Last Sunday we looked at Matthew 6:24 – 34 in our sermon in the mount series. This post is one in a series that addresses some follow up issues (read the first post in the series HERE). You can listen to the sermon HERE, or subscribe in iTunes.
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
One question I’ve often asked myself in light of this verse is, does this mean I will always have food to eat? clothes to wear? water to drink? Will God always give me the basic necessities of life if I’m following him? To put it bluntly, do Christians who are whole heartedly following Jesus starve to death? Now, I know how we want to answer this question, both from the simple reading of this passage as well as our own feelings. We want to say NO! God would never let one of his faithful children starve to death, die from thirst, lack of clothing, or any other basic need.
But that’s not the answer I’m going to give. The way I’m going to answer this question is going to be uncomfortable for some of you. We live in a part of the world where death from starvation or exposure are not threats knocking on our doors–in short we don’t suffer much from lack of basic necessities (it’s not suffering to have to eat beans and rice instead of steaks!). Let me give you my simple answer, give you some illustrations, and end by telling you how all this produces in us a greater faith in Jesus and kills the root of our anxiety.
The simple answer to our question is, yes. A Christian who whole heartedly follows Jesus may starve to death. Now, before you get angry, let me give you some examples and challenge our thinking some. I could give example after example (who but God knows how many Christian martyrs have starved to death?), but let me settle on just two. First, an example from our own day. Less than three years ago there was a village in Somalia where Christians were persecuted for their faith. Their persecutors denied them food and other basic necessities. There were at least 18 Christians who starved to death because they believed in Jesus.
Secondly, let me offer you an example from the Bible. The story revolves around a widow who lived in Zarepath during a famine (1 Kings 17:8 – 16). The prophet Elijah walked into town and asked a widow with a son for a morsel of bread. Her response:
And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
The situation was bleak. The widow and her son would soon to starve to death. But God did something amazing. He miraculously provided the widow with flour and oil that did not run out during famine. She was saved (1 Kings 17:15 – 16). That story seems to contradict what I’m saying, doesn’t it? But lets not leave it there. Interestingly, Jesus mentions this story and adds one interesting bit of information.
But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. Luke 4:25 – 26
Do you see the implication here? Yes, God sent Elijah to work a mighty miracle in the life of one widow. But she wasn’t alone. There were many widows in Israel who were starving to death, many who had great needs. Jesus leaves it there, but the reality is that many people suffered and died from that famine–and some of them must have truly hoped in God.
Now, one simple answer given to these examples goes like this: “They must not have had enough faith.” The idea is that if they had believed more, God would have fed them. Let me say in no uncertain terms that such an answer is awful, prideful, and goes against what I believe is clear biblical teaching. That answer assumes that we have the deeper faith (since we are not starving to death). Let me assure you, it takes far more faith in God to starve to death for Jesus than to eat well every night for Jesus! (If space permitted this is where I would insert my rant against the prosperity gospel, name it & claim it theology, and word of faith theology. All three of which find their heart in filthy rich nations.) If you need more convincing that Christians can and will suffer the lack of basic necessities consider this. Our first basic necessity is breath. God gives us every breath we take, and we desperately need each one! But it is appointed to all men once to die. All of us will one day lack the basic necessity of another breath, another heart beat. And no amount of faith can permanently stay physical death. You will go without a basic need one day.
So, if Christians can and have starved to death, what in the world is Jesus trying to teach me here, and how does that help kill my anxiety? Here’s my simple answer: Jesus wants me to deeply believe that God cares for me, and as I strive to love Jesus and follow his teaching, I can be assured that God will give me what I need to accomplish his will–even if that will is to go without food. God will give me my daily bread until there comes a time when not having daily bread is what I need to do God’s will.
But wait, doesn’t that make us more anxious? That God might ask me to suffer the loss of basic necessities for the sake of Jesus? It may, but only if we forget that there are greater gifts than food and water. I am absolutely certain that those 18 Somali Christians who starved to death are not complaining to Jesus even now as they sit at his feet. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to romanticize suffering. Suffering is, well, suffering. It is not pleasant. The great question when it comes to our anxiety is, do we trust God to give us what is best. Do we trust that God knows what he’s doing even if he doesn’t give us food today? That when God permits or even plans our suffering that he is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17)? Do you believe that there is something better than your daily bread? Do we trust God enough to love him and rejoice with him in the midst of our pain and need? It seems to me that if my trust is that deep my worry and anxiety will lose all its power.
Tomorrow’s post: Anxiety: the link to people’s opinions