Unsettling. Disorienting. Strange. Unprecedented.
These words dominate the conversations I’ve been having with pastor friends over the last several weeks. There is much we don’t know about COVID-19, but we are all acutely aware of how much our lives have changed.
Before this pandemic, the only time I had preached a full sermon to an empty room was early in my ministry, when I was trying to sound like John Piper. I never imagined then that I would spend several weeks in a row preparing to preach sermons to a camera in an empty auditorium.
More than ever before, I am regularly battling anxiety. Thankfully, it’s not a crippling anxiety, but it has been persistent. Initially, I tried to simply shrug it off and keep working, but that only led to frustration and more anxiety. Finally, the Holy Spirit brought to mind the words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount. I opened my Bible and my eyes met the following words, “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life” (Matt. 6:25).
Of course, I knew this is what Jesus desired from me. My struggle wasn’t because I lacked good information. I had preached these words of Jesus before, but now I was struggling to obey them. Instead of live-giving words from the One who gave me life, they sounded like a cold and unrealistic command.
Maybe you can identify with my experience. You’ve taught these words of Jesus, you’ve shared them in your counseling, you’ve even sipped from a coffee mug with Matthew 6:25 printed across the face of it. But then life in a fallen world presented you with certain circumstances that seemed to strip the words of Jesus from their context and instead of serving as a source of comfort, they landed on you like an unwelcome announcement of condemnation.
It’s important for you and for me, in our struggle, to keep reading the text. Not surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t simply issue a command, but he offers a divine remedy–he offers grace for anxious hearts.
Look at the Birds
Jesus invites the anxious pastor to lift up his eyes to behold the glory of God and the wonder of his creation. The encouragement from Jesus is straightforward, “Look at the birds of the air” (Matt. 6:26). In all your observations of birds, have you ever seen a group of them, organized and working together, operating a full-scale farm? Some are planting, others reaping and then together they gather the crops they’ve grown into tiny, little, bird-sized barns? Of course you’ve never seen this.
Yet somehow, miraculously, in this intricate and complex world God has created, birds have what they need to eat when they need to eat it. If God cares enough about birds to provide for their needs, don’t you think he’ll do the same for you? After all, you bear the image of God and are the pinnacle of his creation (Matt. 6:26).
Consider the Lilies
After directing the anxious one to take a good look at the birds of the air, Jesus offers another encouragement. Since all of creation bears the fingerprints of God, Jesus can direct our attention to both birds and flowers. The second example Jesus offers is no more difficult to understand than the first, “consider the lilies of the field” (Matt. 6:28).
The aim of Jesus is not simply to encourage us to glance at the flowers growing in the fields around us. He’s inviting us to see the maker and sustainer of the flowers. God not only makes the flowers grow, but He makes them beautiful, even though they’ll be walked on and mowed down and burned up.
There’s an important contrast Jesus puts forward in verse 29. Solomon was a wealthy and wise king. In so far as a man’s ingenuity and prosperity can create beauty, no one has surpassed King Solomon.
But as opulent and majestic as Solomon and his possessions were, they can’t be compared to the glory of God revealed in something as simple as a blossoming field of wild flowers. If God cares enough to clothe the lilies of the field with extravagant beauty only to be destroyed, how much more does he care for every one of his children?
Your Father Knows You
As incredible and beautiful as birds and flowers are, Jesus is using them as mere examples. He is pointing us to something greater. He wants us to see beyond the birds and flowers to the loving and sufficient provision of God.
We know this because of three phrases in the text. When talking about birds, Jesus concludes in vs. 26, “your heavenly Father feeds them”. When talking about flowers, Jesus concludes in vs. 30, “God so clothes the grass of the field.” Finally, Jesus offers one of the most wonderful statements in all of Scripture in vs. 32, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
What a kind and reassuring reminder; what an intimate and precious picture. A loving parent often knows what a child needs before they even ask. But even more, a loving and omniscient heavenly Father knows his children perfectly and loves them endlessly.
In our anxiety, God reminds us that what he creates, he also sustains. God did not create a world and then let it go. He’s not wringing his hands, bewildered by the devastation and difficulty of our present pandemic. He is not sitting by passively, wondering what’s going to happen.
The bird, the flower, and ten thousand other things we see every day are gifts of grace. God has created a world with countless little, loving reminders that our heavenly Father cares about us, he knows what we need and he delights to provide for those He loves.
If doubt continues to linger, let me invite you to look at the cross and consider the inspired word of Paul in Romans 8:32, “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?” If God has provided for you eternally through His Son, then He will most certainly give you your daily bread.