A lesson from the birds

One of the many blessings in my life is having a workstation that looks out onto a field. During the winter months at the beginning of the year, the land was barren. It turned green in the autumn, shortly after the farmer planted wheat. By the middle of the summer, the field was golden. The wheat was harvested and rolled into hay bells recently. Now, as autumn approaches, the land is covered with brown wheat stumps. It’s incredible to watch the transitions through the seasons, but there’s been one constant throughout: the birds. Throughout each season, there have been flocks of birds of different kinds foraging through the fields. They keep coming because there’s always food for them, regardless of the season. 

Jesus, during His famous Sermon on the Mount, drew our attention to a similar sight. He observed that birds neither sow nor reap, nor do they gather into barns, yet our heavenly Father feeds them [Matthew 6:26]. Then, Jesus made a poignant point that many of us understand intellectually, but struggle to grasp its implications. He said we are worth more than birds. Therefore, we shouldn’t be anxious about what we need because if our heavenly Father can look after the birds, He can take care of us too. When you look at how much anxiety there is among Christians, especially anxiety driven by our basic needs, it’s difficult not to ask how much we truly believe what Jesus said.

Jesus’s teaching on being anxious for our basic needs is one I find convicting because it challenges just how much I trust God. Interestingly, Jesus revealed that insufficient faith was the cause of this anxiety [Matthew 6:30]. Despite the numerous occasions God has come through for me, I often feel like I exhaust myself struggling to have faith, rather than just having faith in the face of uncertainty. There’s usually a nagging doubt in my mind that God won’t come through this time. This doubt causes me to seek alternatives rather than wait for God. Invariably, I end up an anxious mess trying to do what God has already promised to do for me. God has demonstrated His benevolence by taking care of lesser creatures. Should that be sufficient evidence for us that He’s also willing and capable of meeting our needs? These questions aren’t theoretical, they are existential to our Christian experience and our claims of faith in God.

Faith in God implies we trust Him to keep His promises. It has a confident assurance evident in our disposition, even when we don’t see what was promised yet [Hebrews 11:1]. Imagine a famous billionaire staked his reputation on a promise to feed, clothe and house you for life. You’d probably be off celebrating before you received anything from the billionaire. That would be a demonstration of your faith in the billionaire. The Bible and experience tell us that a man’s plans perish with him [Psalm 146:4]. God also explicitly says that anyone who trusts in a man and turns from Him is cursed [Jeremiah 17:5]. Yet, many of us would laud the billionaire’s promises more than we’ve ever celebrated God’s promises.

As I examine my attitude towards God’s promises, I remember my brother once asking rhetorically how different his life would be if he could just believe what is written in the Bible. I have similar thoughts. How different would my life be if I could just believe Psalm 23? Like many people, I can recite the psalm from memory, but do I only know the psalm and not the Shepherd? David knew the Shepherd, which is why there’s no trace of anxiety in the psalm, despite some precarious situations. I think of Daniel’s three friends facing King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, they believed God could save them, and they were ready to die for their convictions [Daniel 3]. If I struggle to trust God with the welfare of my body, how can I trust Him with my soul and eternal destiny?

Something else worth considering is that God isn’t indifferent to the lack of faith demonstrated by our anxiety. Jesus once said that if we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more our Heavenly Father [Luke 11:13]?  Have you ever contemplated the implications of those words? I know what lengths I’d go for my kids, but there seems to be a part of me that expects less of God. Scripture, seemingly anticipating our doubts, asks: “If God didn’t spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things” [Romans 8:32]? I ponder these questions, almost reluctantly, because I seldom like what they reveal about how much I trust God. Nevertheless, I must be honest with myself if I’m going to change. 

So, I find myself desperately asking Jesus to help my lack of faith [Mark 9:24]. I know that without faith, I cannot please God [Hebrews 11:6]. But, contrarily, the level of anxiety in my life triggered by my fear of lack suggests that my faith is little [Proverbs 24:10]. Maybe others can ignore this tension, but I’m convinced that my current Christian experience isn’t the best God can do. I don’t have all the answers. But, I’ve realised that grappling with my faith is forcing me to check my decisions, assessing whether they’re decisions driven by fear, especially the fear of lack, or by faith. I can testify that my life is changing as a result.

Jesus once asked, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth” [Luke 18:8]? I want Him to find me anxious for nothing [Philippians 4:6], and also find me making decisions based on my faith in His promises, living by faith rather than just being able to define or explain it [Romans 1:16-17]. 

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