Birds and Flowers: A Lesson about Anxiety
by Danny Stimson
And He said to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing."
When I was about seven years old, my family and I were at Pine Cove Family Camp for the first time. It was the best place for families. The kids got to hang out with awesome counselors during the day while our parents attended seminars with amazing speakers and simply enjoyed fellowship without the maniacal children clawing at their pant legs. It was a place of true shalom for every member of the family. The first morning there I found myself without an appetite, and before the end of breakfast, I was in tears saying, “I don’t want to go to day camp!” What was my problem? I was anxious. Even though all peace and happiness lay ahead of me, I couldn’t get over the fact that I wasn’t going to be with my parents for eight hours.
Fast forward to fourth grade. I had a poetry recital for my English class. Once again, I felt nauseous and didn’t want to go, but this time I faked being sick to avoid having to deliver my sonnet by Longfellow.
Fast forward again to September 16, 2012, at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Our first child, Stella Elizabeth Stimson, had just been born at 2:21 pm. However, within about 10 minutes, the doctors and nurses realized there was a problem. Stella was struggling to breathe. Before we knew it, we were having a conversation with the NICU head nurse about Stella having an infection in her lungs. She was headed to the NICU to run more tests. They told us to go to our room and wait for a phone call. Anxiety loomed like a storm cloud ready to rain down panic at any moment!
Think about your story, your life. What makes you anxious? The word for anxious in this passage from Luke comes from a root word meaning part or division. Ultimately, to be anxious could be translated to be divided or to have many cares. Right before this famous command in Luke 12:22, a man approaches Jesus demanding that his brother “divide the inheritance” with him; again, divide comes from the same word as to be anxious. What’s the point? When we are anxious, our attention, our faith, our affections are divided among many things.
This division of affection occurs because of one fundamental problem—not believing that God is good and will provide. Jesus, like a good pastor, goes on in Luke 12:24-28 to give two metaphors to demonstrate His point. When we get anxious, Jesus wants us to think about birds and flowers. “Consider the ravens, they neither sow nor reap…of how much more value are you than they! …Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin… but if God so clothes the grass, which is alive today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!” God created us to be in fellowship with Him, perfectly trusting Him to provide our every need as He did for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but our human condition, as passed down from our first father and mother, is to be tempted to question God’s goodness and provision. When we do this, we take matters into our own hands and usurp God by providing what we think we need. This practice is the root of sin, which is the root of anxiety.
So when Jesus commands us not to be anxious, are we supposed to just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, memorize Luke 12, and never be anxious again? Jesus continues with this: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” God doesn’t just command things of us and then wait for us to keep our end of the deal. He provides the plan and the means to carry out that plan. And we know this because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ was tempted in every way that we are, yet He did not sin.
In Gethsemane, Jesus is filled with anxiety about what is to come. He cries out, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me.” Jesus’ statement to His Father is more of a request. Jesus was not just fully God, but fully human. He knew the pain and agony He was about to experience both physically and spiritually. If there was another way, Jesus wanted that. But where your humanity and mine would have failed, as mine has over and over throughout my life, Jesus’ prevailed in the statement of faith tacked on to this request, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”
God desires that we not be anxious. Why? Because He wants us to live for Him in His Kingdom that He is providing for us rather than worrying about our own kingdom and how we will provide for ourselves. Do you believe that God will provide your daily needs? Are you living for His Kingdom or yours? What are you anxious about right now? Jesus declares that God cares about the birds and the flowers, but how much more does He care about you, those made in His image? He cares so much that He was willing to lay down His life because of our sin and lack of faith so that we would know the extent God is willing to go to to care for His flock. Peter, the man who denied Jesus because of his anxiety over his own well-being, writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)