I’ve always thought of myself as pretty laid back, mellow, if you will. Maybe I am compared to some others, but I am not nearly as “chill” as I thought I was. I learned this most profoundly in college. It was here that I encountered my first real struggle with intense anxiety. There were days where it took all my energy to simply go to a class and then return to my dorm. I became paranoid, fearful of what was going to happen to me, to my family. I was fearful that I was going to hell, fearful that I would be rejected by others, and almost crippled by anxiety.I began to meet with a friend for help and reorientation, and he pointed me to Matthew 6:25-34. In light of my struggle with anxiety the power of this text came alive with hope.
I must have read this passage before. I had been a Christian for many years at that point, but, as is often the case, the text seemed fresh and different to me this time around. Life experience has a way of making the Scriptures fresh and relevant. They are, of course, always relevant and always true, yet our experience of these texts changes as we change. So, while I may have read this passage in Matthew dozens of times prior to that season of life, I had missed their power and beauty. It was in light of my own personal struggles, and the intensity of those struggles, that these verses seemed to come alive. Their power and beauty made real in the fleshly experiences of my anxiety.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 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?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you,even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
The text gives us a principle, two examples, and then a direct call. Let’s explore each briefly.
The principle can be drawn from the first verse. Jesus teaches us that our life is more than the collection of temporal things and needs. The “therefore” draws us back to all that Jesus has previously taught us about possessions, treasures, and serving money. He tells us that these things will not satisfy our souls. Our life is more than food, drink, and clothing. Life is more than money, financial security, homes, education, and recreation. Life is more than marriage, children, career success, and comfortable retirements. Life is more than your Facebook, your 401k, or your family vacations. Life is ultimately about God. What you worry about reveals what you think is most important. It’s not that food and clothing aren’t important. They are! But if you are so consumed with anxiety for these things it may be because you think this is what life is all about. But Jesus wants us to look beyond these things to something greater.So, Jesus establish an important principle to ground our living on. The he shifts gears to give us two examples to help motivate our living differently.
First, he gives us the example of the birds. Jesus says, “Look at the birds. They don’t work for their food, they don’t store it up and save it, and yet they are provided for every day.” Jesus repeats this example in Matthew 10:29-31. Here he concludes his teaching by stating that you are more valuable than a bunch of sparrows. You are better than a bird, friends! Now, I hate birds.I don’t know why that is. Maybe I watched Hitchcock too young,but generally I find birds creepy! Yet this example reminds me that God provides for those creepy nasty little creatures, and he says I am more important to him than a rat with wings! This was a powerful realization for me in college. It wasn’t that I had really thought I was less important to God than birds, rather I hadn’t thought about it at all. That’s Jesus’ point. God takes care of birds and you are worth more to Him than birds. So, trust Him to take care of you too.
The second example is similar, but it focuses this time on the grass. The grass of the fields, he says, doesn’t fret about what to wear, ifit will be warm enough, stylish enough, or even it there will be enough. The grass doesn’t work, toil, and spin. It simply exists and God clothes it.Furthermore, Jesus says the grass is clothed in such beautiful splendor and color and style that not even King Solomon could compete with it.And to drive the power of the illustration home to us Jesus says the grass is here today and tomorrow it gets trampled on by your shoes, peed on by your dog, and cut down by your mower. It’s temporary, and yet God graciously clothes it in beauty! But when we have needs our impulse is to worry. What am I going to do? How am I going to make it? And God would say to you and I: don’t I clothe the grass, and aren’t you more important than grass?
He rounds out this teaching on anxiety in verses 31-34 by calling us to a different manner of living. Jesus says that by abolishing anxiety we are actually identifying with a different set of values. The world is anxiety driven when it comes to temporal wants and needs. In verse 32 Jesus expressly says,“Don’t worry about these things because that’s what the world worries about.” You see, my anxiety actually makes me look like the world! There is nothing distinct about a Christian who obsesses about these temporal things. I recall my atheist college professor questioning me about the level of anxiety I had developed over exams in his course. He very pointedly said to me, “David, I find it strange that someone who says they believe what you believe gets this worked up over an exam.” It was the Spirit of God speaking through Him and rebuking me. “Don’t be like the world,” Jesus says.
This passage was a stern rebuke, but it was more than that to me in those days. I was struck profoundly by the love of God in this passage. God cares for birds and flowers. I needed that reminder; I still need it. I have a bird painted on my arms to remind me of this lesson: you are worth more to God than a bird! It helped me to overcome my anxiety at that point in life and reorient me towards the God who loves me and cares about my life. It reminded me that life is about more than my temporal needs and concerns. These things are not unimportant, but they are not most important. Matthew 6:25-34 has been a powerful and transformative text in my own life. I pray it is an encouragement to you too.