Devotion #15

Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 certainly have a proverbial feel to them. 

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin… But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

However, despite how beautiful and comforting these illustrations of flowers and grass are, is Jesus guaranteeing that we will never face times of scarcity or want in life? Because I’ve lived in Central Texas most of my life and I’ve seen many a year where the wildflowers and grass shrivel up and die because of heat and drought.  The sinful, worrisome side of me argues that it’s very hard to be a lily of the field in Texas… But then again, when I think about it some more, I realize that even though some years are tougher than others for anything growing out in the field, no matter how bad the drought is on any given year, it is typically the case that the very next spring, the wildflowers still manage to appear in abundance.  It’s practically a miracle!

The famous Texas bluebonnets are a good example of this.  Some years are better for bluebonnets than others.  But no matter how hard the circumstances in one year, there are always enough bluebonnets to reseed and prepare for the next.  In fact, bluebonnets have been uniquely designed by their Creator for this.  Each year when they reseed, that seed germinates sporadically—each seed’s seedcoat has a different thickness, and that thickness determines when and how it germinates.  It’s estimated that only about 10-20% of bluebonnet seed germinates on any given year, and seeds with thicker coats might weight years to germinate.  Some seeds might only ever germinate if they are exposed to fire or a severe freeze.  And all this ensures that there will always be more than enough seeds to sprout each and every year, no matter how tough the previous year might have been.

If God can take care of the bluebonnet like this, even in the midst of a tough growing season, than what does that say of His providence over your life?    

What a beautiful way to think of how God cares for us.  God knows the grand design for each of our lives.  He knows our path from the very beginning—when you were formed in your mother’s womb—to the very last day of your life and every day in between.  He knows that some days, years, and seasons of life will be difficult, but in all things He promises to work for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  Like the bluebonnets that come back perennially, you and I can look back on our past and see all the times that God was right there with us, even when the going was tough and the drought persisted, always at work leading us on and preserving us for tomorrow.    

So, today, our Lord admonishes us and says, “Be like the lilies and the birds.” They really don’t do much of anything except live and die and yet God still preserves them. “You of little faith…what’s your problem?  Why can’t you just trust like one of these little flowers?” 

As North American Christians, maybe it’s a little too easy for us to dismiss Jesus in Matthew 6 because we never really have to worry about what we are going to eat or drink or wear tomorrow. In fact, when it comes to food and clothing, in general, we have much more than we need!  Sure, we may not always be able to afford name brand foods and top of the line apparel, but odds are we’ve all got at least something sitting on our pantry shelves.  Even if that something is just a can of beans, that’s more than the many who actually do go hungry on a daily biases in other places around the world.  For example, just imagine being in the Ukraine right now, hiding in subway tunnels wondering where you’ll find food for your family and fresh water to drink.  How strange that you and I can sit on the couch and eat our supper–even if it’s just beans–while watching the terror of war rip people’s lives apart and deprive them of their daily bread.  It makes all our worries about tomorrow seem pithy, by comparison.   

All this drives home the big point… In Matthew 6, Jesus is referring to actual needs, not the luxuries that we often redefine as needs. 

We do this a lot.

Just think of how often the bug of covetousness bites us when we look at what our neighbor has and then think we need it too.  Or how often do we simply desire more of what we already have enough of—more than what we need—and we grumble when our plans for each day don’t turn out just so.    

In regards to all of this, Jesus wants to know:  When it comes to today and tomorrow, where are we laying up our treasure?  What is our heart set on?  What lights up our path? What is our eye focused on? Who is our master?  To what extent will we continue to serve Him and remain faithful? (Matthew 6:19-24)

Consider also, how earlier in the chapter, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray and gave them the Lord’s Prayer, He included the 4th petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Scholars throughout the centuries have scratched their heads over these words.  They seem strangely redundant. In this petition, Jesus twice references today — Give us this DAY our DAILY breadIn the Greek, the wording is even more strange and very wooden.  It would be rendered: Give us TODAY the bread of TODAY.   However, when you look at the 4th petition in the greater context of everything Jesus says in Matthew 6, I think this wooden redundancy is meant to drive home a very important point: Jesus wants us to avoid obsessing about tomorrow and so He would have us only pray about the things of today. 

Indeed, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the Lord’s Prayer is almost entirely about spiritual requests, not physical ones.  In the prayer, we pray for (1) the hallowing of God’s name, (2) the coming of His kingdom, (3) and the doing of His will.  Then the 4th petition which asks for today’s bread. Finally, we conclude with petitions for (5) forgiveness of sins, (6) protection against temptation, and at the end, (7) deliverance from evil.  Again, notice how six out of the seven petitions are spiritual in nature, and in the one petition that is about physical things—daily bread—Jesus teaches us to pray only for the physical blessings of today and not tomorrow. 

Again the same point is emphasized:  We are to leave tomorrow in God’s hands!  

Indeed, who knows what might happen tomorrow. God may have plans for you and me to endure suffering, hardship, pain, cross or persecution.  In fact, we should not forget that according to the beatitudes, these things are blessings, too (see again Matthew 5:2-11).  Just like the bluebonnets that sometimes benefit from fire and freeze, so too hardship and suffering in the Christian life often brings forth those circumstances that best enable us to be the salt and light that Jesus calls us to be in this world.  In fact, this is one of the greatest of mysteries:  How and why God uses natural disasters, evil, and even the persecution of His people to further His will and His kingdom. But sometimes, He simply does.

Yet, however, tomorrow should happen to turn out, Jesus reminds us that today, we should be thankful for our bread and be content.  He urges us to always be on guard against evil, covetous desires that war within our flesh because of want of mammon.  We shoudl ask ourselves regularly, “Even if I should loose everything, what master will I serve?”

Loose everything…

At the end of the day (today or tomorrow), loosing everything would definitely be a great blow to us and a spiritual challenge of the first order, but if for some reason God should see fit to strip us of the vast majority of our earthly possessions–even clothing, food, and shelter—even so, wouldn’t we still have every reason to acknowledge Him as the good God who provides richly for all our needs for this life and the life to come?  

Truth is, we ask for daily bread and not only do we typically receive it in abundance, we also receive the Bread of Life.  We ask for a house and a home and we receive the Kingdom of God.  We ask for clothing and shoes and we get Christ’s robe of righteousness in Baptism.  We ask for a devout husband or wife or children and we receive adoption into the family of our Father.  We pray for peace and health and the long life that comes with it and we get peace with God and the promise of the resurrection.

Yes, how much more sense it makes to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness!   

You and I are blessed to know that even though we cannot see clearly what tomorrow holds, we can with absolute certainty look forward to what will happen on the very last tomorrow of history, for on that day, the enemy that scares and worries us most on this side of heaven, will once and for all be put under Christ’s feet.  Death will be undone.  And since, through the hope of the resurrection, we no longer need worry about death tomorrow, than we need not have an fear of it today, either. We follow the one who is Lord of all and is ushering in a new creation.  This means we have the freedom not to worry! 

Where else can peace like this be found?

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