In the first two installments of this series on financial worries, we unpacked Jesus' teaching in Luke 12:22–34, considered how the instability of our lives gives us good reasons for worry, and then looked at the first of Jesus' better reasons not to worry. In this third installment, we look at five more reasons Jesus gives for laying down our anxieties.
Here's the second reason. Jesus tells people to look around. Open your eyes. Look at the world. In this case, look at crows. Notice these birds flying overhead. It's like saying, Notice rabbits, Notice pigeons, Notice feral cats. Notice some common, not very appealing animal you take for granted. Jesus says, "Consider the ravens. See, God feeds them. He takes care of them even though they don't put a single seed in the ground. They don't ever water their crops. They don't store a thing for next year—not even for tomorrow. They live in the moment, day to day, but God provides for them."
How does God feed them? Think about it for a minute with me. It's not romantic in the least. A crow is a scavenger. Jesus isn't painting a sweet little picture of God feeding the poor helpless birdies. These aren't cute little babies looking up to momma bird to give them a worm. Crows are tough. They are dirty birds. They are aggressive. They are smart. They are savvy. They are noisy. They are obnoxious. They are pests. They are scavengers. How does God feed crows? Road kill. Trash picking. Raiding your crops. That's why you have to have scarecrows. God feeds the crows by the fact that they steal your food and pick over your garbage!
I have to tell a story about how this came home vividly to me this past July. A treasured plum tree grows in our yard. This year it was the only one of our five fruit trees to bear fruit, because of the odd weather last spring. As summer unfolded, no less than forty, beautiful, sweet plums (I counted them!) were coming to ripeness. I couldn't wait!
One day when I came home, there were only twenty plums left on the tree. A gang of crows was having a pig feast on my precious plums! Earlier in the year a gang of crows moved into our neighborhood. Six crows. I called them The Crow Boys. They were noisy, obnoxious, and aggressive. They made all kinds of racket early in the morning. They did what crows do. They were always scavenging. The Crow Boys had found my plum tree. You can imagine, I was not happy. That was my beloved tree! We planted this tree as a family. I prune it regularly and spray it faithfully. I had been eagerly looking forward to those forty juicy plums. And now there were only twenty left. I mobilized our defenses. I threw ice cubes at the crows, banged trash cans, and quickly ran down to Primex Garden Shop to get netting to put over the tree. By the time I got back, there were only twelve plums left on the tree. I draped the netting. When any crow tried to land, he would get a big unpleasant surprise. I felt a little safer. Sure enough, a few minutes later, as I watched from the window, the first crow swooped in for a landing. He hit the netting, got tangled and flustered, and flapped off irritably, "Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!" So I thought, maybe I've won!
But by the end of that day, there were zero plums left on my tree! Those crows were so smart. They figured out how to come up from the bottom of the tree. They'd land on the ground, and hop up through the branches close to the trunk where the netting didn't reach. They cleaned me out. Oh, for a .22 rifle and a clip of ammo and legalized hunting in the suburbs!
God's sense of timing and sense of humor are very interesting: quite a coincidence that I had to preach on this passage a month later. Jesus says to me, "Oh, David, by the way, look how God provides for the crows." Yes, just look. He provides by using my fruit trees!!! But here's the promise: You are much more important than crows. Yes, the scavengers get fed. But how much more does He care about you? See what Jesus is saying here? God feeds a bird, even a trash bird, one of the Old Testament's unclean animals, a carrion bird that lives on road kill and theft. People matter a lot more to God. That's a promise you can take home.
Jesus keeps going. He adds a third reason, a different kind of reason, a simple logical reason. Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? It's a difficult phrase to translate. Literally, Jesus says, "Which of you by worrying can add a cubit to his span?" What does that mean? A cubit is a distance measure: eighteen inches, your elbow to your fingers. I think He's saying this. The Bible envisions life as a "walk." You walk through your life, step by step by step. Jesus is saying, "You won't get even eighteen inches further by worrying. You can't even get half a step further by worrying." Think about that. Worrying does…nothing. It accomplishes…zero. I promise you, worry won't get you eighteen inches further down the path of your life.
Our first promise: There is something bigger going on in your life than the things you worry about. Second promise: You matter more than crows. God feeds them, and He will surely feed you. Third promise: It's pointless to worry. Don't fool yourself by thinking that worry can accomplish something.
Here's Jesus' fourth promise, a fourth better reason not to worry. "Keep looking around. This time, consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin, yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory is not clothed like one of these." Again, as I said earlier, He's not talking about orchids or hybrid roses. He's not even talking about those tiger lilies that bloom in banks of color in summer. Jesus is pointing to weed flowers growing in vacant lots, splashes of color in the midst of rocks and brambles and tough grasses. God makes beautiful the flowers that grow on their own beside the road, that don't get any tending, flowers nobody planted and nobody takes care of— except God. Think of those little bright-blue flowers that grow out of the gravel beside the road. Imagine wild Morning Glories: tough, hardy, and beautiful.
Jesus starts with the same logic as with the crows. He says, "Look around. Look at that." But Jesus ups the ante this time. If God makes mere wildflowers so glorious that their beauty outdazzles Solomon, the richest man of the Old Testament, how much more will you outdazzle the lilies, O you of little faith! Do you see? Do you get that? This promise is far more than "God will take care of you." This is "God will clothe you in nothing less than His radiant glory!" I promise you. "So why do you worry about the clothes you wear? I'll dress you in My own glory! Why do you worry about your health? I'll raise you from the dead to eternal life. Why do you worry about a few dollars? I'll give you the whole earth as your inheritance. Why do you worry when someone doesn't like you? I'll make you live in the kingdom of My love!"
That's the fourth promise. When you get it, it's a spectacular reason not to worry. This is far more than giving you nice clothes. God is giving you a life that is radiant and indestructible and full of glory. You will dazzle. If God so adorns mere wildflowers with glory, how much more will He make you as radiant as Himself!
Here's Jesus' fifth reason. "Don't seek what you are going to eat and drink. Don't keep worrying about these things"— the word here for worry doesn't mean feeling anxious; it means to obsess and be driven, to be preoccupied— "All these things the nations of the world eagerly seek." We could put the reasoning this way: Look at what everybody everywhere is after. Are you going to be a lemming? Are you going along with the crowd? Are you going to march in step just because everybody else does it?
Look at this example: the Sunday paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer. A big fat paper. What percentage of this paper is about money? Ninety percent? Probably. It's not just the business and financial section, is it? Look at the automobile section, the housing section, the want ads, the jobs, all the other advertising. Even the Sports pages: the baseball strike, salaries. And most of the front page and news articles— wars, crime, budgets, taxes— are also about money. The newspaper is about what everybody is into. It's ninety percent about money.
So the whole world is after money. That's what life is about, according to the Inquirer. That's what counts as news. That's what people are interested in. But what about this book, the Bible? It talks a lot about money— maybe five percent is directly about money and property. But the Bible is one hundred percent about what really matters, like "What is your attitude towards money? Since people live for either God or money, what will it be?" This book is about what really lasts. What's not iffy. What's certain. It's one hundred percent about the living God, the One who made us in His image, who made us to live our lives for something bigger and better than the stuff we tend to worry about and define our lives by.
Jesus is on a roll. He gives better reason after better reason. Here's His sixth promise. This is the most significant reason of all. Some of what Jesus has been saying you might half get by reading the paper, looking at crows, looking at flowers, or thinking a minute about how useless it is to worry. Common sense, open-your-eyes: it is God's world, so life works the way He says it does. But you'd never see how God connects to the crows or the flowers unless He tells you. And this sixth reason is the capstone, and it's all about God. This is the climax of Jesus' argument. This is the best of all these "better reasons not to worry." God promises you…Himself. In essence what Jesus says is, your Father knows you need these things. If you are preoccupied with His kingdom, then the other things you need will be added on. Get your life to be about what your Father is about.
This promise is sensitive to our tendency towards anxiety. We've seen what happens if we live for money, health, being pretty, having a boyfriend or girlfriend, or job success. But what guarantee do you have that Jesus' kingdom won't turn out to be one more iffy bet, one more disappointment? So Jesus really camps here. He gets very tender: "Your Father knows what you need…Don't be afraid, little flock, because your Father has chosen gladly to give…." You can throw your weight on this. Jesus makes it as personal, intimate, and generous as possible. He wants you to really get this. Here you can stake your life and never be disappointed. He'll give you something you never have to worry about. As we said earlier, the shepherd of a "little flock" knows every single sheep by name. He knows your concerns. He knows your situation. He knows your personality. And it is His pleasure to give you the kingdom. He invites you, "Leave your anxious fretting about whatever, and seek something else instead." He is more than willing to give you the something else. We could say a hundred things about what that kingdom means. I'll mention a few.
I was talking recently with a close friend. Some very difficult things have happened to her. She was describing a series of painful experiences, and how she had become very discouraged, doing a lot of worrying, brooding, floundering. She couldn't get traction in life. Life wasn't working. She felt swept away with the tension and confusion. She was seeking God, but couldn't seem to find Him. Then, like a bolt of lightning, the thought came into her mind, "Your father…is God. Your father is God." She described how her worries changed. They didn't go away: the child with a disability, the husband with financial problems, uncertainties about her health, uncertainties and conflicts in other parts of her extended family life, miserable things from her past. But the promise weighed more: "Your father…is God." That supreme and simple promise came in and rearranged the furniture of her mind, of how she saw life and what she lived for. It drained the life out of worrying. Think about that. You can say, "My father is God. He is more than willing to give me His kingdom. It is His pleasure. He chooses gladly to love me." One element of what the kingdom means is for you to know, "My father is God."
I was at the Glenside pool last summer. While waiting for my wife Nan, I watched a toddler, a little girl, maybe two years old. She waded into the shallow end of the toddler pool, and was heading boldly towards the deep end. No fear, full of determination. She started out— ankle deep, up to her knees, then to her waist. Pretty soon the water was up to shoulder level! She was bold and kept heading into the deep end. What if she stumbled? She wasn't all that stable on her feet yet. But right behind her every step walked her mom, with hands outstretched, two alert hands poised eight inches from the little girl's shoulders. At one point the girl slipped slightly. I don't think she even realized it, but her mother reached out and steadied her. "Your father is God." Someone is right there, like that mom with her toddler.
What else does it look like to be given the kingdom? It's being able to say Psalm 121: "My helper is the LORD who made heaven and earth." Try wrapping your mind around that sentence! Or, think about this, "My rescuer is the Messiah of the world, Jesus." Or, "My savior, who bears wrath, the substitutionary sacrifice, is the Lamb of God, the One good man, the only Savior of the world."
Or, "My shepherd is the LORD." Like that mom walking behind the toddler, "My shepherd is the LORD. I shall not want. Why would I be afraid? What am I so uptight about?" If life is like the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from infrared to ultraviolet with every wavelength in between, why do we obsess and fret, as if all of life were simply the green band, the money band, of the entire spectrum? Money is part of life, sure, but wake up! The sun is shining across the whole spectrum. There are much more important things, much better gifts than money. Your father is God. It's His pleasure to give you the kingdom, little flock, beloved children.
This article was originally published under the title "Don't Worry" in the Journal of Biblical Counseling 21:2 (Winter 2003).