Yesterday, I posted on my grief blog about the anxieties I feel whenever illness visits our family. How, since I lost my eldest child suddenly, my life is spent constantly hovering over the anxious switch, never knowing whether to brace myself for the worst happening again – and I’m very aware that just because I have lost one child does not reduce my chances of losing another. I try not to let the anxiety dominate my life now, but in times of pressure it is hard.
As if in answer, today, I read Luke 12 and there was much in it to encourage me that I wanted to examine:
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
When Jesus speaks here he comes across as somewhat aggressive and, if I’m honest, not that comforting! Yet, when I read the tone of his voice, I get a sense of that parental frustration I have with my own children. It’s that assertive reassurance that we all do, to try to fill our child with confidence – because we know it will be okay. ‘Oh don’t worry, there’s no such thing as monsters’ or ‘You’ll be fine!’. Jesus knows exactly how it will be, but teaching that to people who don’t know is not that straight forward!
In verse 4, Jesus tells us quite clearly that if we are going to worry about anything we should be worrying about God. The ‘fear’ of God is such that we should not be scared of him, like a demon or monster, but actually fear that we are doing right by Him. That our lives are lived to love Him and He us, and that in fact our bodies and our lives here on earth mean nothing compared to this eternal relationship.
Yet Jesus immediately says, God knows every hair on your head, and loves you and values you far more than any other creature. While our souls are the most valuable thing, our bodies and lives are also important to him. Jesus is trying to tell us that God is looking out for us in every way, so therefore we don’t need to worry.
But worry we do!
It took me a long time to read this section without getting irritated or feeling guilt for my own worry. In misunderstanding the message, I read it as though my personal worries were not important, the anxiety that I couldn’t control was my fault and that my worry was sinful. But that’s not the case at all.
Jesus never told us to not worry about stuff because there’s nothing to worry about. He doesn’t deny what we feel, he’s actually acknowledging the fact that we can’t help but worry about our lives, our health, our loved ones, our finances and jobs. He’s telling us not to worry despite the fact there is so much to worry about. He’s teaching us that we don’t need to worry about these things because God has our backs. He is the one who will provide for us after we die as well as today, not our clothes, jobs or money.
Jesus then goes on to tell the Parable of the Rich Fool. This is the story of a businessman who created a successful business and had become very wealthy as a result. He received admiration from people around him and most likely felt very important. However, Jesus describes him as a ‘fool’ – and pretty much a ‘failure’! The man assumes he has a long and happy life to live, with his success, but he had never considered what was beyond this life (v.20).
His life was focused entirely on himself, on his success. The word ‘I’ or ‘my’ appears 11 times (vv.17-19). He thought he was worth the same as all he owned but he failed to understand the way to be truly rich. He was not ‘rich towards God’ (v.21).
Jesus then goes on to talk about worry in more detail:
22 Then 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. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.24 Consider 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! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If 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—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But 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. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
We think we have worries today, but our worries haven’t changed all that much since Jesus said these words – food and provision, what we wear or how we look, wealth and status, being a success or a failure, ‘having it all’ – we are still wrangling with many of the same anxieties today. Jesus is telling us that, while these things aren’t bad (God ‘knows you need them’) we are so distracted by them that we forget God, we forget the very essence of life and how to achieve true fulfilment. Talk to anyone who has found faith, and they will tell you that God fills that ‘void’ they have been seeking all their lives. The ‘thing’ we feel as though something is ‘missing’ or there is ‘more to life that this’. Fulfilment comes through Him.
Like anyone else, my personal anxieties tend to slip into the material elements of life – wanting a nice home, cars, to look good, money to spend on pastimes and luxuries, but they don’t define me either. My deep anxieties relate to the fear of losing someone I love and the fear of feeling my heart ripping open again. A bigger problem perhaps, but also something that God has hold of.
I read a lovely story the other night to my daughter, which explained this very simply:
If you put a silver coin into a matchbox, and then squeeze the matchbox in your hand, what happens? The box breaks but the coin stays the same.
If you were to burn the matchbox in the fire, what happens? It would turn to ash, but the coin would not be damaged.
Now, which of the two items is more valuable – the box or the coin? The coin of course.
Adapted from A Young Person’s Guide to Knowing God, Patricia St. John.
Our bodies are like the matchbox, it can look any way on the outside – be a ‘posh’ matchbox from a luxury hotel or be a scruffy cheap box from the local shop – it can be pristine or a bit battered. The coin on the other hand is stuck in silver. It is precious and worth infinitely more than the matchbox. The more we look after the matchbox, the longer it will last but the coin represents our soul, that’s the part that will live forever. That’s the part we need to look after most.
Far from calling us all to sell everything, wear rags and donate all we have to the poor, Jesus is saying we can have wealth and comfort, we can look good and wear nice clothes, we can use our money to do things for personal pleasure, so long as our focus is on God and the love and care of others. The businessman only cared for himself, his worth, his status. The only person benefiting from it was himself. Jesus asks us to seek God in every area of our lives and then the worrying will stop and the true joy of living will start.
As the saying goes ‘You can’t take it with you’… so, what will you take with you when it’s your turn? A silver coin, or an empty box? We need to work on refocusing our lives to God first, and then the rest will follow.