I have a confession to make: sometimes I have trouble believing Jesus.
Not believing in Jesus, but believing him. Like what he says. Like that he’s telling the truth.
I’m sitting on my living room couch reading chapter six of Matthew’s Jesus story right now, because they include Jesus’ teachings on worrying. These particular teachings have always raised doubts in my head, ever since the first time I read them as a young Christian back in high school.
The idea in this chapter essentially comes down to this argument: don’t worry about what you will eat. Look at the birds – God takes care of them and feeds them, and you are more important than a bird. And don’t worry about what you will wear. Look at how God clothes the grass with beautiful flowers – and you are more important than grass.
In other words, God takes care of nature. You’re more important than nature. Therefore, God will take care of you.
It seems to me, though, that sometimes God doesn’t take care of nature. Sometimes birds and grass die because they don’t have enough food or enough water. So how good, truly, is this promise?
How good is this promise when you are unemployed because of a bad economy? Or worse, how good is this promise when you live in Africa and you have to watch your children die of starvation? Would you speak these words of Jesus to a parent who is unable to scavenge enough food together to feed all their children and is forced to choose which one gets to eat that day? Would you tell a family not to worry about what they will drink when the only source of water they have is full of bacteria that is literally killing them from the inside out?
Where are the pretty pictures of birds and flowers in those situations?
And so I sit awake at 1:00 in the morning unable to sleep, pondering. Thinking when my brain should be shut off. I can’t sleep because this passage (at some incredibly small level compared to those examples) is becoming personal. Even though Jesus told me not to, I am worrying.
It’s a strange sensation, honestly. One of my spiritual gifts is faith, which means when I’m faced with hard times I generally don’t get ruffled and I have an overarching sense of peace that everything is going to be okay.
But for whatever reason, that sense isn’t kicking in at the moment.
I currently have a part-time job. That was by design, so I could finish writing the book I had been working on. I took this part-time job as a step of faith, fully believing God would take care of us if we took this crazy leap into the unknown to chase a dream.
The book is done. I am shopping it around to agents and publishers. But in the meantime, we burned through a lot of our savings and now have just two months’ worth left in the bank.
Anyone else who is looking for a job in this economy knows how tough the search can be. I’ve applied for five jobs in the past week, but I know there are dozens of other people applying for the same ones. I want to believe everything is going to be okay. I really, truly do. But then I go and read things like there are currently fifteen million Americans who are unemployed – and five million who have been unemployed for more than a year.
Five million. Where are their birds and grass?
And if they don’t get birds and grass, what makes me think I will? Do they not believe in God? Do they not pray enough?
Is Jesus telling the truth?
There are parts of this lesson that Jesus teaches that do give me comfort and peace, however. Jesus asks, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” And that is true. That resonates in my soul. My worry at one in the morning isn’t accomplishing anything except robbing me of sleep. Checking my email every ten minutes to see if someone has gotten back to me about a job isn’t going to make the messages appear any faster. There is absolutely nothing productive about worry. That alone makes me want to breathe deeply and quit.
The other part that resonates with me is this line: “But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.” See, the context of Jesus telling us not to worry in this passage is interesting: he talks about giving to the needy and storing up treasures in heaven and our inability to serve God if our master is money. And then he says not to worry.
Oh, and if you are worrying, he explains, seek the Kingdom. Seek the Kingdom and store up treasures in heaven by giving to the needy. Seek the Kingdom by helping others and focusing on them instead of focusing on yourself. Not in order to trigger some kind of blessing — definitely not. But because it reminds us and recenters us on what life in the Kingdom is all about.
My problems seem to become a little smaller when I see them out of my peripheral vision rather than looking at them straight on. And I think maybe what Jesus is saying is that’s just how he prefers it. Because the Kingdom isn’t about ourselves. It’s about sacrifice for the sake of others. Maybe if I stop worrying so much about getting a new job, I’d be able to focus on the people and the needs around me.
So as I sat here tonight pondering, I went and re-lent some Kiva credit we had, and I donated some money to charity:water so someone has clean drinking water — because what I’m worried about seems wildly insignificant compared to the thought of someone not even having clean water to drink.
And it struck me: maybe this is what Jesus is talking about after all. The Kingdom is intended to be lived out by all of us, not just through supernatural miracles performed from on high, but through profane everyday acts of small sacrifice. Through a donation of just twenty bucks, there is someone, most likely in Africa, that will now know what it means to not have to worry about what they will drink. That one person will probably understand Jesus’ words better than I do. Because I take them for granted.
Until I can’t anymore. Until I am forced to look at them square in the face and ask myself: “Do I really believe this is true?”
Honestly, I don’t know. But what I do know after this late night pondering session is that worrying doesn’t accomplish anything. I know that I want to live a lifestyle of giving for the sake of seeking the Kingdom so these sorts of stressful moments don’t choke out my faith any longer. And that conclusion, while not the final word on the subject in my heart, is good enough for now.