Jared Witt - August 15, 2019
22 He 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 clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[a] 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;[b] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying... 32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father takes delight in giving you the kingdom.”
Here, we have some of Jesus’ reflections about how humans go through life, how ravens and lilies go through life, and how God feels about life.
After the bit about ravens and lilies, Jesus bookends his thought with this clincher:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Again, why shouldn’t we worry? “Because your heavenly father takes delight” instead of worrying.
Let that sink in for a moment.
You can’t worry and take delight at the same time.
This means that the sound the ocean waves make at dusk, and your child’s laughter, and the sycamore tree in your backyard, and Golden Retrievers, and those skinny brick houses with the cheerful little gables in Holland, and pain de chocolat at the French bakery around the corner, and the waterfalls at Yellowstone National Park—your heavenly mother (if you prefer) birthed all of these things into being because it delighted her, and she gives them all over to you for no other reason than sheer delight.
These things are decidedly impractical.
They are not useful.
They are not needed.
They didn’t come about to serve some function, some convenience, some efficiency. It’s a chronically Western frame of mind that requires everything that is to prove it’s worth by doing something—people included. These things just are. They are given to you perfectly free of charge. They are equally available to the poor woman as to the rich, the weak man as to the strong. Sheer delight is their only purpose.
So if we’re surrounded by delightful things all the time, which we can’t ever lose, then why, pray tell, are we so miserable so much of the time? Jesus has a hypothesis. If God’s delight is the one bookend to the passage, the other bookend is the phrase “Do not worry.” Here is the passage in short:
Humans worry about life.
Ravens and lilies don’t worry about life.
God takes delight in life.
As a pastor, people sometimes ask me what I think hell is or if I believe in hell? Here’s my answer:
I believe that there is a hell. Actually, I don’t so much believe that there is a hell as I’ve been there and seen it with my own eyes. It is a place filled with beauty and delight and ocean sounds and dutch gables. Truly. That’s what you see if you go there. But the people there (me, when I’m anxious) are so filled with grudges, and stresses, and boredom, that they refuse to look around and enjoy.
Hell is a place where the pain de chocolat comes out fresh from the oven, but you’re so fixated on the one corner that’s just a touch burnt, that you begin to suspect you’re being swindled, that you should get your money back. Where do they get off? And before you can say, “double predestination,” the pastry becomes a miserable experience of human animosity.
Hell is a place where you can gaze at one of those magnificent waterfalls across the canyon in Yellowstone National Park, but you keep looking at your watch to make sure you’ll have enough time to get to Old Faithful before sundown. And the vacation at Yellowstone becomes no less stressful than your miserable job.
You see? Hell is not a description of your external surroundings. Hell is an internal experience. The difference between heaven and hell has entirely to do with what’s going on inside you.
God doesn’t create two different places. God only knows how to create the one place: the kingdom. And it’s filled with ethically sourced Spanish ombra cheese made from the milk of happy sheep eating real grass in some gorgeous Pyrenean valley.
But say I begin to worry if there will be enough cheese to go around. Say I want to maximize the output of my sheep so I can store up some cheese for the future. I might realize there is a more secure source of revenue in minimizing the costs of my cheese production and put those sheep into tiny cages in a big warehouse. I might find a labor force of low wage immigrant workers to guarantee the financial sustainability of my operation further. So, irony of ironies, maybe the internal circumstances of chronic worriers do end up creating the external circumstances of hell after all, yeah?
What is it to worry? What is deep down at the root of worry?
Worry is your calm, sober suspicion that while God has never once failed to sustain and nourish you for the last 10,950 consecutive days, if today is your 30th birthday, and the last 21,900 days if you’re turning 60, even since the days when you didn’t have the fine motor skills to shovel food into your own gob, despite all of that, today could be the day that something bad happens.
Humans evolved to believe it’s in our competitive advantage, over all the other monkeys, to anticipate saber tooth tigers around every corner, even when such a sighting is rare in actuality. The nightly news exacerbates this instinct exponentially as a Tiger anywhere becomes a Tiger in our living room. So our monkey brain makes this deal with the devil. It wages that by worrying you can extend your life another day or two if or when that tiger comes.
The paradox? The day you try to save your life by living in constant dread of losing it is the day your life is no longer something worth saving. Who wants to extend a life of constant dread?
I know what you’re thinking (because I’m one of you). You’re thinking, “Yeah, but I see saber tooths all the time. I see car accidents on my way to work, and atrocities on TV, and all manner of nonsense going on around the world.
There is a certain purely factual truth in that response. Something will get you one day, and you will die. All of us will. Exactly once. “The death rate in this country is one death per person,” as a mentor of mine always says.
To put it a slightly different way, worry, properly understood, is the monkey brain’s calm, sober, wager that one day we will die, so why not spend the other 10, or 20, or 30,000 previous days as if we were dying already.
This is what Jesus means by saying that if you spend every day worrying about saving your life, in a weird way, you’ll lose it. But if you come to terms with losing your life—if you lose yourself in the smile of a loved one, lose yourself in the smell of the sea salt, lose your life gazing at the waterfall—in a weird way, you’ll save it.
Ravens already know this, by the way. They neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Can you push that one day back any further by worrying? Will you ward off cancer by spending every day of your life in fear as if you had cancer already? Will you avoid a car accident by making sure to watch the news every single night and taking in visions of every single car accident you can see? You can’t add a single hour to your span of life by worrying. So, if you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?
The lilies of the field? They’ve not spun a single thread. They’ve never even heard of the cotton gin. And yet, God clothes them better than Solomon. That’s how God treats grass. I know I know. Your constant worrying seems justified to you, because it’s not just you that you worry for. It’s your kids. And in the monkey mind of our culture, that makes it alright, noble even—to waste your life worrying about the kids, right? Because we all know that the parents who operate with the highest anxiety are doing their kids the biggest favor, right? Right?
No. Remember how God treats the grass? How much more do you think our heavenly Abba cherishes and cares for your kid?
Don’t be afraid, little flock. You’re heavenly Abba delights in giving you the kingdom.
Cheers and Peace,
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