And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
First I wish to apologise for the longer length of the study presented here. There are three points to make, and I really believe that these should be learned together. They are very important and very practical for each and every one of us.
In previous studies we have seen that Jesus told us that we can’t serve both God and money, and then how the efforts for and worries about money are problems we can do without. There was the statement by Jesus that worrying about things will not add a day to life, and of course modern research has shown that stress and anxiety can have very detrimental effects on both mental and physical health.
There are many things that we can learn through this passage of scripture, but I want to focus on what are, perhaps, the three most obvious things. First, Jesus has us focus on the created world around us, and makes us recognise God in nature. In the natural world there is much that we can learn about the Lord. Second, the challenge to believe in God’s care, and how this should make us to be different from the pagans. Thirdly, there is the focus for us which we need in preference to the focus of our worries. In other words, our eyes are looking in the wrong direction.
To be honest, to do them full justice I am sure each of these three things could be a study on its own. But I think that together they can help to refocus your life and serve as a platform from which to step out into greater things.
The thing about worry is that it has us focus on the problems, but Jesus wants us focused on the solution. Worries make us look downwards, an earthly focus, but right living has us look upwards to heaven, to the Lord. Worries have us work for them, but there is a better master to work for, and he makes sure that his servants are well fed and clothed and in good health.
I wish it was easy for us all to just switch our focus from the one to the other. But it is not that easy. I know this through personal experience, and I am sure that there are many among you who know exactly what I mean. The way of the world is very different from the way of the Kingdom, but we all begin life in the world, with its fallen way of seeing things and of thinking about things. Indeed, the ways of the Kingdom are not seen only as a different kind of mentality, but as complete nonsense – especially if your stomach is empty, you have no money, and you wonder where your next meal is coming from.
In the western world, thankfully this situation is not too common. But even in our so-called ‘wealthy’ countries this can happen. And people in this situation know that to beg on the street will mean that others will assume that they are drug addicts or have some other addiction problem. Or that people will call them lazy scroungers who should get a job (not knowing the hundreds of applications that have already been sent and the many more you are working on at that moment). And of course many will not give because they will assume that it is a self-made problem and that they do not want to contribute to keeping you in your problems. And yet you still need that next meal. What do you do next? You wander near to the fast food places, because many people do not eat all – so there is sure to be food in the bins. Maybe you can get to it before the dogs…
I really hope that, for most of you, this situation is not something that you experienced. I hope you will never experience it. But what is the worldly answer? Get a job. Do this, do that, do the other… It makes no difference that you already thought of the same things and have been trying hard to do them.
But doing them does not guarantee a happy ending. Indeed, the longer you are in the desperate situation, the harder it becomes to find that happy ending. People begin to assume that there must be other problems that cause the rejection from possible employment, and of course they do not want to invite problems into their life or business. The longer you are in this desperate situation, the worse will be your appearance, and the older will be your clothes. The chances of the normal, worldy-thinking methods bringing success for you become less and less.
I think, even in this short writing, you can see how worrying it is, and how your thinking becomes focused more and more on the problem. It is stressful and the worry increases and increases – and I am sure that some of you have seen how people in this situation for a long time either begin to develop mental illnesses, or personality disorders, or, maybe worst of all, kind of ‘switch off’ to desensitise themselves from the cruelty of the world.
Brothers and sisters, of course there is the other side of the coin… the fact that those of us who know the Lord, who are saved, and who have more than we need – we can do so much to help those who are in situations like this.
But Jesus was speaking directly to those who worry, who are stressed and anxious.
First, Jesus asks you to look at the world around you. Creation is beautiful! God’s handiwork is everywhere. There is food for those who did not work for it, and they are clothed in beauty. And you, as as child of the Father, are far more valuable than all that you can see in the world of plants and animals. So if there is provision for them, how much more will there be a provision for you.
OK, stop for a moment. I know that there are times and seasons and places where animals are starving to death and do not look so good. If that is where your mind goes immediately, just ask yourself why. Why only focus on the negative? That is to miss the point!
Jesus was deliberately making the worrying man and woman focus on something other than their problem, and so one thing is to see that God can be seen in nature, in any season, in any place, in His splendour and beauty. The first thing to do to deal with stress and anxiety is to change the focus of your mind and your eyes. This is a process, folks, and not a one-step overnight solution! Jesus is always down to earth and practical, and it is good to pay heed to his words!
So the next thing is about challenging the way of thinking, a challenge to be different to the way pagans live and react. We are to step out from the worldly way of thinking. It is hard for many in the west to really appreciate what this means. We have incomes that are so much more than enough to provide food and clothes and drink. And we have social funds in case there is a break in this income.
But what if you are actually working for many hours each day and the income is not enough for these basic things? That is actually the case for very many people in the world. Some of it is directly as a result of western expansionism – particularly of the USA and EU. OK, there is not room here to go into the history and the politics to prove it, and there are many other studies easily found in libraries and on the internet that can more than adequately prove this fact. But the focus here is on the next step, if you are stressed and worried about provision.
The way of the world is to work more, to hunt more, to try the lottery, to do this and to do that – and all of these things have an element of failure built into them. And stress increases as you try one thing after another, and your eyes are taken more and more away from the Lord. So Jesus has you first begin to lift your eyes away from the problem and into nature and to recognise God there.
The next step is to recognise that the problem of provision is not your problem. If you are a child, then your provision is the problem of your parents – and in the older social traditions this meant in particular that it was the problem of the father. So if you are a child of God, then the problem of provision is for the Father and not for you.
OK, how many of you want to put me in the insane asylum for saying this? Take a step back for a moment and realise again that the words of Jesus was to think differently than pagans! So differently from the way that the world thinks about dealing with the problem. And also begin to recognise that we, as Christians, are so easily polluted by thinking in the way that the world thinks about problems.
We read the papers and see the discussions on television, with the worldly logic explained in detail. Logic is logic and we find that we can’t argue with it, and so it must be right, right? Wrong! Jesus wants us first to recognise God, and uses nature to help us do it. And second he wants us to begin to think differently to the way of the pagans. He does NOT want any of his followers worrying about food, drink or clothing. And I think we can also add shelter and health to that list.
So first, move your focus away from the problem and look at the beautiful world that God created. See how He is at work and provides for the beasts of the field, and how he clothes even the grass. And then, seeing God at work, begin to realise that these worries are not for you – these things are the Father’s problems and not yours. In this way you step out from the worldly way of thinking, away from the pagan solutions, and into a very different way of thinking.
So what do you do now? Here is the third step. It is to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.
Now I have to say here that this verse is often taken out of context and used to place believers in chains. I mean the chains of legalism in particular. But it is not very many verses before this that Jesus proved how legalism and literalism are of no power or consequence when it comes to being ready to be in the Kingdom.
You can’t work your way in, you can’t buy your way in. There is nothing you can do of yourself to make yourself good enough. There is only one good enough, righteous enough and holy enough. And the sin of you and the sin of me caused this one to be nailed to the cross of Calvary. Therefore we need to recognise that he died because of my sins and because of your sins. That we need to recognise our life, daily, as crucified with Christ, and that now we are covered in his righteousness.
So seeking His righteousness, as according to today’s text, is not about learning more of the law and the prophets. It is not about self-examination and judgement. It is not about judging others either. It is about recognising who you are. Much of the worry and anxiety that Jesus is wanting us to be free from comes from not recognising who we are when we have entered into the new born again life. This is something that is good to recognise new every morning.
You are not clothed with your own righteousness, but in the righteousness of Christ. You are alive in Him, clothed in His new life. You are a new creation, and as such you are now a child of the Father. And this is a good father who cares for His children.
Seeking first the Kingdom and his righteousness begins with recognising who you are, and coming, first thing each day, to the Lord and speaking with Him. You know, he answers. Speak to him and listen to Him.
So there are the three steps Jesus presents to us. First take your eyes away from the problem. Look at the wonderful created world and how God’s provision is demonstrated everywhere in creation. Recognise that, as a child of God, you are more valuable to Him than all you can see in nature. So, now that your eyes are raised above the problem and that you recognise God. And now you begin to think differently from the way that the world thinks.
Recognise that, for children, the problem of the provision of food and drink and clothes is actually not your problem – it is the problem of the Father. And you know that the divine Father can certainly solve such problems because he is strong and has all the resources you could ever need in the palms of his hands.
And so, thirdly, don’t forget the work of the cross, because this is what clothes you with the righteousness and holiness that allows you to come with confidence into the presence of the Father. So, clothed with the righteousness bought for you in Christ, you can seek the Kingdom first, as a child of the Father, knowing that he cares for His children.
This is so different from the way that the world thinks of the problem of survival that they will think you crazy to follow this three-step plan. If you worry about being committed as insane, well here is a funny thing… you would be fed and provided with drink and you would be clothed in that asylum! So don’t let that worry you, but laugh at the thought instead!
But I would say that, if you can follow these three steps, then you are much more useful to the Father than to be allowed to be inside an asylum. I would say that the world is crying out for people like you to demonstrate to the world a better way of thinking and a better way of living.
The gospel is much more than preaching doctrine, it is about demonstrating the new and abundant life of the Kingdom. The gospel must be seen as well as heard!