"Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." Matt. 6:26
I’ve never quite known how to apply this verse to my often-anxious heart. In a podcast I listened to on this passage, the speakers explained how helpful exploring nature and bird-watching can be for anxiety. Go look at birds, they said; purchase a bird book. But Jesus’s words always speak directly into the fears and hurts and anxieties of the human heart, so to belittle his message to an endorsement of parks and recreation felt cheap. In a passage speaking to one of the deepest plagues of the human soul—the slow drizzle of the fear of the unknown on the heart—there had to be more balm in these words.
One pastor helpfully differentiates fear from anxiety. Fear, he said, is the crash of thunder and rain that arrests a small mountain town and then, with the turn of a wind, blows down valley. Fear, this pastor explained, is a grace from the hand of God, designed to stir up the body to flee from impending danger. Anxiety, on the other hand, is more like Scottish weather. It drizzles every day on the soul. Anxiety is the crippling fear of the could be; it’s a Satanic distortion of the common grace of fear—a slow-drip poison that will writhe your soul and body until it folds inward indefinitely.
With that in mind, look carefully at what Jesus says. He directs anxious hearts to gaze at the birds, but he waits only a few words until he is no longer speaking about birds. You can almost picture Jesus standing outside pointing to a few birds, but he doesn’t pull out a bird book and start identifying them. He uses them to speak of his Father, and not just his Father, but your Father. “Your heavenly Father feeds them.” His point is simple and clear: remember the kindness that flows from the hand of your Father, even upon the very least of these. And he’s not even their Father, but he is yours. In other words, Jesus reminds the anxious person to do theology to his or her restless heart. Speak to your heart about who God is and what he is like.
But how do we do this? Which part of the character of God do we speak into our hearts? It depends. In this situation, it seems that the concern was that God would not provide. So Jesus reminds them of the lavish provision and kindness of the Father. Notice how Jesus explains how the character of God confronts the current anxiety of the human heart. Therefore, you need a deeper, more fully orbed view of God. If you only know that God is sovereign, you will whack every nail with that hammer, but there is so much more in God. I don’t care how many theology textbooks you have read, you need a larger view of God. You need to circle the attributes of God around in your mind like a carousel—treasuring each one of his attributes, preaching them into the concerns of your heart. You must do theology for the sake of your soul.
Try memorizing this question & answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. You need it in your mind so you can pull an attribute out and hug it with all of your being when the day demands it.
Question: What is God?
Answer: God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
When the things of this world slip away with the hands of time, remind yourself that God sits in the heavens unmoved. His sits atop his throne—infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.
When the questions and worries of tomorrow seem unsolvable, remember his deep wisdom—loving enough to let pain refine your soul, and strong enough to steady you. When sin once again allures your feeble desires, remember that God is holiness itself. In those thirty silent years of Jesus’s life in the Gospels, he walked out obedience to the Law in our stead. He obeyed each of the commands to the full extent, because he knew we would break them. Remind your heart that he is holiness itself, and you are now united to him. When life has lost its glimmer and the future doesn’t have the allure and excitement it used to, tell your soul that God is good, and that he pulls new sunrises from each night.
Try also memorizing the first question & answer of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Question: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
Answer: That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
In other words, when your soul becomes a false prophet, screaming for you to fear that which likely will never come, speak to it of the one who was, and is, and is to come. Or, as Jesus put it, look at the birds, and remember the one who bends his ear to their little cries.
* Many of the ideas in this article came from an insightful six-part series by Dr. Cory Brock on anxiety.