The Anxiety of Poverty
by Ted Schroder, October 12, 2008
Are you poorer today than you were a year ago? With the stock markets falling, and the global recession and credit crunch impacting all of us, we would say that we are feeling poorer today than a year ago. For many people that can cause a great deal of anxiety as they fear the future. What does the good news of Jesus have to say to the bad news of the world?
Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? …For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.” (Matthew 6:25-34)
Jesus directs our attention to the birds of the air. What do we see when we look at them? What do they live on? The food they eat every day. They never know what they will eat tomorrow. They live from day to day. Jesus told us to pray for our daily bread, the bread that we need day by day. We are not told to pray for what we need tomorrow, but only for today. The answer to anxiety when we feel poor is that we must live in the present, and not in fear of the future.
The Israelites had to learn that lesson when they were in the wilderness. They were complaining to Moses of the lack of provisions for their journey. The Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.” (Exodus 16:4) Each day the manna from heaven would fall upon the camp and they would gather as much as they needed for that day. If they tried to gather more it would go bad. “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each gathered as much as he needed.” (v.18) They had exactly enough for their needs.
What was true for the Israelites is true for the birds of the air. They have exactly enough and no more, for their daily needs. We would consider them poor, for they have no surplus, no security, no provision for tomorrow. But they are not anxious. They live in the present. They have no anxiety about tomorrow. They are free of worry.
John Stott, an avid bird-watcher, used to quote:
Said the robin to the sparrow: ‘I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings rush about and worry so.’
Said the sparrow to the robin: ‘Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father, such as cares for you and me.’
If we took these words of Jesus to heart we would be anxious, even in our poverty. We should learn from the birds not to be anxious.
Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread. The Christian seeks to meet his needs by praying for a daily provision. By praying we acknowledge that our daily bread comes from God. By praying for our daily bread we are acting on our belief that we have a Father in heaven who provides for us.
By telling us that ‘life is more than food’, he reminds us that the kingdom of God brings eternal life - a relationship with God that is beyond comparison with food and drink. Jesus came to freely share a life that was more abundant. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) He gave up the riches of his heavenly status to hunger in the desert, to thirst on the Cross, and he had no- where he could rest his head. He experienced poverty so that we might become rich.
In what does our wealth consist? St. Paul claimed that he was “poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:10) We are rich because we are able to pray, to give thanks for our daily bread, to know that we have life from the hand of God. Every day we are aware of God’s blessings, and can pray and give thanks. Our riches increase every time we pray, give thanks, and realize that we are given life by God, and God gives his life for us. We are reminded every day of God’s blessings. He is our Creator, Provider, Lover, Friend, who gives life meaning, and for whom life is worth living.
The good news is that in our poverty we are rich in heavenly blessings. The pagan runs after food and drink and clothing. The unbeliever is anxious about the future because he sees his meaning and security in being rich. Jesus said, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with …the anxieties of life.” (Luke 21:34) When your heart is weighed down with the anxieties of life you seek to be relieved of its weight by coveting more and more. The unbeliever is never contented. He always wants more. He is preoccupied with his needs. He is enslaved by his anxiety. He becomes depressed, dejected, and infected with avarice, worrying about his needs instead of seeking happiness in God’s provision.
To be without anxiety is almost like walking on water. But if you believe, it can be done. It is true of all danger that the principal way to deal with it is to learn not to think of it. You cannot get away from being poor, but you can get away from being preoccupied with it by reminding yourself of your blessings. Like the birds of the air who fly upwards, we need to look up to our heavenly Father in prayer, and thanksgiving, and look away from danger that threatens to destroy our peace.
When I lived in Texas during the Savings & Loan crisis of the 80’s, when oil was only $16.00 a barrel, Tom Frost, the chairman of the bank that bore his family name, was fighting to save his bank. I will never forget him sharing with a Bible Study group, that met in his bank every Friday morning, how he dealt with his anxieties. He said that he listed all his blessings, and gave thanks to God for them. He focused of being grateful for what he had, rather than being preoccupied with his needs.
In place of awareness of our poverty we need to remind ourselves of our riches in Christ. “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you… My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” (Psalm 63:3,5) “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) “And He has showered down upon us the richness of His grace – for how well He understands us and knows what is best for us at all times.” (Ephesians 1:7)
The Christ-follower is rich. Rejoice in that. Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.
(This presentation contains material from “The Anxieties of the Heathen: Christian Discourses”, S. Kierkegaard, 1848)
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