort in these words – since they reinforce how valuable we are in the sight of God the Father. If He cares enough to provide food for birds, how much more does he care for us? We are assured that He desires to help and provide, even before we’ve proven ourselves worthy.
Once you’re done feeling warm and fuzzy, think about birds fluttering around a bird feeder. Did you know that small songbirds need to eat half of their body weight every day to stay alive? A cardinal will consume up to a pound of seeds every single day. They never stop moving, never stop searching, never stop eating. It is “go, go, go” from the moment the sun first peeps over the horizon. That image isn’t quite as warm and fuzzy. The metaphor Jesus is using isn’t about trading a life of activity for a life of slothfulness under a warped concept of grace. Instead, the key to Jesus’ teaching is found in the first and last phrases of the passage.
Do not worry.
The Greek proverbs assume that, until we’ve made an effort, God will not lift a finger to provide. It also assumes that resources are scarce—held in reserve by a vindictive God, waiting to see if we deserve a handout. A scarcity mentality and trying to measure up will inevitably lead to worry and anxiety. In contrast, Jesus’ words emphasize that the provision has already occurred. The bird’s food is already available. God is not judgemental and vindictive but caring and attentive. In that light, our work is not about chasing after scarce resources and trying to prove our worth. Instead, we can assume that there is a whole world of bounty (not just physical, but a bounty of friendships, opportunities, careers, and ideas as well). We still have to put on our pants and walk out the door. It’s very possible that what we want will require effort and discipline, but God has already made the way for us. We do not have to worry that we are missing an opportunity, or that God will only bless us once we’ve suffered.
Are you striving this week? Are you living in a mentality of scarcity? As an exercise in faith, think of one thing you are regularly worried about. Is your worry rooted in the false belief that it’s all up to you? If so, try praying a prayer of faith. Believe that God sees your worry, and wants you to find freedom from it. Believe that it’s not all up to you.