When Work is Worry is Work
We just finished a four-day weekend that culminated in celebrating the 4th of July with friends and their very nervous dog. Now it's over and I'm back home and tempted to pull some late work hours. If I am honest, I am just as anxious as that dog. Inexplicable "explosions" are happening around me in my industry. I am frightened by the prospect that my utility could one day expire like it has for so many unfortunate souls. My mind is quick to jettison the value of all this recent downtime in order to focus on worrisome strategizing: What do I do? What don’t I do? How do I position myself? Is this what God wants me to do in this situation?
So to help my focus, I put on a YouTube live feed of a river in Alaska. Good background noise for all my pontificating, I thought. But I was soon captivated by a bear hunting salmon as they swam upstream. I watched this bear systematically snatch a single fish and proceed to eat it over the course of several minutes. Meanwhile, dozens if not hundreds of other fish passed him by. He paid them no mind. He focused instead on his catch. Once he finished, he matter-of-factly clutched another salmon and the cycle continued. As it has for thousands of years.
My business brain was slightly bemused at the inefficiency. Why doesn't he just snatch a whole bunch of fish at once, and then have a feast for himself and his family? Or store them away? Doesn’t he know that the river could dry out, the fish could disappear, or a toxic spill upstream could poison his well? Mr. Bear did not seem too concerned with any of my white-collar solutions. He simply caught one, ate it, then took another one. There was no greed or apparent fear of the future, the unseen.
It was almost too easy to see the parallels to my plight. Here was I at the busy stream of commerce having to hunt for the meals to feed myself and my family. My compulsion is to grab all I can, keep all I can, for as long as I can, in order to secure my lot in these troubled waters. Yet this living metaphor baked into God's creation reminded me how patience and provision can work together.
Jesus talked about all this in Matthew 5. He stood before a sea of ancient people dealing with timeless fears. We can almost hear them ask Christ: These are some pretty big ideas, Jesus. How do we provide for ourselves and our families in light of all you are saying about the kingdom of God? There seem to be some very pragmatic realities that make this vision of yours pretty unattainable. Setting aside your high moral demands for a moment, how are we to focus on the higher things you are suggesting when we are beset with so many details that demand our management? Don’t you know that many of us are stuck - our roots deep in the soil of toil and earthly necessity? After thousands of years of enduring the curse of God on the work of our hands, how are we to just throw our work into the hands of God? This all seems like a very irresponsible thing you are asking of us.
To those silent, inner protests, Jesus offered very simple options: Don't store up earthly treasures. Don't worry about your life, your provision, or your future. Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added. But lest we think that Jesus was some kind of unaffected guru suggesting we somehow float above the dirt of this world, he acknowledges each day has enough trouble of its own. Real practical advice about a larger spiritual reality. And it could not be harder to see on this side of tomorrow.
Trust can be hard. But as this Alaskan drama showed me, I do not have to scramble around God's creation trying to make every swimming, jumping thing an opportunity; those are other people's fish. And chasing them means missing out the ones I have now, or even losing them all. Jesus shows us the birds of the air - yes, even the bears of the stream - do not sow or reap or store away in a barn. And yet their heavenly Father feeds them. This was as true of them in first century Palestine as it was tonight as I watched them from the convenience of my couch. Are we, the worried of this modern world, not much more valuable than they? Jesus seems to think so - then and now. And so in faith, we can come to an assurance of God's changeless provision in the midst of our tenuous patience. Because worry does not work in the Kingdom of God.