(A) Introduction. Read: Luke12v22to34

This is a very famous passage which is both reassuring and challenging. It contains one of Christ's great promises: "But seek his kingdom, and all these things (food and clothing) will be given to you as well." v31. Yet Jesus' words also trouble me because, unlike Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones, I cannot take literally the words of the psalmist: "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken and their children begging bread." Ps37v25. There are circumstances when Christians, righteous men and women, do starve. For example, in July 2005 the small Christian minority in Niger were famine victims following a poor rainy season and a locust invasion. Forty eight year old Soulima Ouseman witnessed her four daughters starve to death. She barely survived by eating leaves and grass. I read the obituary of Rear Admiral James Harkness in the Daily Telegraph on July 16th 2009. He had been a Japanese prisoner of war who managed to survive in spite of malnutrition. However, there were others, including chaplains, who did not. Alexander Solzhenitsen wrote of the Christians imprisoned in Stalin's labour camps. He said that they were not corrupted by lack of food - but many died because of it. When Stalin confiscated the grain harvest of Ukrainian peasants it is said millions died of hunger. Surely there were some Christians amongst them! So the wonderful promise of Jesus has some how to be reconciled with experience. It is absolutely no use well-fed Christians in the West following Lloyd Jones example and ignoring reality.

So what does the passage teach us:

(B) It is wrong to be preoccupied with life's necessities.

After telling his story about the rich farmer who put his trust in this world's goods Jesus turns to those among his disciples who found it difficult to make ends meet. Some may have been thinking, "I'm never going to make the same mistake as the wealthy fool - chance would be a fine thing! I have a job to keep body and soul together."

However, Jesus was aware, in the words of D.A. Carson: That just as earthly possessions can become an idol which deposes God by becoming disproportionately important, so also can earthly needs become a source of worry which deposes God by fostering distrust.

Jesus taught three things about life's necessities:

(1) Keep them in perspective. Then Jesus 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. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes." v22and23.

The linking word, 'therefore', is crucial to understanding what Jesus meant. The rich farmer had all the food and clothing his heart desired but his life was lost. He died before he could enjoy his good fortune! It is possible to take care of the necessities, to scrimp and save and provide for your retirement only to be afflicted with poor health and to die young. Bodily health and long life cannot be guaranteed by having food and clothing - they are very much in the gift of God. If we have to rely on God for life and health why don't we depend upon him for our basic needs too.

(2) The advantages of a simple life. "Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them." v24.

Ravens and, indeed, any member of the crow family are not idle. Whenever I travel past the Brockley cricket pitch it is covered with rooks, strutting backwards and forwards, peck, peck, pecking. Our outfield is pitted with small holes made by the rook's strong beaks. Every day rooks search for food but, nonetheless, theirs is a simple lifestyle. Their needs are few.

We would worry less if our needs were simpler. When Martha entertained Jesus and his disciples she got into a right flap because her preparations were too elaborate. Jesus said to her: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed." Jesus would have been content with a much humbler meal than Martha had prepared. See exposition on Luke10v38to42.

Christian's should as far as possible aim for an uncomplicated, modest lifestyle. Jesus warned of the danger of a rich and demanding lifestyle in his Parable of the Sower. "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature." Lk8v14. The tragedy is that many Christians desire a standard of living comparable to their well-to-do non-Christian friends. They seem unaware of the dangers this poses to their spiritual development and fruitfulness. See exposition on the Sower.

Jesus and Paul achieved so much because their lives were free of clutter - everything that would have distracted from the work God wanted them to do.

(3) Their inadequacy "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these." v27.

Jesus uses the humble poppy, an arable weed that would be burned with the straw after harvest, to highlight our limitations. Jesus said that Solomon, for all is wealth and wisdom, could not purchase robes whose texture and colour matched the silky sheen and bright scarlet of the common poppy. Anyone who has seen a field full of poppies knows how true this is.

It is salutary to acknowledge that however expensive our attire we cannot provide ourselves with robes of righteousness. I have a robe. I wore it at my graduation ceremony in London. It was hard earned! But there is no way I can earn a robe of righteousness. Isaiah wrote long ago: Delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.... . Is61v10.

I love the words of Nicolaus L. Von Zinzendorf's great hymn:

            Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
            My beauty are, my glorious dress;
            Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
            With joy shall I lift up my head.

            This spotless robe the same appears,
            When ruined nature sinks in years!
            No age can change its glorious dress,
            Jesus, the Lord our righteousness.

I think Jesus' point is that if we have to rely on God for heavenly robes we can surely depend upon him for earthly ones!

(C) The problem with worrying.

When Jesus tells us not to worry he doesn't mean we are not to be concerned. There are happy go lucky, feckless fellows without a care in the world and no concerns either! I know a very cheerful individual with numb feet due to diabetes. Recently he had an abscess on his foot and because he couldn't feel a thing kept saying, 'I'm not worried'. But it was a good job his doctor was concerned otherwise he would have lost his foot to gangrene!

It is very dangerous not to be concerned about a potentially dangerous condition. I was talking only this morning about a man who put off going to the doctor for a year by which time he had advanced prostate cancer. If the Prodigal Son had been unconcerned about his pitiful condition he would never have made the decision to go back home to the father who loved him. The tragedy today is that people are not concerned about their relationship with God and so carry on careering down the broad way that leads to destruction.

Worry is very different from concern. The Greek word translated worry means to 'be torn apart' or 'distracted'. The English word is derived from an Anglo Saxon root meaning 'to strangle'. This is what worry does: pull us this way and that - stifling initiative.

Jesus described the stupidity of worry thus: "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?" v25and26.

Worry is foolish because:

(1) It anticipates the future.

Jesus imagines a man worrying about how long he will live - without being able to add a single hour to his life.

Many of us spend a lot of time worrying about what might happen. My poor old father worried about being destitute in retirement. He would say, "It would be just my luck if the Government run out of money just as I reach retirement age and I don't get my pension." It is a pity - as a moderate Calvinist - he didn't have more faith in the providence of God! As it happened he had absolutely no money problems in old age. Sometimes, after a particular bad lesson with an unruly class of children, I would be anxious over whether I could assert my authority next time I taught them. Invariably my worst fears were never realised.

We can imagine all sorts of bad things happening in the future. This is very foolish as this anecdote taken from the 'Friendship Book - 1982' by Francis Gay illustrates:

How often we mar our happiness by 'thinking the worst'. The pianist Arthur Rubinstein was once greatly worried by an attack of hoarseness. None of the ordinary, simple remedies seemed to help, so he made an appointment with a throat specialist.

"I searched his face for a clue during the 30 minute examination," said Rubinstein, "but it was expressionless. Then he told me to come back the next day. I went home full of fears and didn't sleep that night."

The next day there was another prolonged examination and another ominous silence on the part of the specialist.

At last Rubinstein could stand it no longer. "Tell me," he exclaimed. "I can accept the truth. I've lived a full, rich life. What's wrong with me?"

The specialist replied, "You talk too much!"

(2) It dwells on what cannot be changed.

It is pointless worrying about how long we shall live and when we shall die. Jesus made it clear that worry will not add one step to our journey through life. What comfort the words of John Ryland's little hymn give:

            Plagues and deaths around me fly;
            Till he bids, I cannot die;
            Not a single shaft can hit,
            Till the God of love sees fit.

One of the things we worry about is the weather. On July 21st 2009 here in England the barley stands ripe in the fields but the rain is falling and showers are forecast for the next seven days. If you are a farmer it is very easy to worry about the weather - yet it is futile because it is beyond man's control. During my career as a Geography teacher I organised many field trips in the summer months. Their success depended very much on the weather. So I used to worry about it! Why? However much I fretted I couldn't change it! Several years ago now Len Vincent attended our Baptist Church in Brockley. He farmed about 60 acres in the village. Len worried about most things - especially money matters - but he never worried about the weather - it wasn't his responsibility! Some things are God's responsibility and we can surely safely leave them with him.

(3) It is preoccupied by appearances

It is possible that instead of saying worrying couldn't add a single hour to a man's life Jesus said it cannot add an inch to a man's height. The Greek is ambiguous and could mean one or the other.

People certainly do worry a lot about their appearance and although much today can be changed it is still difficult to make a short man tall or an ugly woman attractive.

Why worry how we look or even what people think of us? It is not going to alter anything! People will see us how they see us and think of us how they think of us. Worrying about it is futile and does more harm than good.

(4) It makes us less effective.

Worry does suffocate. It is debilitating and renders us useless. Some years ago I travelled by car to Walthamstow in London to preach. I missed a junction and ended up in a part of North London with which I was unfamiliar. I began to fret! Where was I? Why hadn't I been more careful and come off the M11 at the right junction? I was never going to find my way to Walthamstow now without getting lost again. I would be late for the morning service. The congregation would think that I had forgotten to come. What a fool I had been. I was in a flap. Then I pulled myself together. I had a word of prayer and opened my London A-Z. I found where I was on a map and plotted a new route to Walthamstow. I got to the church on time!

Worry is a very poor substitute for planning and action. The night my mother died and I was left with my invalid father to care for I didn't worry. I can remember sitting in the small hours with a pencil and piece of paper writing down all the things I had to do. I love Laura Ingalls Wilder's books about family life in the pioneering days of the American West. One incident made a great impression on me. After locusts devastated Mr Ingall's crops at Plum Creek he did not succumb to self-pity and crippling anxiety. Instead he walked in patched boots 300 miles eastward to earn money harvesting wheat in Minnesota. The dollars he posted home kept his wife and two daughters from starvation.

(5) It shows lack of confidence in God.

Jesus said: "If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!" v28.

There is no doubt that we do worry because we lack faith in God's goodness and grace. I believed it was God's will that I give up work and care for my father. I was confident that when I needed to work again God would help me get back into teaching. However, there were times when my father was demented that I feared God would not enable me to finish the work he had given me to do. I began to worry about coping and to fear that the situation would become too much for me. If I had retained a calm assurance that God would never let me down I could have completed the task more graciously.

Lack of faith breeds anxiety, insecurity and destroys our peace. Paul writes to the Philippians: The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil4v4to7. We do not receive God's peace automatically - it comes by prayer and petition with thanksgiving.

H. L. Gee tells the story of a ship running into a terrible storm making the crossing from Liverpool to New York. Amid the tumult and panic, the captain's daughter, a child of eight, slept soundly until the crashing of an immense wave on the foredeck shook the vessel so terribly that she awoke with alarm. "It's the storm darling," said her mother, trying to hide her own terror. "We've run into a gale."

"Where's Daddy?" the child asked.

"Daddy's quite all right," replied the mother soothingly. "He's at the helm."

The child lay down again, "Oh," she said happily, "if Daddy's at the helm I needn't worry."

A minute later she was sound asleep, and sound asleep she remained till morning brought calmer seas.

The Prodigal Son never doubted his father's competence and goodness. It was because he had confidence in his father's provision for his hired servants that he returned home. Surely if the son who wasted his substance in riotous living had faith in his father - so should we!

(D) The antidote to worry.

Jesus in the passage gives us three reasons not to worry and Paul in his epistle to the Romans gives us one more. So, the Bible teaches that when tempted to worry we should consider:

(1) God's commitment to his creation. "Consider the ravens ..... And how much more valuable you are than birds! v24. Consider how the lilies grow .... how much more will he clothe you." v28.

Many Christians have taken heart from God's undoubted commitment to his creation. I provide three examples in my story, 'Consider the poppies'. Here is one of them:

In the autumn of 1918 Ada Chesterton went to be with her husband Cecil, the brother of G.K.Chesterton, who was dying in a field hospital on the coast of France. This is her testimony:

Cecil looked up and smiled. Life was all around him and me; only in the brave face that still kept courage was it ebbing little by little, until it passed beyond the last faint breath. The future - our future - had ended. I should never hear him speak again. I should never feel his touch, or watch the light in his eyes when unexpectedly he saw me.

I could not think. The blank was so intolerable, the pain so limitless; I could not stay inside the hut. I had to get into the open; but the sky and sea and the earth in their vast aloofness were frightening - I could find nothing to lay hold of.

I think I was on the borderline of endurance when suddenly, without conscious wish or will, the long slope of the cliff side, curving out and down to the channel far below, held my eyes. It was a carpet of sea lavender - grey-blue and pink. The sheer fact of the small proud flowers brought a dim sense of security. In a world of torture they remained serene. Right up to the door of that grim squatting hut, soaked in the blood of sons, husbands and lovers, beauty had laid a tender touch.

I gripped at self control and went back to my husband.

Why did the fact of those small proud flowers bring a dim sense of security to Ada Chesterton? Behind the sea lavender stood one for whom details matter; one on whom we can rely in life and death; a God who will help us through.

Martin Luther said: "I have one preacher I love better than any other on earth. It is my tame robin who preaches to me daily. After he has taken his crumbs, he hops to a tree close by, lifts up his voice to God, and sings his carols of praise and gratitude. Then he tucks his head under his wing and goes to sleep, leaving tomorrow to look after itself."

Christina Rosettiti's poem, 'Consider the Lilies of the Field,' is entirely in sympathy with the teaching of Jesus:

          FLOWERS preach to us if we will hear:-
          The rose saith in the dewy morn:
          I am most fair;
          Yet all my loveliness is born
          Upon a thorn.
          The poppy saith amid the corn:
          Let but my scarlet head appear
          And I am held in scorn;
          Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
          Within my cup of curious dyes.
          The lilies say: Behold how we
          Preach without words of purity.
          The violets whisper from the shade
          Which their own leaves have made:
          Men scent our fragrance on the air,
          Yet take no heed
          Of humble lessons we would read.
          But not alone the fairest flowers:
          The merest grass
          Along the roadside where we pass,
          Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
          Tell of His love who sends the dew,
          The rain and sunshine too,
          To nourish one small seed.

(2) God's care as Father.

Jesus said: "For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them." v30.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said: "Our Father ..... give us this day our daily bread." I dealt in my exposition on the Lord's prayer with the enormous comfort these words give. I am not going to repeat myself here but just make the following observations:

    (a) We can expect God to ensure that we have the necessities of life - not the luxuries.

    (b) It is relatively easy for those of us who live in Britain to have faith in God's provision. We live in a country with an abundance of food and a multiplicity of clothes shops. Jesus actually addressed people who were only a few days without work from going hungry.

    (c) I think it is likely that the vast majority of Christians receive their daily bread.

    (d) Sometimes there is a conflict between God's commitment to feed us and his commitment to our freedom. People usually starve in times of conflict, repression or if they make very bad decisions. The Japanese starved prisoners of war - not God. He could only intervene at the cost of denying the Japanese their freedom. Starvation in Niger is probably due to farmers switching from crops and a method of cultivation suited to a dry climate to growing cash crops. It is not necessarily drought that causes famine but government policy, poor storage and distribution and greedy middle men. God does not intervene because to do so would severely compromise man's freedom. God chooses to give us the freedom to do evil although the consequences are horrific. The alternative would be even worse!

    There is plenty of food in the world for everyone to be well fed. God is not at fault - we are. Greed, selfishness and stupidity are the main causes of hunger.

(3) God's concern for his subjects.

Jesus urges the careworn to seek his kingdom. He tells his disciples to put the interests of God's kingdom first. We are to live out the prayer: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done." In practical terms this means obeying Jesus and serving others. It certainly involves generosity because he said: "Sell your possessions and give to the poor." Like many of Jesus' statements this cannot be taken too literally. The members of the early church in Jerusalem sold their possessions and the money from the sales was distributed to anyone as he had need. Acts4v35. This so impoverished the members that Paul had to take up a collection amongst the Gentiles for the church at Jerusalem. See exposition on the early church. However, we cannot overlook the fact that God loves a cheerful giver. 2Cor9v7. See my exposition on a generous spirit.

Jesus promises that if we carry out our obligation as subjects of the King we shall enjoy the privileges of belonging to the kingdom. "But seek his kingdom, and these things (food and clothing) will be given you as well." v31. God will provide his obedient people with the necessities of life but more than that we will also be laying up treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. v33. We are able here on earth to build up a secure deposit in the bank vaults of heaven.

(4) God's comprehensive benevolence to the redeemed.

Paul wrote in his letter to Rome: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things. Rom8v31and32.

God could make no greater gift to mankind than Jesus. He freely gave him up to a world lost in sin and 'nature's night' because he loved us. Jesus was sent - sent to redeem us by his own shed blood at Calvary. If God loves us that much - how can he deny us the necessities of life.

            He spared not His Son!
            'Tis this that silences each rising fear;
            'Tis this that bids the hard thought disappear -
            He spared not His Son!

(E) Conclusion.

Jesus ends this passage with a challenge: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." v34.

To respond to Christ's challenge we have to ask a series of questions and give honest answers: "What really matters to us?" "What comes first?" "Where do our priorities lie?" "What do we always make time for?" "Where's our heart - our first love?" Do we really seek first God's kingdom or is our work, our leisure, our health, our family, our appetite, our appearance the really important thing in our life?

Dr H. E. Fosdick in his brilliant little book on, 'The Meaning of Prayer,' has a chapter on, 'Prayer as Dominant Desire'. He writes this: Dominant desire gathers up the scattered faculties, concentrates the mind, nerves the will, and drives hard toward the issues. It always tends to achieve its end. As John Burroughs put it, "If you have a thing in mind, it is not long before you have it in hand."

What was it Jesus said: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Mt5v6. If righteousness is our dominant desire so too are the interests of God's Kingdom. Happiness is assured because satisfaction is guaranteed. See exposition on Mt5v6.