Sometimes the words of Jesus are hard to swallow. A piercing truth that brings me face to face with my own shortcomings. A tender whisper of grace I don’t deserve. A call to sacrifice and surrender that seems too much to bear.
Or an analogy of birds.
Like in this passage, from Matthew 6:25-27:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Matthew 6:25-27 NIV
Every time I read this I get hung up on the bird analogy. I mean, have you seen what birds eat?
Just last month, I was finishing up a Zoom meeting on my phone while parked outside Target. As the meeting dragged on, I noticed a bird swoop down to the empty parking spots next to me. It waddled right up to an old brown paper McDonalds bag and started pecking at it voraciously. It was a sight to behold. This germ-infested rat-with-wings was just pecking bits of the brown paper bag and eating it, enjoying the days-old grease and salt leftover from someone’s lunch.
And I couldn’t help but think of this passage in Matthew again. Why did Jesus choose to use birds as an analogy? Were they less gross in His day than they are now? Is He saying that if I lost everything I shouldn’t worry because He’s going to provide me with an old brown paper bag for dinner? I’m not a pigeon! I don’t want to eat things off of the floor!
I know, I know. This passage is not really about me being like a bird at all. It’s about the unhelpfulness of worrying. So why am I worried about being equated with a bird? Because this is where my brain goes. I often lose sight of the important and get stuck on the minutiae.
And before I continue, I hope we can read the light-heartedness in my tone above. I realize fully that my viewpoint comes from a place of certain privilege and there are many who would be grateful to eat anything they can find. And as an immigrant, I know what it’s like to be a certain kind of hungry - to debate whether I should spend my last dollars on this loaf of bread or if I can go another day without it.
Conversely, I also know what it’s like for the Lord to provide for me when I had no way of making it on my own. And this is what the passage is saying.
God sees everything. Nothing goes unnoticed by Him. He made everything and He holds everything in the palms of His gentle but strong hands. And if He cares for His pigeons, how much more does He care for me? I have the Imago Dei in me; pigeons do not!
As someone who finds it very difficult to live in the grey zones, my tendency when I hear these words is to then just say Okay fine, I won’t care about anything then. I’ll just be happy-go-lucky and oblivious to everything in my life. Anything goes! I’m all good! What troubles? I don’t have any! My pendulum swings very far to the sides and has a hard time resting in the middle.
But this is not what Jesus is asking of us. A certain kind of concern for our lives is actually a good thing. The difference is where we put the emphasis. If our concern moves us to action it can be a good thing. If our concern turns into an all-consuming worry that drowns us and immobilizes us — not so good.
So how do we find this balance? How do we go from an Olympic gold medal in worrying to flying freely like a pigeon?
Well, if we read further along in the passage, verses 33 and 34 tell us: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Seek first the kingdom of God.
This isn’t some magic mind trick but rather a principle for ordering our lives. When we cut out the clutter and focus on what’s truly important, our worries will lessen. When we put God first above everything else — truly put Him first in all things — our tasks, our goals, our desires, our concerns all become settled and tamed by His presence. Everything else falls into place.
We cannot solve our problems by worrying. But we can take our worries, redirect them with prayerful action into the hands of Jesus, and let Him move us forward.
So the next time you see a pigeon, try it. Thank God for that pigeon, take a deep breath, focus on the Lord, and drop your worries into His hands, knowing that He’s got this and He’s got you.