I have a bird feeder right outside my living room window so that when I’m sitting on my couch or loveseat I can watch the birds happily eat from my provisions. I love the variety. Sometimes there will be one bird at a time. At other times there’s a flock. The chickadee and the titmouse nervously flit in, grab a seed and are gone as quickly as they came. The regal cardinal takes his time, savoring the reign of the feeder and picking through the seeds to find the ones that will suit him best. When I’m over close to the window, I can see the doves, heads bobbing and waddling around on the ground, picking through the overspill of the messier clientele.
There is also a flock of house sparrows that are regular consumers at my hanging diner. They swoop in and take over the feeder, sometimes with four or five perched on it at a time. They fight over who’s going to get a seat at my small feeder and who is going to stay on the ground and wait their turn. Sometimes they have such a squabble that I feel like I should go break up the fight. Don’t they know there will be plenty for everyone? The feeder will magically fill up again the next morning; there’s a bucket full of seed just inside the door. They don’t need to worry.
But isn’t that what we tend to do? We fret and worry because we don’t think there will be enough or we won’t have our turn or someone else is getting what we want. And all the while God has a bounty waiting for the right timing just on the other side of the door. He doesn’t have a limited supply like I do. He possesses all and is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).
This year I’ve become much more aware of how much I struggle with anxiety. I mean, I STRUGGLE with ANXIETY. My thoughts can go off the deep end before I even realize what’s going on. I am so well versed in anxiety that I can go from ok to about to lose it in 60 seconds (well, maybe not that quickly…but then again sometimes it feels like it). But perhaps Jesus knew how quickly anxiety sets in and how easily we react like crazy faithless sparrows when he said in Matt 6:26, “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?”
When I get all worked up about what the future holds or how I’m going to pay that unexpected bill or what if people don’t like me or what if I get really sick, it’s just about all I can do to corral my thoughts and pray (Phil 4:6). I have found that my anxiety can lead me to be short with others or to discouragement that leaves me feeling hopeless, as well as various other manifestations of self-centered worry. When I finally realize what is going on I try to soak myself in Scripture and make myself pray through what is going on, confessing my sin, asking for help, giving up my desire for control and for things to go my way. It’s not easy but it’s the only way I know that actually has any lasting effect.
One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ruth. It’s about two single women who find God’s provision. My favorite verse is in the first chapter: “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning” (v. 22). Now you’re probably thinking I’ve lost my mind or changed subjects. What in the world does that verse, and the book of Ruth for that matter, have to do with anxiety? Well, I can imagine that these two women who had just lost everything—husbands, sons, father-in-law, not to mention their means of support—would be understandably worried about what was going to happen to them. Going into a foreign country must have caused Ruth to wonder if she would be accepted or if she would be able to find a means to care for her aging mother-in-law and herself. But in the darkness of that first chapter where these women lose everything, verse 22 brings a small dazzling glimpse into what is coming.
I cling to this verse because I know the rest of the story. It was the barley harvest that was providentially growing at the time that Naomi and Ruth were traveling to Bethlehem. It was the Barley harvest that would put Ruth in the right place at the right time to meet Boaz and have him see her character shining brightly as she selflessly took care of her bitter mother-in-law. She had no idea that her love, service and obedience to Naomi would make her the great-grandmother of King David, from whose line the Savior of the World would come. But God knew—he had arranged it that way. He knows what the days ahead will hold for each of us: “… all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps 139:16). This truth would be terrifying if we did not also know of His goodness. But He is good (Ps 119:68), He is wise (Rom 16:27) and He gives good and perfect gifts (Jas 1:17).
So why do I worry? Why am I afraid? Why do I get so discouraged? The same One who orchestrated the story of Ruth (and many, many others) knows my name and has counted the hairs on my head.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31
(HT: Mark Dever for showing me the beauty of Ruth 1:22 in one of his sermons)