“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”Paul, Philippians 4:4-7
We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future and if we find it too slow in coming we try to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of the times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is.
Let us each examine his thoughts: he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we never be so.
– Pascal, Pensees (47)
22Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Luke 12:22-34
It is worth looking at our Master’s teaching here in the context of the last several encounters (which are all part of the same stretch of teaching to his disciples and the crowd outside the home of the Pharisee). In both the house of the Pharisee and the teaching that follows, Jesus contrasts his vision of the person living in God’s kingdom (loving, humble, merciful, healing, servant-like, compassionate, generous, etc.) with those dwelling in the counterfeit kingdom of the Pharisees (hypocritical, greedy, exclusive, judgmental, using man-made outward markers to delineate the “righteous” from “sinners,” etc.).
Yesterday we looked at Jesus’ vivid warning against greed, accompanied by the story of the rich fool. We are left feeling convicted – how much time do we spend pursuing or thinking about our success, accumulating wealth for personal security or to fulfill other plans and consuming our resources to meet our own desires (oftentimes “wants” more than “needs”)?
Jesus perfectly anticipates our discomfort and likely next question. We get the point about greed and pride (though of course still struggle), but, let’s say we strip these elements out, shouldn’t we be “planning for the future” in terms of getting our financial ducks in a row? Isn’t that the responsible thing to do?
We left off yesterday with Jesus’ parting words in Luke 12:21: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” Today, Jesus begins, “Therefore . . . “ and lays out the upside-down lifestyle of those who seek to follow him – the lifestyle antidote to that of the rich fool.
Jesus’ first point is an emphatic warning against worry and he catalogues all the universal things that can clutter our minds with anxiety: our life (safety, reputation, achievement), what we will eat (material provisions), the body (health, appearance) and what we will wear (wardrobe and visual accoutrements). When Jesus says, “Life is more than food and the body more than clothes,” he is distinguishing between what is eternal versus temporal. Think how easy for our focus to be absorbed by things that have no lasting value (can you remember what you had for dinner two weeks ago, what you wore two years ago, etc.?), while ignoring the things of eternal consequence: our character, the shaping of our souls, transformation of our hearts and minds, being conformed to Christ’s image.
So easy to get trapped by worry and anxiety and become hollow people. The temporal crowds out the eternal. The life to the full Jesus promises is always around the corner once we get our problems and challenges sorted out, but of course never comes. Pascal captures this perfectly above. Read it again.
Jesus poetically uses nature to illustrate God’s faithful provision. The ravens of the air do not sow or reap and have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them (in contrast to the rich fool erecting bigger barns to store his booty); the lilies of the field do not labor or spin, yet King Solomon in all his splendor cannot match their color and beauty.
Then Jesus lays out his logic. We are worth more than birds of the air and the flowers of the field that are here today and gone tomorrow – do we not believe that we are worth more to God and that he will provide for our needs? Do we? Jesus then makes one of the most incontestable statements in all of Scripture: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Let that sink in and examine the contents of your mind right now, yesterday, last week . . .
Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, declared and titled a book “Only the Paranoid Survive” and many people knowingly or unknowingly adopt this approach to life. Do I have enough, will my health hold up, will my competitors eat my lunch, what if my decisions turn out to be wrong, will I look stupid, will my reputation be ruined, is my job safe, are my kids going to turn out all right, will they get into the right school, marry the right person, will I/did I marry the right person, etc.?
Jesus implores his followers to follow a different playbook than a life of second-guessing the past and constantly spinning scenarios of all the good/bad stuff that might happen in the future. We are to live in the present, dependent on the grace and provision of God each day. We are not to worry, nor to set our hearts on all the things we think we need and may not get – our Father knows very well what we need and will be faithful in provision.
Yet we must accept that what we need is often different than what we want. In my nature, I would much rather live in perpetual enjoyment and constant success, surrounded by family and great friends with the absence of conflict, trials, suffering and pain. This is what I want, but is it what I need? Demonstrably not, if I am to be conformed to the image, mind and heart of Christ.
The definition of “setting our heart” is captured by Francis de Sales in Introduction to the Devout Life: “If you find your heart very desolated and afflicted at the loss of property [or anything], believe me, you love it too much. The strongest proof of love for a lost object is suffering over its loss.” I would extend this to conclude that it is a pretty good indication that we have our hearts set on anything that causes deep worry or anxiety (success, reputation, health, living arrangements, having enough resources now and for the future, family/friends, etc.).
Jesus’ implication here is that the source of worry is a lack of trust or even pride. We do not trust God to provide for our needs or think we can do a better job ourselves producing more immediate results. Lord, I repent of this . . .
Jesus does not leave us trying to come up with devices to stop worry or attempting to overcome anxiety through sheer mental force – “Repeat after me: I won’t worry, I won’t worry, I won’t worry . . . “ No, Jesus’ solution is an alternate behavior – occupying our minds with the very thing that occupied his own during his time on earth: “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Paul augments this in Philippians by encouraging prayers of petition and gratitude as the antidote to anxiety and the foundation of a life of joy and peace.
This brings us back to everything we have learned about the kingdom through Jesus – the consistent themes of loving God and loving others, freedom, liberation, redemption, healing, humility, faith, peacemaking, forgiveness and hope. Our hearts and minds being transformed and this change tangibly expressed in our servant-like stance towards those around us. Put more succinctly, our orientation flips from constantly worrying about how we are screwed if X, Y or Z happens to preoccupation with how we can bless others. Jesus not only teaches us to seek the kingdom, but to actually believe that the Father is pleased to give it to us.
Then comes the proof-of-concept application. If we truly believe that God has given us the kingdom – that our needs will be met now and for all eternity – we can confidently live free from worry and with hands that are not grabbing and holding, but, rather, outstretched to bless and freely give. As this is impossible in human terms, we depend on the Spirit’s help to grow in faith and trust.
Jesus’ explicit challenge is to sell our possessions and give to the poor – in doing so, we will be rewarded with eternal treasures in heaven. Ouch, that’s a touch countercultural . . . need to think about that (some of them, all of them?) If we take Jesus at his word that where our treasure is, there our hearts are also, let us examine our priorities, assets, plans, allocation of time and operating assumptions. What do we honestly value most?
Lord, we desperately need your help with this teaching. Free us from worry, show us what it means to seek your kingdom each day, teach us to become more prayerful, practically lead us (how much, to whom, when?) in how we use the resources you have entrusted us with to bless others. Our hearts are full of gratitude for your provision and grace towards us.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”Proverbs 15:22; 16:3
“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”Psalm 61:1-4