Right Places, Right Times: What Looking at the Birds Teaches Us about Provision


My friend Sheila watched a nature documentary about penguins.

This is a bad idea for anyone who wants to retain magical, fuzzy feelings about the natural world.

I saw one recently too: there were all these penguins living on an island near Antarctica or somewhere, and every day they would go plunging off these sheer, sharp cliffs to get into the ocean to fish. The waves were so wild and powerful that a high percentage of penguins would get dashed back up against the rocks.

The filmmakers took all this footage of bloodied, gashed-up penguins hobbling around on what were probably broken legs, and dead penguins bobbing in the water, never to go home to their poor, starving chicks.

“Nature is horrible!” Sheila announced to me. “It’s cruel! It’s terrible!” She paused. “It does make you wonder what Jesus was talking about with all his talk about how God takes care of the birds.”

This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)

Birdwatching for Spiritual Profit

This is advice I take literally. When I’m getting really worked up about provision, I go outside and watch birds. Preferably on the water, at the lake near my house. Or sometimes just pecking around the lawn.

I don’t go watch nature documentaries. Jesus didn’t say, “Look at the penguins on that God-forsaken rock in Antarctica.”

But actually, even those penguins with their life-and-death struggle can teach us something about worry and about provision.

Because they don’t have to be on that rock. Not too far away is the entire continent of Antarctica, where there’s a much smaller chance of getting dashed to pieces on your way home from work.

The penguins on that island are there because it’s a paradise for them. It’s so harsh and horrible that no predators come or live there—not a single one.

Yes, feeding is a challenge. But the water is full of abundance. God provides, even for them.

The island isn’t so God-forsaken after all.

Ours is a cursed world. Paul tells us that all of creation is subject to futility, trapped in the bondage of corruption, groaning and waiting to be set free when we are (Romans 8). The whole natural world will enter “the glorious freedom of the children of God” when we do.

The gospel isn’t just for people; it’s for penguins too.

God provides for birds. He provides for us too. On this basis, Jesus says, don’t worry.

”Don’t Worry” Does Not Equal “Don’t Work”

Christians are super weird about money. I have known people who literally quit their jobs, went home, and spent their days watching TV and waiting for welfare checks because they said they were obeying Jesus’s command here.

Jesus said don’t WORRY. He didn’t say don’t WORK.

If you go outside and watch the birds (which I recommend, because it’s relaxing and enlightening both), you’ll notice that they do in fact work for their food.

They don’t do what people in Jesus’s time did. They don’t sow, or reap, or gather wheat into barns. Nor do they go to work, spend eight hours doing whatever it is WE do, and collect a paycheck every two weeks.

(Or pour their lives into the mission field, if you’re me, make stuff and trade it for money in way less traditional ways. But that’s another conversation.)

Birds do work. They go to the right place, at the right time, and they find and eat what God has placed there for them.

They don’t seem to worry about it. They just go and do and receive.

Receiving What Is There for You

For birds this is instinctive. They receive what God has placed there for THEM. They don’t seem to consider themselves responsible to place the seeds there, or the worms, or the fish, or the frogs.

They don’t think they have to manage the universe for this to work.

They just show up and collect.

They work with their own design too, I notice. Swans and ducks and herons and plovers collect on the water. Swallows snatch flies out of the air. Scarlet macaws crack nuts.

Secretary birds stalk through grass so long it can hide lions, towering above it on their long, spindly legs, ready to snatch up snakes or lizards or mice or stamp them to death first.

Secretary birds even eat cobras, which makes them kind of awesome.

(Speaking of birds, if you’ve not yet seen PIPER, go watch it. It’s worth the tiny purchase price. You’re welcome.)

Don’t we do the same? Come, do, collect. Receive.

Worry tells us we’re in charge. It tells us we’re in control, or more to the point, we should be in control but we aren’t.

When we worry, we convince ourselves that making seeds turn into wheat is our job—as opposed to receiving what God has given us, being faithful and diligent about it (to till, to fertilize, to plant, to water), and then receiving the miracle that comes from heaven.

Wheat is a miracle. Fish are a miracle. Paychecks are a miracle.

Isn’t your life more than all that? Jesus asks. Do we think God will create us, the greatest marvels walking, and then forget to feed us? Forget to do the miracles necessary to keep us eating and clothed and functioning day by day?

Need is a great reality, but so is the love of God, and his love is both generous and paying attention.

A bird that never leaves its nest will, presumably, starve. But one that goes, does, and receives will find there is food enough. Miracles enough.

And worry doesn’t make a single one of them happen.

(This is Part 73 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)







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